Fantasy Fishing: Dancing in dirty water at Knoxville

The 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods should be one for the history books for numerous reasons.

The fishery is relatively unknown to most of the 52 anglers, and conditions on the Tennessee River probably will decrease any local advantage for this time of year. The cold temperatures shouldn’t prohibit bass from wanting to be shallow and actually positioning around the available cover.

There are sections of the available fishery to consider: above and below Knoxville, Fort Loudon and Tellico. That’s probably the best way to breakdown the vast playing field, and there should be anglers throughout.

BUCKET A: EHRLER

My pick: Brent Ehrler

So close, so many times. Brent Ehrler has been in contention to win the last two Classics, but he was bested both times by Jordan Lee. This should be an interesting Classic with the conditions of the river, and I think Ehrler will factor. Known as a finesse guy yet underappreciated as a power fisherman, his dirty water strength will show.

Considered: Tennessee Trio

Pick your poison with the Tennessee trio of Brandon Lester, Ott DeFoe and Wesley Strader — all have reasons you should choose them. Based on the high pick percentages, Fantasy Fishing players appear to be siding with those reasons.

The local knowledge factor is in DeFoe’s corner, but with the conditions of the river I’m not quite sure it’s the best for home-field advantage. Dirty water spinnerbaiting and cranking will be up Strader’s alley and will make him dangerous.

Lester has some stout momentum and seems like he might be due a victory. With five top fives in his last seven Bassmaster events, it would be an incredible story if Lester broke through in his home state.

BUCKET B: BENTON

My pick: Drew Benton

Covering water could be the name of the game at this Classic, and with the mixture of a crankbait, jerkbait, spinnerbait and chatterbait, Benton could shine.

Considered: Brandon Palaniuk

I almost picked Brandon Palaniuk because it feels like an event where the winner will need a bunch of rods on the deck to catch them with different techniques. Palaniuk is as versatile as they come, and I fully expect that he will find some friendly smallmouth to weigh in.

BUCKET C: WHITAKER

My pick: Jake Whitaker

It’s not always a good idea to think a first-time Classic competitor will do well with the chaos that happens during Classic week. But someone will rise from the shadows and thrive, and why shouldn’t it be the 2018 Elite Rookie of the Year? The level-headed Whitaker shouldn’t get overwhelmed by the festivities of the week, and he’s a shallow junk fisherman at heart, so I could see his low ownership boding well on the stat sheet. Everyone related to him will probably be in Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena to cheer him on during the weigh-ins.

Considered: Bobby Lane

Bobby Lane always shows up in the Bassmaster Classic. He may not have a Classic title to his credit, but he’s finished in the top 20 in 10 of his 11 appearances. Every angler probably has 30 rods rigged and ready, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lane doesn’t pull out a spinning rod all week and fishes to his strengths.

BUCKET D: ROY

My pick: Bradley Roy

Quiet and under the radar fits Bradley Roy to a "T." People forget he was in the hunt for the 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year until the St. Lawrence River when Justin Lucas and Josh Bertrand finished 1-2 to pull away. Roy is from Kentucky, and if there is a state that resembles the playing field in Knoxville, it’s the lakes around the Cumberland region.

Considered: Derek Hudnall

Derek Hudnall is one of 13 first-time Classic participants. He has a razor-sharp focus and, considering his ownership is at around 3 percent, he could be a steal in this bucket.

BUCKET E: THARP

My pick: Randall Tharp

Randall Tharp is one of the best anglers in the world at locking big bass baits in his hand and fishing for five bites. Whether it’s flipping a jig, a big spinnerbait or something else, Tharp should be one to watch in a three-day shootout.

Considered: Kyle Dorsett

Many won’t know Kyle Dorsett, but he notched a Top 12 at the final Open of 2018 on Logan Martin, his home lake. He also competed in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and took second place. He narrowly missed out on an Elite invite, but he did win a Phoenix Boat package to fish the 2019 Opens. He is a shallow, dirty water angler who is sliding under the radar. There is always one Open or Nation angler who does well in each Classic, and Dorsett may be one to watch in Bucket E even though it’s stacked.