The Bassmaster Classic is the reason that I fish competitively. I really want to earn that trophy, and while it hurts that I won’t have a chance to win it this year, I’m not dreading working the Expo as much as I thought that I might. Partially that’s because I’ll have the chance to work hard for my sponsors at the show, and partially it’s because of the massive amount of work that it takes to prepare for a tournament this big.
I don’t think the average fan realizes what a significant undertaking it is to get ready for the Classic. Between pre-practice, tackle prep, the official practice and the tournament itself, it takes up an unbelievable percentage of the offseason. While I’d rather be competing this week, this has allowed me to step back and think about who has a legitimate chance to win.
Here are my picks:
Bucket A – Greg Hackney
It’s very difficult to single one angler out of this group. Aaron Martens is at his best right now, but Ehrler, Hackney and Evers are right there also. Grand Lake also sets up well for the 2015 Classic Champ, Casey Ashley, and Brandon Palaniuk nearly won there in 2013, finishing second. Each of these guys have developed their own styles and are well respected amongst their peers. Any of the anglers above have a great shot, and you can make a legit argument for each of them, so I will go with my gut on this one.
Greg Hackney is my pick out of this group of hammers. Hackney finished 13th the last go around, and he will be fired up and ready to go this week. For an angler like Hackney, a Classic win is going to happen, and I think it could very well be this year at Grand Lake.
Bucket B – Jason Christie
If an angler from my home state of Florida has a chance at Grand, then Bobby Lane is it. Bobby has adapted very well over the years and excels in cold water events, particularly the Classic. He will improve on his 15th place in 2013 at this year’s Classic but will fall short of my pick here, Jason Christie.
Jason started a few years before I did, and I have watched him grow into one of the best tournament fishermen in the world. His seventh place at Grand in his first Classic was a success in my eyes because I knew how tough being the favorite can be. Christie is just too good to disappoint now that he has multiple Classic appearances under his belt. I have no doubt that he learned from his mistakes in 2013 and will be there with a chance to win on the final day.
Bucket C – Kevin Van Dam
Brett Hite, Todd Faircloth and David Walker are all solid picks, but my gut is telling me to go with Walker. Walker and I have talked about it, and I see it in his eyes when you mention the Classic. I know how bad I want it and Walker is no different. The fact that he finished 38th at Grand in 2013 is irrelevant. Walker will catch them at Grand but wait…
I forgot someone. Sorry David, my pick is KVD. Kevin won the very first Classic I fished in 2011. I didn’t know Kevin at the time, but I will never forget the look he had in his eyes prior to the start of that event. It’s something that inspired me and still does to this day. He knew he was going to win before the derby even started. I would never bet against him in the Classic.
Bucket D – Mike Iaconelli
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark Davis on and off the water. He did not have a good Classic at Grand in 2013, finishing 32nd, but he will threaten this time. I would pick him out of this group if it was not for one particular angler.
My pick here is Mike Iaconelli. Mike puts a great deal of pressure on himself and tends to come through when it counts. There is no stage bigger than the Classic and Mike thrives amongst the chaos. The fact that he finished fourth at Grand in 2013 tells me it suits his style and when he shows up he will be expecting to win.
Bucket E – James Watson
The odds of a Classic Champion coming out of this group are very slim. The best way to describe it is like a sheep being thrown into the lion’s den. In my opinion, there is nothing that can prepare you for the challenges that you will face during a Classic without prior Classic experience.
Brandon McMillan and James Watson are the two standouts that have the most experience in this group, and I have been in the boat with both of them. McMillian is fishing well, is very hungry and has tremendous natural talent. Watson lives on Table Rock which qualifies him as a local in my book, and he has no shortage of cold water, tournament experience. McMillan, on the other hand, has very little experience fishing in anything other than flip flops. Watson’s carefree attitude will also suit him well under the pressure of the Classic.
As much as I want to pick McMillan here, I give the edge to Watson.
Besides being an incredible fishermen with a track record of winning, what do all five of my picks have in common? They all compete the right way. I respect the way that every one of them does his job. I’ll leave Tulsa satisfied if the best fisherman for this particular week leaves with the trophy.
If you’re at the Expo, please come and see me. I’ll be in the Yamaha, Phoenix, Lew’s, Rapala/VMC and Lowrance booths for three solid days. I’m anxious to talk fishing and check out the new gear, although the fan in me may sneak a few peeks at the online coverage of the tournament to see how my picks are doing.