Fantasy: Set a cold and a warm game plan

Update: We now know that the weather will be frigid, so choose the anglers above who excel in the coldest water. For additional insight into who to pick in this “Frozen” Classic, listen to my “Fantasy Fishing Insider” Pundits Picks podcast here.

When setting a Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster for a Bassmaster Classic in February, it’s tough to settle on a game plan until you know more about the weather and its effect on water temperature.

If the water’s more likely to be cold — in the mid-40s to low 50s — conventional wisdom says load up on anglers known best for fishing deep and deliberately. If water temps are more likely to be tepid and trending warmer — in the mid-50s into the 60s — err toward fast-moving power fishermen adept at covering water and making bass chase moving baits.

But is that strategy sound for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell?

We’ll attempt to answer that by investigating angler history in major February and March tournaments on Lake Hartwell and other rocky reservoirs with little to no grass. Comparable fisheries include Clarks Hill, Murray, Grand, Amistad, Table Rock, Lewis Smith, Travis, Norman and Alabama’s Lake Eufaula.

Bucket A: Pace or Faircloth

Based on past performance, it appears a cold-water Classic would best benefit Cliff Pace in Bucket A. Not only did he finish runner-up on Hartwell in 2008 — when water temps were in the mid-40s to low 50s — he won in 2013 on Grand when water temps were in the same range. When late-winter water temps are slightly warmer, however, he falls slightly back to the pack — 89th on Clarks Hill and 28th and 20th on Amistad, respectively, when water temps were in the mid-50s to low 60s.

Because he’s not a local or known for playing to the crowd, Pace won’t likely have to deal with as much spectator traffic as will some fan favorites, so that gives him an advantage — but probably not over Todd Faircloth as much as others in Bucket A, like Aaron Martens, Greg Hackney and Skeet Reese. If Pace is back in peak physical and mental shape after his year-long, injury-caused hiatus, he’s a threat to win.

Warmer water — temps in the mid-50s to low-60s — would make Todd Faircloth my favorite. Three out of four of his Top 12 finishes in 10 February/March tournament on rocky reservoirs with little to no vegetation have come in that water-temp range —fourth and 12th on Amistad, and 12th on Murray. Only one Top 10 came when water temps were in the mid-40s to low 50s — a ninth in the 2013 Classic on Grand. In that same water-temp range, Faircloth finished a middle-of-the-pack 25th on Hartwell in the 2008 Classic.

Dark Horse: Jared Lintner.

Bucket B: Ashley or Christie

Sorry, no surprises here. Savvy Fantasy Fishing players already know that Casey Ashley, a local, and Jason Christie have both won and finished high on Hartwell.

In two tournaments on Hartwell when water temps were in the high 40s to low 50s, Ashley has won and finished 17th. The win came last year in early March on the FLW Tour. The Top 20 came in the 2008 Classic. When water temps were in the mid-50s to low 60s, Ashley finished 52nd and 36th on Amistad and Norman, respectively. Still, as a South Carolina native familiar with patterning bass on blueback herring lakes, Ashley should have a considerable home-lake advantage on Hartwell, no matter what the water temperature.

Christie has fared well this time of year on Hartwell and similar reservoirs whether water temps were cold or warm. In four tournaments contested on water in the mid-40s to low 50s, his best finishes were fourth and seventh, on Lewis Smith in 2013 and in the 2013 Classic on Grand, respectively. His worst finishes were 31st and 55th — in FLW Tour action on Hartwell last year and on Table Rock in 2009, respectively.

When water temps have been in the low to mid-50s, Christie has fared well also. He won an FLW Tour event on Hartwell in such conditions in 2011, placed 17th in Norman in 2010, and 25th on Hartwell in 2012.

Dark Horse: Matt Herren.

Bucket C: Iaconelli, Evers or Hite

In eight late-winter/early spring tournaments on rocky reservoirs with little to no grass, Mike Iaconelli finished out of the Top 10 only twice (and only once out of the Top 25; his worst finish was 44th). He’s been pretty consistent whether the fish were still in a winter pattern or in prespawn mode.

When water temps were in the mid-40s to low 50s, Iaconelli finished fourth, fifth, 10th and 23rd in tournaments on Grand (2013 Classic), Clarks Hill, Hartwell (2008 Classic) and Table Rock, respectively. When water temps were in the mid-50s to low 60s, he finished runner-up on Martin, fifth and seventh on Amistad and 44th on Eufaula.

Cold weather and water would have Edwin Evers in his comfort zone as well. In five late-winter/early spring tournaments on rocky reservoirs with little to no grass, his worst finish when water temps were in the mid-40s to low 50s was 34th (Clarks Hill, 2005). His best showings include an 11th-place finish in the 2008 Classic on Hartwell and a 12th-place finish in last year’s Open on Amistad.

Evers fares pretty well, too, when the water is a little bit warmer, especially on reservoirs like Hartwell. With water temps in the low 50s to low 60s, he won on Eufaula in 2003, placed eighth and 25th on Amistad (2007 and 2009), and finished 52nd on Norman in 2010.

Every time Brett Hite has competed on Hartwell since 2011, he has finished higher — 23rd in 2011, 10th in 2012 and sixth last March, all in FLW Tour events.

Across all rocky reservoirs with little to no grass, Hite’s best and worst late-winter/early spring finishes have both come in water temps between 50 and 55 degrees — 10th and 13th on Hartwell and Amistad, respectively; and 148th and 113th on Clarks Hill and Norman, respectively.

In colder water on Hartwell and comparable reservoirs, he’s been inconsistent — sixth on Hartwell and 61st on Table Rock when water temps were in high 40s to low 50s, and 29th on Table Rock when water temps were in the high 30s to low 40s. None of Hite’s success this time of year on Hartwell or similar fisheries have come when water temps were in the low to mid-60s — 23rd, Hartwell, 2011; 37th, Table Rock, 2004.

Dark Horse: Brandon Lester.

Bucket D: B. Lane or DeFoe

You wouldn’t expect a Florida native to have a stellar track record in cold-water tournaments on deep, rocky reservoirs with little to no grass. But in the case of Bobby Lane, you’d be wrong.

Fishing on Lake Hartwell in 2008 in his first Bassmaster Classic, Lane finished fourth. Water temps in that tournament were between 45 and 50 degrees. In the 2013 Classic on Grand, average water temps were even colder. He finished 15th.

Additionally, Lane has several Top 20s in late-winter/early spring tournaments on impoundments similar to Hartwell — seventh on Norman, 16th on Lewis Smith, 18th on Amistad — all when water temps were likely in the low to high 50s. (I couldn’t find temp data for two of these three events, which were held in early to late March.) In only two of four “bad” early-season, cold-water finishes, he missed the cut only once.

Although Ott DeFoe has never competed on Hartwell, he’s a pretty good bet in this Classic, having recorded three Top 12 finishes in six cold-water tournaments on similar reservoirs.

When water temps were between the low 40s and low 50s, DeFoe finished second, 11th, 46th and 48th in tournaments on West Point, Grand (2013 Classic) and Table Rock (2009 and 2010, FLW Tour), respectively. When water temps were in the low to mid-50s, he ended up sixth on Travis and 103rd on Norman.

Dark Horse: Andy Montgomery.

Bucket E: Wheeler

On the FLW Tour, Jacob Wheeler won the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup and was runner-up in the 2013 Cup. To qualify for this year’s Classic, he beat Kevin VanDam to win BASSfest. And he’s in Bucket E? ’Nuff said.

Need more convincing? Wheeler finished 20th on Hartwell in an early March FLW Tour tournament. Water temps then were in the high 40s to low 50s.

Dark Horse: Coby Carden

If you’d like relevant tournament data about an angler I didn’t mention above, hit me up in the comments section below and I will reply. I’ve compiled stats for almost all the anglers.