As a southern, Texas angler, you might expect that I am an authority on smallmouth bass. It might surprise you that I can count the number of smallmouth bass that I have caught on about a hand and a half worth of fingers. However, looking back at my prior results in late season smallmouth Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks, in almost every season with a northern swing, this is the point where I tend to mount a charge.
I am way out of contention for the boat, but I’m too proud to be happy with anything less than a top 10 percent. I’d love to be in the top 5 percent, but we’ll see. I did improve some at Dardanelle with a decent finish with 939 points, which was good enough to bump me up to the 86th percentile. With each event, it gets harder and harder to climb the leaderboard so I will need to have a few stellar events to have a shot at the top 5 percent.
With only three events left in the regular season, a lot of the anglers are thinking about the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. My picks this time around are based on momentum, history and drive for the AOY title.
At Sam Rayburn, Ronnie Moore gave me a hard time about changing my lineup to my “also consider” guy, so I’m going to try something new. I’m going to pick a guy for now and have a “Flip-Flop” pick. That way I give myself permission to listen to my gut at the last second if I feel like I need to make a change. Plus Ronnie won’t be able to give me any more flack.
With a few genius picks like KVD at Dardanelle, I was able to jump up a few percentage points. After this event, I’m hoping to be real close to the 90th percentile if not inside it. Staying away from high ownership picks has been a key!
BUCKET A: EVERS
My Pick: Edwin Evers
I can hear it now: What about KVD? Well, KVD is a very smart choice; and even at 39-percent ownership, I almost picked him. Trying to sort through his 213 top 30 finishes to single out smallmouth lakes is quite a task. There are so many! Chances are, he will end up in the top end. However, against my better judgment, for the sake of keeping his ownership percentage low, I would encourage you to consider Edwin Evers. He is grossly undervalued at 6.8 percent currently. I mean, the guy won the 2015 Elite event at Waddington, and finished 25th the first time the Elite Series went there. He is fishing out of his mind with five straight finishes 24th or better and has only missed one check this season with a 56th at Cherokee. How in the world can I not pick him?
Flip-Flop Pick: Brandon Palaniuk
If I were going to pick someone else, it would be “The Prodigy”. One thing to note about Palaniuk is that he has been very verbal about AOY in that he doesn’t want to know where he stands until it’s all said and done. This year, he is in the best position of his career to win the AOY title. The last three events are all smallmouth-dominated fisheries. He is good everywhere, but when the brown fish are in the mix, he’s right there at the top. In fact, 10 out of 24 of his Top 20 finishes are on smallmouth lakes. Currently, he is 14 points out of the lead in third place for AOY. I bet he will be a bit more interested in AOY this time around. The 2013 event here should be proof enough that when he sets his mind on a goal, there is no stopping him. After his Day 2 catch was disqualified on the Mississippi River, he turned around and won the very next event on this river in an effort to lock in a Classic berth (Which he called by the way…). He’ll definitely be in the top 20 at a bare minimum.
BUCKET B: FEIDER
My Pick: Seth Feider
To call Feider’s first and only Elite win on Mille Lacs last year bittersweet would be a serious understatement in my opinion. He absolutely crushed his competition with a staggering three-day total of 76 pounds and 5 ounces … of smallmouth! That’s better than a 5-pound average. Unfortunately, this event was the AOY championship, which was solely paid out based on where the competitors fell in the AOY standings. So he did not receive a true Elite event payout for that event. It was also to determine the Classic berths, which he fell short of by a few spots despite taking first place. While it’s fun to card a win, he is itching to get back up north to try to win a regular season event. He is a smallie stud and can read brown fish better than most of us can read a book. He wasn’t around during the 2013 event, but finished 12th in 2015. He’s a hair out of where I like my ownership to be at 11 perent. I have this gut feeling that he’s going to finish higher than the highest owned pick in the bucket, Iaconelli at 37 percent. If that happens, it’ll give me a good boost against the field for this bucket!
Flip-Flop Pick: Josh Bertrand
Josh started off the season with three solid finishes, but the rest of his season has been up and down. His finishes on other similar lakes are a lot like his season this year. He’ll have a top 20 and then a 90th. However, he has two Top 12 finishes on the St. Lawrence River with an eighth and an 11th in 2013 and 2015 respectively. He fished both events in the exact same spot and it yielded similar results. He has a secret little honey hole and if it’s loaded up again this time around, he might be looking at another Top 12.
BUCKET C: JONES
My Pick: Alton Jones
If we stopped the season now, none of the guys in this bucket would be going to the Bassmaster Classic, and I promise that makes all of them uncomfortable. There will be big moves coming from this bucket. Alton Jones is one of those guys who won’t put up with missing the Classic. He is sitting in 45th right now, and is looking to make a move. This Texas angler has something figured out with smallmouth up north. He had a mediocre finish in 2013, but stuck around after the event for several days to get a better feel for how to catch those river fish and it paid off with a second-place finish in 2015. He also has a dozen or so Top 10s on similar fisheries. His ownership is encouraging as well at 5.1 percent. Pretty excited about this pick!
Flip-Flop Pick: Jacob Powroznik
When you’re talking about smallmouth, you can’t leave this guy out of the conversation. He has been my “insurance” pick all season and has done me proud the couple of times. It’s difficult to not pick him here because of his solid record on lakes like this one. Virtually every time the Elites have visited a lake that is dominated by smallmouth, Powroznik has posted a 20th or better. He was seventh here in 2015. I’d say he’s a guaranteed Top 20, but this has been a tough year for him. He has two Top 20s, but it’s between a 92nd and a 71st. His momentum is a little off, which is why I’m picking against him this time. He might be worth the gamble though.
BUCKET D: SCHULTZ
My Pick: Bernie Schultz
If you go back and watch the last two events on this body of water, you’ll see that Schultz is fishing completely different from his other competition. He finished sixth and 15th last time fishing in less than eight feet of water. He might be a Floridian, but he has a weird connection with smallmouth. I’ve regretted not picking him in other northern events when he had near zero ownership. I’m not making that mistake again. At 2.7 percent, to channel the spirit of Mark Zona, he’s a dadgum steal.
Flip-Flop Pick: Brandon Card
Before you call me crazy, hear me out. You might be wondering why JVD isn’t on every one of the pundit’s rosters for Bucket D. Like uncle Kevin, he is a smart choice, but he is 30-percent owned and that’s too rich for my blood. Now Card on the other hand, might fare best on lakes that look more like the creek in your backyard after a flash flood, but he will almost certainly be doing something that will be very overlooked on this river. There are so many three to four pound smallmouth swimming around here, people forget about the giant northern largemouth that also live there. If memory serves me right, Aaron Martens had one around 6 or 7 pounds last time. The Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award will almost certainly go to a guy who is fishing for largemouth. Card finished fourth here in 2015 fishing solely for green fish. Don’t get me wrong; it’ll be won with brown fish, but he’ll be able to fish for unpressured largemouth all week long. That could give him a good shot at a Top 12.
BUCKET E: PIPKENS
My Pick: Chad Pipkens
Oh Bucket E … This has been my Achilles Heel all season. I have yet to make a great pick here. Actually, I’m not sure very many people have. Most of these guys have been in this bucket all season long which means they consistently finish poorly. Moving forward, it’s about damage control. I hate to say it, but it seems like you have to aim for the guy who you think is going to do the…least bad. Pipkens is stellar when it comes to smallies. He finished here in 10th in 2013 and followed it up with a decent 32nd in 2015. He has a ton of good smallmouth tournaments in between including a win on St. Clair. Even though he is highly owned with 20 percent, he’s my best shot at a good finish in this bucket.
Flip-Flop Pick: Morizo Shimizu
He has a pair of 24th-place finishes here, and he is a killer with a spinning rod in his hands. Like everyone else in Bucket E, he is struggling this year. The Classic is out of reach, so at this point, he’s just trying to make as much money as he can. He typically does well at smallmouth tournaments, so he might start picking up a little momentum here with a good finish and carry it through the end of the season.