Lake Hartwell is a familiar fishery for most of the anglers competing in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. A decent percentage of the field competed there when temperatures dipped into single digits during the 2015 Classic, and even some have history from 2008. For the most part, Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players can throw those memories and experiences out the window when the 52 anglers hit Lake Hartwell for this year's world championship.
The water is rising, the temperatures will be warmer and there will be a new aspect introduced unlike previous years: Shoreline brush and grass. During the winter drawdown, shoreline grass and bushes have formed on the once bare banks at Lake Hartwell. With the rising water and a mid-March Classic, that means a good portion of the field will be power fishing shallow water with big largemouth as the target.
BUCKET A: CHRISTIE
My pick: Jason Christie
The Bassmaster Classic action could and should go down shallow for all three days of competition, so I would be remiss if I didn’t look down the barrel at Jason Christie and agree that he is one of the best closers and heavy-hitters in the field. Yes, he lost the 2016 Classic on the final day, but that was due to Edwin Evers mounting an incredible comeback. This year should be a flipper and power fisherman’s paradise.
Worth consideration: Bobby Lane
With a second-place finish at Hartwell in 2015 by fishing shallow cover and around docks, he should be right at home this year. The elder Lane brother could, indeed, pick up a flipping stick with heavy line line and just go fishing. He won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open #1 at the Kissimmee Chain at the end of January in impressive fashion, so momentum is already on his side this year. Plus, one thing worth considering is his Classic record. He’s fished 10 straight Classics and has yet to register a finish worse than 20th. When everything is on the line during the biggest event of the year, he seems to be in the mix.
BUCKET B: REESE
My pick: Skeet Reese
When the fish are shallow and anglers can cover different water every day of an event, it has Skeet Reese's name written all over it. He did it to perfection at Lake Guntersville in 2015 when he won the Elite event, and also in 2016 at Norfork Lake when he finished in second place. Reese is deadly in shallow water, and especially in an event where power fishing should play a key role.
Worth consideration: Greg Hackney
Before the buckets were announced, I was asked for my three favorite anglers going into this event. I immediately thought Reese, Greg Hackney and Aaron Martens. Well with Reese and Hackney in this bucket together it makes sense to consider Hackney. Picking apart shallow cover is on his long list of strengths, and I think he's overdue to win a Classic.
BUCKET C: COMBS
My pick: Keith Combs
No, we aren’t in Texas, but I think that makes Keith Combs deadlier than most Fantasy Fishing players would contend. Combs was under a lot of pressure at the Conroe Classic, and it didn’t turn out like he had hoped. However, he still exceled in 2017 with another top 10 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year finish. I expect Combs to sneak up and surprise the vast majority of spectators with a solid Classic finish this year.
Worth consideration: Russ Lane
This event is well within Lane's skill set. Power fishing shallow cover will be on the docket making R. Lane an undervalued selection given the heavy hitters in Bucket C.
BUCKET D: LESTER
My pick: Brandon Lester
He’s affordable. That’s the first thing I noticed with Brandon Lester. Less than 3 percent of Fantasy Fishing players are choosing him, and that's appealing to me. This event fits his style well, and I believe he'll make a solid showing at Hartwell this year. He earned a Top 51 at Lake Martin, and also got second at the Kissimmee Chain Open prior to the Martin Elite. With trendy picks like Dustin Connell, Jesse Wiggins and Mark Daniels Jr., Lester will slide under the radar, making him a great selection in this bucket.
Worth consideration: Hank Cherry
Hank Cherry lives relatively close to the shores of Lake Hartwell – and with the fish likely headed to the bank, it could be a perfect scenario for him to intercept big fish as they transition deep to shallow. Cherry almost won the 2013 Classic and had a good 2017 Elite Series seaosn, so momentum is on his side as well.
BUCKET E: GIDDENS
My pick: Marty Giddens
With four Elite Series anglers gobbling up a big share of ownership in this group, I decided to focus on one of the Nation anglers. Marty Giddens is an Alabama angler that lives near Lake Martin. He’s used to chasing spotted bass, and also finding where the largemouth live in between. It always seems that a Nation angler rises to the top 10 or 15 in this event, and I think Giddens is the best bet.
Worth consideration: Jacob Foutz
Who knows when the first college angler will hoist the Classic trophy while still taking classes, but it's bound to eventually happen. Maybe Jacob Foutz will be the first to accomplish that goal. Foutz is shy so people may see him as easily intimidated, but he has displayed incredible talent with a rod and reel in his hands. So if the lights, cameras and media don't derail his focus, he could be a major contender this year.