My streak of bad choices continued yet again at Wheeler Lake, aside from my choosing of Greg Hackney. But, there’s a still a lot of room for improvement. What’s especially interesting is that my Dark Horse picks were nearly a perfect team, so had I listened to my gut, I would have done better.
Enough complaining. Back to making sound judgment calls on the Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing front.
Toledo Bend is one of the finest bass fisheries in the world, and you can expect there to be plenty of heavy bags weighed in at this tournament. The event really shapes up to fit much of the field’s skill set, but someone’s always gotta win, and at Toledo Bend, they’ll win big.
I think those who will keep the trolling motor wet and on high, only slowing to pick apart a certain structural element, will be the top anglers at this tournament. Factor in a bit of momentum, and you could have the perfect team.
BUCKET A: ZALDAIN
Chris Zaldain said that if he could survive the first half of the season, he’d be sitting well because the later half of the 2016 Elite Series season really plays to his fishing strengths. His season has been outstanding thus far, and I agree that he’ll finish strong there.
Second Choice: Greg Hackney and Randall Tharp. It was a toss-up between both anglers, as each are rolling with momentum this year and have had positive tournaments at Toledo Bend in the past. You literally can’t go wrong with either angler.
Dark Horse: Gerald Swindle is having a solid year and is coming into this event in fifth place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. This guy is so overdue for a win it’s not even funny. But, you can bet that he tastes the blood in the water and will shoot to build on the season’s consistency.
BUCKET B: FAIRCLOTH
To me, there is no stronger angler in this bucket than Todd Faircloth. He built the foundation of his fishing career on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. It helps that he lives in Jasper, which is right between the two lakes, but he’s finished well at TB in the past. As usual, Faircloth has been quiet this year, and I expect this tournament to be the place where he makes some noise.
Second Choice: Brandon Lester has been in the hunt for his first Bassmaster Elite title more than once this year, and he is one of the hottest young power fishermen on the tour. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him cash a big check, if not hold the trophy high at this event.
Dark Horse: Cliff Crochet has done well at Toledo Bend in the past, and he understands the power-fishing mantra that comes with fishing a place like TB. I’m confident he’ll have a strong showing this year.
BUCKET C: KLEIN
After he made the Top 12 cut at Wheeler Lake — for the first time in a coupe of years — I asked Gary Klein if his drive has been reignited. He said, “Absolutely!” He will be riding his momentum into Toledo Bent, a lake he knows very well, and expect the Old Guard to show up with a vengeance.
Second Choice: Skeet Reese knows power fishing as well as anyone, and he knows big bass in the grass, both of which will be a key players this year. He had a tough finish at Wheeler, and I’d expect to see him rise from those ashes with a chip on his shoulder.
Dark Horse: Fletcher Shryock has been fishing well this year. With his momentum and decision making paying off, I’d not be surprised if he swoops in and makes the Top 12 cut, if not surprises the entire field with his first win. His record simply does not reflect his talent level, and I think we’ll see that at Toledo Bend.
BUCKET D: M. DAVIS
This was a no-brainer for me. Mark Davis has finished in the Top 10 at both of the most recent Bassmaster Elite stops at Toledo Bend. He’s been around the game as long as anyone, but he’s proven over the past few years that he’s far from finished. The time of year, and with an abundance of grass, this tournament sets up perfectly for Davis. He’ll be a primary contender again.
Second Choice: Tommy Biffle may have written the book on power fishing, or at least one of the original contributing authors. The time of year, lake type and available structure and forage make for a Biffle-won tournament. I may have to re-evaluate my choices in this bucket, as TB is a solid choice for TB.
Dark Horse: James Niggemeyer is coming off of a Top 12 finish, and being a guide on renowned Lake Fork in Texas, he will come into this event already knowing what the fish should be doing. I’d expect another strong finish out of Niggemeyer at TB.
BUCKET E: MORGENTHALER
Chad Morgenthaler almost won in 2014 but came in second. There is a bunch of grass in this lake and that’s Morgenthaler’s specialty. He’s had a difficult season so far, hence his placement in Bucket E, but this will be where he turns the bus around.
Second Choice: Paul Elias is having a very uncharacteristic season so far. And speaking of the Old Guard with the likes of Rick Clunn and Gary Klein, Elias is seasoned and is very familiar with Toledo Bend. If there ever was a perfect opportunity for this guy to right his ship, it’s at TB.
Dark Horse: Chad Pipkens has also had an uncharacteristic season, and he’s been on my roster more than once this year, but the guy can fish. He knows the game and needs to change things up, and fast. Just like Elias, I bet Toledo Bend is an awakening for the Michigan angler.