Depending on which Fantasy Fishing advice you have listened to or ignored from me this year, you might be doing pretty well. There have been plenty of times where I kicked myself for not making a last minute change. Other times though, I was grateful for accidentally sleeping in the day of the tournament, so it locked in my picks before I could make final adjustments.
I started off my season pretty strong, but after the Classic, I had a 767 (Toledo Bend) and an 877 (Ross Barnett), which left me scratching my head. I knew I was out of the running for the boat, so I decided to shoot to finish in the top 10 percent of the field. After Champlain, I’m in a very interesting place. I’m sitting in the 88.8th percentile, and that puts me in a bit of a pickle.
The way the buckets are stacked ownership-wise, I have to make a choice. All year I have preached low ownership, low ownership, low ownership. Right now as I write this article, there is a clear favorite in each bucket.
Bucket A: Kevin Van Dam (34.5 percent)
Bucket B: Aaron Martens (47.1 percent)
Bucket C: Jonatham Van Dam (36.6 percent)
Bucket D: Chad Pipkens (39.3 percent)
Bucket E: Chris Lane (32.7 percent)
So here is my predicament: Should I choose low-ownership guys and hope they beat the favorite? For example, if I picked Alton Jones Sr. over Aaron Martens in B, and Jones comes in higher than Martens, I jump the 47.1 percent of people who picked Martens in that bucket.
However, if Martens beats Jones, 47.1 percent of players get more points than me in bucket B. I have to make a choice on whether or not I think the heavy favorite if going to do better than a safe low owned pick. If I pick mostly the favorites, even if they do well, I risk not coming up enough in the standings to get into the top 10 percent.
Before I get into my picks, my goal here is to pick two buckets to stick with the high-owned favorites and pick lower owned guys in the rest. I only need to jump up 1.2 percent to get into the top 10-percent and I think this balance will give me the best shot to do that. I’m going to give you two options to consider; one low owned “value pick” and one “Fan Fave”.
BUCKET A: EVERS
Value Pick: Edwin Evers
This bucket is absolutely stacked with solid anglers that have a good shot at winning this tournament. With Kevin VanDam and Brandon Palaniuk taking up most of the ownership, it makes pretty much everyone else a value. Edwin Evers is in seventh place in the AOY race. If he were to post a couple of good finishes here and at the AOY championship, and if the leaders were to stumble, he could find himself holding that trophy. His insanely low ownership percentage (1.5 percent) and great momentum this year make him way too good of a value to pass up. To top is off, he finished 18th here in 2015. One word: Steal.
Fan Fave: KVD
I could just stop at KVD and move on to Bucket B, but I’ll give his massive ownership some evidence to back up their pick. To say he is a smallmouth master is putting it lightly. He rarely has an event featuring smallmouth where he finishes outside of the top 20. He has had some mixed results on St. Clair with a 63rd most recently in 2015. However, he has had a stellar season and after a tough Champlain tournament, he wants some revenge. I might regret not picking him.
BUCKET B: JONES
Value Pick: Alton Jones
This Texas boy has a strange ability to catch smallmouth in the North Country. He was on my radar for Champlain and I didn’t pick him, which stung when he finished 11th. I’m not making that mistake again with back-to-back 11th-place finishes in the last two northern tournaments. All of his recent finishes on St. Clair are 24th or better. That gives me enough confidence to roll with Jones. Even if the “Fan Fave” Martens posts a Top 12, I’m banking on Jones to finish a spot or two better than that.
Fan Fave: Aaron Martens
It is really hard not to pick Martens. He was in line to win the event in 2015 and had boat issues and put him in too late to weigh his fish, ultimately finishing 12th. His record breaking 19th-to-first jump at Champlain has everyone talking and that shows in his ownership. In recent years, he hasn’t had a finish worse than 20th on St. Clair. He is definitely a strong choice. He also historically has strong finishes in the tournament after he wins. His momentum should play a factor here.
BUCKET C: POWROZNIK
Value Pick: Jacob Powroznik
Powroznik has shown that he knows how to catch brown fish. For having a relatively short resume with the Elite Series, he has a ton of strong 25th or better finishes on similar fisheries. He slipped a bit at Champlain and I know he wants to get back to the Classic. He isn’t safe sitting in 46th in points. It’s going to take a good event here and then again at the AOY championship if he wants a shot at Hartwell.
Fan Fave: JVD
It’s been a long time since I have thought of JVD as just “KVD’s little nephew”. He can truly hold his own against the best and that shows with his northern swing results. He was eighth last time the Elites were here in 2015 and has half a dozen Top-20 finishes on similar bodies of water. He is definitely temping, but I have to save my high-owned picks for the next two buckets.
BUCKET D: PIPKENS
Value Pick: Keith Poche
When I brought up Keith Poche during our podcast the other night, it caught everyone off guard. Believe it or not, this guy has two finishes on St. Clair 13th or better. He will be undervalued for sure, and it might be a little bit of a gamble, but if it pays off, you’ll look like a genius. I’m really tempted to pick him just so I have bragging rights among the other pundit guys!
Fan Fave: Chad Pipkens
Chad Pipkens’ ownership definitely wins him the title of fan favorite with almost 40 percent currently, and there’s a reason for that. He won an open against a couple hundred anglers in 2014 here and then in 2015 during Elite competition, he backed that up with a fourth-place finish. He is a stud when it comes to smallmouth. This is one of the picks I’m going to use to balance out my roster. I’m picking the hair.
BUCKET E: C. LANE
Value Pick: Takahiro Omori
There are definitely still a bunch of guys trying to dig their way out of this bucket. Omori has definitely endured a tough season, but he has the skills to do really well here, and get some momentum to carry over to next season. He has a few solid finishes at St. Clair with a fourth, 34th and 44th. His ownership is a little higher than most of the value picks, but his prior results definitely put him in the “value” category.
Fan Fave: Chris Lane
Lane has only cashed three checks this year, and has had four dismal finishes in 98th place or worse. He knows he isn’t going to make the Classic, so at this point he is just trying to recover as much as possible. His last two tournaments have been strong finishes with a 45th and 10th. I’m hoping his momentum carries over to St. Clair where he has won before. I used the same logic at Toledo Bend and Okeechobee and it bit me… hard. I’m going to give it one last shot and hope he finishes high enough to help bump me up the leaderboard.
This is definitely a defensive strategy. Pete Robbins and Jim Sexton are probably out of reach at this point, but Thomas Allen and Ronnie Moore are in my sights. This will be my best chance to jump them in the standings and finish in the Top 10 percent!