Fantasy Fishing: The search for the perfect roster

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James Overstreet
Brandon Palaniuk is a hungry competitor with a chip on his shoulder from his runner-up finish in 2013.

Classic — (adjective) judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its own kind. (noun) a work of art that is of recognized and established value.

The Bassmaster Classic, which brings 55 of the world’s best anglers together on one lake, will ultimately encompass that very definition of being “classic.” The 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro on the world-renowned Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees in Tulsa, Okla., shall be no exception to that very definition.

It was only three years ago that we visited Grand Lake, and it certainly had its memorable moments. One major factor that played a part in that tournament was extremely cold weather. Ice formed on the guides of the angler’s finely tuned rods and reels, and their apparel resembled that of an ice fishing event more so than a bass fishing championship. Mother Nature dealt a tough hand.

The cream of the crop rose to the top while battling through the elements and making key adjustments to claim their spot in history. Winner Cliff Pace did just that while honing in on transition areas just off main lake points that featured a channel swing and the most vertical structure and/or contour. Methodically and strategically fishing the conditions, Pace was able to hone in on a slower, more deliberate approach using a technique he has since dubbed “gravity fishing” — allowing gravity to move the bait down that vertical and fishable structure — while sticking with his “one-two punch” approach with a V&M jig and Jackall jerkbait to trigger the more finicky and ultimately bigger bites. When it was all said and done, the tournament certainly played itself well into Pace’s winning hand.

Don’t forget Hank Cherry’s huge missed fish, Brandon Palaniuk’s almost-win and Mike Iaconelli’s shout-out to a spectator dog.

Who’s ready for the sequel? I know I am. I’m definitely ready to set my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks.

Fantasy Fishing players need to base our selections on multiple variables, including tournament history, weather, local advantage, type of fishery, angler strength for that particular type of fishery, momentum, need to win, gut instinct and ownership percentage. My goal for this year is put together a perfect roster, at least once. Hopefully, this one is it!

Bucket A: Palaniuk

My Pick: Brandon Palaniuk

Bucket A is filled with aces, and rightfully so. The anglers in this bucket have the world’s greatest bass fishing talent. I’m picking Brandon Palaniuk here because, not only was he first runner-up in 2013, but this lake sets up to favor his preferred style of fishing. When I think of Palaniuk, I think of open water and an opportunity for a freestyle approach. His ability to diversify power fishing with finesse techniques while working areas of rock and riprap sets him up nicely to play the game he’s most comfortable playing. And when Palaniuk is comfortable, watch out. It could be over before it even started! With a bittersweet taste of almost hoisting that trophy over his head three years ago, he’s one hungry competitor with a chip on his shoulder. I will put my chips on the table that say he will do whatever it takes to put him in position to be back in that VIP group of the “Super Six” come the final day of competition.

Gut Pick: Edwin Evers/Aaron Martens

It’s very hard for me not to pick Edwin Evers, who had such a great run in the previous season, including winning back-to-back events. I watched Evers on my home waters of the St. Lawrence River last year, and I was in awe of how efficient he was with every little nuance. However, he had his shot on “his turf” in 2013 and yet Palaniuk still outperformed him.

And what can I say that hasn’t already been said about “The Natural” Aaron Martens. The guy is a stud. He recently had arguably the best performance of any Elite Series season over the years, and if you kept that stallion in your roster last year, he kept you in the blue ribbon category throughout the Fantasy Fishing season. So why am I not picking him? It’s because of the anticipated high ownership percentage he’ll probably have. I may later regret this one, though.

Sleeper: Jacob Powroznik. Just sayin.

Bucket B: Christie

My Pick: Jason Christie

Jason Christie is my overall pick to win the Classic outright. Actually, it came down to Christie and Justin Lucas as my picks for overall winner, but it was a tough call.

For one, Christie’s hometown is in the host state of Oklahoma (Park Hill to be exact), and familiarity often is an advantage. When it comes to such a high-stakes game at the highest level of competition, every advantage is one more opportunity to stack the deck in your favor. Furthermore, Christie is a seasoned veteran and has proved himself as one of the fiercest and most accomplished competitors in professional bass fishing.

Christie finished seventh overall in the 2013 Classic. He can adapt at a moment’s notice and will make the slightest of adjustments to get that extra bite or two. He has poise under the most tremendous amount of pressure, never losing his cool and always staying on point. He dissects each and every lake with surgeon-like precision. He’s deliberate, focused and determined to make a run for the title once again. Take Jason Christie in Bucket B, and you can bet he’ll pay big dividends for your roster.

Long Shot: Cliff Pirch

Clifford Pirch had a good season last year, and in terms of momentum, he may still be building. I like him in open-water situations. He could make for a bank roll if you wanted to take a long shot in this bucket.

Bucket C: DeFoe

My Pick: Ott DeFoe

Such a highly skilled group of anglers make up this bucket that it's hard to imagine any of them not making the cut. I feel that Ott DeFoe has this lake's number. He proved he can dial in on Grand Lake in 2013 with an 11th-place finish. DeFoe is one of the best when it comes to junk fishing. He can diversify by throwing any lure at any time. With the way Grand sets up, and the time of year, you can bet that there will be many applications needed to excel. DeFoe is your man.

Wanted to pick: Kevin VanDam

It’s K to the V to the D, y’all! There’s countless reasons to pick the legend, but I don’t play favorites and will normally resort to the underdogs when there’s an overwhelming spread on the over/under. This is just a risk/reward play here.

Bucket D: Iaconelli

My Pick: Mike Iaconelli

I know, I know — I just contradicted myself in saying that I’m not all about the fan favorites here, but Iaconelli has a strong hand coming into this wager and in just too many ways to ignore. I feel as if not picking him, despite his projected high ownership percentage, can work against me. Sometimes, in Fantasy Fishing, you risk losing much more by picking against the favorite than you would gain by going against the grain. This feels like one of those times.

Iaconelli put together a solid game plan back in 2013 and ended in fourth place. As a Northern angler, Iaconelli is familiar with cold weather/early spring fishing. He also has that proverbial chip on his shoulder knowing he was so close to closing it out. Iaconelli is dangerous when emotion is the best card in his hand. Does the Delaware River ring a (Liberty) bell?

Take away the mechanical issues he encountered in the 2013 Classic, and it’s very possible there would have been a different outcome. I’m “going Ike” in this bucket.

Almost a safe pick: Boyd Duckett

Bucket E: Sim

My Pick: Charles Sim

Bucket E is very tricky, and if you’re not careful, it could completely alter whether you’re a fantasy stud or a fantasy dud. Charles Sim of Canada is a bit of a dart throw, but he’s got the ability to pull off a great showing in his first-ever Classic appearance. His story encompasses the Cinderella story of paths to the Classic, being the second Canadian ever in the Classic and the first through the B.A.S.S. Nation. He also celebrates our international appeal, as we saw in our Australian contender in the Bassmaster Elite Series last year, Carl Jocumsen.

Instinct Pick: James Watson

There it is, my 2016 Bassmaster Classic “bucket list.” Good luck setting yours!