Three decades ago, college basketball star Chris Washburn reportedly received a score of 470 out of a possible 1,600 on the college entrance exam known as the SAT (no confirmation on whether he could spell it). Sports fans were outraged, noting, “You get 400 points just for signing your name.”
“When they told me it didn’t matter what score I was getting, I went in for about 22 minutes,” Washburn said later, referring to the NC State athletic department. “I just marked down [answers] … mark, mark, mark.”
I spent far longer than 22 minutes writing my last Fantasy Fishing column, but my results were truly Washburn-esque. To put it bluntly, I stunk. Like many of you, I chose “sure thing” Mike Iaconelli (never go for the obvious answer on a standardized test; it’s a trap) and he finished 95th. Kevin Short was equally flustered by the Chesapeake’s rivers, and finished even worse at 97th. Tommy Biffle, who I thought would scare away others and grind out a big bag or two, managed to slip into triple digits at 102nd.
The odds of picking three such talented anglers who end up finishing that low in a single event are miniscule. I must really suck.
Given the fact that my picker appears to be off, I’m going to turn to the tool that I use to make all important decisions in life: television, and in particular, mid-1990s sitcoms. I find solace in the words of Jerry Seinfeld here, who advised sad sack George Costanza: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
George followed that advice, ordering “chicken salad, on rye, untoasted” instead of his normal “tuna on toast.” He then approached a beautiful woman with the opening line of, “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.” Miraculously, she was interested. Later, playing against type, he was brutally honest with George Steinbrenner and got his dream job with the New York Yankees.
Following Costanza’s lead, I am going to resist my instincts this week. Here are my picks:
Bucket A: Powroznik
Wanted to Pick: Martens
Everyone in the world is going to pick Aaron Martens. For the first time in Fantasy Fishing history, an angler may have more than 100 percent of the vote (it’s just a short hop, skip and a jump from Detroit over to Chicago, where Fantasy Fishing fans are known to vote early and often).
And why not? Aaron has been on an historic tear this year, with two wins, a second, a third, and two other finishes in the Top 15. Making picking him even more irresistible, he had the fish to win the last time the Elites visited St. Clair but was done in by a couple of overstressed jackplate bolts. He seems like the obvious choice.
Costanza-like Pick: Powroznik
If Martens is all hyper energy and excitement, driven by organic food and road racing, then Jacob Powroznik is his exact opposite. That’s not to say that he’s not talented — everyone in this bucket is a rock star — it’s just that he’s all broad-shouldered mid-Atlantic gruff to Martens’ Spicoli vibe. We think of Powroznik as a tidal water grinder, but he won last year in Escanaba. He’s superb with his electronics and is a smallmouth world-beater. If he wins, it’ll be a festivus for the rest of us.
Bucket B: Kriet
Wanted to Pick: Bertrand
The clean-cut young man from Arizona is truly coming into his own as an angler, with four straight money finishes including an 11th-place on the St. Lawrence. Josh Bertrand was 26th the last time the Elites visited St. Clair and he loves to drop shot. If he can hold onto his position in the standings, he’ll be in line to qualify for his second Bassmaster Classic.
Costanza-like Pick: Kriet
If Bertrand is the embodiment of Southwestern modernity, then Jeff Kriet is his polar opposite, a gruff, stubbled straight shooter who doesn’t mince words. We don’t think his hair ever had any red like Bertrand’s, but it’s hard to tell among all of the salt and pepper (I can say that because we’re the same age). Unlike Bertrand, he’s missed checks in the last three events he’s fished, and he struggled the last time the Elites fished St. Clair, finishing 68th. He’s a bit closer to being outside the Classic bubble than Bertrand, and surely he’d love to fish one in his home state. His talent is real and it is spectacular.
Bucket C: Monroe
Wanted to Pick: Pipkens
Chad Pipkens needs to fish well at St. Clair if he’s going to rise nine spots into the AOY championship. He couldn’t ask for a better opportunity, as St. Clair was the site of his lone Bassmaster win, at last year’s final Northern Open. He’s finished in the money in the last five Elites he’s fished and looks poised to make it six. A no-brainer like this means that if I pick him I’ll function as a “Cooler” and somehow mess it up for him.
Costanza-like Pick: Monroe
Pipkens has the most distinguishable haircut on tour and Ish Monroe has … no hair. Is that opposite enough for you? If not, maybe this’ll explain my thoughts: I would be inclined to pick him if this derby was on Okeechobee or Falcon or the Cal Delta, but he doesn’t come to mind first on smallmouth waters. He’ll be coming directly from the scorching heat of the Forrest Wood Cup, which would normally be the ultimate reason NOT to pick him, so I’m throwing my instincts down the drain and picking him. After fisticuffs at the first event of the season, he has gradually descended to a point of serenity now.
Bucket D: Klein
Wanted to Pick: Mueller
After a tough start to his Elite Series career, Paul Mueller seems to be getting into a groove, earning checks in the last four Elite tournaments, including a personal-best 21st on the St. Lawrence. Headed to smallmouth country in 85th place overall, at this point he’s fishing for cash and pride, and he needs to end the year on a good note. I would expect him to do much better than the 74th-place finish he earned in last year’s Northern Open on St. Clair.
Costanza-like Pick: Klein
In contrast to Mueller, who is still getting his pro fishing bearings about him, Gary Klein is the ultimate been-there-done-that angler. He was on tour before Mueller was born, didn’t rise up through the B.A.S.S. Nation like Mueller, just left home one day after high school and never looked back. He’s still a student of the game, still learning, but he’s missed the money in his last three Elite events and also missed it the last time the Elites visited St. Clair. To my (new) way of thinking, that means he’s due. He’s back, baby.
Bucket E: Pace
Wanted to Pick: Hartley
Charlie Hartley hasn’t earned a check since Guntersville, but you can bet he’ll be psyched for a derby in smallmouthville, not terribly far from his old stomping grounds on Erie. He struggled in last year’s Open, but he finished 22nd when the Elites visited in 2013. He loves to fish so much, and he treasures every event to the extent that it’s hard not to cheer for him.
Costanza-like Pick: Pace
While Hartley is the ultimate in positive mental attitude and apparent excitement, Cliff Pace is harder to read. Whereas Hartley turned his one day of leading the Classic into a permanent and sizable fan base, Pace followed up his Classic win with a broken leg that prevented him from defending his title. At 94th place in the AOY standings, he’s suffering through an atypically abysmal season that will prevent him from winning a second Classic title at Grand next year — but he’s excellent with a spinning rod and finished 24th here in 2013, so I’m rolling with him. For one more week, he will be the master of his domain.
Those are my picks and I’m (uncomfortably) sticking with them, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just remember not to trade Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps.