La Crosse, Wis., is no longer a mystery to the vast majority of the Bassmaster Elite Series pros. Whether it’s been recent Elite Series visits in 2012 and 2013 or stops with other tours, just about all of them have been there by this point, and it’s become one of the most welcome stops on any schedule.
Well first of all, it’s a chance to get out of the blast furnace caliber heat that tortured some anglers and fans at the Potomac. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an absolute fish factory. When the scales start churning, sometimes it seems like the few guys who didn’t catch a limit must’ve spent the day in one of the town’s many bars. In 2013, one pro told me that he Power-Poled down and caught 70 bass on a swim jig without moving his boat.
But the bounty that giveth also taketh away. The prolific nature of the fishery means that just catching a limit doesn’t do you much good. In fact, catching 10 pounds a day typically gets you a firm handshake and an early trip home. In 2013, 20 pounds over two days was good for 71st place. In 2012, it would’ve put you in 93rd. It took 23-05 and 25-08 to make the cut, so a few extra ounces per fish makes a huge difference. Catch 2-pounders, go home, catch 2 1/2-pounders and get paid. Kickers matter because there’s probably no reliable way to target fish that weigh 6 or 8 ounces more than the norm.
I know that the investment houses like to tell you that “past performance is not an indicator of future results,” but at La Crosse I’m going to try to stick with the guys who have track records of somehow managing to catch fish that average just slightly bigger, or much bigger if available. Their solid performances may be mere coincidence, or perhaps even they don’t know why they’ve done so well, but I’m going to let the past guide my future.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: MARTENS
Aaron Martens has the Mississippi River mayfly pattern dialed in. That’s only slightly more odd to most of us around the country than his Havasu blackbird pattern, but I never doubt the man. He’s missed three checks this year, and I’d bet the house that he won’t miss four in an Elite Series regular season. In fact, after finishing second and fifth here previously, I think he’s more likely to make a Top 12 than a bottom 50.
ALMOST PICKED: Bill Lowen
There may be no name on tour more closely associated with the swim jig than Bill Lowen, and the Cheeseheads argue that they invented technique. When in Rome? He finished seventh here in 2012. His 44th place finish here in 2013 wouldn’t disqualify him in any other bracket, but it does in Bucket A.
BUCKET B: FAIRCLOTH
I’m not supposed to root for particular anglers, but I can cheer on exciting TV footage, and Todd Faircloth’s frog catches in 2012 were my personal Super Bowl. He took home all the cheese curds that year and finished sixth in 2013. He can frog, he can flip, he can catch smallmouths and he loves grass. He’s not quite a bubble boy for the Classic, in 28th, but he still needs to catch them to stay in.
ALMOST PICKED: Takahiro Omori
Tak has finished ninth and 19th in La Crosse, and because he is secretive he doesn’t get credit for being one of the most versatile anglers on tour. He won earlier this year at Wheeler, but has only notched one check in the last four tournaments and that lack of momentum is the only thing that holds me back. Cliff Pace, who finished second and 23rd would also be a good pick, and after missing this year’s Classic he needs to hold his position to get back to the big dance.
BUCKET C: CREWS
Right now Crews is barely inside the Top 50 to qualify for Mille Lacs, coming off a surprising 90th place finish at the Potomac. Look for him to bounce back in Packer-land, where he finished 17th and third in prior attempts. He’s had an up and down season, and this one is non-negotiable if he doesn’t want to miss the Classic for the first time since 2010.
ALMOST PICKED: Randy Howell
Howell is another veteran who is in danger of missing the 50 cut for Mille Lacs which would mean that he’d also miss the Classic for the first time since 2011. He finished 10th and 11th at La Crosse previously, so the motivation and the experience should produce a quality finish.
BUCKET D: VINSON
After qualifying for his fourth Classic last year, Vinson is currently mired in 82nd in the AOY standings. He’s earned four Elite Series checks this year, but none better than a 37th place finish, and he’s been brought down by three finishes of 86th or worse. Fortunately for him, he has a good track record in La Crosse, finishing 25th in 2012 and 13th in 2013. If he can improve by 12 places again, he’ll drive home with a big blue trophy in the passenger seat.
ALMOST PICKED: Seth Feider
In the absence of any other compelling evidence, I’m inclined to pick the semi-local northerner. He stubbed his toe at the Potomac, but may still have an outside shot to make it to his “home waters” of Mille Lacs. He spent lots of time here before the off limits.
BUCKET E: PIPKENS
This year has been a disaster for the Michigan pro, and he’s currently stuck in triple digits in the AOY race as a result of six Elite Series finished of 89th or worse. He always seems to get healthy in smallmouth country, and while this isn’t the Great Lakes and he finished 76th here in 2013, look for him to salvage a disappointing season with a top finish.
ALMOST PICKED: Paul Elias
There aren’t any anglers with consistent Wisconsin track records in this bucket. For every one who’s had a great finish – like Terry Scroggins finishing sixth in 2012 – he’s also had a cruddy one, like Terry Scroggins finishing 87th in 2013. Paul Elias has gotten a check both times. He certainly won’t break his weight record in Badgerville, but at least he could end his season with his first check of the year.