You know you’re reaching maximum Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing saturation when you get a late-night text from an Elite Series wife asking you NOT to pick her husband. I’m still in the 97th percentile, so I can’t be doing too badly, or causing too much bad luck, but apparently some people still think that the writers have an impact on the game. If that’s the case, these forthcoming picks are going to make 104 wives, girlfriends and significant others very happy, while five more curse the day I was born.
Regardless of whether you take my picks as meaningful, I encourage you to adjust your thinking caps for this upcoming derby in Oklahoma. When last we visited, the topic of discussion was the allegedly stingy Sabine River, and I suggested that you pick grinders and river rats. Now, though, they’re headed to Grand Lake, and while I’ve heard a few inklings that the lake isn’t what it once was, it’s still a fantastic tournament venue with an outsized population of 3- to 6-pound bass. Anglers who just scrape together limits are going to find themselves done with the work week on Friday – it’s literally go big or go home.
Compounding the need to amass big limits is the time of year. It’s April, when fish are up shallow and accessible to anglers of all skill levels. The last couple of times a tour level event visited Grand (the 2013 and 2016 Classics) it was early March, but it felt like January in Saskatchewan. Last year there was a Central Open in October. Before that, in 2006 and 2007, the Elites visited in June. There’s not necessarily a bad time to fish this superior fishery, but April may level the playing field more than any other month. Accordingly, look for anglers who have a little bit of hometown knowledge, but more importantly key on the ones who catch ‘em big up shallow.
BUCKET A: ELAM
Even if James Elam hadn’t won last year’s Central Open on Grand, he’d still be a solid pick. It’s home for him, and he has a wealth of experience there, but more importantly he’s fishing with confidence and showing that he’s a star in the making, quietly qualifying for three consecutive Classics, and getting valuable air time in the last two of them. He started the year off strong with a 17th-place finish and there’s no better place for him to keep that momentum rolling toward a top 10 finish in the AOY race.
If you’re not inclined to pick the bearded wonder, go with Casey Ashley. After we’ve had to hear from Christie, Evers, et al. how much Hartwell fishes like Grand, turnabout is fair play. Things didn’t go the way he wanted in Greenville last month, so maybe he’ll take a little bit of revenge on the Oklahomans’ home turf.
BUCKET B: CHRISTIE
I know. It’s the most uninspired pick ever. Sorry. He’s a pretty solid bet to make it to Sunday. I doubt that anyone in the field has spent as much time on Grand as Jason Christie, and after the heartbreak at Hartwell and a good-but-not-great finish at Martin, he needs to get his AOY campaign back on track. Like Elam, there’s no place he’d rather do it than at Grand.
If you can’t bring yourself to pick the obvious favorite, go with Todd Faircloth, who has two top 10s in Classic competition on Grand, as well as a 16th-place Elite Series finish there. He excels in the spring and, like Christie, no doubt desperately wants the AOY title that has so far eluded him.
BUCKET C: B. LANE
Edwin Evers is no doubt the obvious and logical choice here. After all, not only is he local, but you may have heard about a little event he won on Grand back in March of 2016.
I’m going to deviate from my string of Oklahomans (temporarily, at least) and go with Florida’s Bobby Lane. He had two solid finishes in Grand Lake Classics and when big bags are coming in he always seems to end up in the check line. After winning the season-opening Open, he stumbled at Lake Martin, but now they’re back to something in his wheelhouse. It won’t be flipping hyacinths or hydrilla, but expect him to dissect the shallow cover and come out near the top.
BUCKET D: K. VANDAM
He’s not known for being a sight fisherman, but rest assured he can do it, and if they’re eating a rattle bait, a spinnerbait, a jerkbait or a squarebill no one can cover more water that Kevin VanDam. He also has a wealth of Bassmaster history on Grand, dating back to the 1991 Ice Bowl, and that includes two top 10s in Elite Series competition, one of them a win.
If you’re unobservant and think that KVD is washed up, or don’t want to pick him for some other reason, go with Jeff Kriet, who was the runner up to KVD here in 2007, or Brandon Palaniuk, who finished second and 12th here in two Classics.
BUCKET E: BIFFLE
I’m going to end this entry as I started it, with an Oklahoma angler. Tommy Biffle was probably fishing Grand before Brandon Palaniuk was born. For all I know, he was fishing it before KVD was born – and woe be to him who encroaches on one of Tommy’s spots. He’s had some money finishes in recent years at Grand, but no top 10s since the 90s, and Lake Martin was a disaster (107th). If he’s going to make it back to the Classic for the first time since 2014, this is where he needs to get the Biffle-O rolling.
If you’re not willing to bet the farm on Biffle, go with Alton Jones, who has finished in the money the last four times he’s been to Grand, including an eighth-place finish at the 2016 Classic. Like Faircloth, this is a time of year when he normally shines. Like Biffle, he stubbed his toe at Martin and needs to get back on track.