It’s been about three years since the Elites fished the last event on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Not much has changed since then except a few names, faces and the launch location. If you have spent any time researching the Chesapeake, you‘ll find a few important details.
First, it’s tough to get bit here. On Day 3 and Day 4 on Oahe a few weeks ago, the lake showed out big time for numbers and for quality. Before that, we were on the Mississippi River and if you weren’t catching huge numbers of fish, you were probably taking a nap. That said, don’t be conditioned to thinking these anglers will be getting lots of bites during this event.
This is going to be a true grind where every bite is going to count. There were 23 zeros between the first two days of competition last year. We also have very little history here, but watching the coverage on the 2015 event, you’ll notice that with every angler they cover, the scenery changes.
In fact, between Aaron Martens, Russ Lane, Bill Lowen and Gerald Swindle, you might think they are all fishing different lakes. Flipping, finesse worms and some bladed baits will likely be the big players here, but I wouldn’t pick guys solely based on that. I’m going to make my picks based on guys who are really good at fishing tough tournaments.
I’ve also noticed something that should have been super obvious to me. Each event I try to adjust to things I should have done better and admittedly, I’ve completely ignored the AOY rankings. Captain obvious just told me that the higher up the standings they are at this point in the season, the more likely they are to have consistently finished higher in past tournaments.
I have been picking two to three guys that finish solid, but every event I have at least two that finish in the bottom 10 to 15. I’m really going to try to avoid that this time around. I’m in the 81st percentile, and I’d really like to end up in the top 10 percent by the end.
BUCKET A: ROY
The number-one guy in the Elite Series right now is this fella. Bradley Roy is having his absolute best season to date and is poised to make a good run at the AOY tile. He had a great event here in 2015, finishing 16th, but that included a 5-pound bag on Day 1. If you turn that Day 1 weight into 15 pounds instead of 5 pounds all of a sudden, he would have finished third. Take his history here, plus his current unstoppable nature and you have the makings of a solid horse to bet on.
Don't forget about: Aaron Martens
Martens has very quietly been consistent this season. He won the last event here and was the only guy catching the 5- to 7-pound class fish. You can rest assured that every angler in the Elite series field will consider going to that marina he fished during the last visit — or at least something similar. If he was guaranteed to have that to himself, he might have a good shot at a repeat. However, Martens has a knack for finding quality fish and might find some fresh water and make it happen again. Also, definitely go back watch the coverage … He is awesome …
BUCKET B: EHRLER
Brent Ehrler had an exceptional event last time around, finishing 13th. Coming off a 10th-place finish at Oahe, he might have the momentum needed to make another good run. He’s in 29th in the AOY standings, which is still pretty solid. Drop shots catch fish here and there’s probably no one better with that bait than this man. He hasn’t had any total bombs this season, so hopefully he’ll be good for at least 200 points.
Don't forget about: Chad Pipkens
Last time, Pipkens found something that looked completely different than everyone else. He was fishing a deep finesse worm around junk piles near bridges. That style of fishing is straight in the middle of his wheelhouse. If he can expand on what he found before, he might find himself with another Top 12. He is currently in 24th in the AOY standings and has put together a great year. The northern swing is usually when he picks up steam. This could be the start of a dangerous run.
BUCKET C: LOWEN
As you move down the buckets, you can rely less and less on AOY standings. However, the anglers in this bucket are on the AOY bubble and will certainly be looking to make a move. Bill Lowen is sitting in 47th in the AOY standings, but if there is one thing you can count on, it’s for him to show out in grinder events. He finished solidly in second place in 2015 by fishing shallow lay-downs. That is the type of fishing he is comfortable with, so even if he doesn’t go back there, he will likely find a spot where he can do something similar.
Don't forget about: Randy Howell
Randy hasn’t missed the Classic since 2011. It is certainly his goal every year and right now, he has got to make a move sitting in 50th place in points. He did relatively well last time here finishing in 26th. He did that with only 10 fish over all three days. If he can expand on what he learned last time and find enough fish to have a limit each day, he’ll be dangerous.
BUCKET D: LEFEBRE
Dave Lefebre, the Pennsylvania native, wasn’t part of the Elites in 2015. He should definitely be considered a grinder. He has had a lackluster season this year, but this tournament should be very comfortable for him. If he wants a shot at the Classic, he has to make a big showing at each event moving forward.
Don't forget about: Stephen Browning
If the winning fish are in less than 2 feet of water, you’ll probably be sad if Stephen Browning is not on your team. He had a decent showing last time posting a 44th, squeaking out a check. River rats will likely do well here. Shallow, fluctuating water can sometimes be a puzzle, but he should be able to break it down and find some fish.
BUCKET E: MORRIS
This bucket is starting to get slightly depressing. I have to change up my strategy here and not go off history or AOY. Rick is as much a local as anyone else in this bucket. He has been in this game a long time and has some history here. He’s part of the Elites for a reason and knows how to catch fish. He could be the golden goose in this bucket.
Don't forget about: Schultz
All of the other anglers I considered got absolutely beat down last time we were here (Biffle-102nd, Grigsby- 107th) or are having the worst season of their life (Schultz-108th AOY, Jaye- 88th, R. Lane- 94th). Schultz, though, pulled off a sixth-place finish here in 2015. He’s definitely going to miss the Classic in 2019, but a few good finishes will put some money in the bank for him moving into the last few event.