As soon as you think you know something in fishing, you get humbled. The same goes for Fantasy Fishing. After a fantastic event and a rise up the leaderboard at Sam Rayburn, I hit rock bottom at Lake Dardanelle. None of my anglers made the Day 3 money cut and as a result a I scored a dismal 617 points.
Thankfully, the Elite Series is headed north and into smallmouth country, which is a complete 180-degree turn from Lake Dardanelle. My strategy in the final stretch of regular season events and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship will be a mixture of risk with a focus on anglers that turn terrible practices into terrific events.
We are headed to the New York and Canadian border for another smash-fest at the St. Lawrence River where smallmouth reign supreme, but largemouth could also be a factor.
BUCKET A: J. LEE
My pick: Jordan Lee
Jordan Lee has nothing left to prove to the fishing world. He’s caught them shallow, deep, largemouth, smallmouth, when it’s tough and when it’s a shootout; so he should be on the shortlist of choices in every situation going forward. He tends to turn a small pattern into something impressive as events go on.
Watch out for: Brandon Palaniuk
He is focused and determined this year, (as if he isn’t every year), and he set goals to win all nine Elite events. He has notched 4 Top 20’s, a victory and one bomb so far this year, which is stout. Although he won at the St. Lawrence in 2013 fishing in Lake Ontario, he showed he can still catch them on the river portion of the fishery in 2015 with a 19th place finish. Lake Ontario won’t be a factor again this year.
BUCKET B: ROJAS
My pick: Dean Rojas
Dean Rojas is known as a sight-fishing and frog-popping master, but he is a good smallmouth angler as well. Coming off a Top 12 at Dardanelle, I expect him to keep his momentum rolling up north.
Watch out for: Dave Lefebre, Seth Feider
With Mike Iaconelli (37-percent owned), Brent Ehrler (15-percent owned) and Jamie Hartman (14-percent owned) two-thirds of the ownership percentage is in this group. I’d suggesting strongly considering the other smallmouth gurus, such as Lefebre and Feider.
BUCKET C: HERREN
My pick: Matt Herren
Matt Herren’s season has been far from consistent, and he knows it. He’s shown some frustration after two 90th or worse finishes, but he also has two Top 12’s to his credit. Adding two more finishes in the 60’s has him right in the middle of the hunt of the AOY Championship and a Classic berth, but he will need to catch them, and it all starts at the St. Lawrence.
Watch out for: Brett Hite
Like Herren, Brett Hite has been on a roller coaster this season, and has uncharacteristically found himself outside of the AOY cut looking to get in. His finesse tactics can’t be denied and he should turn it around in New York.
BUCKET D: FRITTS
My pick: David Fritts
Bucket D can be classified as one of my gamble buckets. I know, at first it seems like an odd pick, but I think after a hot start to the year David Fritts will find more success up north. With the Elites hitting the St. Lawrence in mid-July I expect plenty of shallow smallmouth and deep-water techniques to be factors.
Watch out for: Bernie Schultz
Schultz did well in 2015 here and although he’s from Florida, the veteran pro seems to do well on the St. Lawrence.
BUCKET E: SNOWDEN
My pick: Brian Snowden
Snowden is a Table Rock Lake guy and that means he is more than capable of dealing with clear water, suspending fish and tough conditions. Snowden finished 29th at Cherokee proving he can hang with the smallmouth sticks, plus he is a low-ownership pick that could gain you valuable points when he does well.
Watch out for: Pipkens, Zaldain
With six events in the books, these two anglers are still in Bucket E, which should come as a surprise. With three smallmouth fisheries to end the year I’d expect a couple great finishes to end their season on high notes.
Weight prediction: 78-5
I’m believe that just under a 20-pound average per day will get it done at St. Lawrence. It took 88 pounds when Palaniuk won out in Lake Ontario, and 77 pounds when Evers won in 2015. It’s noteworthy that Greg Hackney finished third in 2015 with over 72 pounds of largemouth proving the green could be a factor, as well.