Fantasy Fishing: Play it safe or bet big at St. Clair

Things are winding down. If you’re one of the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers outside of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year cut, your season is just about over. If you’re on the bubble of making the AOY championship on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs, you’re running out of time, and every point you can earn at this point is critical. If you’re looking to add some points to your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing squad, you’ve only got two chances left.

Choose wisely.

The final regular-season event of the year kicks off Aug. 24 at the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair, out of Detroit, Mich.

I’m not eligible to win the boat, and my goal on the season was to finish in the Top 10 percent in overall Fantasy scoring. Currently, I’m at 89.6 percent, and I smell victory.

Low objectives mean I’ll be happy when I achieve them. It’s an easy guide to life: Aim at easy targets and feel good about yourself when you achieve them. HA!

If you’re looking to climb the leaderboard, it’s time to adjust your thinking. All year long we’ve been preaching to choose low-owned anglers to risk jumping all of those players who have selected popular anglers. That could still hold true, but if you choose wrong, you lose big at this point.

Maybe putting it all on the line is your style. Go for it, what have you got to lose? I’ve got pride on the line, and finishing outside the Top 10 percent means I’ll have to yield to the likes of other pundits like Ronnie Moore or Coy Greathouse. But, if I want to move up to overtake Pete Robbins, I’ll have to slightly spice it up.

For me, I’m banking on momentum, smallmouth savvy and a couple pros looking at ending their season on a high note or extending it into the post season. I'm going to play it safe, kind of.

BUCKET A: FEIDER

How can I not pick Seth Feider here? He’s a surprisingly good deal at only 10.3 percent owned, and he’s in his element until the final whistle blows at Mille Lacs. He’s staring at his first Classic berth, and is overshadowed by Kevin VanDam and Brandon Palaniuk, who are obvious picks. I really don’t see the young Minnesota pro having any trouble at a solid Top 20, if not better.

Darkhorse: Feider is the real darkhorse in Bucket A, but since I’ve picked him I think Brent Ehrler could be a solid choice as well. He’s well within the Classic cut, and to me that means he’ll be fishing for a win. After barely missing two titles this year, including the Classic, the California pro has a score to settle with 2017, and Detroit could be the location where he evens things up.

BUCKET B: JONES

It’s been said quite a bit by our pundit staff, and it’s a fact: Alton Jones is a smallmouth stud. He’s sitting pretty safely inside the Classic cut at 23rd place and has an impressive history up north — especially St. Clair: Third 2013, 24th 2015. Expect another solid finish out of the elder Jones, if not a Top 12.

Darkhorse: Dave Lefebre has been quiet since Ross Barnett, and I expect that to change. He admits to preferring largemouth to smallmouth, but he needs a good finish at St. Clair to lock in a Classic berth. He’ll be starting in 35th place in the AOY race, meaning he’s on the bubble of not making the cut to Lake Hartwell in 2018. A poor finish would hurt, but a good finish would help.

BUCKET C: LUCAS

For the second half of the season, Justin Lucas has been my unsung hero in Fantasy Fishing. He endured a dismal start, but managed to slowly dig himself out of a hole that found him near the bottom of the AOY race. He’s in 64th going into the final event of the year, which is a long shot from making the Top 50 cut for the AOY championship. If anyone can do it, the young California native can. He’s good on grassy lakes where a drop shot plays, and you can count on him staying consistent at St. Clair.

Darkhorse: Mike Iaconelli is in danger of not making the 2018 Classic, a potential streak-ending result. He’s made 16 in a row, and missing it next year would hurt. But, if anyone can climb that many spots into Classic contention, Ike can. He’s got a lot on the line at this one, and he’s typically one who handles pressure well.

BUCKET D: HITE

Speaking of long shots, Brett Hite is looking at potentially, if not likely missing the 2018 Classic. A very uncharacteristic position for the Arizona pro, but it’s not impossible to overcome. He finished ninth in 2015, and anytime there’s grass requiring a finesse approach, you can’t count Hite out. I think he’ll fish like he’s got nothing to lose, and that makes him incredibly dangerous. 

Darkhorse: At the end of the season, Bucket D is where you’ll start to see names of guys who run the risk of losing their Elite Series spot, meaning it’s all on the line. Keeping that in mind, a guy like Chad Pipkens is a very strong favorite, and needs a good finish here to stay in the game. A safe bet most likely.

BUCKET E: C. LANE

After a terrible year, Chris Lane has nothing to lose, and he has as solid history on St. Clair, including a win in 2013. He’s the most dangerous man in Bucket E, but also the most owned. I know he’ll do well here, and I don’t want nearly 40 percent of players to crawl ahead of me in this bucket. I’m going to play it safe and be confident that Lane will end his season on a high note.

Darkhorse: Maybe Takahiro Omori. Maybe Chris Zaldain. At this point in the season, Bucket E is not where you want to be making any selection a liability to your Fantasy team. But you’ve got to pick one; any of the three I’ve mentioned should do well at the final regular-season event of the year.