Fantasy Fishing: Should you listen to the voices in your head?

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Seigo Saito
Brandon Palaniuk's second-place finish on Grand Lake in 2013 makes him a solid pick for your Fantasy Fishing team in 2016.

Another season of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing presented by Toyota is about to kick off. Many consider luck to be a major factor, but I believe the best contestants are deeply involved in the stats and research.

However, any given angler can win any given tournament, so the element of luck can indeed wreck your plans. Just roll with it, and ignore my contradictions.

I base my selections on several criteria, in no particular order:

-History/Experience on particular body of water

-Momentum coming into each event

-Hunger/Overdue for a win

-Home body of water/local favorite

Paying attention to those criteria should negate whatever role “luck” plays in this game. Having a deep, intimate understanding of tournament fishing and being willing to research historical data will help you make the best choices.

I will pick a few likely anglers from each bucket, one being a dark horse that could rise up and run away with it.

Finally, there’s been a little voice in my head that seems to offer quality selections at each tournament — but they do occasionally disagree with what my gut says. Let’s call him “Gerald.”

I will refer to Gerald on a regular basis, as he seems to know his stuff. Above all else, having an imaginary friend allows me to blame him if I make a bad selection.

Work with me here.

On to my Classic picks.

Bucket A: Palaniuk

My top choices for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro are Brandon Palaniuk and Edwin Evers. Both come in with different types of momentum. Both are hungry for a Classic victory.

Palaniuk managed a second-place finish on Grand Lake in 2013, and he seems to excel when water conditions are tough. I’d expect difficult water, which should help BP with a solid finish, possibly a win.

Evers is returning after an amazing season with back-to-back victories and a solid run at AOY, and you could consider Grand Lake the Oklahoma native’s home waters. He finished 25th at the 2013 Classic and has been close to a Classic victory several other times. As one of the most accomplished anglers on tour, a Classic title would be well celebrated. It could be Evers’ time.

The Bucket A dark horse was a tossup for me between Jacob Powroznik and Aaron Martens. Powroznik has proved to be a fierce competitor in the Elite Series, and could easily swoop in and win this — plus the likely cold and muddy water will play to his strengths.

Martens has accomplished everything possible in professional bass fishing, except for winning the Classic. With his four Bassmaster Classic second-place finishes, he’s as hungry for a world title as anyone out there, and just like Evers — he’s due.

Gerald says Evers, but after some painful deliberation, I’m going with Brandon Palaniuk.

Bucket B: Christie

The clear choice in a stacked Bucket B is Jason Christie. He is an Oklahoma native and finished in seventh place on Grand in 2013. He stands as good of a chance to win as anyone in the field. But, if he doesn’t claim the W, a quality finish is very likely.

If you need more options, “Big Fish” Bobby Lane comes to mind. He has a history of good performances at the Classic, and he managed a 15th-place finish the last time the Bassmaster Classic visited Grand Lake. He has good momentum coming into this event, and like several of the others we’ve discussed thus far, he’s due for a big win.

The dark horse in this bucket could be either Matt Herren or Alton Jones, who finished 29th and 31st, respectively, in 2013 on Grand.

Gerald is telling me Skeet Reese could be a factor, too. I can’t help but agree. (Gerald needs to calm down. Three choices of potential dark horses is making my head hurt.)

Gerald’s choice is Bobby Lane, but I’m going with Jason Christie. I’m sure he’ll yell at me later about that.

Bucket C: Faircloth

How can you not pick Kevin VanDam in Bucket C? I’m guessing he’ll be the strong favorite among Fantasy Fishing gamers, and why not? He’s won on Grand in the past, and it’s only been a few years since he’s won a Classic, so another KVD Classic title could be possible. He would certainly be a safe bet for a quality finish, but it’s not that simple.

If you look back at the 2013 Classic on Grand Lake, you’ll notice that KVD, Todd Faircloth, Randy Howell and Ott DeFoe finished eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th respectively. And, you’ll notice that each of those gents is in the same bucket this year. They know the game, know the lake and know the Classic. But, who has momentum on their side?

Looking back at the 2015 AOY points race, Faircloth made the most dramatic jump, and that’s well worth considering. Plus, this will be his 14th Classic appearance. He’s due.

Gerald went easy on me here; we both agree that the dark horse is David Walker. He’s a relatively quiet competitor, but he has proven his prowess more than once.

We also agree that Faircloth is the best pick for this bucket.

Bucket D: Iaconelli

James Elam is an Oklahoma native and has a lot of momentum on his side. After a 10th-place finish at St. Clair in 2015, he went on to win the Central Open on Fort Gibson Lake, which he immediately followed up with another 10th-place finish at the Sturgeon Bay AOY Championship. He knows Grand, and he’s been fishing well. Elam would be a very safe pick for Grand Lake.

But, without evaluating further, my selection is going to Mike Iaconelli. As long as the barking dogs are kept at bay and he isn’t confronted with mechanical issues, he could easily place well in this event, if not win the whole dang thing.

Gerald is telling me that Brandon Lester or Josh Bertrand are also worth considering. I agree and think both could be the dark horse in this bucket.

My Bucket C selection is Iaconelli. Gerald is quiet, so he must agree.

Bucket E: Collins

This is a tough pool to select from because many of the anglers are new to the Classic or Elite Series and don’t have a tremendous amount of experience at the top level yet. But that certainly doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. There are some solid sticks in this bucket that could very easily surprise the entire field.

After the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship that shot Fabian Rodriguez into the professional bass fishing limelight, I’ve become an even bigger proponent of fate. Rodriguez overcame the loss of his grandmother during the championship, and felt that — before he earned a Classic berth and an Elite Series invite — he was destined to fish on the top levels of the sport. He finished an emotional event with a clear mind, and is right where he said he would be.

On the day his grandmother died, Rodriguez finished his limit and then offered nearby John Proctor the spot. That move helped Proctor win his division and ultimately proceed to the Classic alongside Rodriguez.

So, back to fate: Because of that move, I’ll make Rodriguez my dark horse.

However, when it comes to experience and the pressure of the Classic, you’ll want to consider Albert Collins. Through the Weekend Series, he qualified for the 2013 Classic, which, of course, took place on Grand Lake. He knows what he’s getting into this time around, and he says he’s far better prepared.

Gerald wants to go with fate; he’s picking Rodriguez.

But my gut is telling me Collins will be a major contender in this year’s Classic, and I don’t ignore my gut.