Confession time: I love the Great Plains. North and South Dakota are absolutely gorgeous places — truly a sportsman’s paradise in all realms of hunting and fishing. The fascinating American history and breathtaking scenery will hold a close second to the vivacious smallmouth bass that swim alongside tremendous populations of walleyes.
I lived in Minot, N.D, for several years and fished all over the state, including Sakakawea, which is the impoundment just north of Oahe. Early in my career I covered multiple top-level walleye tournaments on Oahe, and the field of the world’s best walleye anglers often marveled at the numbers of smallmouth in the giant lake.
Some might not admit it, but having to pull a smallmouth bass from a walleye lure came with some excitement.
But as a sport, we really have very little history to go on. Perhaps lean on anglers with experience or strong smallmouth prowess? How about finesse expertise? Momentum? Yes to all of it if you find the right combination.
I’ve picked Justin Lucas all year long, and it’s paid off every time. Plus, before the season even began I said he’d be our 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the year. He’s currently in third place, and Oahe sets up well for the young angler.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
For this event, I'm considering momentum, finesse experts and anglers who are good at adjusting on the fly.
Regardless of where you place your bets for this historic tournament, you can rest assured it will be one of the most exciting events of the 2018 season.
Let’s dig in.
BUCKET A: LUCAS
Yes, I’m sticking to my guns here. After a dismal 2017, I knew he’d come back for blood in 2018. And he’s proven me correct. Considering how Oahe will likely fish, and Lucas’ momentum, the question really is how can I not pick him? Don’t mess with success.
Dark horse: This is where I’m going to get into trouble, again, (Maggie, I'm sorry). I was close to picking Gerald Spohrer for the La Crosse event, I even said so on our Fantasy Podcast, and he found out about it. And he told me I was wrong, and that I should have picked him, and he was right — except Lucas finished right behind him at that event. How could I have known? If Lucas isn’t your style, I’d certainly tell you that the Louisiana pro in his sophomore year is a solid pick. If not for Lucas in Bucket A, I’d pick Spohrer, maybe I still will.
BUCKET B: FEIDER
Minnesota’s Seth Feider is a renowned smallmouth guru, but he’s also proven his chops on other southern largemouth fisheries that are a stark contrast from northern, clear-water brown bass lakes. He will catch them at Oahe, I promise you that. But he’s also on the bubble for making the 2019 Bassmaster Classic. There is no better time or place that the annual Bassmaster Elite Series northern swing for Feider to jump a few spots into comfortable contention for a Classic berth. I’m betting on his smallmouth talent, northern fishery talent, need for a few points and solid mustache.
Dark horse: Brandon Palaniuk, Brent Ehrler or Jason Christie or anyone in this bucket, really. I know this isn’t helpful at all, but looking at Bucket B, you could throw a dart and go with whomever it hits. But I’d look seriously at the three anglers I just mentioned.
BUCKET C: ELAM
James Elam is a stud on smallmouth waters. Like Feider, he’s also on the Classic bubble with two regular-season events left before the AOY championship. He needs a good showing here to climb the points leaderboard. I feel confident he’ll locate several schools of big smallies to put him in contention for a Day 3, if not Championship Sunday appearance.
Dark horse: Randy Howell is way overdue for a big finish, and he’s a grisly veteran who knows how to dissect new water — plus he won't be intimidated by a big new lake. He’s also on the Classic bubble, so a good finish at Oahe would help put him inside the cut.
BUCKET D: J. VANDAM
I feel like this is a no-brainer. JVD likes big water, he likes big smallmouth, and he’s proven that with a couple of Bassmaster Elite Series titles to his name on fisheries just like Oahe. The wind will blow, the waves will be big, and his ability to navigate scary water full of fat brown bass is right up his alley. JVD for the win?
Dark horse: Dustin Connell is a talented clear-water river angler, and Oahe is going to fish in a way that will be similar to his home waters of the Coosa River in Alabama. Overall, he’s been pretty quiet this year, and I bet that could change in South Dakota.
BUCKET E: WALKER
David Walker has struggled a bit this year, and that’s the general story in this bucket. But as we’ve seen many times in the past, this is where heroes get made. I think with Walker’s extensive smallmouth experience, he’ll do just fine in SoDak.
Dark horse: Russ Lane is having an uncharacteristic season. He’s way more talented than what his position in the AOY points and Bucket E might reveal, and I think he could redirect his season at Oahe. If David Walker isn’t your cup of tea, Lane would make a solid choice.