The new season of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing is here, and it feels like we were off for years, not months!
Questions that will soon be answered at this year’s Classic: Will a former Classic champion win again? Will the weights be bigger? Will Ike and the infamous dog be reunited? Will you trust your gut on some picks or go with the masses? Will local knowledge win out? Will a B.A.S.S. Nation angler win the Classic for just the second time ever?
The water levels are much higher than they were last time we were on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in 2013, and that may affect some of the competitors. Old spots may be too deep, but some spots might be even better with more water on them.
I chatted with local pro Zack Birge, who has had some success on Grand Lake over the years, and he said he expects water temps to be in 44- to 52-degree range. There are a bunch of cold-water anglers in this year’s field, and they do not all live up North. Birge said he also expects the main players to catch a “Grand bag” on a cocktail of crankin’, jiggin’, trappin’ and jerkbaiting. Any names come to mind who excel with those baits? I can think of three or four.
Filled with some industry insider feedback (thanks, guys, for dropping knowledge on us!), hours of endless research and my own gut to provide scientific evidence, I propose the following picks with non-scientific reasoning.
Bucket A: Martens
Edwin Evers, Brent Ehrler, Brandon Palaniuk and Aaron Martens are all great picks — and all for different reasons. I am going to take Martens in this one.
If he figures them out early, he will be hard to beat. Experience and talent rule this bucket, but if Martens had gotten 17 to 18 pounds on Day 1 last time they were on Grand, then had his Day 3 match his Day 2, he may have walked off the stage as the Classic champ. The guy went from 6 pounds to 18 pounds on Day 2. And didn’t even qualify for Day 3. I think Martens comes in off his AOY win with talent, skill, momentum and the knowledge he built up last time to put three days together and win. Pick the Hawg Snatcher!
Birge likes Evers in this event. He said Evers has done his homework and spent countless hours on the lake. Birge says you can’t go wrong with Justin Lucas, either.
Former Bassmaster Elite Series pro Travis Manson and I agree on a winner from the bucket — Martens. “Just because I would like to see him get a win,” said Manson, “and he is fully capable of pulling it off.” Manson also advised not to overlook Evers for a variety of reasons. “The sleeper in my book would be Greg Hackney,” added Manson, “only because I would like to see him win a Classic.”
Bucket B: Christie
This is where I take the local with the high pick percentage and all of the local knowledge. Jason Christie is a better pick in B than Evers is in A, purely based on who is in the buckets. If I was forced to pick anyone else, I would go Bobby Lane and then Bill Lowen in that order. Both limited all three days the last time on Grand.
“Jason Christie is definitely the pick out of group B,” said Elite Series pro Seth Feider. “It’s his home lake, and he will catch them no matter what the fish are doing.”
Manson added that Christie is the obvious pick, as well, based on his experience and local knowledge.
Bucket C: Faircloth
This bucket is harder than Bucket B. Kevin VanDam is one of the names that comes to mind when I hear Classic and crankbaits, trappin’ and jerkbaits all in the same sentence, plus the cold-water thing I mentioned earlier. VanDam has the experience, knowledge and skill to win the whole thing, but I am not convinced he will. I actually expect him to win now that I am picking another angler in this bucket.
Todd Faircloth is my pick. Anyone who actually reads my write-ups knows I am high on Faircloth in just about any situation. He was one of just 12 anglers fishing this Classic who limited all three days in the 2013 Classic. He was the only angler whose weights got bigger each day. Plus, he shares information with Aaron Martens.
Birge says Micah Frazier is an angler to watch in this bucket as well.
Jeremiah Shaver, Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation president, also offered his opinion — after chastising me for giving him a tough bucket to figure out. “Personally, I think Ott DeFoe is, and has been, fishing better coming out of last year,” said Shaver. “I think DeFoe is a better finesse angler, which could come into play if it’s cold.”
Bucket D: Iaconelli
This is another tough bucket. Do you go history and take Mike Iaconelli? Do you go local and take James Elam?
I am taking Iaconelli and his knowledge. I think he has the cold-water skills needed. He has also mellowed out some, so the dog and Ike will hug it out, the trolling motor will work fine and Ike will fish clean. If those all happen, Iaconelli has a great shot at repeating as a Classic champ.
Elam would be my next pick, based on location, and my sleeper in this bucket is Chad Morgenthaler.
Bucket E: Watson
I cannot wait to see the banter between James Watson and emcee Dave Mercer. I am sure Watson will offer to sign hats, baits, babies, docks and fish if he gets the chance. The guy has personality in spades — and he can catch fish.
For sleepers, I would look to Trevor Lo of Minnesota. The kid has to know how to catch them in the cold, and he has nothing to lose at this event. I will be pulling for Lo.
I asked Mercer to drop some Fantasy Fishing knowledge on us for Bucket E. “Lord only knows,” he said. “But if I was picking, I would go with Watson or Charles Sim.” Clearly, Mercer is pulling for the comedian and the Canadian.
If you were wondering if my kids, Sam and Maggie, are still making picks, here you go:
Sam: Bucket A, Casey Ashley; B, Jason Christie, C, Kevin VanDam; D, Mike Iaconelli; E, James Watson. Sam played the percentages pretty well, but he went out on a limb with Ashley in Bucket A.
Maggie: Bucket A, Dean Rojas; B, Clifford Pirch; C, Kevin VanDam; D, Mike Iaconelli; E, James Watson.
I wish I could say my kids picked based off of Dad’s supreme knowledge of Fantasy Fishing, but they picked prior to me, so maybe I copied them.
Quick strategy note: This event is a winner-takes-all. Points are zeroed for the rest of the Elite Series season, so feel free to swing for the fence on this one without worrying about falling way behind.