Fantasy: It's crunch time at Cayuga

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y.  I salvaged a decent finish in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing at the Delaware River largely on the strength of picking Ike, like the rest of the free world.

While I missed out on Bill Lowen and Kevin Short (the latter of whom competed in the same bucket as Ike), I only truly bombed with picking Joe Sancho in Bucket E. I desperately wanted to pick Boyd Duckett, but his performance to that point had been decidedly un-Duckett-like and I couldn’t pull the trigger. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Fortunately, Ott Defoe and Jacob Powroznik showed up to play and Stephen Browning snuck into the check line. Once again, my hypothesis that “winners win” will be my guiding light this week.

While Cayuga isn’t as much of an unknown as the Delaware, the lake has yet to host an Elite Series event. Many of the competitors fished a 2012 Northern Open there, including James Niggemeyer (third), Mike Iaconelli (fifth), Ish Monroe (13th), Chad Pipkens (19th) and Kurt Dove (21st), and of course most of the field has fished one or more events on Oneida, so this one isn’t going to take anyone by surprise.

Also, it’s a relatively small lake, so unlike the Delaware, there probably won’t be any secret hidey-holes left to be discovered at the end of 2 1/2 days of practice.

The other complicating factor is that this is the last full-field regular season event of the year. There are some notable names trying to establish position for the Angler of the Year race, others trying to get into the Classic, and still others just trying to get into the final 50-man cut for Escanaba.

Additionally, the FLW Cup is taking place this week, so for a few guys — including Jason Christie, Randall Tharp, Matt Herren, Steve Kennedy and Casey Ashley — I might have considered, I’m ruling them out because of the Philly-Carolina-New York slog.

With all of that in mind, here are my picks:

Bucket A

Picked: Dean Rojas

Second Choice: Skeet Reese

It’s tough not to pick Skeet Reese here because he’s fishing out of his mind right now. While most of the talk about AOY has concerned Mark Davis, Greg Hackney and Aaron Martens, there’s the yellow killer in third.

Reese has earned a check in the last five events he’s fished, and six of seven this year, including three Top 12 finishes and a 13th place. He’s going to get you some points and could very well claim another AOY title.

Still, I can’t forget seeing Rojas at Oneida in 2008, holding the big Kermit doll on stage to celebrate his win. If the final day hadn’t been held on Onondoga in 2007, he probably would’ve won that one, too. They always say that all of the obvious frog fish will be picked off in practice or early in the event, and still he always finds a way to make bass — big bass — bite his SPRO frog.

Bucket B

Picked: Mike Iaconelli

Second Choice: Kevin VanDam

I know, not original and their ownership totals tell the tale that I haven’t made a dark horse pick by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t resist.

Ike is fishing incredibly well, with the win in Delaware and the near-win the week before on Champlain. Combine that with his previous finish on Cayuga and I think that’s a nearly foolproof winning hand.

Still, I flip-flopped back and forth between him and KVD quite a few times. KVD is currently outside the Classic cut and not far enough inside the Top 50 cut for comfort. It would boggle my mind if he missed either of them, and that’s going to take a Top 20 finish here. I can’t imagine him not getting that done, but it might not matter for Fantasy Fishing purposes if Ike gets a Top 5.

Bucket C

Picked: Chad Pipkens

Second Choice: Shaw Grigsby

The fifth-place finish on the Delaware might have given Shaw some momentum after missing a check at every event since Seminole. That has him in 56th in AOY, 12 points out of the 50 cut, so he has everything to gain. Despite the Florida mailing address, he’s a veteran with a lot of experience up North, but his experiences at Oneida are average.

Pipkens, likewise, made the Top 12 at the Delaware. Certainly, he hopes that finish has turned his season around after three straight times of missing the money (including BASSfest and Champlain). As noted above, he had a good tournament at Cayuga in 2012, which helped him to get into the Elites. Right now he’s in 50th, the bubble boy for Escanaba, and you can be sure that he wants to fish the event in his home state. At less than 10 percent ownership, he could be a steal.

Bucket D

Picked: Ish Monroe

Second Choice: Hank Cherry

For the same reason I’m picking Rojas, I’m sticking with Ish, whom I often shy away from because he seems just as likely to take a big swing and miss as he does to win a tournament. But if it’s a frogging and flipping deal, he’ll stick with those until the last possible minute. He finished well here in 2012 and won the Oneida Open in 2011. Additionally, he probably can’t make the Classic without winning the tournament.

Hank Cherry has gone through a bit of a sophomore slump, and I keep expecting the guy who won in All-Star Week last year to show up, but any consideration I gave to picking him ended when I saw that nearly a quarter of the Fantasy Fishing players had chosen him. I need to make up some points, so I’m going monster hunting with Ish.

Bucket E

Picked: Boyd Duckett

Second Choice: Greg Vinson

Duckett didn’t move up far in the AOY standings, but he’s clearly the winningest angler in this bucket (or should that be “Buckett”?). I sincerely hope that the Top 12 finish last week, combined with a 22nd at BASSfest, has him back on track. If there’s any place it’s likely to keep going, New York would seem to be it. He won an Elite Series event on Oneida in 2012 and has earned several other checks there, including a 15th-place finish in 2008. In the E class, he should be a bargain.

There are lots of other talented anglers in this group, including past winners Jeremy Starks and Byron Velvick (coming off a Top 12 himself), but I keep expecting Vinson to break out of his tough season. Those expectations aren’t enough to trump Duckett’s talents and track record, though.

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