The Bassmaster Elite Series is headed back to the St. Lawrence River. This has become almost a yearly occurrence for a decade, but yet again the playing field will be slightly different. The field will launch from the very familiar Waddington, N.Y., but Canadian water is still off limits. The U.S. side of Lake Ontario will be available to anglers, but it is about a 70-mile run from Waddington to the mouth of the lake.
Dependent on the wind this week, I expect some anglers will make the run to the lake and try to blow this event out much Brandon Palaniuk did in 2013. For anglers sitting below the cut line to qualify for the 2022 Bassmaster Classic, there is a win-and-in spot for this event.
On top of the pressures to make next year’s Classic, there will be several anglers battling for their Bassmaster Elite Series lives and trying to gain enough points to requalify for the 2022 season. Last but not least, we should get to watch Seth Feider finish his epic season and close out his Bassmaster Angler of the Year campaign. It’s not mathematically impossible for him to be caught, but it is very unlikely. Feider is in the catbird seat going into this last event.
Be careful about basing all Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks on past results. Many anglers historically fished Canadian waters, so the areas that worked for them in the past may not be fishable for this event. These anglers will need to find fresh groups of fish in their official practice.
BUCKET A: CORY JOHNSTON
Generally, my rule is to never pick a Johnston brother when they are in the same bucket, but that rule gets thrown out the window on the St. Lawrence River. Chris might be the statistically smarter pick, but I am going to zig while the majority of fantasy players zag with Cory Johnston. It is really just a hunch.
Alternate: To me Bucket A is a coin flip to pick the right Johnston this week, so if you don’t want to take Cory, then select Chris Johnston. If he can win and something goes drastically wrong for Feider, he does have a mathematical chance at AOY.
BUCKET B: GUSTAFSON
Gussy has a pair of 12th-place finishes here, one out of Waddington and one out of Clayton — if Jeff Gustafson gets around smallies, he is in his happy place. I would not expect Gussy to make the run to the lake, so I think he will figure the smallies out closer to the ramp and be a nice safe pick for Bucket B.
Alternate: Taku Ito had a nice Top 10 on the river last year as part of his Top 10 smallie streak all through the 2020 Northern Swing. Look for him to expand on what he learned last summer and make another push for a really strong event.
BUCKET C: LOWEN
Bill Lowen on paper doesn’t seem like a logical lock for the crystal clear waters of the St. Lawrence River, but Lowen has been a top 40 check cashing machine on these smallie-infested waters. Lowen has an outside chance to make the Hartwell Classic with a Top 10 finish or better.
Alternate: If your brother was 10 points out of the Classic cut line, I am sure you would make sure he was on the right track to have a top 40 finish this week. So while, Marc Frazier doesn’t have any tourney data on the St. Lawrence River, I think he will do just fine.
BUCKET D: MICAH FRAZIER
Marc Frazier is just 10 points away from the Classic cutline that would send him Hartwell which is close to home for him and his brother Micah Frazier. Unfortunately, Micah’s only chance to fish a Hartwell classic in 2022 is to win this week. That is some extra motivation for an angler that has been super stout in his last three visits to St. Lawrence. In his last three visits, he's landed a win, a fifth and a 19th.
Alternate: Greg DiPalma has a pair of top 20 finishes in his two Elite Series appearances on the St. Lawrence River, and his only shot to make the Hartwell Classic would be to win this week. He also just notched one of his best finishes at Champlain last week.
BUCKET E: SCHULTZ
Outside of one year with mechanical issues, Bernie Schultz has been the epitome of consistent top finishes at the St. Lawrence River. It doesn’t make a ton of sense for a Florida angler to be so effective fishing northern smallmouth, but Bernie has a formula that works for him. The fact that we are here a little earlier should play into the way he likes to catch them.
Alternate: Garrett Paquette had a solid 14th-place finish last season on the St. Lawrence River, and he is coming off a 16th at Champlain. I am pretty sure Paquette is looking to finish this season strong to try and bump up a few spots in the AOY list.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge roster:
- Austin Felix
- Jeff Gustafson
- Micah Frazier
- Taku Ito
- Chris Johnston
- Cory Johnston
- Paul Mueller
- Bernie Shultz