It’s now or never for the remaining Top 50 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers, and it’s the same for Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players, too. You’ve got one last chance to make the most out of your season, and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship is it.
The Top 8 outside of Classic contention following Mille Lacs, which is 37th place at this point (depending on the outcome of a few remaining Opens) will advance to a head-to-head catch-and-release tournament on Lake Pokegama in Grand Rapids, Minn. The winner will earn a single berth to the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell, March 16-18.
There won’t be any Fantasy selections for that event, however.
I’m considering my choices for this event based on seasonal momentum and those who want it the most. I’m mixing my roster with low ownership and high ownership anglers. More or less, I screwed up pretty bad at the last one and won’t recover, so I’m picking guys with a fun factor included.
You may or may not be in the same boat as me, but at this point it’s time to push all your chips to the center.
BUCKET A: WHEELER
Jacob Wheeler has a bit more ownership than I’d like, but what the heck, the season is all but over and I’m taking a shot. He’s been very consistent this year and remains competitive on smallmouth waters. As an unofficial rookie with a lot to prove, he’s still looking to leave a mark on his first season on the Elite Series. I expect his final tournament of the season to be very strong.
Darkhorse: Ott DeFoe had a tough tournament on the St. Lawrence, which essentially took him out of AOY contention. But don’t count him out. He’s as good as anyone on tour, and he’d love to add another trophy to his mantle. I believe he knows that he owes it to himself to finish strong, and when he has that mind set — look out.
BUCKET B: FEIDER
I can’t say for sure that Seth Feider is going to win it again this year, but he’d be at the very top of my list if I had to guess. One thing I do know is he’ll do very well regardless. He’s dominating ownership in Bucket B, but I don’t care about that. My money is on the stache!
Darkhorse: Aaron Martens has a tendency to ride his momentum and continue with strong finishes. He won at Champlain, a long overdue victory, he finished 15th at St. Clair, and I expect more of the same at the AOY Championship.
BUCKET C: M. LEE
I’ve debated on putting him in my lineup for several of the most recent events. I’ve not and have regretted it. He’s a proven smallie stick, and I’m confident he’ll keep his momentum rolling into the championship. It’s the year of the Lee, and Matt is long overdue for a win. I believe in him.
Darkhorse: This is a toss up for me: Either Hank Cherry or Cliff Pirch would make good choices. I’d be confident in either angler. This is a very tough bucket to be completely honest. Choose wisely.
BUCKET D: KENNEDY
After watching Pete Robbins go back and forth with Steve Kennedy this year, I’m going to pick him. His momentum is solid right now, and I doubt that will stop at Mille Lacs. Bucket D is where the list starts to include anglers who need a good finish to make the Classic cut. These guys have a lot to lose, and I’d bet that Kennedy makes good on that effort.
Darkhorse: James Elam endured a terrible tournament at St. Clair, he’s just outside of the Classic cut and needs to finish well to make a return trip to the big show. He did very well at Mille Lacs in 2016, and I think he’ll do the same again this year.
BUCKET E: IACONELLI
He was out of AOY contention going into St. Clair, yet Mike Iaconelli fished hard and made the Top 50 cut to qualify for AOY. But he’s not safe yet. To make his 17th Classic in a row, he’ll have to fish well at Mille Lacs, and I think Ike is the kind of guy who will use that pressure to his advantage to put himself where he needs to be. If not there, I bet he’ll likely make the cut to fish the Classic Bracket Challenge, which includes the Top 8 just outside of Classic contention. Either way, my money is on Ike here.
Darkhorse: Dave Lefebre finished in third place last year at Mille Lacs, and he’s currently out of Classic contention. He’s done well for me in the past, and at the last minute I may slide him into my roster. But we’ll have to see. He’s as good as anyone on tour, with the experience to support it. I see a strong showing out of the Erie, Pa., angler.