My Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing season was soaring in the right direction for 2018, but I was bound for a crash-and-burn tournament. The Sabine River tripped me up, as I posted only 755 points – basically 300 less than my worst event prior. My five picks finished 22nd, 39th, 62nd, 82nd and 105th.
My mindset for picking a team at the Mississippi River was formed after talking with local standout angler Cade Laufenberg. He gave me some clues as to how this year’s Mississippi River will differ from past years.
Heavy spring rains have created a slight stain in some areas of the river, and the grass isn’t nearly as thick as we’ve seen it in the past. The slop may not be there yet, but lily pads are forming and grass will still factor.
With water temperatures in the 70s, topwater will indeed be popular. We’ve seen both largemouth and smallmouth factor in past years, so anglers will give both a chance during practice. One benefit to anglers this year is the ability to cull in Minnesota waters. In years past anglers were limited to fishing in Wisconsin only after catching a limit.
BUCKET A: B. LANE
My pick: Bobby Lane
Bobby Lane has enjoyed a great 2018 season with only one bad day on his resumé. Day 1 of the year at Lake Martin has been his only stumble. He has notched two Top 12s and a 13th in the last three events. Add in a win and a Top 20 in the Eastern Opens and Lane’s 2018 has been rock solid. His resumé on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse has been stellar as well. With a 13th, seventh and 21st, it fits his style of fishing.
Dark horse: Gerald Swindle
Other than Lake Martin, Gerald Swindle has been on fire this year. He’s racked up $76,000 in Bassmaster winnings including the Bassmaster Classic and is coming off a second-place finish at the Sabine River. He finished up his 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title at the Mississippi River with a Top 12 the last time the Elites fished here. I say Swindle is my dark horse pick, but in reality he will garner a high ownership percentage. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the two-time AOY winner.
BUCKET B: ASHLEY
My pick: Casey Ashley
Many will look at my Bucket B pick and wonder why I would choose Casey Ashley when there aren’t many lakes in his region that fish like the Mississippi River. Yet, Ashley has a good resumé in the La Crosse region. Pools 7, 8 and 9 of the Mississippi River are target rich areas, and Ashley is great at picking apart an area.
Dark horse: Adrian Avena
Although Adrian Avena is from New Jersey, he has important ties in the Wisconsin area and has spent plenty of time in that region. He is fishing well in his third season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. On top of that he made a check to end his rookie year in 2016 when the Elites fished in La Crosse, so he’s taking plenty of positive energy into the northern swing.
BUCKET C: WHITAKER
My pick: Jake Whitaker
No, I’m not jumping on the Jake Whitaker bandwagon all of a sudden because of his fifth-place finish at the Sabine River. I competed in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series against him. I know what he is capable of when he locks a frog or any topwater in his hand.
The Mississippi River has a history of producing some of the best topwater fishing we will see all year. I’d expect him to keep his hot streak going and feel at home fishing in Wisconsin. You never want to gamble on a rookie in hopes of him winning an event, but his season is on an upward trend, and he’s getting his footing on the Elites halfway through the year.
Dark horse: Dustin Connell
It’s hard to call Dustin Connell’s second year a sophomore slump. He set the bar so high his first year that anything less could be deemed a letdown. But it’s simply a different year with a different schedule of fisheries. Connell has missed two checks by just a few ounces each and that has hindered his AOY ranking. I’d expect a Top 50 and a solid finish in this event.
BUCKET D: MONROE
My pick: Ish Monroe
When a frog will be a player, it’s hard to ignore Ish Monroe. He loves braided line, a big rod and techniques like frogging and flipping. The Mississippi River offers plenty of opportunities to set the hook, so I’d expect Monroe to get his chances at a good finish.
Dark horse: Kelley Jaye
The year of the jerkbait will forever be remembered as 2017, where it seemingly factored in every event. Kelley Jaye wouldn’t mind a repeat of that since he already notched a career best finish of third this year at Kentucky Lake with a jerkbait. I’d expect there to be a good sub-surface moving bait bite and for Jaye to exploit it. Whether rocks, docks, grass lines or outflows, there will be plenty of places for him to jerk and pause to catch bass.
BUCKET E: H. Shryock
My pick: Hunter Shryock
He’s due. After competing in five events to start his rookie season, Shryock has yet to garner a check. By no means does that show his ability or tell the full story. Putting two good days of fishing in a row can be hard to do, and Shryrock has at least put half that puzzle together each event.
He hasn’t bombed an event this year, in my opinion. His best finish is 59th and his worst is 82nd. For most anglers mired in Bucket E, they are hero or zero, but that hasn’t been the case. A good finish would help his season dramatically and reveal the level of angling he is capable of.
Dark horse: Kyle Monti
This will probably be the last event of the year with water that remotely resembles what Kyle Monti is used to fishing in Florida. The grass won’t be matted like Florida, but Monti will feel at home with some braid on his reels and vegetation around.