It’s a short week between events, and we are gathered here today with a tight deadline to get our Fantasy Fishing picks in, so forgive me if I’m a little bit giddy. Baby, it’s much too fast. Like the anglers themselves, I had a schizophrenic event at Bull Shoals and Norfork, with two anglers in the Top 12, another in the check line, and two more – including the reigning Classic champ – near the bottom of the heap. If you relied on my past column and now rue that decision, I apologize. I never meant to cause you any sorrow.
In the first iteration of this column, I tried to honor a dearly departed pop star. I had Cliff Prince in Bucket A, A-Mart’s purple boat in Bucket B and Minnesotan Seth Feider in Bucket D. If only Marty Stone, who won the Top 150 at Wheeler 17 years ago was here to party like it’s 1999 in Bucket C, or Texan Kurt “When Doves Cry” was perched in Bucket E, I could’ve filled all five groups, but it wasn’t meant to be. Alas, I am left with more conventional choices.
BUCKET A: LOWEN
It’s tough not to pick Randall Tharp right now, who has apparently deposed the imposter who played him in 2015. Dating back to last year, he has five straight finishes of 27th or better in B.A.S.S. competition, four of them 16th or better, including this recent win. It’s especially tough not to choose him because they’re headed to the Tennessee River chain, where he has loads of history, but he’s going to get a late start on practice, and in a tournament where a lot of different things are going on, maximum practice time should play a role.
It’s also tough to ignore Takahiro Omori, who finished 12th here in 2011, 17th in 2008 and 2nd to David Walker in 2011. But I’m going with Lowen, who’s finished 16th, 25th and 22nd in Elite competition on Wheeler. He’s been stout this year, too. He’s like the gold standard, seemingly never failing to bring in a limit, most often a good one.
BUCKET B: HERREN
I thought about taking transplanted Alabama resident and reigning Angler of the Year Aaron Martens here, because he’s going to have a monster tournament at some point, and I don’t want to be left behind. Surprisingly, in seven career B.A.S.S. events on Wheeler, he’s only challenged for the win once, in his first attempt (the 2000 Top 150, when he finished ninth). Since then he’s had a pair of Top 20s and a pair of disasters.
Herren, on the other hand, has never faltered at Wheeler in B.A.S.S. competition. The worst he’s done was 46th in an Open, and the last two times there he’s finished 16th. Coming off a Top 12 in Arkansas, even with the short practice period, he should be able to contend for a win.
BUCKET C: HORTON
Man, I wanted to pick KVD here. The King of the Tennessee River has been stout up and down the chain, including at Wheeler, where he has two runner-up finishes in Elite Series competition. Seeing him in Bucket C is so surprising to those of us who’ve been doing it for a while that it almost feels like a misprint. But I have to make one homage to Prince here, and that requires me to choose the Angler Formerly Known as Timmy Horton. The former Angler of the Year remains a mystery to me — after 10 consecutive Classic appearances to start his career, and another a few years later, he’s missed the last four. It’s not like his skills have diminished or he’s forgotten how to fish, so if he’s going to get his Bassmaster career back on track, there’s no place better to do it than close to home, where he may have more knowledge than anyone else in the field.
BUCKET D: CLAUSEN
We have four residents of Alabama in this Bucket, including Greg Vinson, Kelley Jaye, Chris Lane and Russ Lane. While I’m not choosing the angler from the longest distance away – that would be Japan’s Ken Iyobe – I’m going for the one who drove the longest to get here, Luke Clausen.
His Elite Series career hasn’t started off the way many of us expected it would. After a 24th place finish at the St. Johns, he bombed at Winyah Bay and in Arkansas. If you remember last year, Brent Ehrler had a rocky start at the Sabine, and then got on course for a killer season. I expect Clausen, who like Ehrler won a Forrest Wood Cup in Alabama, to do the same.
BUCKET E: WALKER
When was the last time the prior winner of an Elite event on a given body of water was in Bucket E on the return trip to that lake? That’s a task for Ken Duke to figure out. I’m just assuming that Walker’s early season troubles – he hasn’t done better than 72nd so far in Elite competition in 2016 – aren’t symptomatic of a larger problem, but rather are the result of some bad choices in Florida, and quirky venues thereafter. If you’re unwilling to take him because you assume he’ll command a huge percentage of Fantasy players, look to rookie Clent Davis or new-Tennessean John Murray.