My Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks this season have been calculated, and I have never strayed from my picks or plan even after talking to anglers before each event. I like to be true to my stories and the anglers I pick beforehand.
Yet, I come into the last event of the season shaking my head. Like some Elite Series anglers this season, I never got a break. My great picks weren’t as plentiful, and my bad picks choked out my success. With the final event of the season drawing near, I look to finish the season strong at Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. I’m pulling out all the stops and going with some heavy hitters in the season finale.
Bucket A: Powroznik
Conservative pick: Jacob Powroznik
Jacob Powroznik knows how smallmouth operate. He has proven that so far in his short Elite Series career. In this very tournament last year on Bays de Noc, Powroznik dominated and took home the win in the weather-shortened event. With only 10 percent ownership, Powroznik is a no-brainer for Bucket A.
Dark horse pick: Chris Zaldain
The California Kid has performed almost flawlessly this season, and that is why he is in Bucket A and 10th in the Angler of the Year standings. This season, Chris Zaldain has finished 22nd and 17th in the two smallmouth-dominated venues of the Elite Series. Whether he is drop shotting for smallmouth or throwing a swimbait or jerkbait, Zaldain is dangerous in this tournament.
But my gut is telling me Powroznik on this one.
Bucket B: Combs
Conservative pick: Jason Christie
Jason Christie is dangerous in almost every tournament he enters, and coming off a seventh-place finish at Lake St. Clair, the Oklahoma native could carry that momentum into Sturgeon Bay. I’ve never used one of the Garmin Panoptix units, but after seeing how important they were for Christie at St. Clair, they could pay dividends here as well.
Dark horse pick: Keith Combs
Anytime heavy weights are expected for a tournament, Keith Combs could be a factor. Even when smallmouth are involved, Combs will find a way to figure them out. The Texas pro has cashed a check in 77 percent of B.A.S.S. events he has competed in; that’s stout. I could see a swimbait playing a role, but even if it came down to spinning tackle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Combs near the top.
I’ll take Combs for Bucket B.
Bucket C: VanDam
Conservative pick: Kevin VanDam
I tend to shy away from anglers who have a high ownership percentage, but I will negate those feelings for Bucket C because I think this could be one that caters to Kevin VanDam. His smallmouth knowledge is extensive and I think after a less-than-stellar St. Clair event, he looks to lock up his Classic spot with a great finish here.
Dark horse pick: Micah Frazier
Two Top 12s this season and five checks have Micah Frazier on the verge of his first Bassmaster Classic appearance. Frazier is 27th in the Angler of the Year standings and has a 28-point buffer over the final Classic spot as of now. Frazier now needs a decent finish to seal the deal.
But I’m taking VanDam for Sturgeon Bay.
Bucket D: Robinson
Conservative pick: Josh Bertrand
The Arizona pro is a fantastic smallmouth angler and I expect nothing different at Sturgeon Bay. Josh Bertrand is in the Classic for now, and the power to clinch his spot is in his own hands. Of the four Elite Series tournaments on smallmouth fisheries that Bertrand has competed in, he has three Top 30 finishes. The most recent Lake St. Clair event was the first smallmouth tournament where he didn’t cash a check. I expect a bounce-back event here.
Dark horse pick: Marty Robinson
Marty “the Party” Robinson saved his season on Day 2 of the Lake St. Clair event. After a rough Day 1, Robinson dropped out of the Classic cut line and even out of the Top 50 AOY cut. After 18 pounds, 13 ounces resurrected him in the AOY standings; he is now back in the Classic cut, even if it is only by three points. The South Carolina pro is looking to get back to Grand Lake for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic where he had a 20th-place finish in 2013.
Marty Robinson is on the verge of the Classic and, with a jerkbait in his hand at Sturgeon Bay, he could quite possibly clinch his spot.
Bucket E: Kennedy
Conservative pick: Jonathon VanDam
There aren’t any home field advantages on Sturgeon Bay because no anglers competing are from there, but if you had to bet money on the closest anglers, then the VanDams would be at the top. A Top 12 at Lake St. Clair bolstered Jonathon VanDam into the Top 50, and now another smallmouth fishery awaits him at Sturgeon.
Dark horse pick: Steve Kennedy
Six straight paychecks have helped Kennedy rise in the standings every week. He started the year with two finishes sub-90, but he has since rebounded. Kennedy is one of the most underrated pros on the Elite Series, but that is the reason I like him in this situation. Kennedy is one of the best swimbait anglers I know. Most of all, I like how much fun he has while fishing. He is always carefree and full of joy, and that is what I like the most about this pick.
I’ll take Steve Kennedy on Sturgeon Bay and, as he would say, “War Eagle!”