Fantasy Fishing: Selecting familiar faces at Champlain

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Steve Bowman

David Mullins finished in fourth place on Lake Champlain in 2020.

I can’t express how much I’ve been looking forward to bouncing back in Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing after a miserable showing at the Bassmaster Classic. The Northern Swing is upon us, which means cooler weather and giant bags of smallmouth. With that said, largemouth always play a huge role on Lake Champlain so keep that in mind.

Once we make it to the Northern Swing of the season, player percentages seem to sky rocket with certain anglers being traditionally rock solid when it comes to fishing northern fisheries. I wouldn’t suggest trying to stray too far away from the anglers with high percentages at Champlain because the majority of them have certainly earned the right to have such high percentages. I’m not suggesting you should pick the angler in every bucket with the highest player percentage, but an angler having a percentage over 10% isn’t the end of the world by any means.

I have also really looked forward to the final two events of the season because I have saved some heavy hitters for Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge.

Let’s start with my DTL roster: 

  • Drew Benton
  • Brandon Palaniuk 
  • Seth Feider 
  • Greg Hackney 
  • Scott Martin 
  • David Mullins 
  • Bryan Schmitt 
  • Jamie Hartman

BUCKET A: CORY JOHNSTON

I realize that you could go about 10 different directions in Bucket A, but I believe it’s only a matter of time before Cory Johnston wins his first Bassmaster Elite Series event. Johnston has registered 11 Top 10 finishes in his Elite Series career including one on Lake Champlain in 2020. In past events on Lake Champlain, most successful anglers have mixed both smallmouth and largemouth which is right up Johnston’s alley. Obviously, Seth Feider seems like a slam dunk pick in Bucket A, but the current AOY leader has the highest player percentage of anyone in the bucket. I’m going to take my chances with Johnston.

Solid secondary selection: I’m going to say that this will be Scott Martin’s best finish of the 2021 season. The Florida pro has about as strong of a track record as anyone in professional fishing on Lake Champlain, winning three major events on the New York fishery. 

BUCKET B: MULLINS 

In 2020, David Mullins went on a tear up north recording back-to-back Top 12 finishes, including a fourth-place finish at Lake Champlain. Up until last season, Mullins had traditionally struggled on northern smallmouth fisheries, but after spending some extra time in New York in 2019, the results have spoken for themselves. The Tennessee pro is the last man inside the current Classic cut, so urgency is also a factor to consider when selecting Mullins.

Solid secondary selection: At only 3.7% player percentage, Brandon Lester seems like a steal in Bucket B. The East Tennessee pro has notched two Top 10 finishes on Lake Champlain in past years.

BUCKET C: HARTMAN

Jamie Hartman has never finished outside of the Top 40 in a Bassmaster event on Lake Champlain. Although Hartman is having a tough season overall, he did finish the Classic in 18th place which might be the boost he needed to finish the year out strong. It also doesn’t hurt that Hartman is originally from New York with plenty of experience on Lake Champlain.

Solid secondary selection: Although Koby Kreiger has had up-and-down results at Lake Champlain over the course of his career, it’s hard to believe he’s only at 1.1% player percentage after the topwater clinic he put on in 2020 at Champlain. The Floridian is also a solid sight fisherman if the fish aren’t as far along as they were in 2020. 

BUCKET D: WENDLANDT

Don’t let Clark Wendlandt’s 46th-place finish on Lake Champlain in 2020 fool you, he’s notched multiple Top 10s in tour-level events here in the past. Although Wendlandt is a Texan who can power fish with the best of them, northern smallmouth fishing is one of his biggest strengths. Look for Wendlandt to finish the year strong in New York.

Solid secondary selection: It was a real toss-up for me in Bucket D between Clark Wendlandt and Scott Canterbury. Both have had tough seasons to this point, but both have been historically good up north. Look for Canterbury to bounce back in New York as well.

BUCKET E: HOLLEN

Cody Hollen proved that he can catch smallmouth with the best of them last season at Lake St. Clair. The second-year Elite finished in the middle of the pack at Lake Champlain last season, but he should be able to use that experience to have a good finish in 2021.

Solid secondary selection: Shane Lineberger is coming off his best career Elite Series finish at Lake Guntersville and also had a solid finish at Lake Champlain in 2020. A combination of those two things make Lineberger a solid pick in Bucket E.