PALATKA, Fla. — Before you decide on an angler in each Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing bucket for the Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, take a minute to look at what names are in each bucket. Each bucket offers several anglers who have a strong chance at winning on the St. Johns River this week.
Did you notice that Kevin VanDam is not in Bucket A? Not only did he fall into Bucket B, but he is not even the favorite at only 12.5% Fantasy Fishing ownership. I never thought I would say this, but that makes KVD an underdog going into an Elite Series event.
VanDam is not the only surprise. Terry Scroggins, who lives in Palatka, Fla., the city hosting the tournament, is in Bucket C. Edwin Evers, one of the most consistent anglers on tour — who has an Elite Series trophy from the St. Johns — is in Bucket E, along with the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion, Randy Howell.
The good news with this mixing of the buckets means that the St. Johns could play host to one of the highest Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing scores ever — that is, if history repeats itself.
Bucket A: Jones
Who is still in shock that KVD and Skeet Reese are not in Bucket A? The last couple years, making your choice in Bucket A has been the game of picking between KVD and the rest of the field. That question will have to go down a bucket now for this event.
Alton Jones is my pick for the St. Johns River in Bucket A. The Elite Series has been to the St. Johns twice in the last three years at this same time of year. Alton Jones took home a third-place finish in 2011 and claimed that Elite Series trophy with a win in 2012. Alton has always excelled fishing the spring. If the bass are anywhere around the beds, you can bet that Jones will be near the top of the leaderboard. The biggest surprise to me is that with Jones’ history at the St. Johns and this time of year, he is only owned by 1.9% of Fantasy Fishing players. This makes Alton Jones one of the safest gambles on a low percentage owned angler for an Elite Series event.
Todd Faircloth is another strong contender for a title at the St. Johns, with a fourth-place finish in 2011 and a second-place finish in 2012. Faircloth is also a Fantasy Fishing steal at only 5 percent ownership.
Jared Lintner may seem like a true dark horse for this bucket, but do not overlook his history at the St. Johns. Lintner was 14th in 2011 and 38th in 2012. Very few anglers were able to repeat their results from 2011 to 2012 at the St. Johns, but Lintner was one of the best. With a 2.1 percent ownership, Lintner is a strong choice as well.
Bucket B: Prince
Anytime the Elite Series visits a Florida fishery, a local Floridian is a solid choice. Only one other angler (Terry Scroggins) lives as close as Cliff Prince does, and I will talk about him in the next bucket.
Prince is the highest-owned angler of the bucket at 32.9 percent. I am no real fan of taking the favorite for any bucket, but how can you deny an angler who took a 16th-place finish at his home water in 2012? That was one of Prince’s first Elite Series events. Now, Prince understands the routine of an Elite Series event after a few years on tour. The nerves of fishing an event on your home water in front of all your family and friends will always be there, but it should be much easier for Prince to manage those nerves this year than in 2012.
The second-most owned angler at 30.6 percent, Randall Tharp, has to be strongly considered for the St. Johns. Tharp is considered an Elite Series rookie, but he has the experience required for a win and is fishing with the confidence to do more than just make a check.
Did you think I was going to pass on KVD as one of my favorites for this event? KVD has finished in the Top 25 the last two times the Elite Series visited the St. Johns River. To say the scariest man in bass fishing is the fifth-most owned angler in Bucket B at 12.5 percent is crazy to think of. Does this spark KVD to return to typical KVD form? I sure hope it does and that we to see him go on a tear that only KVD can.
Bucket C: Scroggins
Terry Scroggins has been a major threat for the last several years on the Elite Series. Now he gets to return to his home water to better his second-place finish in 2011 and sixth-place finish in 2012. Scroggins is considered a steal for his fantasy bucket. Only 3.6 percent of Fantasy Fishing owners have picked Scroggins so far. I hope it stays that way and that a lot of Fantasy Fishing players are kicking themselves if and when he makes it to fish Sunday.
Cliff Crochet is another solid choice for Bucket C. Like Scroggins, it is hard to believe Crochet has such a low Fantasy Fishing ownership number at 4.5 percent after Top 25 finishes in 2011 and 2012 at the St. Johns River. Crochet had a disastrous Day 2 last week at Lake Seminole, so look for the Cajun Baby to come out and take some revenge on the bass.
Bobby Lane is owned by 5.9 percent of Fantasy Fishing players, but that still seems low for a Florida angler at a Florida event. Lane took home a Top 20 in 2011 but struggled in 2012, missing the Day 2 cut. Look for Lane to return to the St. Johns River looking for another Top 20 and a chance to get back into the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race.
Bucket D: Combs
If history is to repeat itself, Keith Combs will be leaving Florida with his first Top 12 of the year. Combs was ninth in 2011 and third in 2012 at the St. Johns River. Fantasy Fishing owners still seem to not be paying attention to angler history on the river because Combs is only owned by 3.7 percent of players. It is still early in the season, but I expect Combs to make up a lot of points in the AOY race and not dig too big a hole to make it to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Greg Vinson is only owned by 5 percent of Fantasy Fishing players and made a check finishing in the 30s in 2011 and 2012 at the St. Johns River. Vinson needs to leave Florida with at least a check to have a decent shot at qualifying for the Classic on AOY points.
John Murray claimed a check in 2011 and was the first angler out of the money in 2012 at the St. Johns River. Like the other two anglers picked in this bucket, Murray needs a solid point finish to not fall behind a quarter of the way through the season. Murray is a solid choice for bucket D.
Bucket E: Evers
Edwin Evers, like KVD, is an angler I never expected to see outside of Bucket A. For Evers to be all the way down in Bucket E is almost a crime. Evers left Lake Seminole with only seven AOY points. It is early for an angler to be trying the “win and you’re in” strategy for the 2015 Classic, but Evers should look to take a shot at it this week. After winning in 2011 at the St. Johns River and just missing the Top 12 in 2012, Evers could legitimately qualify for the Bassmaster Classic by Sunday. Evers is the favorite for the bucket at 21.6 percent, but I will take that if he can make another Top 12.
Stephen Kennedy is owned by 9.8 percent of players, but he also has a Top 12 finish at the St. Johns River. Look for Kennedy and his Auburn Tigers boat to make a comeback from being the last angler to get a point toward AOY last week at Lake Seminole.
The 2014 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Randy Howell, has fallen into Bucket E going into the second Elite Series event of the year. I am sure that has not dampened his spirits for the way his year has started out. Like Kennedy, Howell has a Top 12 on the St. Johns to his name. The Classic champion seems to be overlooked in Bucket E, with only a 5.1 percent ownership. Look for the champ to recover from his zero AOY points last week at Lake Seminole.
Thursday kicks off the second Elite Series event of the year, and if the Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing buckets are any indication, look for high Fantasy Fishing scores — as well as big changes to the AOY standings.
Remember to get your picks in for this event before launch on Thursday! A $2,500 gift card to Bass Pro Shops is up for grabs again, along with a season-ending prize for the overall best Fantasy player.
Who are your picks? Let us know by commenting below.