Wow! What a way to kick off the year for the Bassmaster Elite Series. Not only did a legend of the sport, Rick Clunn, go back-to-back on the St. Johns River, but the sheer number of 20- to 30-pound bags was one for the record books.
I’ve got to say, after my lackluster Fantasy Fishing finish last year, it feels good to start off with a solid showing after the first event. I made one last second swap in Bucket A and traded out Rick Clunn for John Crews. That had me at 1,288 points for the event, and I’m currently sitting in the 99th percentile, well ahead of the likes of my respected pundit cohorts, T. Allen, R. Moore and P. Robbins.
It’s good to be king.
Let’s jump into some picks.
Lake Lanier is known for some amazing bass fishing. Giant spotted bass are typically targeted here and it’s not uncommon to see a 5- or 6-pounder hit the scales. There are definitely largemouth bass here too, and you’ll see some anglers attempt to target them. The question will be whether or not they will find enough of them to last the whole event.
The spots live on the offshore rocks and points while the largemouth like the shallow dirtier water up the lake. I’d expect most of the field to target the deeper schools of spots in and around prespawn staging areas. Look for the guys who prefer light line and finesse baits to dominate the Sunday Top 10.
BUCKET A: AREY
At the St. Johns River, Matt Arey admitted his kryptonite is fishing grass lakes. Well, bud, you’re in luck. Lanier is full of rocks and docks with not a blade in sight. He finished in 70th place here in 2018, but that was out of the norm for him as his finishes on other clear spotted bass reservoirs is impressive. They include 28th, seventh, first, and fifth place twice on Beaver Lake, 27th and 18th on Ouachita, 11th, 23rd and 27th on Hartwell and the list could go on. I fully expect him to put on a show.
Keep your eye on: Cliff Pirch
Cliff is no stranger when it comes to deep, clear fisheries and light line. I bet he’ll pull out his Havasu book of tricks and snag a few tanks. He confidence is soaring right now after smashing more than 34 pounds on Day 3 last week. Momentum is a huge factor in this game, and he’s got it.
BUCKET B: COBB
Like Arey, Brandon Cobb is a new face to the Elites, but he’s no stranger to the top level of the sport. Last year on the FLW tour, he finished 26th on Lanier and between several spotted-bass factories on his resume, he finished in the near the top almost every time with his best being ninth and third on Ouachita. He is a self-proclaimed finesse fisherman and you can bet he’ll put that super-fine line to the test.
Keep your eye on: Seth Feider
Seth had an up-and-down event on the St. Johns, but ultimately finished in a solid 22nd-place. He is a master with his electronics and should put on a clinic dropping on some magnum spots.
BUCKET C: DAVIS
Clent Davis’ time away from the Elites was well spent. He snagged a little trophy called the Forrest Wood Cup a few months ago on Ouachita. The beauty of that tournament is that he wasn’t fishing for spotted bass like a lot of other people were. He was dragging a huge red worm off shore looking for key bites… and he found them. He’s not afraid to go against the norm and that’s why I’m picking him here. He could be the guy who put the largemouth puzzle together or who finds the bait that gets the bigger spots to bite.
It may be a boom or bust strategy, but his record on clear water lakes speaks for itself. A few to take note of are 12th on Lanier, third on Hartwell, seventh on Lewis Smith Lake and a third on Lake Cumberland.
Keep your eye on: Jason Williamson
I definitely will be following him closely leading up to this weekend. If my belly says to make a change, he will be the one I swap out. He won an Elite event on Clarks Hill Lake, another blue back herring lake back in 2010 and his prowess with a spinning rod is stout.
BUCKET D: HARTMAN
Jamie Hartman burst onto the scene in 2017 and lit the Elites on fire. He made a Top 12 cut five times that year. For him, it comes down to the smallest details to finesse fish for finicky bass. His best finishes have come on fisheries like Lake Travis, St. Clair, St. Lawrence River, Cherokee … all places where the details matter due to clear water. He had a mediocre event last week and you can bet he’ll be trying to pick up the pace moving forward in the season.
Keep your eye on: Steve Kennedy
Swimbaits are a big piece of most anglers’ arsenals when planning to fish Lanier. Kennedy is known for throwing the big baits, aiming at five bites. He probably won’t be looking for schools of 15 to 20 fish, but if he can find enough bites, they’ll be the right ones and you’ll see him on Sunday.
BUCKET E: GUSTAFSON
Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson had a tough start at the St. Johns for his first Elite event. He is only a rookie by definition and has had some great results fishing FLW. Namely, last year, he finished seventh on this weeks’ playing field, Lanier. Spending most of his time dragging finesse baits, he found some monster spots that anchored his bags each day. His ability to read his graphs and find good schools of active fish will be key.
Keep your eye on: David Fritts
It was tough for David to pull his crankbaits through the eel grass in Lake George last week and that lead to a dismal finish. However, Lanier will set up perfectly for his wheelhouse. Grinding off the bills of his baits on the offshore rock could very well see him through to the weekend.