Fantasy Fishing: Stick with finesse specialists at Lanier

After one of the most exciting tournaments ever on the St. Johns River, the Bassmaster Elite Series moves north to a fishery that is the exact opposite of the central Florida river system.

Lake Lanier is on the north side of suburban Atlanta, and is a deep, clear-water impoundment that's full of fat spotted bass — and largemouth — that all feed heavily on blueback herring. And, it’s known to be especially good during the cold winter months.

We have a perfect storm of conditions and timing to really get to know many of the new faces that make up the Elite Series, mainly because several of them fished a tour-level FLW event on Lanier last year. And it was very exciting.

We’ll get into that shortly, but let’s discuss bouncing back from a tough Fantasy Fishing event. It’s easy, really. If you’re near the top and need to keep moving up the leaderboard, that’s when risky selections can really pay off. You’ve heard us talk about picking anglers with low ownership percentages, but if you bombed at the previous event, now is the time to make obvious choices to crawl back up in the standings.

This week, my picks will be just that: I’m going with obvious selections that I believe will dominate Lanier.

Let’s get into it.

BUCKET A: PIRCH

Clifford Pirch is destined to win an event this year. Of that I’m confident. He ended the 2018 season very strongly and will be competitng in the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods in Knoxville, Tenn., this March. And I’d not rule him out as a potential champion. But, he’s ultra consistent, and he’s very good when clear water and deep fish are the norm. At Lanier, I expect Pirch will dominate, if not win the whole thing.

Dark Horse: Chris Johnston nearly won his very first Elite, but he’s also very good when the water and the weather are cold and the fish finicky. I’d be remiss to leave out his brother Cory, too. Both dudes belong on this level, and I bet both will be contenders at Lanier, too.

BUCKET B: FEIDER

Also due for a win, this event just sets up perfectly for Seth Feider. He knows how to utilize his electronics as well as anyone in the world, and the anglers who “game up” their fish this week, will be in the hunt. Feider did very well at the 2017 season opener on Cherokee, and I believe this event will play out in a very similar fashion. Feider is a safe choice, for sure.

Dark Horse: Drew Benton is a very accomplished finesse fisherman, and don’t forget his victory last year at BASSfest on Lake Travis — a clear-water event that required electronics and a subtle approach.

BUCKET C: ZALDAIN

Chris Zaldain is an obvious choice here, and while he’s a stud with a flipping stick in his hands, he’s also one of the best finesse sticks in the game. Not to mention a jerkbait, which will be a factor at Lanier. I expect to see Zaldain really catch them during this event, and lock up a Top 10 finish.

Dark Horse: Brock Mosley has proven his prowess with all species of bass, but he’s very good when a spinning rod is required to present an offering. He’s been close to winning a coupe of times in the last two seasons, and I think he’ll show up to Lanier to take home some hardware.

BUCKET D: HARTMAN

Jamie Hartman almost won on Lake Cherokee two years ago, and being from Upstate New York, he knows what it means to finesse and game up some bass. You can bet after a tough start to his season in Florida, he’ll be looking to make waves at this event. Plus it plays right into his wheelhouse. He may win his first Elite this week, but if not he’ll make some money.

Dark Horse: Matt Herren might be the most overlooked pick in Bucket D. I may swap Hartman out in favor of Herren, who grew up catching Coosa River spotted bass. He knows the deep-water game, and when the weather is uncomfortable, he excels. Expect to see Herren in the standings mix every day of this tournament.

BUCKET E: GUSTAFSON

As my fellow pundits have already stated, newcomer Jeff Gustafson did very well at Lanier last year when the FLW Tour visited. He’s very good in cold water, and he’s looking to make up some ground after a difficult season opener on the St. Johns River. He knows this lake, and I’d put him as a favorite to win. He’s a deal in Bucket E because he won’t be here for long. At all. Gussy for the W.

Dark Horse: Paul Mueller is a stellar choice at this tournament, mainly because of how good he is with his electronics — perhaps one of the very best. I think Gussy is the best overall pick here, but Mueller is a very close second. I think both dudes will stand out at this event.