The Upper Chesapeake Bay hosted a 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series event, but the 2018 version should be a different game. The playing field is the same size, the time of year is almost identical, but the field conditions have changed.
First, the takeoff location has moved down the Bay. The anglers will race out of the Bush River into Chesapeake Bay. In 2015, the Elite Series field launched from North East, and a lot of the action went down there because of the stability of the fishing. On a calm day it is a 25- to 30-minute commute from the previous takeoff to this year’s launch.
The Susquehanna Flats didn’t contribute like they normally do, and it confined the field to a smaller region even though Aaron Martens' win came from a different area. We should see the Flats, North East, Middle River and many other creeks contribute this year.
With the Flats fishing well this year and that knowledge of the past event, the field could be more dispersed than ever. This could be a showcase for the Upper Bay and what it is capable of.
BUCKET A: REESE
My pick: Skeet Reese
Skeet Reese is hard to pin down. People will label him as a supreme swimbait and big-bait angler. Don’t forget that he has a Classic title by way of flipping. He throws spinnerbaits, topwater lures and crankbaits with the best of them, as well. I’m picking him in Bucket A because he is a superb tidal-water fisherman. With great events on the California Delta, Potomac and other tidal fisheries, he is my choice in this slot. Oh, and he’s only owned by 1.7 percent of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players.
Dark horse: Bobby Lane
Bobby Lane is underrated in this spot. With less than 1 percent ownership he is a steal. The Chesapeake Bay is right up his alley because he is a patient flipper, he’s used to fishing in brutal summer heat and he makes a check in 65 percent of Elite Series events.
BUCKET B. HITE
My pick: Brett Hite
Brett Hite has landed a check in all but two Elite Series events this year. I’d expect him to exercise his chatterbait prowess here, especially if the field spaces out. Honing a reaction bite could lead to big things at the Chesapeake given the size of the stringers it’s been taking to win local tournaments on the Upper Bay.
Dark horse: Shin Fukae
Patience is key on tidal fisheries and tough fisheries in general. Shin Fukae proved that at the Sabine River just a few events ago. He notched a Top 12 there and did so by fishing slower than anglers around him, more thoroughly and also with a finesse approach. If the Flats or some of the creeks get heavily pressured, someone like Fukae could slide in and scoop up a big one in a crowd. Both Hite and Fukae’s ownership percentages are perfect for someone looking to jump up the Fantasy Fishing leaderboards.
BUCKET C: ROUMBANIS
My pick: Fred Roumbanis
This feels like a tournament made for Fred Roumbanis. You’ve got some grass and flats along with other objects to fish around. He most certainly will have plenty of places to throw his frog around, but also a swimbait like we saw at Kentucky Lake.
Dark horse: Adrian Avena/Bill Lowen
Saying that Adrian Avena or Bill Lowen is a dark horse pick at the Chesapeake Bay is pretty silly because they are most likely near the top of the favorites list. But I’m not sold on picking them because of their high ownership. With Avena at a solid 17 percent and Lowen at 13 percent the anglers are obviously on my mind and were considered, but with a good share of fans choosing them the reward isn’t nearly as tantalizing for my strategy.
BUCKET D: COULTER
My pick: Brandon Coulter
This pick is out of necessity. Brandon Coulter wants to make the Bassmaster Classic just a few minutes from his home in Knoxville, Tenn. He sits 77th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and is 80 points from the Top 50. He needs a good event at the Chesapeake Bay and another solid tournament at the St. Lawrence River to have a shot to make the AOY Championship. It’s worth noting he had a solid showing in 2015 here (39th) and also notched a Top 12 at the St. Lawrence in 2017 (ninth).
Dark horse: Mark Menendez
It always seems that a spinnerbait can factor, even in the middle of the summer, on the tidal fisheries when it’s tough as nails. We saw Aaron Martens use it, Bill Lowen too, the last time we visited the Chesapeake. Even the 1991 Classic win by Ken Cook on the Chesapeake involved a spinnerbait. All those facts lead up to this fact: Menendez likes throwing the often-forgotten spinnerbait.
BUCKET E: GROH
My pick: Chris Groh
The 40-year-old Elite Series rookie has had a heck of a year and not necessarily all in the good category. He seemingly catches them great one day but can’t sustain it the next. Some of that may be the venues we’ve visited, where there isn’t an overwhelming pattern you can run across the entire lake. Pairing two days together and finishing what should be his strong events are boxes Groh wants to check with two events left in the season.
Dark horse: Kelly Jordon
With success on fisheries like the Potomac, Kelly Jordon could find a nice boost at Chesapeake Bay. For someone who likes to flip cover, Jordon could find plenty of water to himself way back in some creeks. The Chesapeake may have some concentrated places where anglers are, but it should show us creeks we have yet to see in our visits here in the past.
Weight prediction: 72-10
Aaron Martens won in 2015 with 70-2 and had a sizeable winning margin, but that was with a tougher Chesapeake Bay. With the way it has fished this year the weights should be very solid throughout the Top 12 and numerous anglers should be in the mid-to-upper 60s region with a few around 70.