Fantasy Fishing: Sunny St. Johns River will kickoff 2019

Like the opening day of dove season, the first Cowboys game of season, like the first scoop of ice cream after you started your New Year's resolution, for the avid bass angler, the most long-awaited day of year is finally right around the corner: the start of the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series season on the St. Johns River out of Palatka, Fla.

This place is known for monster bass, but with the amount of big fish likely to hit the scales, the key word of the tournament will be “consistency.” If you can manage to find 20 pounds per day, you will give yourself a shot. Look for a few mega bags to come in and change things up each and every day.

There are a few curveballs to consider when picking your Fantasy Fishing lineup for this event. First, and the biggest X-factor, is the list of new faces joining the Elites. This is the biggest group of rookie anglers ever in the history since B.A.S.S.’s inception, and doing your homework can truly separate you from the Fantasy Fishing field.

The other thing to consider is the condition of the river system. While you can still expect anglers to find some fish is areas with thick grass, with the hurricanes and the local wildlife authorities, much of the main grass has been killed off or swept away. Looks for anglers who can get away from the crowds and find enough fish to keep them busy for four days.

BUCKET A: CLUNN

Rick Clunn

Looking at the last time the Elites were here in 2016, Rick Clunn spent most of his time down around Lake George. It was his monster 31-pound bag on Day 3 that jumped him up the leaderboard and put him in position to win. He was fishing around sparse grass fishing for prespawn fish while many other competitors were fishing for spawning fish. With this event being in early February, you can expect a few fish to be caught off beds, but prespawn techniques will likely dominate.

Keep your eye on: Drew Benton

Benton had a strong showing in 2016 posting more than 20-pounds per day on Days 1, 3 and 4. Day 2 was tough, only bringing in 9 pounds. A few more key bites and he probably would have been hoisting the trophy. He knows how to find big fish in shallow water and make them bite. Again, this will be primarily a prespawn tournament, so if he can find a few good transition areas with some big heavy ditch gorillas, he may make another deep run.

BUCKET B: HANSELMAN

Ray Hanselman

This guy has proven that he has what it takes to be a top dog in this sport. He had a clean sweep of the Southern Costas in 2015 including the championship on the Ohio River. His ability to be versatile and flexible will be critical. He also just had a great showing at Amistad and his momentum should carry over to this event.

Keep your eye on: Derek Hudnall

He is relatively new to the upper echelon of bass fishing, but he has several solid finishes in the Opens, several of which were on river systems. The St. Johns River can seem to fish a lot like a lake sometimes, but a river is a river is a river and understanding subtle keys to river fishing could set him apart.

BUCKET C: LESTER

Brandon Lester

Grass bass are smack in the middle of Brandon’s wheelhouse. He posted a 13th-place finish in 2016 anchored by a 23-pound Day 1, however his weights tapered off on Days 2 and 3. There’s not a guy in the Elites that doesn’t learn from results like that, so you can bet he’ll be throwing everything he’s got at them to find a few more of those big bags.

Keep your eye on: Lee Livesay

There might not be a better angler in the rookie class at throwing a bladed jig than this guy. He has been whooping the Texas anglers for the past few years and spends most of his time on Lake Fork where he has dialed in this technique. I fully expect him to make a solid showing fishing for prespawn fatties.

BUCKET D: PRINCE

Cliff Prince

It’s hard to not pick this Florida angler here. He landed in sixth place even with a 10-pound bag on Day 1. Pump that bag up to 19-pounds and he would have walked away the winner. There’s no one with more experience on these Florida waters in this bucket than Prince, so you can bank on him to find some areas off the beaten path that he’ll have all to himself.

Keep your eye on: Chad Morgenthaler

If there was a guy who could rival Cliff Prince’s Florida knowledge, it’s Chad. He has mixed results on the St. Johns, but he has a huge database of results in Florida and the majority of those are top-end finishes. With the unstable weather in February, understanding where to go during a cold front could make him a hero.

BUCKET E: WENDLANDT

Clark Wendlandt

Wendlandt has been around the pro fishing world for over a quarter-century. He fished with B.A.S.S. back in the 90s, jumped to FLW around the turn of the century and now he’s back and ready to start stocking up blue trophies. He has several top 10 finishes in Florida in January with FLW and has a finger on the pulse of those tropical bass. He is a stick in shallow grass and loves to flip. Look for him to grab some solid early season fantasy fishing points.

Keep your eye on: Chris Zaldain

Chris grew up on the West Coast fishing shallow grass. He had a respectable finish back in 2016, posting a 38th place. Sight fishing is one of his strengths, so if he can put together a few key bites each day, he could see another solid finish.