The winning strategy in Fantasy Fishing so far this season has been picking locals in Buckets A and E, selecting anglers with the best past performances in Bucket B, and tapping the most-undervalued anglers in Buckets C and D (and sometimes E).
In reviewing the picks of the Top 10 B.A.S.S. Fantasy Fishing Challenge points leaders, several trends emerge. Learn from their success and you could improve your chances to win your own Fantasy Fishing league.
First, however, mad props to the current Top 10 Fantasy Fishing players in the nation:
5. DR. BASS
6. WD Indiana
Picking a local is both easy and productive. The strategy has yielded six key picks, mostly in Buckets A and E:
- Every player in the Top 10 picked Terry Scroggins in Bucket A before he placed sixth on St. Johns River. Scroggins lives about 500 yards from the St. Johns and has fished it often, parlaying local knowledge into numerous strong tournament finishes there.
- Nine players picked Ott DeFoe in Bucket A before he placed seventh on Douglas Lake. DeFoe lives in rural Knoxville, 30 minutes away from the lake, which he grew up fishing and competing on.
- Nine picked rookie Brandon Card in Bucket B before he placed ninth on Douglas Lake. Card, the Elite Series rookie, grew up an hour away from the lake, in Caryville, Tenn, and had fished it often.
- Nine picked rookie Kyle Fox in Bucket E before he placed 12th on Okeechobee. Fox grew up in Lakeland, Fla., which is a 2 1/2-hour drive from the Big O. And although Fox said he didn’t have much experience on Okeechobee, he said his familiarity with Florida bass fishing techniques contributed greatly to his Okeechobee success.
- Eight picked Todd Faircloth in Bucket A before he placed 15th on Toledo Bend. From nearby Jasper, Texas, Faircloth grew up fishing and competing on Toledo Bend.
- Seven picked Cliff Prince in Bucket E before he placed 16th on St. Johns River. Prince lives in Palatka, the St. Johns tournament host city, and grew up fishing and competing on the river.
Selecting undervalued anglers in Buckets C and D (and in E, if there's no local available) is the best – but most difficult – key to picking consistently successful Fantasy Fishing rosters. Familiarizing yourself with anglers who don't routinely appear on TV and on magazine covers will help.
An "undervalued" angler is one you determine seeded one or two buckets below his skill level. Every other tournament or so, B.A.S.S. shuffles each bucket, moving some anglers up and demoting others, based on momentum, the local factor, past performance and/or technique-specific factors (sight fishing, deep structure, river fishing, etc.), or a combination thereof. And because the buckets must contain a somewhat similar number of anglers (although A and E always comprise the fewest), a few anglers every tournament are available in a lower bucket than they would be if you were assessing their entire career, rather than just the weeks preceding the current tournament.
By my calculations, picking undervalued anglers in the bottom buckets yielded nine key plays:
- 10 picked Keith Combs in Bucket D before he placed 19th on Okeechobee.
- Nine picked Brent Chapman in Bucket C before he placed fifth on Okeechobee.
- Nine picked Combs in Bucket D before he placed third on St. Johns River.
- Nine picked Aaron Martens in Bucket C before he placed third on Douglas Lake.
- Eight picked Chapman in Bucket C before he placed fourth on St. Johns River.
- Eight picked Martens in Bucket C before he placed 58th on Bull Shoals.
- Six picked Cliff Pace in Bucket D before he placed 15th on Douglas Lake.
- Six picked Brandon Palaniuk in Bucket E, before he won on Bull Shoals.
- Four picked Pace in Bucket E before he placed sixth on Bull Shoals.
Notice some trends? Three anglers have been consistently undervalued: Brent Chapman, Cliff Pace and Aaron Martens.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Chapman's value might seem obvious: He won on Toledo Bend and he's leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with three consecutive Top 5 finishes to supplement his victory.
Yet despite a Central Open win prior to the 2012 Elite Series season opener and solid career numbers – seven previous Top 5 Elite finishes, 11 Classic appearances, six Top 25 finishes in AOY points – Chapman began the season in Bucket C, where he was greatly undervalued.
But Chapman promptly proved his worth to Fantasy players, scoring 280 and 285 points, respectively, in his first two tournaments. Bucket C anglers are expected to score only between about 155 and 215 points. After those finishes, Chapman jumped to Bucket A, where he remains.
So, should you pick him in Bucket A?
It's a pretty safe play. Sure, KVD, Skeet and Alton Jones have won more titles and have made more magazine covers, but Chapman is this season's standout, hands down. His average finish so far this season of 17th is a little deceiving; it's low because of a 68th-place stumble on Bull Shoals. Outside of that, he's placed fourth, fifth, fifth and first in Elite Series events. And in Central Opens, he's finished first and 20th. That's a heckuva hot streak.
Martens' early-season slump (he finished out-of-the-money in the first three tournaments), made him a better mid-season Fantasy pick. A Bucket A-caliber angler based on career numbers, A-Mart fell to Bucket C for the Bull Shoals and Douglas Lake tournaments.
And although Martens placed only 58th at Bull Shoals, that finish was enough of an improvement on his 74th- and 84th-place finishes in Florida to convince some Fantasy Fishing players he remained undervalued for the Douglas Lake tournament. They were rewarded when he placed third there, earning them 290 points.
In Bucket B this week, Martens is less valuable than he was in C, but still worth a look. After placing third on Douglas Lake and 25th on Toledo Bend, he appears to be off the schnide.
In 2011, Cliff Pace finished 50th in the AOY race. Perhaps that's why he began this season in Bucket E and has jumped only to Bucket C after several great finishes – and why he remains the best value in Fantasy Fishing.
In 2007, Pace finished 16th in the AOY race. He was eighth in 2009 and sixth in 2010. Furthermore, he won Bassmaster Opens in 2003 and 2004 and finished second to Alton Jones in the 2008 Classic. That's a pretty stout resume for a Bucket C angler, let alone Bucket D and E. But there's more.
Ken Duke reminded Bassmaster.com readers in his Toledo Bend live-blog reporting that Pace had fished in the Elite Series finals seven times before making it to Sunday on the Bend. He ended up finishing second there. His best finish before that was another runner-up, that one at Pickwick in 2010. Duke noted that Pace "tends to fly under the radar," and unearthed this "statistical shocker" about Pace's career:
"Out of all the Elite pros, he ranks fourth in Top 50 finishes. Only Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Todd Faircloth cash checks a higher percentage of the time. Pace has a 73.47 percent success rate when it comes to finishing in the money, and he made checks in 11 straight events between 2010 and 2011."
And he was in Bucket E?
From Bucket E, Pace scored 285 points with his sixth-place showing on Bull Shoals. From Bucket D, he scored 245 fantasy points with his 15th-place finish on Douglas Lake. In Bucket C, his runner-up finish on Toledo Bend was worth 295 points. Bucket E anglers are expected to score between 75 and about 110 points; Bucket D about 110 to 155; Bucket C, about 155 to 215.
Unless he gets bumped up to Bucket B, keep picking Pace the rest of the year.
Early this season, Elite Series sophomore Keith Combs was undervalued and overachieving in Bucket D, scoring 290 points with his third-place finish on the St. Johns River and 237 points with his 19th-place showing on Lake Okeechobee. Fantasy players who bet on Combs early were rewarded.
But after Combs was promoted to Bucket A for the Bull Shoals tournament, his productivity waned. In that tournament, he placed 38th, followed by 64th-place and 78th-place finishes on Douglas Lake and Toledo Bend, respectively. Unless Combs falls to Bucket C, steer clear in favor of Bucket A anglers with better finishes.