Fantasy Fishing: Pick anglers eyeing AOY at Mississippi River

The season is officially halfway complete. We’re at a point where the leaders in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of they Year points race have emerged, and the likely AOY champion is somewhere in the Top 15.

The 2018 Bassmaster Elite at Mississippi River presented by Go RVing out of La Crosse, Wisc., kicks off June 21-24.

Brent Chapman is having a tremendous year and has a sizable lead in the AOY race, but it’s far from over. This tournament could add to that lead if he performs as he has so far this season, or it could be the beginning of another angler taking over.

Looking at Pools 7, 8 and 9 on the Upper Mississippi River based out of La Crosse, there are many anglers who have done well here in the past, and also those with fewer experiences on that fishery that could also do very well.

I’m keeping with momentum being key at this point in the season.

One undeniable fact about this location is the huge numbers of solid large and smallmouth bass. It’s quite likely that every pro will weigh a limit of bass each day of the tournament. It’ll come down to one or two big fish to establish dominance that could carry into Championship Sunday.

Here’s who I think will pay off this week up north, eh?

BUCKET A: LUCAS

Unapologetically, I’ve selected Lucas virtually all year, and it’s continued to pay off. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Lucas struggled through a tough season in 2017, and he’s looking to reemerge as the dominant angler he started out as. He’s worked his way back up to sixth in the AOY race, and I’m betting that momentum continues in cheese country. Plus, he’s a stellar river fisherman. Mark my words.

Dark horse: Greg Hackney is coming off a win at the Sabine River, and he’s in the top five in the AOY race. He’s still mad about losing AOY to Gerald Swindle in 2016, and winning the most respected title in bass fishing might erase that tough finish. Hackney is one of the best bass anglers ever, and I don’t think he’ll struggle at all at the Upper Mississippi River.

BUCKET B: FEIDER

Seth Feider of Bloomington, Minn., almost won this back in 2016. He just lost to Ott Defoe, and I’d expect Feider to be back in it this time, too. His first year was tough, but he pulled it together and has been a serious contender North to South, but when we’re in the midst of our annual Northern Swing, Feider could win any one of the tournaments. Look for the FlowMaster to challenge the top spot once again.

Dark horse: If Feider isn’t at the top of your list, Brandon Palaniuk should be. He was DQ’d here the same year that Tommy Biffle won, and Palaniuk was on the winning pattern. He wants that one back, and you can bet he’ll be in La Crosse to win this time around. The rule that burned him back then has been changed and won’t be a factor in 2018.

BUCKET C: J. LEE     

The back-to-back Classic champ scored a Top 12 in 2016, and he’s just as likely to do it again this year. As he typically is, Jordan Lee has been relatively quiet in the Elite Series field, not counting the Classic, obviously. He wants one of those coveted Bassmaster Elite Series blue trophies. The Mississippi River would do nicely. Look for J. Lee to make some noise this time around.

Dark horse: Randy Howell has made a couple Top 12s at the Mississippi River, and I bet he’ll make another check at the very least, if not a win. He’s way over due for another one.

BUCKET D: M. LEE

Matt Lee has been quiet this year also, but I see La Crosse as a place that fits his skill set. He’ll take advantage of the exciting fishery and make some money at this one. Of that I'm confident. Plus, I keep saying that when an angler is due a victory, it’s only a matter of time. The elder Lee is due, and I’d love to see the Mississippi River be home to his first championship.

Dark horse: Alton Jones made a run for the title on the final day in 2016. He knows the area well, traditionally does well here and is looking for a shot to redirect his tough season. La Crosse offers that chance, and I bet he takes advantage.

BUCKET E: LEFEBRE

Dave Lefebre is having an uncharacteristically difficult season. He told me in Texas to quit picking him for Fantasy Fishing, but I believe when compared to his fellow Bucket E anglers, he’s one to watch in La Crosse. I bet he rights his season in Wisconsin, and then he’ll be thanking me for the faith.

Dark horse: Tommy Biffle won this tournament a few years ago, and there’s no reason to think he’s not capable to do it again. One thing about the Oklahoma veteran pro angler is he sticks to his guns. He fishes how he wants to fish, and that often pays off for him. But it has also cost him a few times. What I do know about this fishery is it fits Biffle to a T, expect a check out of Biffle at La Crosse.