Those of us who live and die by the word of insider bass intelligentsia, we are constantly reminded of how good the current crop of Bassmaster Elite Series pros can be. It’s not just the pundits like me, who constantly hammer that point home – it’s the pros, too, especially those who typically cash checks, but have recently been going home after the second day of competition. Each year the field gets stronger and the competition gets stiffer.
But the Elites don’t have nothin’ on the new crop of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing beasts.
I don’t know where some of the contestants in my Fantasy Fishing group are getting their info, but they’re posting monster numbers. Last week at the St. Johns I thought I had all of them beaten. I had three anglers in the Top 12 – Terry Scroggins, Randall Tharp and Drew Benton – and my other two anglers, Todd Faircloth (32nd) and Alton Jones (42nd) were both in the money. That’s a pretty stout slate of Florida hawg farmers, but when I went to my groups’ standings I wasn’t even on the front page.
I guess I should be happy that being a fantasy-fishing pundit is the safest job this side of your local weatherman. I have to admit that I’m pretty frustrated, too.
The upcoming derby at Winyah Bay is what we call a “trap” tournament. There’s not much info on the fishery, and most, if not all, of the pros have never fished a tournament there. Furthermore, we’re expecting a lot of long runs, so even if you pick the best five anglers of the week, you’re just one lower-unit failure or empty gas tank away from disaster. For that reason, every angler selection could be a crapshoot, but I’m encouraged to choose those pros who seem to catch fish everywhere. They may not be members of the century club, but I want my team to be comprised of pros who rarely come in without a limit.
It’s still early in the season, but after last week’s roller coaster of emotions, I’m also starting to doubt myself. This week I had an angler picked for each of the five buckets, then systematically went through and replaced them. Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: HACKNEY
At first I picked Skeet Reese because he can catch big weights, but he also understands the tidal-river game.
But then I switched to Greg Hackney. He’s been overlooked recently thanks to the dominance of Aaron Martens and Edwin Evers — and Rick Clunn over the past few weeks. The fact remains: The old Arkansas/Louisiana river rat is fishing out of his head right now. He’s finished in the Top 15 in six out of the last seven B.A.S.S. events, including an Open and the Classic. He’s coming off a solid start to the season at the St. Johns, and if Winyah turns into a flipping bite, there’s nobody better at slowly picking apart thick cover.
BUCKET B: LOWEN
At first I picked John Crews, who has come into his own over the past few years as a model of consistency. He hasn’t missed a Classic since 2010, and he knows the river game from his Virginia roots.
But then I switched to Bill Lowen, who I’m pretty sure has caught a limit of bass every day since his third birthday. He’ll flip, he’ll throw a square bill, and he’ll get a check, possibly his first win, too.
BUCKET C: DEFOE
At first I picked Aaron Martens because the chances that he’ll miss two checks in a row are only slightly smaller than the chances that I’ll win the next three Classics and then marry Sofia Vergara.
But then I switched to Ott DeFoe, who loves to run his boat into skinny, hard-to-access spots, and not only is he versatile, but he has all sorts of spinning-rod tricks to employ if merely catching a limit proves to be tough.
BUCKET D: C. LANE
At first I picked Jacob Powroznik because, like Crews, he knows tidal water, and like DeFoe, he’s good with a spinning rod, and like Martens, he’s unlikely to miss two checks in a row.
But then I switched to Chris Lane, who won at the Sabine and at the Red River, two fisheries that might not be exactly like Winyah, but those that I expect to require similar strategies and lures.
BUCKET E: R. LANE
At first I picked Gary Klein because after Clunn’s victory I’m truly inspired to believe that there are no limits, and that the cagey (but younger) veteran is due for his first B.A.S.S. win since 2003.
But then I switched to Russ Lane, who needs to right his ship after a disaster at the St. Johns and a poor finish at the Grand Lake Classic. While his results in recent years have been mixed, the places where he’s done well include the Sabine, the Alabama River and the Upper Chesapeake.
After experiencing success with Drew Benton in Bucket E in the last tournament, I’m hoping that my hunch pick this week will do just as well, if not better.