What an interesting Bassmaster Elite Series it has been. One postponed event, one fully canceled, lots of other drama brewing, as the final regular season event is about to kick off in Upstate New York on the famed St. Lawrence River.
Considering the 107 anglers would have had nine events to earn coveted Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, now reduced to eight events, some anglers are mathematically out of Classic contention.
But that makes them dangerous at an event like this. They’ll be out for blood, and I can about guarantee a surprise finish.
One thing is for certain: This is the last tournament of the season where the Top 50 anglers will earn a spot in the season-ending points championship. My selections reflect the need to finish well in both the AOY race and just wrapping up a tough season on a positive note.
Let’s get to it.
BUCKET A: LUCAS
I know it’s no surprise that I'm going with Justin Lucas here — how can I not? He’s moved me up the Fantasy rankings every time I’ve picked him this year, and he’s a very accomplished finesse river angler. He’s currently in second place behind Bradley Roy in the AOY race, and that race will tighten up at this event. Roy has the momentum, and he’ll be very tough to beat, but Lucas might be the man to do it — neither angler can afford a bad event if the title is to go home with one of them.
Dark horse: Josh Bertrand is not carrying the kind of ownership that he should be in this bucket. He’s enjoying a tremendous season and is a steal at only 2.2 percent. If not for my continued luck with Lucas this season, Bertrand would be a shoe-in.
BUCKET B: FEIDER
Seth Feider is currently on the Classic qualification bubble in 37th place. He needs a solid showing to get comfortably inside that cut line. He’s arguably one of the best smallmouth fishermen on tour, and he wants another crack at St. Lawrence after a tough finish in 2017. He’s been nothing if not consistent over the past two years, and I expect he’ll make the cut and climb the AOY leaderboard.
Dark horse: Edwin Evers won at St. Lawrence a couple of years ago, and he’s very undervalued in this bucket, too. Look for the Oklahoma pro to enjoy a solid finish and keep his consistent season moving forward into the AOY championship.
BUCKET C: CONNELL
Alabama’s Dustin Connell won the Rookie of the Year title last year. A respected title that’s well earned, but this year he’s just outside of the Classic cut and he needs a good finish to lock in a spot to the big show next year. He’s a very talented river angler, and with big expectations on the line, I bet he finishes strong and gets another shot at the Classic via the AOY championship in Georgia.
Dark horse: Alton Jones has traditionally done very well on northern smallmouth fisheries, and when considering he’s been relatively quiet this year I’d expect him to make a splash at St. Lawrence. Plus, he’s in need of a solid tournament to earn a spot in the upcoming AOY championship.
BUCKET D: LESTER
Brandon Lester is one of the anglers likely bit by the Chesapeake Bay Elite cancelation. The young Tennessee angler has been very consistent across his career, and being outside of the Classic qualification cut is not a familiar place for him. He’s not out of it by any means, but he’ll have to do well at St. Lawrence in order to have a shot. He’s no stranger to pressure, and I am comfortable to put him in my lineup knowing that he knows exactly what is required to keep his season alive.
Dark horse: I have to agree with my fellow pundits that Dave Lefebre is a solid choice in this bucket considering his home is just down the road in Erie, Pa. However, I get yelled at when I chose him, so I’ll keep him as my darkhorse in Bucket D, because I think he’s got what it takes to do well at St. Lawrence and finish his season on a strong note.
BUCKET E: WALKER
At the end of the season, Bucket E is a very difficult pick to make. These guys are all struggling through a tough season and have no shot at the Classic, unless some miracle gets dropped in their lap. But that fact alone makes a guy like David Walker very dangerous. He has nothing to lose and has traditionally done well up north. I expect him to make a strong push at a strong finish so his season will end on a high note.
Dark horse: Bernie Schultz has endured an uncharacteristic season. But like all of my Fantasy pundit brethren are stating, this event sets up well for him to go out of 2018 with a strong finish, as his history on this fishery is impressive. If for no other reason, I want to see Schultz in the winner’s circle, and an northern smallie destination is a great place for that to happen.