During these short turnaround weeks, I’m often conflicted about who to pick. Do you take the top finishers from the first derby, hoping to ride their momentum, or do you assume that they’ll be too tired to compete at the pinnacle of their abilities? After much reflection on this topic, and occasionally losing the guessing game, I’ve decided that I’ll use this factor only in addition to all others, rather than as a primary driver of my choices.
The good news is that the Harris Chain is primed to pump out some giant weights. A recent big bass event produced three fish over 10 pounds and another over 11. The chain is further south than the St. Johns, and more of a true “Florida fishery” than the river near Palatka. Also, the Elites haven’t been there in a decade, so there’s a little bit less history to rely upon.
That means I’m looking for two things in my picks – guys who excel around vegetation and guys who are superior sight fishermen. If they’re good at both, so much the better. I know that there will likely still be some offshore fish willing to chew on rattling lipless baits and jerkbaits, but my best guess is that the giants are moving away from that, rather than toward it.
With that said, here are my picks:
BUCKET A: COOK
Pick: Young eyes used to looking for beds are going to get a workout in this event and Floridian Drew Cook is up to the challenge. Yes, picking an angler who’s willing to work a bed fish for an extended period of time could be a risk, but he knows enough other ways and places to catch them to salvage a quality finish even if Plan A does not prevail.
Backup: I almost picked John Cox because, like Cook, he’s from Florida, can flip, pitch and sight fish, and showed those skills last week. I just fear his ownership percentage will be too high.
BUCKET B: POWROZNIK
Pick: Jacob Powroznik’s history demonstrates that he can do a lot of things well, but put him around shallow cover with a Senko and he’s deadly, especially if vegetation is in play. He may do a substantial part of his damage with a spinning rod, but no matter what he won’t get spun out by the sight of giants.
Backup: Chris Johnston may be from Canada, but he’s spent tons of time in the Sunshine State in recent years and has shown that Florida strain fish are right up his alley. Working with his brother, they’ll break down the chain quickly and have a good sense of what’s going on – with time to hone it.
BUCKET C: GUSTAFSON
Pick: Another Canadian snowbird – or Snow Leopard – in Bucket C. Jeff Gustafson, like the Johnstons loves fishing vegetation and has spent a lot of time in Florida. He barely missed the cut at the St. Johns, something that won’t happen twice in a row very often.
Backup: He’s not quite the “hometown” pick, but Scott Martin has spent his entire life looking at Florida bass and dredging monsters up out of the veggies, so he won’t miss the cut here and could very well challenge for the win.
BUCKET D: HACKNEY
Pick: Put an XXH flipping stick in Greg Hackney’s hands and watch him go to work. He’s another pro who won’t leave Florida without at least one $10,000 or greater check.
Backup: Like the Canadians, former Ohio resident Hunter Shryock spent a lot of time escaping the northern cold by picking up stakes and headed to Florida. Like Hackney, he loves to flip and is really good at it.
BUCKET E: GLEASON
Pick: When it comes to “Ocean Ponies,” Darold Gleason has as much history of landing double-digit fish as anyone in the field. His history on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn gives him that experience, and also means that he loves to fish grass. He’s due for a win, or a near-win, and this could be the Elite fans’ first window into how good he is.
Backup: What happened to Mike Iaconelli in his return to the Elites? I’ll likely never know, but I’m confident it won’t happen again. If it does, it’s a clear sign that the apocalypse is upon us.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake
- John Cox
- Greg Hackney
- Chad Morgenthaler
- Bernie Schultz
- Wes Logan
- Stetson Blaylock
- Jacob Powroznik
- Paul Mueller