The 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk is bound to be one of the heaviest-weight Classics on record, but picking the top finishers may be a slightly tougher task than in the past. Recent Classic fields were traditionally littered with dozens of anglers with double digit Bassmaster Classic appearances, and it was easy to spot anglers that typically thrived on bass fishing’s biggest stage. While there are several anglers in this field with a handful of Classic appearances, there is not a single past champion fishing this year’s big derby. So, there is a 100% chance that one of these 53 competitors’ childhood dream of being bass fishing’s world champion will come true for the very first time.
While there have been many major tour level bass fishing events on Guntersville over the years, very few data points exist for the first week of March, which is the timeframe facing this field of anglers. Here are a couple tournaments to think about. The 2014 Bassmaster Classic won by Randy Howell was set about two weeks prior to the 2020 event. Last year’s 2019 Classic out of Knoxville was also a Tennessee River classic held in mid-March, little bit further north, quite a bit less grass and much higher percentage of smallmouth. Lastly 2015 Elite Series level event in the middle of March.
Taking that data into account, everything points to a battle between shallow to mid-depth power fisherman mining quality fish with lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, bladed swim jigs, etc., vs. those that can land knock-out punches by finding mega schools of staging fish on the famed bridges of Guntersville that often dominate springtime tournaments.
In my mind, the smart play is to build your Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster around those grass anglers and ride their consistency to victory, because predicting which angler stops at the right bridge at the right time is a bit of a crap shoot.
BUCKET A: LESTER
My very first instinct was to follow the crowd and pick John Cox, but after some research, I decided to look a little deeper into the bucket. Brandon Lester is an angler that understands the TVA fisheries and is coming into his own. It feels like he is ready to make that jump in his career and become a household name and this is the perfect stage to make that happen.
Back-Up Plan: If we get an unseasonable warming trend, I could easily see John Cox and Bill Lowen leveraging their ultra-shallow water superpowers to make some real noise in the 50th Bassmaster Classic.
BUCKET B: BLAYLOCK
Stetson Blaylock has plenty of championship level tournament experience, so I don’t expect the Classic stage to be too big for him. Blaylock has also shown the ability to catch big bags of fish on a wide variety of waters and times of the year.
Back-up Plan: Paul Mueller has flashed in his last two events on Guntersville, but inconsistency has kept him out of the winner circle both times. In 2014, Mueller stumbled out of the gate failing to catch a limit on Day 1, then on Day 2 he caught the biggest bag in Bassmaster Classic history. On the flip side, last summer Mueller led Day 1 of the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Guntersville, but then failed to make the weekend cut. So, there is definitely a lot of upside with picking the Dobyns Rods pro at the Classic, but I see it as a high risk/high reward venture.
BUCKET C: WALTERS
From what I have observed, Patrick Walters seems to excel in springtime tournaments, and it feels like he has what it takes to be a superstar in bass fishing. There is definitely not an overwhelming amount of tournament data that suggests Walters is a can’t-miss, but this is more of a gut-feel pick.
Local Angle: Clent Davis has no shortage of tournament experience on the Big G and has proven he has what it takes to win on a big stage as a former FLW Cup champion. He has had his share of strong and lackluster tournaments on Guntersville, so is worthy of strong consideration from Fantasy players.
BUCKET D: HANSELMAN
I am ready for Hanselmania to become a thing again! Last year in Ray’s first season on the Elites, one his best finishes were on Guntersville. So, it seems like there is something about this renowned grass fishery that clicked for Hanselman, and he felt right at home as Texas grass angler.
Back-up Plan: Hard for me to get super excited about the rest of this bucket, but there are two anglers that pique my interest. Skylar Hamilton who has some solid finishes on Chickamuaga over the years and Greg Dipalma who had one of his best events on Guntersville last season, and I know he spent a fair amount of time before the off limits scanning for offshore honey holes.
BUCKET E: HUFF
Cody Huff qualified by winning the Bassmaster College Bracket, but he is a very experienced angler for being only 22. This season he is fishing all eight Bassmaster Open events on top of a full college fishing schedule and just a few weeks ago he won a big event on Toledo Bend. I promise this won’t be the last time you hear about Cody Huff.
Back-up Plan: Darold Gleason has quite a bit of experience in BassPro.com Bassmaster Opens and is an FLW Pro Circuit pro if you are looking for somebody with a little more national tournament experience. If that is not to your liking, consider Joshua Busby who qualified through the Bassmaster Team Championship and had a sixth-place finish on Guntersville a few years back in the fall.