After the long runs and light weights of Winyah Bay, the Bassmaster Elite Series will pick up the schedule midstream at Lake Fork, a comparatively compact playing field with comparatively monstrous fish.
The home of “Ethel,” a place where countless pros from across the country developed their guiding and big fish chops, this is an event not to be missed. No one will be surprised if the winner joins the Century Club. In fact, no one should be surprised if everyone fishing on the last day tops a cumulative 100 pounds. It’s not clear what the cut weight will be, but if you want to get some TV time you better sack ‘em up good.
I’m not saying that there won’t be fish caught on a spinning rod, but if that’s your primary tool, I can’t imagine a scenario where you won’t be going home early. Accordingly, pick anglers who fish for five gigantors every time out and have tested their livewells’ holding capacities in the past.
As a general rule, this is one where I’m not going to worry about ownership percentages as much as Lone Star blood and experience.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: LIVESAY
BET TEXAS-SIZED WAGERS ON: Lee Livesay has been one of the most pleasant surprises of this young season, a 33-year-old rookie who has been in the top 16 in three out of four Elite events, none of them in Texas. Now he’s returning to the lake where he’s guided for years. While he’s commanding nearly 30 percent of Fantasy players at this time, I can’t pass up this opportunity. Nor can he or will he.
SECOND CHOICE: But if you think Livesay’s crawfish-boil buddies from Michelob Ultra are going to distract him, go with Patrick Walters, your current AOY leader. Dude seems to have ice water running through his veins, which is probably a good thing in Texas where the two seasons are Hail and 110 degrees.
BUCKET B: HERREN
BET TEXAS-SIZED WAGERS ON: Matt Herren may be Alabama to the core, but he’s won previously in Texas, at the 2016 TTBC on Lake Ray Roberts. He’s fished seven Classics, so a big stage won’t bother him and at 18th in the AOY race he’s in prime stealth position to make a move on the top of the leaderboard.
SECOND CHOICE: I thought about Chris Zaldain here, since he’s adopted north Texas as his home, but I think Yusuke Miyazaki might shock a bunch of people, and come with a much lower ownership percentage. He’s spent a lot of time on Fork, and I once fished with him at Falcon when he had a 30-plus pound day, so I know he can get it done under the right circumstances.
BUCKET C: COMBS
BET TEXAS-SIZED WAGERS ON: A certain member of the Combs household (hint: not one of the dogs) has prohibited me from picking Keith in recent times, claiming that I’m bad luck, but come on – I don’t care if everyone else picks him, I’d feel like a complete jackleg when he catches 250 pounds and my pick dropshots up a couple of limits. I can’t risk that embarrassment, even if it makes me persona non grata in the Rayburn area.
SECOND CHOICE: Chad Morgenthaler has spent time at Fork, has historically done well in Texas, and lives to flip with an 8-foot rod and 65-pound braid. That’s a recipe for the midseason finish he needs to get inside the Classic cut.
BUCKET D: HANSELMAN
BET TEXAS-SIZED WAGERS ON: Like Combs, Hanselman is commanding a virtually unheard of percentage of the vote. Like Combs, you should pick him. One year I think he averaged like six wins a week within his home state. That may be an exaggeration – I looked it up and the truth is that in 2015 he earned a clean sweep of the FLW Series southwestern division and then backed it up by winning the circuit’s championship on the Ohio River. He hasn’t shone like that yet in one and a half seasons on the Elites, but he’s a proven winner and that talent won’t stay dormant for long.
SECOND CHOICE: Jay Yelas may be considered a westerner due to his roots and current Oregon mailing address, but for much of his career he lived in northeast Texas to be closer to the tournament scene. He hasn’t made much of a stamp on his return to B.A.S.S. yet, but he hasn’t forgotten how to fish Texas, and if you don’t want to pay Hanselman’s hefty price tag the 2002 Classic champ might be a bargain.
BUCKET E: KENNEDY
BET TEXAS-SIZED WAGERS ON: I used to pick Steve Kennedy a lot. That was great when he did well, which was often, but he also occasionally scraped the bottom of the standings. That’s where he is now, surprisingly, after the tour visited several venues where he’s historically done well. I’m guessing he has a few of those discontinued swimbaits left in his arsenal, and while the fish are in between their spawning areas and their summertime haunts he might be able to tempt 20 or so of them.
SECOND CHOICE: I don’t know much about Dale Hightower, but looks like he could wrestle a bear into submission with 3 feet of braided line. That’s an apt analogy for fishing at Fork much of the time – no ShareLunker is going to pull him into the drink.