Fantasy Fishing: Look for adjustability in Arkansas

Winyah Bay didn’t go my way, so I’m going to regroup, reassess and try to make up some lost ground when the Bassmaster Elite Series visits Arkansas next week. I’m trying to get into the spirit of this event, in which the field will alternate between two fisheries, so I’m donning my long-closeted Gumby suit to ensure that the word “Flexibility” stays foremost on my mind.

The danger of this event is that we don’t know whether it’ll be won with largemouths, smallmouths or some permutation thereof. It’s April, and the fish will be in some phase of the spawn, but we don’t know if the majority will be coming, going or staying put. Additionally, it could be won in the dirt, out deep, or somewhere in between. If you’re a pessimist, it’s a matter of having too many choices and not enough certainty. If you’re an optimist, you see the silver lining on each of those clouds.

Speaking of clouds, this is northwest Arkansas we’re talking about, so you can expect the weather to throw at least three or four curveballs at the anglers … per day. It could go from 80 degrees, calm and sunny to an ice storm in the blink of an eye, and then back again. If you don’t like the fishing conditions, just wait five minutes and they’ll probably change. Just don’t get stuck fishing recent history. The fish you caught on Thursday at Norfork may not be in the vicinity, or biting the same thing when you return on Sunday.

With that background in mind, I’m looking for anglers who can do a variety of things, and go down the lake with 10 rods on the deck, ready and willing to use them all — whether that be for a single cast, an hour or the entire day. I want someone who will not be fazed when the bottom drops out, and instead views a massive change as an opportunity.

Mostly I just hope no one shows up at the wrong ramp on the wrong day. Actually, that’s not true. I’d love for some of the anglers picked by my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing competitors to take a wrong turn and give me a leg up. I need all of the help that I can get.

BUCKET A: EVERS

Almost Picked: Tharp

Last season I stuck with Randall Tharp long after his season turned uncharacteristically miserable. Clearly missing the Classic has lit a fire under him, and he’s been fishing like he has something to prove since the final Open of 2015. At third in the Angler of the Year points race, he’s primed to make a run at the title. If these two lakes had grass, he’d be an easy choice. He’s versatile enough to do well anywhere, but I’m sticking with someone with a little bit more Ozark history.

My Pick: Has anyone demonstrated an ability to fish the moment better in recent months than Edwin Evers? His Classic victory on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake, just a few hours to the west of Mountain Home, Ark., could be used as the case study for flexibility in tournament angling. Nothing will cause the rock-solid angler to spin out.

BUCKET B: MCCLELLAND

Almost Picked: Lowen

I really wanted to pick Bill Lowen, who seemingly catches a limit every time out, no matter what the conditions. Moreover, I expect that while others are spying fish on beds or headed out deep, he’ll crack ‘em with the one-two punch of a square bill and a swim jig.

My Pick: It’s easy to forget about Mike McClelland, who’s not flashy or dramatic — he just catches fish, especially in this part of the country. He might have more experience on the region’s lakes than anyone in the field who isn’t named Mark Davis. Whether it’s looking at them from above, spinnerbaiting or cranking a Wiggle Wart, he knows where to go and what to do.

BUCKET C: SNOWDEN

Almost Picked: Christie

Jason Christie won the Elite Series event on Bull Shoals during this same week in 2013, and he’s a threat to win anywhere, any time. He won’t be able to contend with just a single bait, as he did at Grand last month, but he’s savvy enough to switch things up and quickly produce results.

My Pick: Brian Snowden guides on nearby Table Rock and finished eighth on Bull Shoals in 2013. He can flip, he can finesse and given his mild manner, he too is unlikely to lose his cool. Just as importantly, with an ownership percentage of less than 10 percent, he’s a bargain, and I need to make up some ground.

BUCKET D: MORGENTHALER

Almost Picked: M. Davis

At the age of 52, Mark Davis has spent more days fishing Arkansas waters than you or I will fish anywhere in our entire lives. He’s missed the money line in the first two Elite events, but this is where he’ll get his season back on track — the only question is whether he’ll just cash a check or contend for the win.

My Pick: While Chad Morgenthaler’s greatest career success has come in Florida, he liked the Ozarks region so much the he recently built a house at Table Rock, and how he’s one of Snowden’s neighbors. If he’s going to overcome a tough start to the season, he needs to put up a good finish here, and I’m betting that he will.

BUCKET E: KRIET

Almost Picked: Biffle

Tommy Biffle has missed the last two Classics, and with 107th and 79th place finishes to start the season, he’s in danger of making it three in a row. He didn’t do well here in 2013, but he’s capable of knocking one out of the park on any swing. Biffle has won seven major events, including an Open, and if things line up for his jig or bug, no one will be surprised to see him earn career win number eight.

My Pick: After a period where he made seven Classics in eight years from 2005 through 2012, Jeff Kriet hasn’t been back since. That’s a shame, and a surprise because like his friend McClelland he does a lot of things very well — especially on Ozark lakes. Besides, after reading Don Barone’s article this week on Kriet-Speak, I can’t wait to hear the victory speech.

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