In my first two years of working at B.A.S.S., I obsessed over Fantasy Fishing. I’d spend at least an hour researching my picks for each tournament. I won our in-house Fantasy league two years in a row. Some of my workmates felt that because I managed the backend of our Fantasy game, that I was somehow gaming the system in my favor. Honestly, I’m not smart enough to do that!
But the game was cutting into my family time, so I started setting a time limit on my Fantasy picking — 15 minutes to make my choices. That forced me to rely more on instincts. I haven’t done as well the past few years, but I still enjoy it. Here are my picks for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
Bucket A: Evers
I believe momentum is a big factor in this sport. When a guy gets on a roll and gains confidence, he tends to keep doing well. Edwin Evers had a great 2015 on the Elite Series, with back-to-back wins and a fourth-place finish in AOY. He’s a local boy, from Talala, Okla., but he didn’t do great the last time the Classic was at Grand Lake, finishing 25th in 2013. So I figure he’s still mad about that. And as successful as he’s been, Evers has never won a Classic. He’ll come into this one highly motivated.
I toyed with picking Brandon Palaniuk for Bucket A. He finished second the last time the Classic was here. But it seems like every time I choose Palaniuk, he has a terrible tournament. So I wanted to spare him, and my Fantasy team, that fate.
Bucket B: Christie
Jason Christie, from Park Hill, Okla., finished seventh at the 2013 Classic on Grand Lake. That was his first Classic, and he was a popular choice to win it that year. He’s got three Classics under his belt now. That extra experience and his local knowledge should add up to a strong Classic for him this year.
Bucket C: Faircloth
It’s hard not to pick Kevin VanDam in this bucket. He finished eighth at the 2013 Classic at Grand, and he is KVD, after all. But I try not to pick guys everyone else picks. You could end up collecting fewer points in Fantasy Fishing. I assume everyone will pick VanDam in this bucket.
So I’m going with Todd Faircloth. He finished ninth at the last Classic here. And Faircloth has strong momentum coming off the 2015 Elite season. He won the last regular season tournament at Lake St. Clair — capping perhaps the most dramatic comeback of the season. The Jasper, Texas, native was in 81st place in AOY after the St. Lawrence River tournament but finished the year in 32nd place. Faircloth also just started writing a new column for us on Bassmaster.com; I figure that will give him some extra good luck.
Bucket D: Iaconelli
I wanted to pick James Elam for this bucket. He had a strong 2015 campaign and really seemed to be coming into his own, winning the Open at Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson Lake. And he’s from Tulsa. But this will be his first Classic, and I think the Classic is an overwhelming experience for most first-timers. Plus, I’ve already got two Oklahoma guys on my team. I want to diversify a bit.
So I’m picking Mike Iaconelli for Bucket D. He finished fourth at our last Classic here. And there was an incident in that one that informs my choice. During the tournament, a dog on the bank was barking like crazy at Iaconelli, eventually causing the New Jersey angler to “go Ike” and cuss a blue streak at the dog. I figure Iaconelli wants to come back and show that animal who the alpha dog is here.
Bucket E: Collins
I believe there’s only one guy in this bucket who has fished in a Classic. That’s Albert Collins from Nacogdoches, Texas. The Classic he fished was the one at Grand Lake in 2013, where he finished 48th out of 53 competitors.
I remember sharing a hotel elevator with him in Tulsa that year and how thrilled he was just to be at the Classic. The second time around, I suspect he’ll be more focused on moving up the leaderboard. Collins qualified this year by winning the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.