Fantasy Fishing: Consider risk vs. reward at Champlain

If you’re looking to improve your points standing at Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, the time to play it conservative is long gone. Either you play it safe and be content with your current position, or take a few risks to climb the leaderboard at the Bassmaster Elite at Champlain presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, July 27-30.

Of course, it’s not always that simple. This is the second stop of a back-to-back during the annual northern swing. In short, that means there is no downtime whatsoever between St. Lawrence and Champlain. They leave one to begin practice at the other.

The challenge of fatigue will play a role with two close tournaments and as the season is winding down, but momentum in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race must also be considered.

Brandon Palaniuk has made it clear he doesn’t want to know where he stands in the AOY race, but this Thursday he’ll find out as he’ll be awarded a Toyota AOY Leader $1,000 check. Will that change how he fishes? Possibly, but I strongly doubt it’ll negatively impact his success — he’s fishing out of his mind right now, and I fully expect that to continue.

Consider AOY, but don’t overlook Rookie of the Year either. There are three guys that are having a tremendous first season on the Elite Series. Dustin Connell, Mark Daniels Jr. and Jamie Hartman are each in contention to win ROY, but could also show up and dominate one of the two remaining regular-season events. All three anglers could be considered safe selections at Champlain.

Momentum is on their sides.

There isn’t much time left this year, and to move up in the rankings as Fantasy competitors or as Elite competitors, you have to take some risks, but playing it safe might be the best direction to take your season, too.

For me, I’m going with anglers that have indicated an upswing in momentum, and each have a lot to lose by not doing well from here on.

BUCKET A: PALANIUK

This is a no-brainer. I have absolute confidence Palaniuk will continue his streak of success. After Ott DeFoe all but fell out of the AOY race, I think it’s Palaniuk’s season to take home the most respected title in bass fishing. He comes with more ownership than I like to see, but I can’t say no to him.

Darkhorse: Casey Ashley is also having one of his best seasons ever, and I think that will continue into the final two events of the season. While Palaniuk is in control, Ashley is far from out of it. He’ll be a safe bet, and likely a better choice with lower ownership if you’re goal is to move up the Fantasy leaderboard.

BUCKET B: LEFEBRE

Dave Lefebre has been consistent all year, but he’s not happy with just being consistent. He wants to win, and with a Classic berth very likely, he’s out to take home a blue trophy. He’ll not be fishing conservatively, and that makes him incredibly dangerous. When he fishes that way, he usually does well, and I think he’s a selection that will pay off at Champlain.

Darkhorse: Mike Iaconelli is as consistent as anyone on tour, and he’s due for a win. I think he’s a safe bet, especially on a lake he knows very well.

BUCKET C: M. LEE

The elder Lee brother has been fishing very well this year, and I think it’s time to put him into my Fantasy lineup. Going into Champlain, he’s in 47th place in the AOY race, and that makes him a bubble boy. He needs a good finish at the next two events to earn an invite to the AOY championship, and then hopefully a berth into the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. In this I’m confident.

Darkhorse: Brett Hite has been very quiet this season. With a healthy mix of largemouth and smallmouth bass at Champlain, I could see Hite being very consistent. He’s currently outside the AOY cut, but a Top 12 should put him back in the mix. Expect a good showing out of the Arizona angler this week.

BUCKET D: MUELLER

Paul Mueller has also had a difficult year, but this event is as close to his Connecticut home as any Elite event this year, and it sets up for his style of fishing. Mueller will need two very good finishes at Champlain and St. Clair to have a shot at fishing in the AOY championship in September, and he knows that. This makes him dangerous, and when combined with the location of the event makes him the kind of selection that could pay off big time.

Darkhorse: Justin Lucas has been slowly working to salvage his season, but he’s not out of the woods yet. An AOY invite is going to be a tall order, but two Top 12’s might get him inside the Top 50. If anyone can do that, Lucas can.

BUCKET E: OMORI

This was the toughest bucket for me to weed through. Takahiro Omori is carrying a lot of ownership for what I prefer, but I think he’s literally the best bet in Bucket E. I’m going with him for that reason alone. He’s out of Classic contention, and I guarantee he’s looking to end his season on a high note — this is one of his last chances to do so, and that makes him dangerous.

Darkhorse: Rick Clunn is up and down this year, and being out of Classic contention he’ll be looking to finish his season strong. If he were to win one of the final two events, I’d bet the veteran angler would consider retirement. How does that play into his game plan? He’ll put it all on the line.

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