With the 2017 Bassmaster Classic taking place after two regular season Elite Series events, anglers are presented with an unusual opportunity at the next tournament to press the reset button and redefine their 2017 season.
There’s no better place to do that than Toledo Bend, a sprawling reservoir that offers a chance to catch massive bags in a number of ways. A century club catch is not out of the question.
At the same time, there may be no place worse to fall flat on your face than Toledo. An angler who totes 11 pounds a day to the scales is going to have to watch in horror as others weigh in bass that could eat their average specimen.
With that in mind, I’m focusing on anglers who have something to prove at this early point in the year. That doesn’t necessarily mean bottom dwellers or newcomers, but rather anglers who either need to get their season back on track or who need to take their careers to the next level, and have a proven record of taking those strides. Since the lake is a known commodity to much of the field, a demonstrated ability to succeed in slugfests doesn’t hurt, either.
BUCKET A: LOWEN
My Pick: Bill Lowen
Almost Picked: Greg Hackney
After announcing that I was going to pick pros who needed to hit the reset button, it might seem odd that I’d choose Lowen, who earned checks at Cherokee and Okeechobee before stumbling at Conroe. He sits in eighth place in the AOY race, and there are 90-plus guys who’d give their favorite swim jig to trade places. But that’s just the point – he’s nibbled around the edges of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title for several years, but hasn’t made that superstar leap yet. He’s not known for catching monster bags, but rather for his consistency, and if he’s going to make that status jump, and possibly win for the first time at the Elite level, he needs to bridge that gap. Hackney’s record includes two top four finishes at Toledo, and it sets up in his wheelhouse, but I’m betting that fish in various stages of the spawn and post-spawn set up well for Lowen’s mixture of tactics.
BUCKET B: COMBS
My Pick: Keith Combs
Almost Picked: Kevin VanDam
With the fish headed out toward their summertime lairs, you’d expect that to play right into the hands of KVD, the greatest pattern fisherman of all time, who just happened to win here last year with a catch of over 96 pounds. Nevertheless, I’m going with Combs. He missed the cut at Okeechobee and then again at Conroe, which is essentially the equivalent of lightning striking twice in the same place. If he’s going to get his season back on track – and avoid the type of one-off season-long struggle that Randall Tharp suffered in 2015 – a lake less than an hour from his home should provide the perfect venue. He finished fourth here last year.
BUCKET C: KENNEDY
My Pick: Steve Kennedy
Almost Picked: Aaron Martens
Kennedy gave me tremendous grief in Houston for not picking him over Brent Ehrler, and in the end he proved to be right. Much gloating ensued. He’s been in the money three of the four times the Elites have visited Toledo, including an eighth-place finish in 2011, and this event should suit him well for the same reason that Conroe did – many of the fish are likely to be in a funky state between the spawn and their summertime homes. If he can make them bite his big discontinued swimbait, he could put up Clear Lake caliber numbers. If you’re not willing to get on the SK roller coaster, try A-Mart, whose finishes at Toledo have been similar and who has only made one cut in three tries this year.
BUCKET D: POWROZNIK
My Pick: Jacob Powroznik
Almost Picked: Cliff Crochet
Man, I’d love to see Crochet whack ‘em on a frog in the grass, but after watching Jacob Powroznik on Day One of the Classic I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. I watched as he fished down a bank that three other stud Elite anglers had already tried unsuccessfully and proceeded to pick of eight or 10 bedding fish. In fact, he made it look easy. There may not be many spawners left at Toledo, but if there are some he’ll get them to bite, and he can do plenty of things to supplement that pattern. He won here in 2014 and came in 22nd in 2016. Obviously it suits his style and at 82nd in the AOY race he needs to get back on track in order to qualify for his fourth consecutive Classic.
BUCKET E: REESE
My Pick: Skeet Reese
Almost Picked: Justin Lucas
Wow. Never expected to find these two western hammers in Bucket E. Neither did they, I suppose. At 100th and 102nd in the AOY race, they’re temporarily feeling like all of the other pros they’ve trampled as they climbed the ladder over the years. I don’t expect their troubles to persist, despite the fact that both have struggled at Toledo Bend in the past. Lucas hasn’t earned a check here in two attempts. Oddly enough, Reese who has landed in the money in over 77 percent of his B.A.S.S. entries, is only two for seven at Toledo, but if he’s going to avoid missing the Classic for the first time since 2012, this is where he needs to put the brakes on both that long term puzzler and his early season struggles.