The Bassmaster Elite Series is headed back to the St. Lawrence River again, which has become almost an annual occurrence for nearly a decade, but recent changes have brought a venue change and an off limits to Canadian waters. The move to Clayton from Waddington puts the field about 75 miles closer to Lake Ontario, and the big lake on the U.S. side is now available to the anglers to fish during the event.
I expect if they have reasonably low winds, the winner will certainly make Lake Ontario part of their strategy, and it will make fishing for largemouth as a strategy for a good check and points more difficult. Last time the field was able to fish Ontario, Brandon Palaniuk won the 2013 derby going away.
Be careful about basing all your Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks on past results. Many anglers historically fished Canadian waters so what areas worked for them in the past may not be fishable for them this event, and they will need to find fresh groups of fish in their official practice.
BUCKET A: LESTER
Brandon Lester has had the fish to win on at the St. Lawrence in the past and continues to show he is very comfortable fishing for smallies with light line. He is a really good value at sub 10% in Bucket A, and I expect him to make some noise in this Northern Swing.
Alternate: Don’t ignore the hot hand. Scott Canterbury had a top five last year in this event and is leading the AOY after two events. It is hard to overlook him this week and the rest of the season.
BUCKET B: LOWEN
Picking Bill Lowen on a smallie factory may surprise you, but he has always cashed a big check out of Waddington. I expect him to keep that streak this event. Lowen has figured something out and none of the other anglers jumped off the stats page for me in Bucket B. His 5% ownership is very attractive to pair with my chalk in the lower buckets.
Alternate: Ray Hanselman had a nice Top 10 on the river last year. Look for him to expand on what he learned last summer and make another push for a really strong event.
BUCKET C: PALANIUK
It seems like Brandon Palaniuk is being overshadowed in the picks by Seth Feider and Chris Zaldain. Last time the field was able to fish the big waters of Lake Ontario he won the event by more than 7 pounds. Look for Palaniuk to make a big splash this week out of Bucket C.
Alternate: If you are looking for a sneakier pick in Bucket C, Arizona Pro Cliff Pirch is your guy. The Golden Ram has been very consistent on the St. Lawrence for many years and is a threat to take home a blue trophy on this Northern Swing.
BUCKET D: CORY JOHNSTON
It seems like when the Johnston brothers end up in the same bucket, I always pick the wrong one. Well, they are in separate buckets this week and are poised to be the stars of their respective buckets this week. It might be a slight risk with the Canadian waters being off limits, but I’m willing to take that risk. I'll go with the Fantasy Fishing masses and pick Cory Johnston, last year’s runner-up.
Alternate: Steve Kennedy has been a very up-and-down pick for the last few seasons, but St. Lawrence has been a pretty stable place for Kennedy with several Top 10s and many good checks. If he doesn’t come through, then also know, I told you so.
BUCKET E: CHRIS JOHNSTON
Chris Johnston almost certainly would’ve been a threat to win last year if not for an odd combination of mechanical and electronics issues. He’s off to probably the worst start of his young career, and I am sure he is super motivated to turn things around this week.
Alternate: Greg Dipalma had a solid top 10 last season on these waters throwing a jig and catching them on a baitcaster. I know GDP wants to right his season and the Northern Swing is the place to get that started