With the final regular-season tournament on the horizon, it’s all coming down to the Plano Bassmaster Elite at the Mississippi River presented by Favorite Fishing for most of the Bassmaster Elite Series field — and Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players.
The top 20 to 25 pros in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings most likely have a safe path to the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, but beyond that a poor showing La Crosse could prove to be a major setback for everyone else.
So, what’s the key to late-season Fantasy Fishing gaming? In my mind it’s all about momentum and who has the most to lose or gain. It’s hard to argue that momentum plays a major role in tournament angling; it often seems that when an angler is having a great year, he can’t make any mistakes.
Being a dominant angler almost becomes a personality trait — whether that’s annual or perennial — they are just flat hard to beat.
The upper pools of the mighty Mississippi River are full of bass. In fact, there’s a good chance that each angler will weigh a limit of bass all four days of competition. The fishery is in tremendous health and will show out in early September.
What does Swindle have to do to keep a tight grip on his AOY lead? He has to catch fish and remain competitive. That may not sound like a big hurdle to overcome, but as we like to say — over and over again — anything can happen in this game. He doesn’t have the kind of lead Aaron Martens did at this point last year, but he’s got a strong handle on things.
Watch for Swindle to do well, just as he has all year long — there’s no reason to stop that G-Train now!
BUCKET A: SWINDLE
I am unabashedly standing by Swindle yet again. I think he’s got the momentum in his favor, and the kind of fishing that will be required on the upper Mississippi fits right into Swindle’s strengths. Hey may even notch his first Elite victory.
Dark Horse: It’s hard to not pick Brandon Palaniuk. He absolutely dominated here in 2013, except for an unfortunate culling incident that DQ’d his Day 2 total and keeping him from progressing. That really lit a fire in the young angler, as he went on to win the following event on the St. Lawrence River. He’s done well in the AOY race this year, and has pretty much punched his ticket to the 2017 Classic. That makes him dangerous, and I expect him to fish like he’s got nothing to loose. Expect Palaniuk to show up with a chip on his shoulder.
BUCKET B: ELAM
Oklahoma angler James Elam is my Dark Horse for this whole event. He’s steadily climbed the AOY leaderboard all year long, and he’s a talented river and slop angler — both of which will be dominant presentations on the Mississippi River. I’d look for a solid finish out of Elam.
Dark Horse: Todd Faircloth won on the Mississippi River in 2012 and finished sixth in 2013. How can you not root for him at this one? He will finish strong in this event and he’s a safe bet. I’m still sticking with Elam, but choosing to not select Faircloth could come back to bite me.
BUCKET C: CREWS
John Crews has a lot to gain and a lot to loose. He’s just barely inside the cut for the AOY championship at 49th place, and he has two Top 20 finishes on the Mississippi, including a third place. I think Crews will show up and fish like he’s starving.
Dark Horse: Mark Menendez — like Crews — is just inside the invite list to the AOY Championship in 47th place. Menendez is very accomplished river stick, and with a lot to win or loose. I’d be confident in betting on Menendez, but Crews is getting my vote in Bucket C.
BUCKET D: FEIDER
Minnesota native Seth Feider struggled on the Potomac, unfortunately. He is likely one of the toughest anglers on Mille Lacs, and he knows that he’ll most likely need a Top 12 to make the cut for the AOY Championship. I know he’s very familiar with this portion of the Mississippi River, and if a come-from-behind finish is possible, this is the place where Feider could earn redemption. I want to see him perform on Mille Lacs, so he’s getting my choice because I believe in him.
Dark Horse: Brandon Lester has struggled this year, but that’s not an adequate representation of how good Lester really is. He’s a stud when it comes to froggin’ and flipping and pitching, and that’s exactly how a good majority of the limits will be produced on the Mississippi. He needs a strong finish to his season, and this is his final shot. Look for Lester to do well.
BUCKET E: SCROGGINS
What has happened to Terry “Big Show” Scroggins? We all know he’s way better than what the last two seasons have illustrated, why not turn that bus around at this event? He’s a river angler, he loves to flip and pitch, he’s very good with topwater. I know he could surprise everyone, and I for one, would love to see it happen in Wisconsin.
Dark Horse: Matt Lee has had a difficult year, but as it’s been said in other Fantasy Fishing articles for this event, the upper Mississippi will fish a lot like Guntersville this time of year. The elder Lee brother is a hammer on Alabama’s largest lake, and I think he’ll fish for the win. Anglers with nothing to loose are dangerous!