Fantasy Fishing: Go for anglers who ‘rock’

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Garrick Dixon

Justin Lucas broke away from the pack in 2015 and is on track for even better in 2016, starting with the Classic.

Does Grand Lake sound familiar? It should. The Classic was held on the upland reservoir in 2013 — a tournament hit by a severe winter storm two days before competition started. The storm brought rain, snow and sleet, and the temperature at takeoff hovered in the teens. The water temperature also dropped several degrees and broke up concentrated prespawn bass.

One angler, however, made the right adjustments and fished the current conditions better than anyone else. Cliff Pace avoided fishing in the main lake’s current (the coldest water) and concentrated on the first channel swing inside major creeks where the water was a few degrees warmer.

Pace patiently fished channel swings while keying in on areas where large rock transitioned into pea gravel. His commitment to go after single fish proved an angler didn’t have to catch a limit every day to win the Classic. He caught 21-pound limits the first two days, but only weighed in four fish on the final day and still won by 3 pounds.

This Classic, however, will likely fish differently than the last. It takes place two weeks later, which may seem trivial any other time of the year, but it can make a big difference during the early spring. If there’s a warming trend leading into the event, many of Grand Lake’s bass will move from their winter holding areas to staging locations.

Of course, there’s El Niño to consider. Early El Nio forecasts show winter weather could arrive in the Tulsa area as late as March, but it’s impossible to accurately predict this far in advance.

Regardless of the weather conditions, we still need to fill out our Fantasy Fishing rosters.

The following are my Classic picks:

Bucket A: Lucas

Fan Favorite: Edwin Evers

My Pick: Justin Lucas

If you’re scratching your head at my pick, you shouldn’t be. I realize Bucket A has both the reigning and former Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, but after finishing second in last year’s AOY standings, Justin Lucas has proved he can compete all over the country, especially in the late winter and early spring. He also has strong finishes on rock-filled reservoirs similar to Grand.

Lucas broke out last year and is going to only continue getting better. Watch for him to get started quickly at the Classic.

Edwin Evers is one of the few Oklahomans in the field and has experienced more success on Grand than anyone besides Jason Christie. Evers started strong on Grand during the 2013 Classic, but faded on Days 2 and 3. Even so, he’s too solid of an angler on upland reservoirs during the early spring not to be the majority pick.

Bucket B: Christie

Fan Favorite: Jason Christie

My Pick: Jason Christie

Jason Christie is not only going to be the fan favorite, but he’s also my pick as well. Christie will likely have the most heat (media requests and spectator boats) of any angler in the Classic field, just like he did in 2013. This time, however, he understands how to handle those pressured situations and will not make the same mistakes he did last time.

Christie knows Grand better than anyone in the field, and after Casey Ashley’s Classic win on Lake Hartwell last year, the fans aren’t afraid to pick the “local” favorite anymore.

Bucket C: Howell

Fan Favorite: Kevin VanDam

My Pick: Randy Howell

Kevin VanDam is an intense competitor with multiple Classic and AOY titles, so he’s an immediate fan favorite. I, however, am picking Randy Howell. Howell is also a passionate angler and has an impressive résumé himself.

Howell is an instinctual angler who used both his instincts and cranking ability to win the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville. On the last day of the event, Howell listened to his gut and abandoned his starting spot in favor of an area he hadn’t fished since practice. He made the right decision and caught the biggest final-day limit cranking rock.

I’m confident Howell’s natural instincts and cranking skills will serve him well on the rock-filled Grand Lake this March.

Bucket D: Iaconelli

Fan Favorite: Mike Iaconelli

My Pick: Mike Iaconelli

Mike Iaconelli is everyone’s favorite (at least everyone under the age of 50), including mine. Ike finished fourth in 2013 on Grand, and I see him having another successful Classic. Ike is a fierce competitor, and his ability to fish fast when he needs to is impressive. This Classic may reward the angler who can cover the most water. If so, look for Iaconelli to compete for the win.

Bucket E: McMillan

Fan Favorite: James Watson

My Pick: Brandon McMillan

James Watson, a Missouri resident, has a loud and likable personality, so he’ll quickly capture the fans’ attention.

Brandond McMillan, a Florida-based pro, doesn’t have much experience fishing outside the Southeast region. Yet he’s one of the most skilled anglers I’ve seen fish in 5 feet or less of water by fishing directly what’s in front of him. If there’s a shallow bite on Grand this March, look for McMillan to compete.

I’m curious, who are your picks?