It’s hard to believe that we are already near the end of the 2018 season. There have been more curveballs this season than basically any other season I can recall. With canceled events, date changes and last minute heroics at our last event on the St. Lawrence River, the stage has been set for the last opportunity for some of these anglers to lock in a ticket to the most coveted tournament in bass fishing, the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.
The AOY Championship on the Lake Chatuge will be a fantastic venue to close out the season. Not only does it have beautiful shoreline, plenty of docks and tons of offshore structure, but it is also loaded with fish. Most of the fish there are spotted bass, but there is a decent population of 3- to 4-pound largemouth if you know where to look for them.
There will be one major factor in play at this event: Who can find one or two kicker largemouth to fill their limit? There was an electro-shock survey done a few years ago that yielded some pretty interesting results. In six hours, they shocked up around 500 bass. Of that group, all but about 45 of them were spotted bass and most of the spots were less than 2 pounds. Of the 45 largemouth, there were only four over 4 pounds and only one over 6.
There may be anglers who completely avoid the spotted bass and put all their eggs in the largemouth basket, but it will be tough for that hold up for three solid days.
The other factors going into Chatuge will be the AOY title and the Classic bubble. There will be a group of anglers who are right in the middle of the pack and are basically qualified for the Classic already. Their goal will be to climb the AOY ranks as much as they can. But for those near the bottom of that group, there are a dozen or so anglers who are biting at their heels and just waiting for them someone to stumble, and that’s the next group to consider.
Those guys in the bottom 20 or so are not safe by any means, as only roughly 35 spots will be guaranteed a Classic spot. All the anglers near the bottom will be giving it everything they have to gain as much ground as they can.
The last group I will talk about consists of basically two anglers, Justin Lucas and Josh Bertrand. These guys will certainly be battling it out to the bitter end as this lake sets up perfectly for both of them. Both would be claiming their first AOY title and both want it badly.
All these factors will play, so let’s jump into some picks.
BUCKET A: LUCAS
Lucas has shown us all season what it means to be consistent. He is in perfect position to be the predator instead of the prey, because there isn’t much chance at this point for anyone to overtake him unless he just absolutely bombs here. He said at the last event that he would be totally happy with Bertrand taking the trophy at the St. Lawrence if he could take the AOY title, and that’s exactly what he will be looking to do. He is stellar at fishing for deep fish, but he also knows how to mix it up and go shallow if he needs to.
Also consider: Ott Defoe
It’s hard not to consider Ott as the number one seat in a spotted bass event. He definitely has a knack for finding magnum spots and is great with a topwater bait, which should be a heavy player.
BUCKET B: WHEELER
If there is a more well-rounded fisherman in the Elite field than Jacob Wheeler, I’d be surprised. This lake should fish very similar to Texas Fest on Lake Travis where he finished in second place catching spots offshore and finding kicker bass up shallow. I bet he’ll employ a similar strategy here. He is comfortabe in 12th in AOY points, but I don’t think a limit of spots will satisfy him, so look for him to make some fireworks and maybe bring in a big fish or two.
Also consider: Andy Montgomery
It seems like currently the Fantasy Fishing world is overlooking him in this bucket. Largemouth love to hang around docks and there are plenty for Montgomery to pick apart. If he can find a group of active fish on docks, he might be able to find kicker bites that those fishing offshore might miss.
BUCKET C: WIGGINS
As a ‘Bama-boy Jesse Wiggins has undoubtedly spent a fair amount of time in this part of the country. There are also plenty of magnum spot lakes around where he lives. He understands where to find and how to catch these schools of fish. He has two wins on Smith Lake in Bassmater Opens fishing primarily for spots. If the largemouth don’t play as big a role, he’s my pick to win it.
Also consider: Skeet Reese
Skeet Reese has had an up-and-down season this year, but finds himself in the mix and with a decent finish here, he should secure his Classic berth. For whatever reason though, he almost always thrives in late season events. He knows how to scramble and adjust better than a lot of guys on tour and is always a threat. Bottom line, he is scrappy and won’t be overtaken easily by those looking to squeeze into the cut.
BUCKET D: SWINDLE
This event will definitely be a run-and-gun, junk-fishing event. To a point, anyways. There are so many offshore spots, rocky points, lay-downs, docks and the list goes on and on. With the number of fish in this place, it might come down to a numbers game, and this is a great horse to bet on. Gerald Swindle’s right on the edge and needs a good finish here, so look to him to put on a show and secure his spot.
Also consider: Randall Tharp
Randall Tharp could definitely be one of the guys who will focus his efforts solely on largemouth. He is not safely inside the cut and will need a strong finish to make sure he’s fishing the Classic. He is a king when it comes to hitting high percentage spots and milking bites with a jig or Texas-rig. Those tend to be big-fish baits and if he can land a limit each day, he might find himself toward the top.
BUCKET E: HACKNEY
I’m totally banking on Hackney swinging for the fences and hitting as many spots with a jig in four days as he can. Knowing Greg Hackney, he will likely leave the spots to the rest of the field and if he can get a limit, it will almost certainly be a good one.
Also consider: Jordan Lee
Jordan Lee has a knack for finding solid offshore structure where good ones can be found and if he can find enough good-looking stuff to rotate he just might find multiple days of heavy limits.