Fantasy Fishing: Byron Velvick's picks for West Point Lake

West Point Lake’s a tough one. B.A.S.S. hasn’t been there for a while, and I understand the lake has changed in recent years. Add to that the fact that we’ve had all this rain and heavy weather and you can see where handicapping this Elite Series event is no walk in the park.

Nevertheless, I’m going to give it my best shot. I don’t think fishing statistics will help us much. It’ll be better to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the anglers, their personalities, experience and mental strength — plus the kind of year they’re having.

Here goes:

Group A

Watch: Steve Kennedy — I know this isn’t exactly a bold choice. There’s a good reason for that, however. He’s got what it takes to do well here.

Steve grew up on West Point. If anyone knows the lake, its history and the small nuances it offers anglers, it’s him. Along with that, he’ll have a strong desire to make a good showing on his home water.

At the same time, he’s one of the most versatile anglers on the tour. That may come in handy. We know the water’s up and muddy, but we don’t know what things will look like come Thursday. This could be a tournament where the conditions change every day. Versatility and local knowledge will matter.

Avoid: Alton Jones — I know he’s having a great year. That’s why I’m avoiding him this time. No one can do well all the time. Every angler has a bad event. I think Alton’s due for his. This isn’t a bed fish event. I think he needs more adjustment time.

Group B

Watch: Brent Chapman — This man can flip and pitch, a likely pattern for West Point. And he’s fishing a bait made by Tightlines that did him well at the Classic in New Orleans. His confidence in himself and his bait is at an all-time high. That’s a combination that makes a winner.

Besides, he’s down in 33rd place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. He knows he has to catch bass this week if he’s going to qualify for the 2012 Classic through the points system. He’s motivated, and he has the skills.

Avoid: Derek Remitz and Terry Butcher — Both of these guys can fish. It’s just that they’re having a terrible year. I know what that’s like and how hard it is to get out of a serious slump and turn things around. All you really want to do is start over.

The only hope either guy has of salvaging his season is to swing for the fences and try to win their way into the Classic and make some money. Sometimes that works. More often than not it doesn’t.

Group C

Watch: Rick Clunn — The spawn is over. Clunn’s looking towards his strengths — postspawn bass on crankbaits or other moving lures. Another factor that I’m taking into consideration is that he’s overdue for a big one. He’s one of the best competitive bass anglers in history, if not the best. You can only keep an angler like that down so long.

There is a word of warning about Rick, however. West Point is only about 25,000 acres. It might fish small. He doesn’t like crowds, and he doesn’t like other anglers near him. That could be a problem for him this week.

Watch: Morizo Shimizu and Takahiro Omori — Both these men are better anglers then their 2011 season would indicate. They could break out at any time. The same thing that concerns me about Clunn encourages me with these two guys. They learned to fish in the high-pressure lakes in Japan. A crowd won’t mean a thing to them.

Avoid: John Crews — John’s on the bubble to make the Classic under the points system. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to make it every year. That can have a bad effect on his performance. (It’s true that everyone wants to make the Classic, but John’s desire is extreme and sometimes gets the better of him.) Everything’s up in the air. I think that’ll cause John problems.

Group D

Watch: Ish Monroe — Ish has turned his fishing around. When he caught that 10-15 at Toledo Bend, his whole outlook changed. I know he’s had a couple of bad years but before that he proved he could fish with the best of the best. He’s back. That’s trouble for the other anglers.

Watch: John Murray — This angler doesn’t mind a crowd, and he likes to fish deep. In fact, he’s one of the deepest fishermen in the Elite Series. That could come in handy. If the lake starts fishing small, being able to fish in the middle of a bunch of boats, but just a little bit deeper than the other guys, could make a big difference.

Avoid: Clark Reehm — Clark’s a great guy, but he talks too much. On a 25,000 acre lake there’ll always be a boat within 400 yards of his boat. That means he’ll try to talk to them — that’s his psych-out strategy — instead of trying to catch bass.

Group E

Watch: Brandon Palaniuk — This guy has the skills to handle difficult conditions. I know he’s had a couple of tough tournaments, but don’t count him out. He has universal respect from the other pros. No less an angler than Kevin VanDam has talked about him and his ability to catch fish under pressure. Do not forget that the fish are off the beds. That makes for a very different tournament, one Brandon probably will like.

Avoid: Scott Ashmore — Scott’s struggling. He’s having trouble connecting with the bass and with his strengths. He’s a better angler than his AOY standing shows (91st place) but this is not his year. He needs some time to get his head together. That’s tough to do given what he’ll face on West Point.

In addition, he has the swing-for-the-fences problem if he expects to earn a berth at next year’s Classic. That’s never a good position to be in. Believe me, I know.