Fantasy Fishing: Go with your gut on Norfork and Bull Shoals

After a rough start to my season at the St. Johns River, I recovered well and picked a pretty solid team for Winyah Bay. My one falter at Winyah, however, was Clent Davis who finished 77th. My secondary choice was Dave Lefebre who ended up in 14th, and he would’ve given my team a giant boost. I should have listened to my gut, and I’m going to for Norfork and Bull Shoals.

Winyah Bay was a doozy, and will certainly be a 180-degree difference from what will be found at Bull Shoals and Norfolk lakes for the third Elite stop of the year. Anglers will now make their way from a coastal tidal fishery in South Carolina to an Ozark bass factory in northern Arkansas.

Here are my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks. Choose wisely, because this unique tournament format can throw Fantasy Fishing players (and anglers) for a loop this week. In short, both Norfork and Bull Shoals will be fished, two days each, for a combined four-day weight. Weigh-ins will be held each afternoon at the same location in Mountain Home, Ark.

BUCKET A: CHERRY

Safe bet: Edwin Evers

In most events E2 is one of the safest Fantasy picks, especially in his neck of the woods where he finished fourth in 2012. Evers has had two solid finishes so far this year, but he doesn’t have a Top 12 yet and I think he could get that done in Arkansas under this format.

The interesting dynamic with this event is deciding where to practice, and when to practice. A seasoned champion like Evers will remain calm and make better decisions compared to anglers who may be scrambling. Added history doesn’t hurt either.

Worth a risk: Hank Cherry

Hank Cherry is one of the best jerkbait fishermen on the planet. It’s impossible to forecast the winning pattern at any event, but based on the time of year and the fishery, a jerkbait will be hard to beat.

Gut tells me: Cherry

I think this year is a bounce-back season for Cherry, and this could be one of his best events of the year. After missing out on the Classic at Grand Lake where he almost won in 2013, he’s fishing with a vengeance this year, and it’s working for him.

BUCKET B: LESTER

Safe bet: Mike McClelland

Mike McClelland will be in his home state on a fishery that is right in his wheelhouse. I’m sure he’s spent vast amounts of time on both fisheries, and he’ll rightly be a top selection in this bucket.

Worth a risk: Brandon Lester

Mid April in Arkansas means bass should be in multiple spawning stages and all three species of bass — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass — will play role in this event. With finicky transition bass, an angler like Brandon Lester can slow down when others are speeding up, which could yield him a big-time finish. I could see Lester finding good limits of fish while picking apart gravel points with a finesse presentation. It’s the kind of pattern that will likely play on both lakes in similar locations.

Gut tells me: Lester

Lester’s ownership percentage won’t be high, and his quiet nature allows him to slip under the radar. But don’t let that fool you on his ability to wield a finesse rod — he’s a hammer and will do well at this event.

BUCKET C: KENNEDY

Safe bet: Steve Kennedy

Steve Kennedy’s swimbait will catch bass that are still in a prespawn mode and in transition moving into the backs of creeks and pockets. Kennedy’s off-the-wall style of fishing has had its moments, and in recent history many of those moments have come from this part of the country. He did well at Bull Shoals in 2013 and Table Rock in 2014. If there is a swimbait bite going on, Kennedy will find it.

Worth a risk: Casey Scanlon

Scanlon is good in the Ozark region. After an Open victory at Table Rock a few years ago, and quality finishes in 2013 at Bull Shoals and 2014 at the Rock, it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing. The only thing risky for this angler could be the format; but that doesn’t apply to just him, it applies to the entire field.

Gut tells me: Kennedy

I’ll take Kennedy, a swimbait and a loud War Eagle in this bucket, (I have no ties to the Bama-Auburn rivalry, FYI). But, there is something about his style of fishing that I like for Arkansas.

BUCKET D: DEFOE

Safe bet: Ott DeFoe

Two missed checks in a row for Mr. DeFoe has me scratching my head. He is one of the most consistent anglers on the Elite Series; so finding him in Bucket D is new for me. I bet that this is where he rights the ship and turns his season around.

Worth a risk: Jay Brainard

If you don’t know Jay Brainard’s name just yet, you will sometime very soon. Brainard is an Oklahoma angler that dominated the Central Opens last year and is now in a familiar region adjacent to his home state. This is a dangerous combination that will likely put him in contention to do very well in Arkansas.

Gut tells me: DeFoe

I just can’t shy away from DeFoe. He has been way too consistent over his career to not bounce back. It’s odd to see DeFoe miss one check in general, but to miss back-to-back? That’s an anomaly.

BUCKET E: KRIET

Safe bet: Jeff Kriet

Kriet, a wily veteran of the sport, has seen it all, and this tournament format should really play to his strengths. Kriet isn’t a popular pick in most events, but anytime there is chunk rock and gravel nearby he’ll be bouncing a shaky head through schools of fish.

Worth a risk: Gary Klein

In a year where Britt Myers and Rick Clunn have each won events, it could be the year of unsung heroes. If anyone deserves a Top 12 or a crack at a win it’s Klein. He clearly still has the ability and drive to compete at this level; this tournament should set up for his fishing style.

Gut tells me: Kriet

I’ll take The Squirrel for the simple fact that I don’t expect him to remain in Bucket E after this event.

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