So many different patterns and techniques have a chance at being a factor on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell that choosing your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team for the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic may be difficult.
To narrow down my choices, I looked at several things, including past Classic performances, past finishes on this fishery and momentum.
Here is how I think the 2015 Bassmaster Classic will shake out:
Bucket A: Pace, Powroznik
Give the nod to: Cliff Pace
I have to give the nod to Cliff Pace for Bucket A. Although he is coming off of a yearlong break from high-level competition, I don’t think that will have a negative effect on Pace. Pace took a close second to Alton Jones the last time the Classic was on Hartwell in 2008. His fishing style also sets up perfectly for a cold-weather Classic. He is comfortable fishing at a snail’s pace, which has served him well in several cold-water events in the past.
Don’t forget about: Jacob Powroznik
Even though my gut says Pace, it wasn’t easy to look past Jacob Powroznik. It is his first Classic, but he proved his versatility last year on the Elite Series Trail, winning on Toledo Bend and Escanaba, and taking home the Rookie of the Year title in notable fashion. No doubt he’ll be looking to add a Classic title to his already impressive list of accomplishments.
Bucket B: Ashley, Morgenthaler
Give the nod to: Casey Ashley
Casey Ashley is both the safe and the smart choice for this bucket. Ashley proved he can win on his home waters of Lake Hartwell when he won an FLW event in March 2014 by 15 pounds. He competed in the 2008 Classic on Lake Hartwell, so he has been through this process before. He won’t have home lake jitters when he takes off on Day 1.
Don’t forget about: Chad Morgenthaler
Even though Ashley is my first pick, don’t overlook Chad Morgenthaler. Morgenthaler is coming off a win in the first Southern Open on Lake Toho, already having punched his ticket to the 2016 Classic. He’ll be swinging for the fences with momentum on his side. That’s a dangerous combination.
Bucket C: Evers, Hite
Give the nod to: Edwin Evers
Edwin Evers is my first choice for Bucket C. Evers is coming off of a third-place finish in the 2014 Classic, as well as a near miss for the AOY title in 2013. Evers wants one of these major BASS titles as much, if not more, than anyone in the field. With multiple Classic appearances and eight Bassmaster wins to his credit, Evers can get the job done.
Don’t forget about: Brett Hite
When looking at history on Lake Hartwell, Brett Hite was a hard choice to pass up. In three Tour-level events on Hartwell (2011, 2012 and 2014), Hite was consistently one of the top finishers, coming in 23rd, 10th and sixth place, respectively. He fished against bigger fields with a co-angler in his boat for these three events. Takes those two factors out of the equation, and Hite could certainly be at, or near, the top of the leaderboard.
Bucket D: DeFoe, Mueller
Give the nod to: Ott DeFoe
Ott DeFoe doesn’t have much history on Lake Hartwell, but I still see him near the top of standings when the dust settles. DeFoe has proved he can catch them anywhere the last few years on the Elite Series, and I think Hartwell will set up nicely for him. Whether he has to target fish deep or shallow, it won’t make a difference to DeFoe. Look for him to turn some heads on Hartwell this February.
Don’t forget about: Paul Mueller
Even though I’m picking DeFoe, something in my gut keeps screaming “Paul Mueller!” Mueller is coming off a second-place campaign in the 2014 Classic, where he weighed in the biggest five-fish stringer in Classic history. Take away Mueller’s tough Day 1, and he would have been a landslide victor. This go-around, he won’t have the distractions of fishing his first Classic and will be a man to keep a close eye on.
Bucket E: Wheeler, Gray
Give the nod to: Jacob Wheeler
My pick in Bucket E is Jacob Wheeler. Although he is young and this is his first Classic, Wheeler has proved he has what it takes to bring home a major title. Wheeler was the youngest angler to win the All-American (2011) title, he won the Forrest Wood Cup (2012) at the ripe age of 21, and he took down the King Kong of bass fishing (Kevin VanDam) last year, winning BASSfest, surpassing VanDam in the runner-up spot. Wheeler will be swinging for the fences this February, and history suggests he knows how to connect.
Don’t forget about: Brandon Gray
My dark horse for this bucket is Bassmaster Team champion Brandon Gray. Gray isn’t on a lot of people’s radars, but he is from the East Coast (North Carolina) and understands lakes like Hartwell. He is also a crankbait aficionado, something that could serve him well on Hartwell.