The Bassmaster Elite Series started its trek north for the second half of the schedule. Week one of the annual “Northern Swing” was at the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisc. It was a familiar location for the Elite Series as it was the fourth time in seven years they competed there.
Lake Oahe, the second leg of this back-to-back stretch, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It doesn’t have the vegetation that the anglers just fished around, and it is much deeper than the shallow nature of Pools 7, 8 and 9 on the mighty Mississippi.
Oahe has quite a bit of mystery surrounding it, but one thing is for sure: It has big smallmouth.
Breaking down the big fishery in South Dakota will be difficult, so anglers will need to be smart and pick a region to concentrate on because running and gunning might not be the way to earn a positive finish at Oahe.
After successfully rebounding at the Mississippi River and selecting a solid Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team including the winner Ish Monroe, the mysterious Oahe has my picks all over the map.
BUCKET A: PIRCH
My pick: Cliff Pirch
Cliff Pirch is as rock-solid as anglers come. Arizona seems to be the hotbed in the West for creating fantastic anglers. Pirch, Josh Bertrand, Dean Rojas, Roy Hawk, Brett Hite and once upon a time John Murray all called Arizona home. From shallow fishing in tullies to deep, clear finesse fishing, Arizona Elites are well-rounded. Pirch doesn’t get the credit he deserves most times, but I think this is an event he could excel in.
Dark horse: Josh Bertrand
I mentioned him in the last paragraph, but I think Bertrand is a great pick. He’s having a fantastic year in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, and now the Elite Series schedule turns northward to the region of the country he does so well in.
BUCKET B: JONES JR.
My pick: Alton Jones Jr.
Alton Jones Jr. is finding a nice stride in his sophomore season on the Elite Series. He is fishing smart and managing fish well, stretching them to solid Day 3 cuts. With one slip-up at the Sabine, he is due a Top 12 and could notch it here. "Fishing smart" is a hard phrase to explain because there are so many great anglers competing, but for Jones Jr. he is certainly making smart decisions, and most of his calculated risks have paid off this year. He also is an underrated angler at using his electronics. He has a gamechanger on the front deck and utilizes his Panoptix to find suspending fish fast.
Dark horse: Percentage anglers
Whether it’s Brandon Palaniuk at 32 percent, Seth Feider at 21, Jason Christie at 14 or Brent Ehrler at 12; they all seem to be safe bets. Palaniuk, Feider and Ehrler all excel at finesse fishing and there is no doubt that Jason Christie is the most popular angler and feared competitor in this bucket. I had to go against the grain and choose a low-percentage angler like Alton Jones Jr. because I wouldn’t be informing Fantasy Fishing players of anything if I picked any of the four popular picks.
BUCKET C: COMBS
My pick: Keith Combs
It may seem weird, but I get a Texas vibe with the desert-esque environment that the shoreline provides at Oahe. For Keith Combs, he is used to fishing bigger-than-normal fisheries in Texas and breaking them down by sections. He is also used to sitting in his driver seat and graphing relentlessly for schools of fish. His past success with probing schools of fish have me convinced he can do so with smallmouth. He proved it at Mille Lacs in 2017.
Dark horse: Steve Kennedy
I’m completely shocked that Steve Kennedy has such a low ownership percentage. He seems to love fishing around smallmouth with a swimbait. I wouldn’t expect to see every angler fishing deep because the fish up north are still in their early post spawn transition from the spawn. Shallow swimbaiting may yield positive results for Kennedy.
BUCKET D: CHERRY
My pick: Hank Cherry
If, and that is a big if, Hank Cherry can keep smallmouth hooked with his jerkbait it could be a fantastic week. Cherry uses a jerkbait to perfection to locate and catch bass, but often up north the smallmouth like to jump and throw hooks much faster than southern largemouth. If Cherry keeps them hooked up it could be a nice bounce-back week.
Dark horse: Brian Snowden
Brian Snowden didn’t jump into the B.A.S.S. Millionaires club at the Mississippi River, but it could happen at Oahe. He spends plenty of time fishing for Table Rock Lake bass, and the one similarity you could draw from that comparison is that Snowden has fine-tuned his finesse approach.
BUCKET E: WALKER
My pick: David Walker
After a stumble on Day 1 at the Mississippi River, David Walker caught more than 17 pounds to redeem himself and gain a few points. Another redemption tournament could be in the cards for Walker this week. Oahe seems to set up more like a river than a lake and basically every East Tennessee lake sets up like a river. That could play into Walker’s hand on finding and selecting a high-percentage area to set up roots.
Dark horse: Russ Lane, I think
I could tell you a sneaky pick in Bucket E, but I would have a hard time convincing myself of the selection. Bucket E is an odd mix of tenured veterans and first- or second-year Elite anglers. One angler is regionally located somewhat close to South Dakota and that is Darrell Ocamica. Meanwhile you have rookies trying to gain some footing and legendary names trying to adjust their game to beat an ultra-competitive Elite Series field. If I caved and made a pick, it would be Russ Lane. That is exclusively based on the fact I’m surprised he is a Bucket E option.