Fantasy Fishing

Fantasy Fishing: Pick your poison

Hunter Shryock blasts off into Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.

The Bassmaster Elite Series season opener on the St. Johns River was not a disappointment, but I believe things are going to hit a new level in Florida this week at the Harris Chain. While a few big bass were caught off the bed by Elite anglers at Palatka, the cool weather kept them largely in check. Looking at the forecast for Leesburg, we have a nice little warming trend into the weekend colliding with a full moon landing square on the first day of the tournament. On top of that, the Harris Chain in general seems to be on an upward swing as a fishery.

Taking that all into consideration, on the surface it looks like there will be plenty of big bass hitting the beds throughout this event, but there is no guarantee it will be won sight fishing. There will be large populations of quality bass in all three phases of the spawn. I think we will see a combination of approaches represented in the anglers that make the final day.

Based on the weather forecast, there might be too many clouds and too much wind to solely rely on sight fishing. Also, there will be big bags caught by anglers fishing both shallow and offshore. You could definitely build your Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing rosters around sight fishing, shallow power anglers or offshore experts. All could play, but you may want to hedge your bets and diversify your lineup this week.

BUCKET A: COX

John Cox seems pretty comfortable sleeping in his own bed, and I expect him to continue to thrive this week at the Harris Chain. Cox has a lot of experience and top finishes out of Leesburg, although with a full moon kicking off the event Cox may have trouble sleeping with images of 30-pound bags in his head all week. At this point, Cox is the lone Florida angler on my team, so hopefully I have gone all-in on the right horse.

Maybe I should just pick him every event

Austin Felix started off the year with a sixth place, and I am not sure he will fall out of Bucket A all year. He could be one of the anglers best equipped to battle Patrick Walters and a few others for a 2022 Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. While Felix locked a jerkbait in his hand at Palatka, he is a heck of a sight fisherman as well, so he is well equipped to do both in Leesburg.

BUCKET B: NEW

On Day 1 from Palatka on Bassmaster LIVE, Bryan New touted that he believed Florida bass were the most predictable fish anywhere. While many anglers are likely to disagree, New’s Bassmaster track record suggests that he may understand Florida bass better than most. In four Bassmaster events, New has two wins, a 21st and a 22nd. I feel a Sunday cut for New this week at Harris Chain.

If it’s a bed fishing battle

It could be hard to pass up on Jacob Powroznik. He is a master at plucking shallow finicky bass, and the Harris Chan could be a great opportunity for J-Pow to have a big “welcome back to the Elites” party after a solid finish on St. Johns River.

BUCKET C: SCHMITT

Bryan Schmitt has a knack for mining big bags of bass from grass, and he has won in Florida before. He should find his comfort zone somewhere on the Harris Chain this week. If he gets real comfortable, expect him to be fishing on Sunday.

Not afraid of grass

Like most Minnesota anglers, Josh Douglas is no stranger to grass fishing. He’s also spent a considerable time leaving his snow-covered home early each year, learning the popular Florida tournament stops. Douglas had a rough Day 1 in Palatka but rebounded nicely on Day 2 to avoid a bomb. He should be carrying some momentum and positive vibes into Leesburg.

BUCKET D: SHYROCK

While the St. Johns River has been rough on Hunter Shyrock over the years, he has done quite well on other systems like Harris and other non-tidal Florida fisheries. Not to mention, Hunter is not afraid of picking up a big stick or sight fishing. He should have a solid event this week. 

Too much value in Feider

While you cannot spell Seth Feider without a D, don’t expect the defending angler of the year to spend much time in this bucket. So this is a great chance to pick him while maximizing value. Feider excels at mid-depth fishing and there should be plenty of that this week in Leesburg.

BUCKET E: WELCHER

Kyle Welcher has largely lived in buckets A and B his first two seasons on the Elite Series, so he is definitely not going to be happy with his 89th-place finish at Palatka. I think Welcher will find plenty of shallow bass and bed fish to his liking at Harris Chain and get his season back on track. Not to mention, Welcher took third in a late January Bassmaster Open on the Harris Chain in 2019.

Ike’s history won’t hurt him at Harris

The St. Johns River has become a totally different fishery since Mike Iaconelli last fished an Elite Series event there in 2016. I am guessing that history hurt Ike last week, but that should be a different story in Leesburg. While Iaconelli’s history on Harris Chain and Florida in general are a bit up and down, I don’t think you will get many more chances to pick a talent like Ike in Bucket E again this season.

Drain the Lake

Now we move on to season two of the Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge. This additional Fantasy Fishing game not only offers a fresh way to play the game, but a completely separate prize pool. Drain the Lake is an elimination or survivor-style game where you can only use an angler once all season. 

One key difference between this season and last: In 2021larger Elite field and we only played for half the season. Now that players have used up their first eight anglers, there are only 86 anglers left for the remaining nine events.

Here is my Harris Chain Drain the Lake roster:

  • Hunter Shryock 
  • Scott Martin 
  • Scott Canterbury 
  • Derek Hudnall
  • Tyler Rivet 
  • Koby Kreiger 
  • David Williams 
  • Jeff Gustafson