Unfortunately, I can’t pat myself on the back for picking Justin Lucas to win the Potomac River because the rest of my lineup was so sporadic that I can chock it up to a blind squirrel finding a nut eventually.
I had Lucas, Bobby Lane and David Williams all make it to Day 3; meanwhile after Day 1 I had two anglers in the 100s. Seth Feider picked it up on Day 2 and salvaged a finish in the 80s, but by then the damage had already been handed out. The downside for Feider was his Potomac River finish may have sealed his fate on missing out on the Toyota Angler of the Year tournament on Mille Lacs, which is one of his home bodies of water. It remains to be seen and I wouldn’t be surprised if a win in La Crosse, Wisconsin snuck him in.
There shouldn’t be a shortage of fish catches and limits weighed by the 107 Elite Series anglers at the Mississippi River as it has been plentiful in the past and with this being the third trip in the last five years or so, most of the field has experience here.
BUCKET A: MARTENS
Safe bet: Aaron Martens
On the outside it would seem that Martens hasn’t been his hog-snatching self this season because he hasn’t put up incredible finishes at a high rate like last year. When you look a little deeper you would realize that his 2015 season would be so hard to duplicate and that he is having a good year and is sitting in 20th place. The one thing Martens has yet to claim in the 2016 season and that is a Top 12 finish. His best finish is 16th at Toledo Bend and, like I said last event about Justin Lucas, I’ll gamble on a numbers game because it is hard to imagine a whole season without Martens fishing a final day.
Worth a risk: Bill Lowen
When the word “River” is on the Elite Series schedule Bill Lowen should be your first thought. Over the last two or three years Lowen has removed his “underrated” tag and is an expected force at every event. Lowen just registered a Top 12 finish at the Potomac River and it wouldn’t surprise me for him to put together another great event because the Mississippi River seems to set up in his wheelhouse.
Gut tells me: Furious Hog Snatcher
I’ve got to go with the Furious Hog Snatcher on this one because I’m playing the numbers, and my gut feeling is reinforced with the fact that Martens has finished in the Top 5 the last two times the Elites have visited La Crosse.
BUCKET B: JONES
Safe bet: Chris Lane
Just like Lowen, it feels like the Mississippi River sets up well for Lane. After a tough start to the season he was mired deep in the Angler of the Year cellar and was worried about getting out. After three sub-par events to start, he has garnered a check in the last five events, which also included a 2nd place finish at Toledo Bend.
Worth a risk: Alton Jones
On fisheries with a plentiful population of fish, anglers can get caught up in the numbers game and lose a grasp on the big fish nature they are so inclined to fish for at other venues. I think Jones brings a certain patience when it comes to fishing grass and picking apart the cover to where the kicker fish will hide.
Gut tells me: Jones
The last time the Elites visited La Crosse to fish the Mississippi River, Jones finished 20th. Like Martens, he hasn’t notched a Top 12 finish, but instead has chugged along with consistent finishes across the board, excluding Winyah Bay. I think Jones is going to be one of the best picks and underrated choices this next event.
BUCKET C: HOWELL
Safe bet: Randy Howell
Randy Howell has a solid resume in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and boy does he need another good event this week. At the Potomac, Howell found himself thin on water and time on Day 2, which resulted in the 2014 Classic Champion checking in 10 minutes late. That gave him a 10-pound penalty and also zeroed his catch for the day and dropped him to 102nd place. Howell dropped out of the Top 50 in AOY points and is now just a couple points and places out with one event left. I think Howell does well in pressure situations and I don’t think a couple points will be any feat for him to overcome.
Worth a risk: Koby Kreiger
Remember Koby Kreiger? He was the angler that everyone counted out of the Classic hunt when the Top 8 anglers competed in the Classic Bracket on the Niagara River. After another solid finish at the Potomac River, Kreiger moved up a dozen places in the AOY standings and is just 20 points from the Top 50, which is doable with one full-field event left. Another Top 20-30 finish and Kreiger may find himself in Minnesota with a shot at the Classic. Crazier things have happened so I’m not counting this out.
Gut tells me: Howell
A 10-pound penalty doesn’t seem like much in the big scheme of an Elite Series season, but for Randy Howell it cost him 27 possible Angler of the Year points, which would have him in the Top 50 in points and about 20 points ahead of the cut spot, but instead he is chasing 50th place and is so close. I think a solid event is ahead for Howell and I would be surprised if he wasn’t fishing the AOY Championship.
BUCKET D: LESTER
Safe bet: Brandon Lester
Some anglers have a defined fishing style and have a technique they excel at, which gives them an identity. I’m not so sure that Brandon Lester has an identity yet, but if I was to label one of his better skills it seems to be flipping/punching thick vegetation. He did just that at the last stop on the Potomac River. That gave him a solid payday and a punch in the arm late in the season. Pairing another strong finish to end the year could be just what Lester needs in his third year of the Elites.
Worth a risk: Mark Davis
The same reason I would like Alton Jones’ patience to pay off at La Crosse is the same reason I think Mark Davis could be worth a risk for Fantasy Fishing players. Davis had a stellar showing at the Potomac River with a 16th place finish and once anglers at this level get some momentum rolling, they tend to keep building it.
Gut tells me: Lester
Lester is fishing with a blank slate at the Mississippi River because the last time B.A.S.S. visited the venue he wasn’t on the Elite Series yet, he would join later that year via the Opens. For Lester, there was no sophomore slump in year two on the Elite Series, but year three has been the toughest season for Lester to date. He is 68th in the Toyota Angler of the Year standings and can move up more with another Top 50 finish.
BUCKET E: M. LEE
Safe bet: Scott Rook
Scott Rook is an Arkansas River rat that hasn’t found his stride this year, but there is a familiar venue at the end of the road for Rook. In the two events he has fished in La Crosse, he placed 20th and 84th. We can’t draw any kind of pattern from those two finishes, but it is hopeful that his second visit to La Crosse produced his best finish. Sometimes the first time around on a new fishery can fool you.
Worth a risk: Matt Lee
The eldest Lee spends a ton of time on his home water of Lake Guntersville. Sometimes fishing a lot keeps you sharp and in-tune with how fishing is changing during the year, but it can also hurt if your home fishery is one of the best lakes in the nation. When the Elites visit ultra-tough fisheries it can be hard to relate the new body of water to his home lakes and it could shake an angler’s confidence. The La Crosse pool on the Mississippi River has a plentiful population of bass and catching limits shouldn’t be too hard for the best in the world so I expect Lee to have some confidence after practice and have a little less pressure and stress on his shoulders on Day 1 of the event.
Gut tells me: Lee
Fishing free and loose in the final event of the year could be exactly what Matt Lee needs as he wraps up year two against the best in the world.