The 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series season is quickly approaching, and that means Fantasy Fishing is getting revved up as well. This season will feature new names and faces that many fans aren’t accustomed to, but that comes with the territory of every new season. From proven Elite Series anglers, those arriving from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens and others from the FLW Tour, this year’s Elite Series is wide open.
The first test of the season is at a historic and familiar fishery. The St. John’s River in Palatka, Fla., has hosted numerous Bassmaster events, most recently in 2016 when Rick Clunn took the title.
This edition of the St. John’s River may be a little different because a lot has changed. Based on reports the grass isn’t nearly as prevalent as usual due, in part, to the impact of the hurricanes. Another aspect is Rodman Reservoir is in play this year. Anglers have the St. John’s River and can lock into Rodman if they choose.
The buckets are laid out in alphabetical order for this first event to get the year started so they aren’t based on any other merit or standing. After the first event, the anglers will be placed in Fantasy Fishing buckets based on accruing AOY points.
BUCKET A: BENTON
Picked: Drew Benton
Drew Benton is a Floridian, and one with great history on the St. John’s River. Even though the grass has changed he knows how Florida fish act. History may not be as crucial, but it’s always good to have it in your corner to start the season. A little bit of pre-practice there can go a long way. There are quite a few anglers who should do well in this bucket.
Sleeper: Brandon Cobb
I chose Brandon Cobb as a sleeper because he graces the bucket with a lot of veterans. Even though he is a young gun, he is a veteran now because he’s competed at top levels for a number of years. His style of fishing could prosper in Palatka. There are numerous variables that can impact the event. There could be spawning fish everywhere or it could be a tournament where you bomb casts in the abyss and pick off fish that are heading to spawning grounds. Keep an eye out for Cobb.
BUCKET B: DIPALMA
Picked: Greg DiPalma
Like most of these anglers, I’ve covered them at some point on the water in an Elite Series event or a Bassmaster Open. Greg DiPalma falls under the Opens level as he is making his debut as a Rookie. He’s shown poise over the years and came so close to qualifying. With the opportunity in his hands now, I fully expect DiPalma to start the year strong. As a New Jersey angler he has a couple things working in his favor; finesse and tough fishing. I’ve seen his skill first hand as he has finessed shallow pressured fish into biting and I know when the going gets tough he won’t give in. Whether it’s sunny Florida or a cold-front shut down, DiPalma should settle in quickly on the Elites.
Sleeper: Derek Hudnall
Derek Hudnall is another Rookie from the Opens, but he brings a ton of national experience. He pushed his skill to the limit as he stepped out of his comfort zone and fished numerous Opens divisions the last few years. This has given him experience from as far west as Texas and as north as New York. I covered him in a Top 12 effort at the Harris Chain a few years ago. Although it’s different, he has spent time in Florida getting apt to their ever-changing nature.
BUCKET C: LESTER
Picked: Brandon Lester
If the fishing industry was polled on who is primed for a breakout season, Brandon Lester would top the list. He’s had numerous encounters with Elite Series blue trophies just to have them snatched from his grasp in the final moments. It wouldn’t surprise me if he notched a big time win this year, or maybe two. Lester also started 2018 off strong with a second-place finish in an Open on the Kissimmee Chain under cooler and tough conditions.
Sleeper: Koby Kreiger
Koby Kreiger is back on the Elite Series and starts off in his residing state. If this tournament turns into a sight fishing shootout, Kreiger could be a guy to watch for. Of the Florida anglers competing, he may get the least love, but his sight-fishing capabilities are top notch.
BUCKET D: PRINCE
Picked: Cliff Prince
Hard to pass over Cliff Prince’s name on Fantasy Fishing when he will be sleeping in his own bed for this event. He had a fantastic 2016 showing, and was in contention on the final day. He had some interesting stories from that event, but he has some sneaky spots on the St. John’s that I was privileged to see that year and I bet he has plenty more where that came from.
Sleeper: Rick Morris
I see the St. John’s fitting in with Rick Morris’ style. Morris won a Bassmaster Open on the James River by fishing old ribbon tails and other worms often forgotten from past generations. The St. John’s seems to be a fishery that is one of those iconic places where old school lures still produce fish better than brand new shiny ones. From prop baits to ring worms, I feel like Morris could prosper.
BUCKET E: SUMRALL
Picked: Caleb Sumrall
Caleb Sumrall was so close to having a great year in 2018. His Rookie season was ok, but he was plagued with the limit bug on Day 2 of numerous events. He would bring four fish to the scales and miss a cut by a slim margin and miss out on valuable points. He finished the year gaining some steam at the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and he should fish with a plethora of confidence in 2019. Confidence is key.
Sleeper: Patrick Walters
If you haven’t heard Patrick Walters name yet, just give it a minute. Walters was a standout on the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series and knocked down numerous feats in the 2018 Opens, including a win. Walters is among the crop of young anglers fishing well beyond their years. Walters leaves no stone unturned and fishes every second of practice he can. With three full days of practice he will cover a lot of water on the St. John’s.