We’re at a tipping point in the Elite Series season, one where anglers who’ve developed momentum need to keep it going and those who’ve stumbled out of the gate need to get some traction before the year slips away. At the same time, we’re also moving away from the spawn toward true postspawn patterns; some different skill sets will come into play. Ross Barnett may not reflect that in the way that a “true” structure lake, such as one of the TVA venues might, but look for there to be a subtle shift.
It has been a tough year for Fantasy Fishing prognosticators. We’ll need to go back to the numbers, but I bet there were a low single-digit number of Fantasy players who had Jacob Wheeler at Cherokee, Timmy Horton at Okeechobee or John Murray at Toledo Bend – let alone anglers like Jesse Wiggins, David Fritts or Jamie Hartman garnering major points. We’ll see if entropy continues to rule the roost on an increasingly level playing field, but for now it pays to blend anglers’ history and current momentum when making your picks.
BUCKET A: CHRISTIE
It’s tough not to pick Ott DeFoe here, given the incredible run he’s on, which includes four top 10s in the past six B.A.S.S. events he’s fished. He’s established a solid lead in AOY and hasn’t missed a check since the Potomac last August. But my pick here is Jason Christie, who is coming off a stellar event at Toledo Bend, holding down the third-place spot in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, and finished fourth at RB in a 2015 Central Open. Like DeFoe, he’s versatile, not afraid of going offshore or digging around in Ross Barnett’s many stumps and pad fields, and while Mississippi isn’t quite his backyard, it’s not terribly different. By the way, he hasn’t missed a check in B.A.S.S. competition since last year’s BASSFest on Texoma, where he barely missed the money.
BUCKET B: MCCLELLAND
I’ve picked Keith Combs multiple times this year and he’s yet to come through in grand style, but that can’t last a whole season, can it? He was 11th in a 2013 Central Open, and while he may not get to grind the bills off a half-dozen 6XDs, he’ll be around the kickers he needs to succeed and at some point he’s going to break through in a big way. Nevertheless, I’m going with Mike McClelland, whose track record here is unimpeachable. He won a 1996 Invitational (one of two in a row that year), introducing the world to the War Eagle spinnerbait. In 1998 he was the runner up, and to show that he hadn’t lost his mojo, he was 13th in 2015. He won an Open at Table Rock earlier this year, but has been good-but-not-great in Elite competition. Time to change that.
BUCKET C: KENNEDY
I’m going with Kennedy here because he’s going to win another at some point, and if I haven’t openly voted for him in that event my phone my blow up with taunting text messages. Seriously, he’s fishing well, buoyed by a newer, faster boat and Power-Poles, and this just seems like a tournament where he’ll be able to swim a jig, pitch a Senko, and then whack a few kickers with the old XPS swimbait. If you’re not ready to ride Kennedy’s roller coaster, go with Randall Tharp, who won here in 2013, and needs to get back on track after the worst Elite finish of his career.
BUCKET D: BROWNING
Skeet Reese bounced back at Toledo Bend after a disastrous Elite season start, and I’ll be surprised if he’s not in contention for a Classic spot at year’s end, but for the same river-run reasons that I expect McClelland and Christie to do well, I think that Browning is primed to make a move. History is on his side, too. He was fifth here in 2015 and second here in 2013 after finishing in the twenties in ’96 and ’98. While this isn’t the Red River, it fits his style and tackle box to a tee.
BUCKET E: LUCAS
I almost picked Lucas at Toledo Bend, figuring that he’d finally get a handle on that lake and on his season, but he didn’t. Instead, he finished 78th. That makes three straight Elites where he’s missed the money. He’s too talented and accomplished to continue like that, and in Bucket E you can take a risk on someone with horrible momentum but a history of past performance. Unlike Toledo, where he’s really struggled, he finished seventh at Ross Barnett in 2013. If you’re not sure that he’ll turn it around, bet on Tommy Biffle, who finished third here in 2015.