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Pick postspawn pros on Toledo Bend

By David Bell

MANY, La. — On May 1, the Bassmaster Elite Series pros will take off in the quest of winning the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend. The Elite Series has visited Toledo Bend twice before in mid-April 2011 and early June 2012. With as long as winter has hung around there may be some fish just coming off the bed, but look for the winner of this event to be targeting postspawn bass.

Therefore, your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team should be heavy on anglers who can grind out a solid limit when bass are in their postspawn funk.

Note that the Fantasy Fishing ownership percentages of the anglers discussed in this article are likely to change before the event kicks off next week.

Bucket A: Davis

Mark Davis has to be off to the best start to an Elite Series season ever. Davis has not won an event yet, but he has only missed five points through the first three events. Davis is also one of the best postspawn anglers on the Elite Series. Mark Davis took home a check the last two times the Elite Series visited Toledo Bend including a Top 12 finish in 2012. Davis is the fourth-most-owned angler in the Bucket A at 15.6 percent. Watch for Davis to carry his hot streak of consecutive Top 12 finishes to five after this event. (He ended 2013 with one on Lake St. Clair.)

Todd Faircloth is always a strong competitor anytime the Elite Series goes to a lake in Texas (Toledo Bend is on the Louisiana/Texas boarder). Two of Faircloth’s four wins have come on events in Texas. Faircloth is sitting in fifth in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) points, so he could use another strong event to move up the AOY leaderboard. Faircloth was also one of the most consistent anglers in the last two events on Toledo Bend, finishing 17th in 2011 and 15th in 2012. Watch for Faircloth to break through with his first Top 12 on Toledo Bend this time.

Faircloth was the first angler I thought of going into this event. The reason he is not on my Fantasy Fishing  team is his ownership percentage. Faircloth is the most-owned angler in the bucket at 21.3 percent. If you do not mind taking the bucket favorites, Faircloth is a wise pick.

Ott DeFoe may seem like a dark horse pick for Bucket A at a 2.9 percent ownership, but he could be one of the safest picks in the end. DeFoe took home a check in the last two Toledo Bend events and just missed a Top 12 in 2012. He has excelled at almost every Elite Series stop since he joined the Elites. DeFoe could easily be the highest finisher of the entire bucket.

Bucket B: Herren

Matt Herren in Bucket B will be my true dark horse pick of the event. Herren is only owned by 0.6 percent of Fantasy Fishing players. If Herren can beat the others in the bucket, his owners can gain a lot of points over other players. Herren is sitting in 22nd in AOY standings and needs a solid event to stay in the Top 35 to qualify for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Herren finished eighth in 2012 and 38th in 2011 at Toledo Bend. Look for him to take another solid finish at Toledo Bend this year.

Timmy Horton’s last Top 12 came in 2012 on Toledo Bend. Horton finished sixth in that event and 47th in 2011 at Toledo Bend. He is sitting in 25th in AOY standings and needs a solid finish like Herren. At only 2.9 percent ownership, you can earn a lot of points by taking Horton if he has a strong event.

John Crews is always a name I overlook when deciding on my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team, yet he seems to have a solid finish at each event. I am not overlooking Crews this time. Others seem to be overlooking him with only a 1.0 percent ownership. Crews took home a check the last two times the Elite Series visited Toledo Bend. He may not be the highest finisher in the bucket, but watch for him to end up being one of best. That can help you beat the majority of players even if he just beats the favorites for the bucket.

Bucket C: Roumbanis

Fred Roumbanis needs a strong event to get back in the hunt for a Bassmaster Classic spot through the AOY standings. Currently Roumbanis is 61st in AOY standings after a disastrous start at Lake Seminole. An event on Toledo Bend is just what he needs to turn his season around.

Roumbanis was fifth in 2011 and 21st in 2012 at Toledo Bend. A 3.1 percent ownership is low enough that choosing him would beat the majority of players if he finishes in the Top 12.

I am not sure the last time I talked about Marty Robinson for Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, but his history the last two times on Toledo Bend makes him a strong choice for this event. Robinson was 18th in 2011 and improved to finish third in 2012. Robinson is owned by 4 percent of players. If you go with Robinson for your team, you may be dancing right along with him if he’s a top performer.

Terry Scroggins is one of the least-owned anglers in Bucket C at 2.5 percent, but he is almost as reliable for a solid finish as the others. Scroggins was 29th in 2011 and improved to finish 20th in 2012. Scroggins is sitting in 46th in the AOY standings, so he needs a good event to move up for a Classic spot. Scroggins may not have the best history on Toledo Bend, but he has two solid finishes. Scroggins is also a good pick for being all the way down in Bucket C.

Bucket D: Monroe

Two anglers make more than half the ownership in Bucket D, and Ish Monroe is one of them. Monroe is the second-most-owned angler in Bucket D at 27 percent. He is a bit of a high risk/high reward pick. Monroe took home a Top 12 on Toledo Bend in 2011 and was 50th in 2012.

Monroe is sitting in 80th in AOY points. It is a little early to think that he needs to win to qualify for the Classic, but the events are counting down. Hopefully, Monroe has an event more like in 2011 than 2012 to be one of the top anglers for this bucket.

Matt Reed took home a check in the 2011 Toledo Bend event. Reed missed a check in the 2012 event, but he is still a solid pick with a 4.8 percent ownership. Most of his Top 20 events in the past have come on lakes similar to Toledo Bend in the late spring and early summer. If you want to avoid a highly owned angler in this bucket, consider Reed.

Keith Poche did the opposite of Reed at Toledo Bend in the last two events. Poche just missed a check in 2011, finishing 52nd, and returned to Toledo Bend to finish 23rd in 2012. The fish should position themselves a little closer to how they were when the Elites visited Toledo Bend in 2012 than when they did in 2011. His rather low ownership — 5.4 percent— does not hurt either.

Bucket E: Zaldain

Chris Zaldain was not fishing the Elite Series when the Elites visited Toledo Bend in 2011. But he did fish it in 2012 and finished 12th. Zaldain has a 3.7 percent ownership, which seems low for an angler who earned a Top 12 in his one visit to Toledo Bend on the Elite Series.

Zaldain is having a rough season and could use Toledo Bend to make a charge up the AOY leaderboard to have a shot at the Bassmaster Classic.

Greg Vinson took home a Top 12 at Toledo Bend in 2011 and was one decent keeper away from making a check at the 2012 event. Vinson is having a bad season, but a 7 percent ownership still seems low considering Vinson is in Bucket E. I have a feeling Vinson will try to gamble and go for a win at this event to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. This could result in a great finish and a ton of Fantasy Fishing points for anglers who take Vinson — or a total crash and burn of your team.

Scott Ashmore missed a check in the 2011 event at Toledo Bend, but he came back with a vengeance, just missing the 12-cut in the 2012 event. Ashmore is only owned by 1.6 percent of players, so he can make up a lot of points for your team if he is one of the best finishers in the bucket.

Remember to get your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team locked in before the event starts May 1. The person who chooses the best team for Toledo Bend wins $2,500 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards.

A glutton’s take on Toledo Bend

By Pete Robbins

MANY, La. — I fished the co-angler side of Bassmaster Tour events on Toledo Bend in 2001 and 2003, and I managed to cash a modest check in each one, so I certainly remember what a great fishery the big border lake can be. In fact, in the 2003 event, I had the good fortune to practice with eventual winner David Wharton, and he was in such a zone that at times I had to pinch myself to make sure what I was seeing was really happening.

Because I’m a glutton, though, I also remember the meals. The tournament may be based out of Louisiana, but the town of Many is more typically East Texas than New Orleans (which is nearly 300 miles away).

Nevertheless, I managed to weasel my way in to a crawfish boil at Dennis Tietje’s camp on the lake. Although Tietje now fishes the Elites, at the time he was still a farmer with aspirations of going pro who knew everybody. I remember watching Peter Thliveros boiling the crawfish, listening to Kevin VanDam and Kelly Jordon talking about peacock bass fishing, and seeing Kenyon Hill put a hurting on Tietje’s yearly crop.

At that same event, I met up with a former member of my bass club, Randy Reehm, at a restaurant called Bryce’s on the Texas side of the lake (its motto should’ve been “all fried, all the time”). Randy brought his son, Clark. Like Tietje, Clark Reehm was then an aspiring pro. Reehm subsequently fished the Elite Series for six years before leaving to open a guide service, with many of his trips on Toledo Bend.

Because those two pros have a long and continuous history on the lake, I figured they’d be good sources of info for choosing my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. Tietje took his first boat ride on Toledo Bend at 6 months old and has fished there every year since. Reehm might not have started that young, but because he guides there and won’t be competing, I felt he might give up a little more dirt than Tietje would. The bottom line, both agreed, is that while there may be some memorable meals this time around for the competitors, it’s the bass that will truly be gorging themselves.

“If you look at the tournament results, the lake is probably in the best shape it’s been in the last 10 years,” Tietje said. “It’s really healthy with a lot of big fish being weighed. There have already been at least 50 heavier than 10 pounds. The lake is on fire, from north to south, and you’ll be able to fish your strengths.”

Reehm, who took second place in a Rayovac event on Toledo Bend last month, agreed: “It’s wide open to do anything you want to do. The lake is healthy, but the fish were behind, so instead of trickling up little by little in February, there was a bum rush in late March. It’s taking 30-plus to win some tournaments.

“It could be the best Elite event of the year,” said Reehm.

With their guidance, and some of my own hunches, here are my picks for the upcoming tournament.

Bucket A: Faircloth

As usual this is the toughest bucket, because any of these guys can win any event on the schedule. How do you pick against Jason Christie or Randall Tharp, two great big-fish anglers who excel in the grass? How do you go against Mark Davis, who is on fire, has tons of experience at Toledo Bend, and is one of the handful of best postspawn fishermen in history?

Keith Combs is another one who always seems to show up in the Top 12 any time the tours travel to Texas, whether it is Falcon or Texoma or anywhere in between.

I’m half-tempted to pick Takahiro Omori, simply because I believe it was at Toledo Bend that he produced one of the greatest Bassmaster TV moments of all time, hooking the butt area of his rain pants with a crankbait and then spinning in circles trying to figure out what happened and to free himself.

My gut pick, though, is Todd Faircloth. He may be quiet, but he excels not only in East Texas, but also early in the season.

Faircloth finished 15th on Toledo Bend in 2012, 17th in 2011, 18th in the 2009 Central Open, 17th in the 2002 Central Open, and 17th in the 2001 Top 150, along with checks in both 2003 events. He’s like a blue chip stock here; he might not win, but he’s going to get you good points no matter what variables are thrown at him.

Bucket B: Rojas

In this bucket you have Kevin VanDam, always a safe bet, as well as Brent Chapman, who won on Toledo Bend in 2012. There’s also Brett Hite, who can do all sorts of things but might be particularly dangerous if he can get in that ChatterBait groove. I’d love to see Jeff Kriet win here, too.

Normally, I don’t favor non-locals just because they’ve won in a particular location before, but this time I’m going to go against that tendency and pick Dean Rojas.

Yes, Rojas’ wins here in 2001 and 2011 demonstrate a good track record, but it’s the latter one that really sells me. Both Reehm and Tietje stressed that to win, an angler will have to do multiple things well, including chasing some late spawners that others can’t see. Topwaters may play a role, as could frogging. Reehm said he doesn’t think it will take 100 pounds to win, but 21 pounds a day should do it. Rojas won last time doing a variety of things and he can produce big bags with all of the techniques that will come into play. I’m riding a winning horse here.

Bucket C: Evers

As Ronnie Moore pointed out, Marty Robinson has the best average finish in the past two Elite Series events on Toledo Bend. It’s also hard not to pick Mike Kernan here because he’s fished about every major Texas circuit for years and done well all over the state. If he does well, you’ll likely have a commodity that few others own. If he was in Bucket E, he’d be an easy choice.

My pick, though, is Edwin Evers, usually a resident of Bucket A, currently out of his element because of a tough first tournament this year. He’s too much of a bargain to pass up, and he has a great history on the Bend. Throwing out a poor finish in a 2001 Top 150, he was 12th in the 2003 Tour event, third in the 2003 Open Championship, sixth in the 2009 Central Open, 49th in the 2011 Elite and 17th in the 2012 Elite. I often group him in the same caliber as Faircloth because they’re both so rock steady and both do a lot of things well.

No guarantees, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Faircloth will give you some good points.

Bucket D: Monroe

This is another bucket with some “A” class talent. Tough to bet against Clunn or Grigsby or a Texan like Matt Reed here, but it seems to me that the most upside resides in Tommy Biffle and Ish Monroe. I always have trouble picking both of these guys because they seem to be up-and-down anglers — not afraid to finish 90th if it means shooting for a win.

From what I remember, Toledo Bend doesn’t seem like frog country to me, but both Tietje and Reehm mentioned it. That weighs in favor of Monroe as does the potential for sight fishing. Neither Monroe nor Biffle had particularly strong showings in 2012, but Monroe made the 12 cut in 2011. That pushes me to pick him. That hurts because I have a sneaking suspicion that Biffle will go up in the dirty water and have acres of beautiful cover to pick apart all to himself.

Bucket E: Tietje

Chris Zaldain made the 12 cut here in 2012, had a great season last year and has been spending a lot of time in Texas, but he’s had trouble gaining any momentum yet this year, so even though he seems like a bargain, I’m a little gun shy.

Same with Yusuke Miyazaki, who seems overall to have found his groove and finished 10th here last time around.

If either of those guys gets his bearings at Toledo Bend, I may regret not picking them. Boyd Duckett likewise looks like a bargain in Bucket E, but he’s struggling.

It may show my cautious financial nature, but I’m going with Tietje. Yes, he’s slumping like Zaldain, Miyazaki and Duckett, but I feel like he’s not going to disappointment me. He missed the 2011 Elite event due to a medical hardship, and he was 41st in 2012. But he was also seventh in the 2009 Open and 18th in the 2002 Open.

Tietje admitted to me that he may be hindered by the fact that he has too much history on the lake, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take for likely points. He showed last year at the Sabine that he can manage hometown expectations; he made the Top 12 despite essentially losing the whole first day to mechanical problems.

After a shaky start to my Fantasy Fishing season, I know I should take some chances on anglers less likely to be picked by large numbers of other players, but right now I’m feeling risk averse.

Besides, maybe if I pick him, Tietje will FedEx me a cooler of those great Louisiana crawfish with his big winnings.

It’s anyone’s game on Toledo Bend

By Ronnie Moore

MANY, La. — Half Louisiana and half Texas, Toledo Bend Reservoir is host to the fourth Bassmaster Elite Series event.

This 181,600-acre lake was on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail as recently as 2011 and 2012. Not only did the tournaments fall in different times of the year, but no angler finished in the Top 12 in both events. So this year, I expect no different. There will be some fan favorites, but for the most part it’s anyone’s tournament.

Brent Chapman notched a win in June 2012 with 83 pounds, 9 ounces, including a 25 1/2-pound stringer on Day 2 of the event.

In contrast to Chapman’s win, Dean Rojas sight fished and threw topwaters to take the win one year earlier in 2011.

This event should fall somewhere in the middle of the previous two events, in terms of where the fish will be positioned. In the April event, the fish were shallow and spawning, and in the June event they were well into their summer postspawn pattern. This time around, I imagine the large majority of the fish should be getting into their postspawn pattern.

Bucket A: Davis or Martens

The safe bets when it comes to Bucket A are two of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year leaders: Mark Davis and Aaron Martens.

Davis is on fire to start the season (Top 5 finishes in all three events thus far) and last year’s AOY champion, Martens, has started this season better than any of his seasons previously.

Greg Hackney is also in this pool of anglers, and the Gonzalez, La., native is one of the closest anglers to this fishery, which may give him an upper hand. Plus, coming off a Top 12 at Table Rock and a strong start to the season may make the Hack Attack ready to take a victory of his own.

Who I’m taking: When it comes to sleepers and the dark horse picks, you can’t go wrong with Keith Combs. Combs has proved his ability of finding offshore schools and dissecting them with his crankbaits — and even big worms, if they come into play here.

Bucket B: Rojas or Chapman

This is where it gets interesting. The last two winners of Elite Series events on Toldeo Bend are in this group. Both Dean Rojas and Brent Chapman are clumped together, and both are capable of putting together a solid event.

Kevin VanDam also is in this group. After a slow start to the season, he bounced back at Table Rock, so expect him to be even hungrier after making his first Top 12 this season.

Who I’m taking: When it comes to fishing grass this season, Brett Hite has been one of the best there is. With wins on lakes like Lake Okeechobee (first stop on the FLW tour) and Lake Seminole (the Elite Series opener), Hite is having one of his best seasons of his career. I could see Hite finding some grass flats near deep water and doing well in this event.

Bucket C: Robinson

Marty Robinson isn’t a name that pops up on everyone’s radar, but in the last two Elite Series events on Toledo Bend, Robinson has the highest average finish, 10.5). Marty “The Party” took home third in 2012 and 18th in 2011. This lake may just fish the way he likes.

Cliff Crochet, like Hackney, is fishing in his home state, so he is also one to consider.

Edwin Evers and Brandon Palaniuk both had productive Top 12 finishes at Table Rock Lake and may carry the momentum over.

Who I’m taking: Kelly Jordon is a good postspawn fisherman, and he is under the radar in terms of the group. Jordon might be a great buy-low value pick.

Bucket D: Monroe or Biffle

Ish Monroe is a high percentage pick for many Fantasy Fishing teams, and rightfully so. Monroe produced a Top 12 on Toledo Bend in 2011.

Tommy Biffle should bounce back from a rough start to the season and have a good showing on Toledo Bend.

Who I’m taking: Josh Bertrand started the season great, making the cut at Seminole and coming ounces from the St. Johns cut, but a 104th-place finish at Table Rock set him back in the AOY standings. I think Bertrand will power fish and make another cut and have a good finish.

Bucket E: VanDam or Tietje

Jonathon VanDam and Dennis Tietje are the two fan favorite picks in this group. Tietje is somewhat of a local, while JVD has struggled to start the season. One can imagine that JVD will right the ship soon. Why not this event?

Who I’m taking: Chris Zaldain is far down the AOY list, but the California native is known as a strong power fisherman. He will turn it around at Toledo Bend. It’s ‘win or go home’ for him because his Classic berth depends on an Elite Series victory.

See the Golden Bucket for Table Rock

By Tyler Reed

BRANSON, Mo. — For those of you who spent time obsessing over who would be the perfect picks for Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing on Table Rock, this list below is who you should have chosen:

Bucket A: Aaron Martens (330 points)

Bucket B: Mike McClelland (310)

Bucket C: Kevin VanDam (280)

Bucket D: Brandon Palaniuk (268)

Bucket E: Edwin Evers (276)

Fans who chose this “Golden Bucket” were awarded the top points, 1,464. Unlike at St. Johns where no one had perfect picks, 27 players earned the top points for Table Rock.

Here are the leaders and letdowns in each bucket.

Bucket A

Are you surprised that second-place finisher Mark Davis is not the strongest in this bucket? Don’t be. It has to do with Aaron Martens’ 8-pounder on the first day.

Martens’ lunker earned him Carhartt Big Bass honors and earned his Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing owners 40 points. Martens also earned his owners an additional 5 points by leading Day 1. So, while his fourth-place finish gave him 285 Fantasy Fishing points, he added 45 additional points for those who chose him. Learn more about how choosing anglers who catch the biggest bass can pay dividends for Fantasy Fishing players here.

Davis ended with 300 points (295 for finishing second and 5 for leading on Day 2).

Both Martens and Davis were heavily owned in Bucket A, 15.6 percent and 18.4 percent respectively. So both anglers made a lot of players happy.

Who didn’t pay off?

Todd Faircloth, who was chosen by 16.8 percent of players, only scored 189 points. Ott DeFoe, who was selected by 10 percent of players, only delivered 177 points.

If you didn’t choose Martens or Davis, you did well if you picked Greg Hackney with 290 points, but only 4 percent of players did. And Jared Lintner scored 254 points, but only 0.34 percent of players reaped that benefit.

Bucket B

Mike McClelland delivered the goods to the 9.8 percent of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players who believed in him. He scored 310 points for winning and for leading for two days.

Jason Christie, however, was the big favorite, with 35 percent of players opting for him. He posted only 229 points for his fans.

Hank Cherry was the second favorite in this bucket, with 13 percent picking him. He busted his fans’ teams with a score of only 155 points.

If you didn’t choose McClelland, you should have picked Cliff Prince, who scored a whopping 304 points, courtesy of his big bag on Day 2. When he brought 19 pounds, 10 ounces to the scales, he earned the Berkley Heavyweight Award, and he scored an additional 40 points for fans who picked him. Who benefited? Practically no one, because only 0.21 percent of players chose him.

Bucket C

Kevin VanDam was by far the best pick in Bucket C, with a total score of 280 points. And 29.4 percent of players got to take advantage of VanDam’s fifth-place finish.

The next-best pick in that bucket was Jeff Kriet, who scored 272 points. He had a much smaller percentage of team owners, only 2 percent.

Other favorites in this bucket didn’t deliver. Randy Howell, picked by 15.7 percent, earned 215 points. Brian Snowden, with 11.8 percent, earned only 205. And Brent Chapman, 10.1 percent, scored 219.

Bucket D

Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players who thought this might be one of Brandon Palaniuk’s “down” tournaments on his roller coaster ride are kicking themselves for not keeping the faith. Palaniuk was chosen by 39.2 percent of players and scored a whopping 268 points.

Players who branched out and chose Mike Iaconelli (14 percent), Rick Clunn (11.5 percent) and Ish Monroe (9.3 percent) were left high and dry with 209 points, 185 points and 149 points, respectively.

If you didn’t choose Palaniuk, your next-best bet would have been Morizo Shimizu with 245 points. He had a 5.3 percent ownership.

Bucket E

Most fans guessed right with Edwin Evers. With his two bad tournaments in a row, Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players seemed to feel that Evers was due for greatness at Table Rock, and 61.3 percent of fans chose him. He scored 276 points.

The next-best pick was Kevin Hawk with 257 points. Less than 1 percent of fans (0.7 percent) picked him.

Other decent picks were Britt Myers, 237 points, 6.2 percent, and Kelley Jaye, 227, 0.3 percent.

Letdowns were Jonathon VanDam at 9.8 percent with 173 points and Boyd Duckett at 6.6 percent with 79.

Did your picks do well? If not, get started picking your team for Toledo Bend. You’ve got four weeks to get it right. So pull out your crystal ball — or get started researching who’s done well on the Louisiana fishery — and try to pick the Golden Bucket next time!

Forget finesse for Table Rock this time

By Greg Huff

BRANSON, Mo. — Heavy rain and strong wind in the practice period this week should muddy up creek arms to the point that Table Rock’s infamously spooky bass will let down their guard and eat crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs with reckless abandon.

I hope so, because I’m benching finesse fishermen this week, in favor of power crankers and flippers with a history of success on Table Rock, Bull Shoals and/or similar highland reservoirs in prespawn tournaments.

When the weather’s bad in the Ozarks, fast-moving power fishing baits are best. Sunny and calm days require extremely slow finesse presentations. That’s likely why most anglers’ 2012 and 2013 Bull Shoals results were either “hero” or “zero” numbers. The weather favored the finesse anglers in 2013 and the power fishermen in 2012.

Bucket A: Walker, Hackney or Omori

Your best bet is David Walker. Not only is his ownership percentage low (2.5 percent), he enters this tournament with plenty of momentum (currently fifth in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points) and with a solid résumé on Table Rock and other highland reservoirs in spring tournaments.

Highlights include a fifth-place finish here in a mid-March tournament, 17th place on Bull Shoals in late April 2012 and two Top 10s and two more Top 20s in spring events on similar highland reservoirs. Having placed 21st here in similar conditions in March 2004, Walker is poised to improve on that finish and make the Top 12 cut.

Although Greg Hackney (2.4 percent) won an early April 2005 tournament here, he’s my Dark Horse pick this week, because he hasn’t been consistent in recent years. Still, I like his chances flipping shallow wood and floating debris in dirty water. He finished 16th here in similar conditions in early March 2004 and overcame tough conditions in late April 2013 to place 11th on Bull Shoals. A Top 20 in a late April event looks good too.

All that said, I’ve got a gut feeling that Takahiro Omori (1.1 percent) will shine this week. I had to put that in writing, so if he wins, I can say “I knew it! I just knew it!” Riding high in the AOY race at 11th place, Omori has some momentum and two solid finishes on Table Rock to give him confidence this week. He finished seventh here in similar conditions in early March 2004, plus he has two Top 25s in April here. On the other hand, he missed the cut on Bull Shoals twice in recent years — narrowly in 2012 (54th), and significantly in 2013 (96th).

Bucket B: Christie or Cherry

Although Christie (36.5 percent ownership) is the safe — and popular — pick here, what if you could get Christie-like production from an angler with 30 percent less ownership? I think you can — with Hank Cherry.

While competing on the FLW tour, Christie racked up numerous victories and Top 10s in spring tournaments on highland reservoirs, including an eighth-place finish in similar conditions on Table Rock in late March/early April 2012.

But Cherry, known for his jerkbait prowess, has been solid in spring on highland reservoirs, too. Most will remember his Bassmaster Classic debut last year, a third-place showing on Grand Lake. He also has Top 5s and 10s on Murray and Norman. If Cherry can finish a spot or two above Christie, you can make a big move against the field.

Bucket C: Chapman, Biffle or Browne

Having grown up fishing and competing on Ozarks lakes, Brent Chapman has the experience and résumé to make him the safest bet this week. He’s also a good value at 5.7 percent ownership. Not only did he finish third twice on Table Rock in late March/early April tournaments, he also has two additional Top 20s here and placed fifth in similar conditions on Bull Shoals in late April 2012.

Although Tommy Biffle (5 percent) does not have Top 10s on Table Rock or Bull Shoals in similar conditions, I think he’ll be a major player this week if the creek arms stay muddy. I like his chances flipping shallow cover and trash with his favored Biffle Bug/hardhead combo.

This week’s under-the-radar, dark horse pick is Floridian Glenn Browne (0.1 percent). Because he’s an FLW crossover, many Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players are likely not aware of his solid history in the spring on highland reservoirs. Not only did he finish 13th in a late March 2012 tournament on Table Rock, but he’s scored springtime Top 5s and 10s on Beaver, Lewis Smith, Fort Loudon Tellico (which he won) and Norman. If you pick favorites in all the other buckets, take a flyer on Browne.

Why am I not stumping for KVD? His momentum is stalled and his history in similar conditions is inconsistent. For every Top 20 or better, there’s a bottom 40 as well. Still, we all know what KVD (32.5 percent) is capable of when the crankbait bite is hot, so feel free to ignore my advice!

Bucket D: Palaniuk, Iaconelli or Reed

If weather conditions suggested a finesse bite would be the deal this week, I would avoid Palaniuk and his 38.8 percent ownership. But it looks like the crankbait bite is going to be the deal this week and that’s Palaniuk’s jam! He won on Bull Shoals with a crankbait, and the Wiggle Wart — and Ozarks standby — played prominently in his runner-up finish in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees, another highland reservoir. The water was colder then on Grand, but online Ozarks fishing reports indicate that the Wiggle Wart bite is on.

Consider also Michael Iaconelli, who is adept with the same crankbaits Palaniuk throws, but has a more consistent pattern of success on highland reservoirs in a variety of springtime conditions, including three Top 5s, four more Top 10s and three additional Top 20s. He finished 23rd on Table Rock in an early March 2004 Bassmaster Tour event and placed 19th on Bull Shoals the year that Palaniuk won there.

Need to make a big move against the field? Take this week’s Bucket D dark horse, Matt Reed (2.4 percent). If Palaniuk and Iaconelli were not in this bucket, Reed would be my pick, hands down. Some of his best career finishes have come on highland reservoirs, including two Top 5s (one in the spring), three more Top 10s (two in spring), and four additional Top 20s (three in spring).

Bucket E: Evers or Myers

Although it’s a shock to see 2013 AOY contender Edwin Evers in Bucket E, his 68.8 percent ownership might make picking against him a better play. He’s never made a Top 5 on Table Rock in the spring, although he did place fourth in the April 2012 tournament that Palaniuk won. His best finishes on Table Rock are 11th in a late April tournament and 20th in an early March one. On the other hand, he finished 111th and 138th here in early April and March 2005 and 2010, respectively.

Britt Myers (2.2 percent) — flying below radar since almost winning on Lake Douglas in 2012 — is a great alternative. He’s a low-ownership dark horse with a stellar history on similar highland impoundments in spring.

Of his five Top 10s in 97 Bassmaster tournaments, two came on Bull Shoals: He finished second in the tournament Palaniuk won and fifth a year later, when conditions were very different. His other springtime Top 10 came in that Douglas tournament, in which he finished runner-up. When Myers fished Table Rock in mid-September 2012, he finished 45th. He’ll likely bring useful experience also from 16th-place and 23rd-place springtime finishes on Lake Norman.

Choose White River chain experts

By David Bell

BRANSON, Mo. — The Bassmaster Elite Series rolls into the third event of the season in Branson for the A.R.E. Truck Caps Elite at Table Rock Lake, and it’s time to make your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks!

This will be the second time the Elite Series has visited Table Rock Lake and the first time since 2006. With all the snow and cold in the area, it has kept the fish from spawning like they want to this time of year. Table Rock Lake is comparable to the other two big White River lakes: Beaver Lake and Bull Shoals Lake, which the Elite Series has been to the last two years. I used those results, along with the 2011 and 2012 Central Opens on Table Rock Lake, to decide on my Fantasy Fishing team.

Remember that all percentages in this article can change from the time it was written to the time the event starts, based on changes Fantasy Fishing players make.

Here are my choices.

Bucket A: Mark Davis

Mark Davis is off to a great start to the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series season. Davis has a six-point lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings over Todd Faircloth. Look for Davis to continue his early season tear of the Elite Series. This event is almost a home event for Davis who lives in Mount Ida, Ark. Davis is the third-most-owned angler in Bucket A at 15.7 percent, but if he is the best in the bucket, that still beats 85 percent of Fantasy Fishing players.

Gerald Swindle is also a strong choice for Bucket A. Swindle made a check at the first two events this year and is sitting in 13th in the AOY standings. This will be a prespawn event which typically sets up for a junk fishing angler, which is what Swindle tends to succeed at. Watch for the Toyota pro to throw the entire tacklebox each day to bring a big limit to the weigh-in stage. Swindle is only owned by 1.5 percent of Fantasy Fishing players, so he can beat almost all the other players for you if you take him in Bucket A.

Matt Herren is the lowest-owned angler in the bucket at 0.1 percent, but he took a third-place finish in 2012 on Bull Shoals Lake. Matt Herren is 18th in the AOY standings. If you want a high risk/high reward angler, Herren is the one to take here. If Herren is the highest finisher in the bucket, he will beat all Fantasy Fishing players for you in Bucket A.

Bucket B: Kevin Short

Kevin Short may be a river expert, but he has excelled at Table Rock Lake and the White River chain in the past. Short was third at the Elite Series event on Table Rock Lake in 2006 and won the 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open. Short is owned by 6.1 percent of Fantasy Fishing players so he can really help Fantasy Fishing players excel over the rest at this event.

Picking the favorite in Fantasy Fishing buckets is not always the best choice, but Jason Christie could be considered an exception at this event. Christie is excellent at fishing the White River chain, with wins at Beaver Lake and Bull Shoals Lake in the early spring of 2013. A 37.4 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership is high, but he can still beat more than half of Fantasy Fishing players with a strong finish.

Mike McClelland is another strong White River chain angler in this bucket. No one would be surprised to see McClelland fishing on Sunday at Table Rock Lake. McClelland was the first name I thought of for this tournament. I decided on Short for my team simply because of Fantasy Fishing percentages. McClelland’s Fantasy Fishing ownership is 9.5 percent, which is not too bad, but it is the third-highest for the bucket.

Bucket C: Casey Scanlon

Casey Scanlon took home a win at the 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Table Rock Lake, which helped him qualify for the Elite Series. Scanlon is a bit underrated at 4.9 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership, considering his history at Table Rock. There are bigger names in this bucket, but Scanlon could be the underdog in the bucket to help you compete for the highest Fantasy Fishing score of the event.

Brian Snowden is the third-most-owned angler at 14.1 percent in Bucket C, but this will be considered his home lake event. Snowden is another White River chain expert. Expect Snowden to compete for a win here.

Kevin VanDam is considered a treat anytime his boat is in the water. KVD is the highest-owned angler in the bucket, but 32.6 percent ownership is not too bad considering he has fallen to Bucket C. KVD missed his first check in an Elite Series event since 2010 last week at the St. Johns River. Do not expect KVD to miss a check two events in a row.

Bucket D: Matt Reed

Bucket D is where I look to make a big leap over other Fantasy Fishing players with Matt Reed. Reed made a check in the last two Elite Series events on Bull Shoals, but he only has a 0.4 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership. Reed appears to be the real hidden gem of the bucket.

Brandon Palaniuk is the highest-owned angler in the bucket with 37.7 percent ownership, but he has a win on the White River chain (Bull Shoals, 2012). Bull Shoals and Table Rock are similar to lakes Palaniuk is used to back in Idaho. Palaniuk tends to be an up-and-down angler from tournament to tournament. Palaniuk had two down tournaments to start the season, so expect him to bounce back on Table Rock.

Ish Monroe took home a check at the two Elite Series events on Bull Shoals, and he claimed a Top 12 finish at the 2006 Table Rock Lake event. Ish is the fourth-most-owned angler in Bucket D at 9.7 percent. He could easily be the most consistent angler in the bucket. If you’re looking for a safe choice in Bucket D, Ish should be your pick.

Bucket E: Boyd Duckett

Boyd Duckett took home two checks at the two Elite Series stops at Bull Shoals Lake. Look for Duckett to get a check at this event as well. A 2.1 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership seems very low for him. Duckett has a real chance to be the highest-finishing angler of the bucket.

As long as Edwin Evers is Bucket E, he will always be an angler to strongly consider. At nearly 70 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership, there is no real upside with Evers. If you need a safe pick in Bucket E, Edwin Evers should be the angler you choose. Evers took home two checks at the two events on Bull Shoals Lake. He was also the runner-up at the 2006 Elite Series event on Table Rock Lake.

Jonathon VanDam is the second-most-owned angler in Bucket E at 10.8 percent ownership. VanDam took home two checks in the two Bull Shoals events, including a Top 12 at the 2013 event. VanDam is a strong finesse angler when smallmouth are in play, and they will be at Table Rock Lake.

Hopefully this will provide you with some food for thought when you choosing your Fantasy Fishing anglers. Remember to get your Fantasy Fishing team locked in before the event starts April 3. The player with the highest score for this event wins $2,500 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards and gets a leg up in the hopes of winning that new Triton boat for the most Fantasy Fishing points throughout the entire season.

Strong bets and letdowns in Fantasy

PALATKA, Fla. — Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.

That’s the disclaimer that comes with every mutual fund or stock purchase — and one that might have been issued as a reminder during last week’s March Madness game between Mercer and Duke.

It’s also one that applies toBassmaster Fantasy Fishing.

We’re going to break down after each Bassmaster Elite Series event how fans thought the pros would perform — and how they actually performed.

The biggest surprise of the tournament was Edwin Evers. Mired in Bucket E, based on Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, he was hailed as a “steal” by most pundits, and most players chose him. He had more votes than any other player — 57.6 percent of the vote in his bucket — but he missed the cut by one place. He delivered only 173 points to his fans.

Here’s a breakdown, bucket by bucket.

Bucket A

Todd Faircloth owned Bucket A with 28.18 percent of the vote. He did well for his fans, finishing 10th and earning 260 points.

Mark Davis did best, though, with his third-place finish. He earned his fans 290 points, but not many fans earned it. Davis — one of the veterans on tour who boasts a Classic win and an Angler of the Year title — had only 0.92 percent.

Of the 21 pros in that bucket, only eight had fewer confidence points than Davis. One of those, Jared Lintner with 0.35 percent, finished 18th, posting 239 points for his fans.

Other strong Bucket A picks were Alton Jones, 17.07 percent, 285 points; Justin Lucas, 1.46 percent, 264 points; and David Walker, 2.57 percent, 276 points.

A big upset in this bucket was Florida pro Shaw Grigsby, who owned 19.86 percent of the vote. He finished in 82nd place with 111 points.

Bucket B

Randall Tharp did well for his fans with his 13th-place finish. Even though it’s his first year on the Elite Series, the pro commanded a 35.69 percent ownership in the bucket, higher than any pro other than Kevin VanDam, who had 12.83 percent. Tharp produced 251 points.

But Chris Lane was the best choice, winning the tournament and earning a hefty 355 points. Only 4.61 percent picked this former Florida angler and 2012 Classic champ.

Other strong picks in Bucket B were Dean Rojas, 5.01 percent, 295 points; Jacob Powroznik, 4.57 percent, 245 points; and Greg Hackney, 3.67 percent, 283 points.

VanDam’s owners got a big upset. He missed his first cut in 29 Bassmaster Elite Series events, the longest record to date. He finished in 70th place, earning 135 points.

Cliff Prince fans, who expected Prince to dominate because of his hometown advantage, were disappointed to see him not make the cut. He had 11.38 percent of the vote but scored only 163 points.

Bucket C

Davy Hite worked wonders for his 0.57 percent fans — that’s less than 1 percent for another Classic champ! — when he finished in fifth place and racked up 280 points for them.

Terry Scroggins, who’s from Palatka, dominated this bucket in terms of ownership — 43.68 percent — but not in terms of points — 221.

Other strong Bucket C picks were Bobby Lane, 22.77 percent, 248 points; Scott Rook, 0.18 percent; Cliff Crochet, 2.59 percent, 211 points.

Brandon Palaniuk posted a big upset for the 9.22 percent of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players who picked him. He ended in 72nd place with 131 points for his fans.

Bucket D

Your best choice in Bucket D was definitely Keith Combs, and that’s one the fans got right. Combs had 41.52 percent of the vote in this bucket, and he delivered. His eighth-place finish garnered 268 points for his fans.

The next-most-owned angler in this bucket was Mike Iaconelli, who posted a 64th-place finish, earning only 147 points for his owners.

Combs was really the only strong pick in this bucket. The next-highest points earner was Jeff Kriet, 4.16 percent, 213 points, followed by Marty Robinson, 1.41 percent, 197 points.

In other words, the 58-something percent of fans who didn’t choose Combs were wishing they did.

Bucket E

As mentioned earlier, Edwin Evers was the big pick in this bucket, and his 51st-place finish hurt more than half the players. The best pick in Bucket E was Randy Howell, who was only chosen by 10.8 percent of fans. The 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic champion finished seventh, earning his fans 277 points.

The fans who didn’t pick Howell probably wish they had gone with Jason Williamson, but only 0.45 percent did. Those half-percent of fans earned 257 points for his Top 12 finish.

Paul Elias — yet another past Classic winner with less than 1 percent of the vote — posted a Top 12 as well, giving his fans 254 points.

The perfect lineup

If you had a crystal ball, you would have chosen the following for a total of 1,470 points:

Mark Davis (A)

Chris Lane (B)

Davy Hite (C)

Keith Combs (D)

Randy Howell (E)

No one’s crystal ball functioned properly, though, because the highest score of the tournament was 1,424, and it was one of only two scores that topped 1,400.

Planning to do better next time? Go ahead and get started! Buckets are open for the 2014 A.R.E. Truck Caps Elite at Table Rock Lake, which begins April 3.

Don’t just play favorites for St. Johns River

By Greg Huff

PALATKA, Fla. — With the predictions for a bed-fishing bonanza this week on Florida’s St. Johns River and sight-fishing stars available in almost every bucket, it might seem a no-brainer to load up on favorites in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing.

That’s the safe play. But if you want to win your league this week — and win that boat at season’s end — you must assume some risk and pick a long-odds angler or two.

Bucket A: Faircloth, Jones or Walker

In 2012 and 2011 here, Alton Jones (16 percent Fantasy ownership) finished first and third. Todd Faircloth (29 percent) finished second and fourth. Safe bets.

Jones is a great sight fisherman, but Faircloth has better momentum, having placed second last week on Seminole and seventh in the Classic. Jones placed 17th on Seminole and 45th in the Classic. And then there’s this:

“The 2015 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, you better have him on your roster down in Palatka this weekend – Todd Faircloth!” said Bassmaster TV co-host Mark Zona in a spirited phone conversation Monday as he unpacked his Seminole suitcase and re-packed at the St. Johns. And aside from getting the year wrong (can you get jetlag between Georgia and Michigan?) I agree with Z — 2014 feels like Faircloth’s year. Listen to my interview with Zona in my podcast, Fantasy Fishing Insider.

I’m taking a safe play here to balance out a couple gambles below. But an under-the-radar guy like David Walker (1.5 percent) could sneak past the favorites. He finished 10th here in 2012 and 29th in 2011.

Bucket B: Tharp or Powroznik

Although he’s never competed on the St. Johns River, grass-fishing expert Randall Tharp (33.9 percent) is a safe pick. In FLW competition, he dominated Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in the spawn/prespawn, with a win in six Top 10s. With acres of shallow grass, the St. Johns River’s Lake George is like a mini Okeechobee.

To get more bang for your buck, consider Jacob Powroznik (1 percent), a lesser known FLW crossover. (Read this 2013 column to brush up on how picking lesser owned anglers can yield greater gains.) Powroznik was a major FLW player, compiling 35 Top 10s in 10 years. Many of those came in Florida in the spawn/prespawn. His peers call him a sight-fishing ace. Zona recommended him, too.

Honorable mention: Dean Rojas, (5.9 percent)

Bucket C: Scroggins or Chapman

Terry Scroggins (44.6 percent) is the safe pick. He lives on the St. Johns, where he won an Open and placed seventh in another, then finished second and sixth in Elite Series competition. All but one of those events was held in the prespawn/spawn period.

Scroggins likely won’t go all in on sight fishing. If conditions trend toward a four-day sight-fishing fest, his local advantage shrinks considerably.

It’s odd to call a recent Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year an under-the-radar pick, but that’s the case with Brent Chapman (3.4 percent), who finished fourth here in 2012 and 17th in 2011. I’m still trying to talk myself into choosing Chapman.

Honorable Mention: Cliff Crochet (1.5 percent)

Bucket D: Combs

I’m positive Keith Combs (40 percent) will bounce back from his 69th-place finish on Seminole and return to form on St. Johns River, where he placed third and ninth in 2012 and 2011.

Bucket E: Evers, Howell or Kennedy

Now that Bassmaster is organizing Fantasy Fishing buckets strictly by AOY rank, Edwin Evers’ (57.4 percent) disappointing 94th-place finish on Seminole dropped him to an unprecedented low Fantasy Fishing position, despite having won here in 2011, placing 14th in 2012, and almost winning 2013 Angler of the Year.

But what’s to gain by getting on the Evers bandwagon with more than half the Fantasy Fishing field? Would reigning Bassmaster Classic champion Randy Howell (9.9 percent) be a better value, at least in terms of return on investment? Hard to say.

Any momentum Howell generated by winning the Classic ground to a halt with his 106th-place finish on Seminole. His St. Johns history is equally inconsistent — ninth in 2012, but 60th in 2011.

Neither Evers nor Howell has any wiggle room to gamble on a risky, but potentially winning, strategy this early in the season. To compete for Angler of the Year, each must focus first on making the 50 cut. Unless something magic happens, neither is likely to fish to win on Thursday and Friday, but rather for points. So don’t expect a Top 12, even though each is more than capable of doing so.

Perhaps consider Stephen Kennedy (3.3 percent). Despite being in a similar situation as Evers and Howell, Kennedy isn’t as likely to fish conservatively, as he doesn’t seem to care about points, or even winning tournaments, for that matter! Since discovering the big-bite potential of swimbaits in 2007, when he won with them on California’s Clear Lake, Kennedy seems fully committed, come what may, to catching slaunch donkeys on swimbaits.

Slaunches live in the St. Johns. And they eat swimbaits. That’s what Kennedy caught ’em on in 2011, when he finished fifth.

If you’d like stats for anyone I didn’t mention above, post a request in the comments section below and I will reply. You can also hit me up on my Facebook page, or listen to my podcast, Fantasy Fishing Insider. My co-hosts and I will release our “Pundit Picks” episode Wednesday morning. Listen before rosters lock!

Will history repeat itself on the St. Johns?

By David Bell

PALATKA, Fla. — Before you find 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 if history is to repeat 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 to 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 30ss 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.

Shallow and local for the St. Johns

By Cody Hanley

PALATKA, Fla. — The Bassmaster Elite Series pros take on a new playground this week, the mighty St. Johns. This event will be one for the books, as the bass are on the beds, and they’re big!

I was there not too long ago myself, so I sort of know how this will play out. When I pick my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team, I’ll be looking for shallow power fishermen who dominate Florida, as well as sight fishermen.

A lot of guys will be moving around slowly looking for beds, as well as searching for bass with a topwater or burning a spinnerbait. Either way, it will be a shallow bite, as the river is an average of 9 feet deep.

Here are my picks:

Bucket A: Grigsby

Florida native Shaw Grigsby is looking for redemption after Seminole, where he busted that 30-pound stringer on Day 1. He is the sight fishing guru and, with his experience/knowledge, he’ll push his way up to the front of the leaderboard. I really feel this will be Grigsby’s tournament to win!

Bucket B: Tharp

Randall Tharp moved from Alabama to Florida because he loves the fishing so much. Making the transition from FLW, his track record with both tours is exceptional in Florida, especially Okeechobee, which sets up a lot like the St. Johns as far as the patterns goes. He’ll put the flipping stick in his hand and go to work; Tharp will have another strong finish here. Besides coming off some back-to-back final-cut finishes, he has momentum on his side and is fishing well.

Bucket C: Scroggins

They don’t call Terry Scroggins “Big Show” for nothing, and we are on his home water this week. With his shallow experience and his local knowledge, you should have Scroggins on your team. He loves to flip, sight fish and throw a Devil’s Horse — things that just catch Florida bass! If you look at the last time the Elites came here, you can find his name near the top of the board.

Bucket D: Clunn

Rick Clunn, the legend, will finish strong at this event. He has a great knowledge of Florida fishing, and he has won a few events in this state. He is an exceptional topwater and spinnerbait fisherman. He’ll catch some lunkers by burning some banks and fishing around grass mats. He might have had a rough start to this season, but you can never count out Clunn.

Bucket E: VanDam

Jonathan VanDam is a VanDam, one of the greatest names in fishing! He might not be your run-of-the-mill pick for Florida, but he will do well here. He is known for deep fishing, but he catches bass in all the ways known to man. I think he’ll go burn a spinnerbait, find beds, slow down and sight fish until he gets them. He’s young, and has good eyes. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he is his uncle Kevin’s practice partner.

Don’t go all-in on Seminole sight bite
By Greg Huff

Although some conditions seem ripe for a sight-fishing slugfest on Seminole this week, don’t go all-in on anglers adept at lookin’ at ’em. You’d be wise to balance out your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster.

I don’t have the space here to defend why I think sight fishing won’t be the main deal this week, but I came to that conclusion during an in-depth interview with local Seminole stick Matt Baty. You can hear that conversation in my podcast, Fantasy Fishing Insider.

On the days that sight fishing is tough, the best bags will likely come from anglers targeting fat prespawners in staging areas near spawning flats. That will probably mean ripping lipless crankbaits and shallow-running lipped crankbaits through the top of Seminole’s plentiful hydrilla. Mining creek channel edges with deep-running crankbaits and flipping hyacinths up really shallow could be productive too.

To determine likely Fantasy favorites, I reviewed results of three February tournaments on Seminole, and of several tournaments held in March on similar lowland reservoirs.

Bucket A: Martens or Rojas

Despite two out-of-the-money finishes on Seminole in colder-than-normal February tournaments, Aaron Martens (9.4 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership) is the angler to beat if prespawn patterns trump sight fishing. He placed fifth here in a late February Bassmaster 150 when water temps were in the low 60s and the tournament launched four days after a full moon. The moon will be full this week here.

In March on comparable lowland reservoirs, Martens’ best finishes were second, third, fourth and 10th. And it didn’t matter if sight fishing was hot or not. Considering his momentum coming off winning 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and a Top 15 in the Classic, Martens will be tough to beat no matter what the weather does or what pattern emerges as best.

If conditions align perfectly for sight fishing, take Dean Rojas (1.6 percent). His ownership percentage is way too low for an angler with a solid history in prespawn/spawn events on lowland reservoirs. And while his February history on Seminole is uneven (11th, 34th and 144th), he’s been impressive in March/early April on comparable fisheries — first, fourth, Toledo Bend; second, Sam Rayburn; sixth, eighth, Santee Cooper; 14th, Falcon.

Honorable mention: Michael Iaconelli.

Bucket B: Jordon or Combs

Kelly Jordon (0.7 percent) placed 14th and 19th on Seminole in February prespawn tournaments. He’s comfortable here, he explained once, because it fishes similarly to reservoirs back home in Texas. And he’s been good in March tournaments on those Texas waters and other comparable lowland reservoirs — third on Falcon; third on Lake Murray; sixth on Sam Rayburn; and ninth on Santee Cooper.

Picking Jordon might also score you 40 bonus points for Big Bass. Jordon is tied with two other Elite Series pros, Greg Hackney and Takahiro Omori, for catching a tournament’s biggest bass the most times (as Ken Duke, Bassmaster Senior Editor, documented in this column).

A safer bet might be Keith Combs (2.6 percent), a young gun who’s made more Sunday cuts in the last couple years than has Jordon. Although he doesn’t have Seminole experience, Combs has been dynamite on comparable lowland reservoirs — first, Falcon; and ninth, 10th, 14th and 19th, Sam Rayburn (includes some lower-tier circuit results). Remember what Jordon said about Seminole fishing similar to Texas reservoirs …

Honorable mention: John Crews.

Bucket C: B. Hite or Reed

Two-tour angler Brett Hite (2.3 percent) is on a tear, having won his first major event of the year on Okeechobee and finishing sixth on Hartwell last week. He placed second on Seminole in an early February 2002 Bassmaster Tour event. Iaconelli won that one, which was not a sight-fishing fest.

Matt Reed (0.3 percent), is an under-the-radar grinder with a decent finish on Seminole in February (21st place) and several decent showings on comparable lowland reservoirs in March — fifth on Santee Cooper; 16th on Sam Rayburn; and 22nd and 23rd on Falcon.

Honorable mention: Kotaro Kiriyama.

Bucket D: Omori or Schultz

Although Takahiro Omori (12.1 percent) struggled on Seminole in three February tournaments a decade ago or longer, he’s fared much better (by bucket D standards) in March tournaments on comparable lowland reservoirs in March — first and eighth on Sam Rayburn; 22nd on Santee Cooper; 25th on Lake Murray. Omori is also one the Big Bass leaders, as per Ken Duke’s data.

Inexplicably, Bernie Schultz (5.8 percent) generally fares better on Northern smallmouth waters than he does in his home state of Florida (which Seminole borders). But March events on the lowland reservoirs of Georgia, Texas and South Carolina have produced some of his better finishes closer to home — sixth on Seminole in a late-February 2000 sight-fishing slugfest; 15th on Falcon in March 2008; 21st, March 2000, Lake Murray; and 25th, March 2006, Santee Cooper (another sight-fishing smackdown). I see him succeeding by sight fishing when it’s productive to do so, and throwing topwaters and crankbaits when conditions frustrate the sight bite.

Bucket E: Prince or Powroznik

Most Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing owners are picking Floridian Cliff Prince (31.7 percent), likely because Seminole sits on the Florida-Georgia border and because he placed fourth here in a 2010 Southern Open. But that was in October, so it might not mean much as a predictor for a March event. Then again, he lives on Florida’s St. Johns River, so he’s likely no stranger to sight fishing holes in grass near current.

Although Jacob Powroznik (11.4 percent) hails from the East Coast and has only fished four Bassmaster events, all of them up North, he was a B-level stick on the FLW tour, with 10 Top 10s and seven trips to that circuit’s championship. So he’s a little undervalued in Bucket E. My research yielded no Seminole experience for him, but he does have a Top 20 in a mid-April event on Santee Cooper.

Honorable mentions: Texans Trevor Romans (0.7 percent) and Mike Kernan (0.5 percent).

I’ve researched almost every angler in the field’s history on Seminole and on comparable fisheries in March, so if you’d like stats for my “honorable mentions,” hit me up on my Facebook page.

Choose local for Seminole

By Landon Tucker

BAINBRIDGE, Ga. — The first event of the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series season will be held on Lake Seminole, the home lake of my father, Bassmaster Elite Series pro JTodd Tucker. It’s also the home lake of my school, Valdosta State University, and our team won a tournament on Seminole in 2013 and secured a 13th-place finish there this year.

Seminole is where my dad and I both cut our teeth in tournament fishing. In my first tournament here, we came in fourth out of 50 or so boats. This lake is a great way to start off the Elite Series season and a great time to be fishing the lake. Just a few weeks ago, on Feb. 15, the single-day record was broken with a weight of 38.88 pounds.

But anyway, onto the picks for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team…

Bucket A: Tucker

Now don’t call me biased because I’m picking my own dad, but if he doesn’t win the tournament he’ll definitely be up there in the top. He has been fishing on Seminole since my grandpa (Pop) and grandma (Nina) moved to Moultrie, Ga., from Duncan, Okla., in the 1970s. The fish will be in all three stages of the spawn, and that means the bed fishermen will show out a little. I don’t think beds will win the tournament, though.

Another good option is Shaw Grigsby, who also has some history on this lake of his own.

Bucket B: R. Lane or T. Horton

I couldn’t decide between Russ Lane and Timmy Horton. I’ve marshaled for Lane before (Lake Wheeler, 2012). He’s fished here at Seminole before and has knowledge of the lake. I’m not sure about his tournament history here, but I’m sure his style of fishing will work here.

Horton has shot a couple of TV shows here with some well-known people. He’s been here a lot, including during the off-season. He’s prepared for what Seminole has to offer.

Bucket C: Kennedy

I’m picking Steve Kennedy here because, like the others, he has strong local knowledge. Van Kennedy, Steve’s father, has fished Seminole a lot in the past. Steve Kennedy knows the lake. I’m not sure what label you would put on Kennedy, fishing-wise, but I’d say he’s a swimbaiter, and swimbaits may be a factor in this event.

My other choices would be Brandon Palaniuk — he’ll be able to figure the fish out — as well as Justin Lucas.

Bucket D: Hartley

This was a tough bucket to pick, but Charlie Hartley is about due for a good tournament and I think this will play right into his wheelhouse.

If you don’t choose Hartley, then pick Takahiro Omori. He has a good track record on Seminole like Grigsby does.

Bucket E: Prince or J. Horton

Cliff Prince has already got a lot of ownership in the bucket. I’m not sure if he’s been on Seminole before or not, but he should do well. I’m not too familiar with a lot of the others in this bucket, but Jamie Horton’s name sticks out. Either one of these two should be solid picks.

Go for experience at Seminole

By Cody Hanley

BAINBRIDGE, Ga. — On Lake Seminole, it is the time of year where every pattern known is going to work! Anything from bed fishing to drop shotting is going to produce some big bass.

In the Dick Cepek Tires Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Seminole, every Elite Series pro will have a shot because each one will be able fish to his strengths. I will be looking for a shallow guy to take home the title because this Georgia lake has every type of water vegetation. I think the winner will go to Spring Creek Arm and fish the plentiful hydrilla mats.

So, my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks for this tournament are ones who have experience, momentum and versatility. Here are my picks.

Bucket A: Grigsby

Shaw Grigsby of Florida knows how to get it done here, with two previous victories on the lake. He can bed fish for the big late spawning largemouth, or go out and fish a main-lake sandbar or hump with a lipless crankbait or jerkbait. The man can catch fish every way, and Seminole will play in his favor!

Bucket B: Browning

Stephen Browning will flip his way into a good finish. The angler is versatile and can catch fish multiple ways, so I look for him to score high in this tournament.

Bucket C: Lucas

As a West Coaster, Justin Lucas is comfortable fishing deep or shallow. He can stay deep with a drop shot and catch those huge Seminole shoal bass. Making the transition from FLW to B.A.S.S., he will show everyone he is far from a rookie in this sport. I’ve got a feeling he will make a run at it.

Bucket D: Rook

Scott Rook is a true veteran. Shallow-water power fishing is his specialty, and I think he’ll show us he hasn’t lost his touch by any means.

Bucket E: Powroznik

Jacob Powroznik is another seasoned FLW veteran making his Elite Series debut. Being from Virginia, he is very versatile. One of his strengths is bed fishing. I think he’ll get out a Senko and go to work! I am picking him to win. Those late spawners are going to play a factor, and Powroznik will collect.

Set your team for the first Elite event!

BAINBRIDGE, Ga. — It’s that time! The 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series kicks off March 13 at Lake Seminole. And you can compete for prizes right alongside the pros — without even having to pay an entry fee!

For a total sum of zero dollars, you can play Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing with the possibility of winning a shopping spree at Bass Pro Shops or even a boat. That’s right. You could win a boat just for playing Fantasy Fishing.

Whether or not you played it during the Classic doesn’t matter. If you did well, it was good for bragging rights, and if you were the top player overall, you won a prize. But your Classic scores do not count toward your overall score for the season. So if you experienced an epic fail during the Classic (or didn’t play at all), you’re still in the running for a boat at the end of the year.

If you pick the top anglers in the Dick Cepek Tires Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Seminole, you could win! The overall best Fantasy Fishing player from each Elite Series event wins a $2,500 Bass Pro Shops gift card.

If you pick the top anglers consistently and have the best points total at the end of the season, you’ll win a Triton 18XS boat with a Mercury 150 Pro XS motor, Lowrance Mark 5X Fishfinder, MotorGuide FW 75 24V trolling motor and a single-axle trailer. The total value of the prize is $32,232.

(Residents of Canada may play but are not eligible to win a prize.)

How did you do in the Classic?

We bet a lot of you are wishing you had picked Randy Howell in Bucket B!

Enjoy checking to see how you stacked up against other players.

The 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series season begins soon! Your Classic score will not count toward the overall prize or in your points total. That will be good for those of you who didn’t do so well in the Classic!

So get ready for Elite Series season play! We’ll let you know when you can select your players. We wish you the best in your league!

Fantasy Fishing begins now!

By Tyler Reed

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro is upon us. And just because you can’t stand on the big stage yourself doesn’t mean you can’t compete for prizes right alongside the pros!

Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing is now open, and you can set your team for the Classic.


To enter, fill out the free registration form at the top of this page. After registering, click on the “Create Entry” button on the game’s front page to participate in the game. After registering, you are ready for Fantasy Fishing Challenge. A valid username and password will be used as an identifier to log in to game play and to keep track of your team’s score and standing. You will be able to see your team’s score any time you return to the game with your username and password.

Assembling your Team

To assemble your team, first select an angler slot from the roster area at the left side of the screen. Then, in the table to the right, select an individual angler from the free agent list by clicking the green ADD button icon next to his name. Repeat the process until you have selected five anglers (one from each group) and then complete the transaction by pressing the “Save Roster” button in the top left corner above your roster.

Note: In order to receive points, your roster must contain five anglers.

Creating or Joining a Group (Optional)

You have the option to group yourself with friends, co-workers or random fans by joining or creating a group. Within each group, your entry will be automatically ranked. Most of the groups in the game are public and can be joined at any time. If you want to play with a specific group of people you know, create a private group and make it only accessible to those whom you have given the group password. The creator of a group sets the group’s name, motto, image, message and password (only if private). More information is in the Group Directory page. There is no prize awarded for being the top entrant in your group.

Name Your Entry

After you have signed in, you will be prompted with a red “Create Entry” button. After you click on the button you will be automatically redirected to the “Entry Settings” page where you will be asked to name your entry and decide whether you would like to receive email reminders.

  • Name your entry: Use the text box to determine how your entry will be displayed in the game.
  • Email Reminders: Use the radio buttons to select whether or not you’d like to receive email reminders pertaining to game locks and game rules.

Once you have completed your game settings, click on the “Save Settings” button.


The number of points a Fantasy Fishing player earns is based on a scoring system similar to the Bassmaster Elite Series’ Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, in which an angler is awarded points based on his final standing in the Classic.


If you pick the top anglers in the Classic, you could win! The overall best Fantasy Fishing player from the Classic wins a $2,500 Bass Pro Shops gift card! (Residents of Canada may play but are not eligible to win a prize.)

Get ready, get set, go set your teams!

Choose wisely in buckets B and D

By Greg Huff

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With Kevin VanDam and Aaron Martens sharing half the Fantasy ownership in Bucket A, and Randall Tharp and Brandon Palaniuk splitting 60-some percent in Bucket C, your buckets B and D picks could be more likely to help you win this year’s Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing contest for the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro.

I researched each competitor’s February history on both Guntersville and comparable riverine reservoirs (Red River, Lay Lake and Wheeler Lake) and reviewed February Guntersville tournament results — best baits, cover and structure — at I also interviewed several competitors — including three mentioned here — for my Fantasy Fishing Insider podcast (listen here or on iTunes.) Following are the best bets in each bucket, based on the data.

Bucket A: VanDam, Martens or Iaconelli

I think this Classic will be won by ripping a lipless crankbait over submerged grass, pretty much how Kevin VanDam (who has 30% ownership in Fantasy Fishing’s Bucket A as of Feb. 2) won the 2010 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake. So, picking against him is a hard sell, despite a 74th-place Guntersville flop in February 2005.

VanDam placed third here in February 2004 and won or finished in the Top 15 in three Classics on comparable reservoirs — first and third on Lay Lake and 11th on the Red River. His non-February finishes here include a win, fourth, 20th and ninth.

Still considering someone other than KVD? If you insist …

The defending Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Martens (27%) is a California native who moved a few years ago to Leeds, Ala., which is about an hour and a half from Guntersville, where he’s won once in eight tournaments.

In February tournaments here, he’s placed 14th twice. In four of five February tournaments on comparable reservoirs, he was impressive too, with Top 12 finishes on Wheeler Lake, Lay Lake and the Red River.

Statistics indicate Mike Iaconelli (5%) is the best-of the-rest pick in Bucket A. In two February tournaments here, he placed fifth and 19th. In two of four spring events here, he won one and placed fourth in another. In February Classics on comparable riverine reservoirs, he finished in the Top 10 twice.

Bucket B: DeFoe, Vinson or Walker

Ott DeFoe’s (20%) best finish here in four tournaments — 18th place — came in February. A fifth-place Classic finish in February on the Red River makes him worth considering.

Alabamian Greg Vinson (10%) might live 2 1/2 hours from Guntersville, but his history in five tournaments here is uneven, bookended by a runner-up and a 155th-place bomb. His only February finish here was a Top 20. Add a Classic runner-up finish on Red River in February 2012, and Vinson looks like the home-state angler to go with in Bucket B.

As much as I admire Alabamian Randy Howell, his February history on Guntersville is not nearly as sharp as his haircut – 129th and 47th. And his average finish here in six other tournaments is 56th.

If David Walker (5%) didn’t jump out at you as the top pick in Bucket B, you’re probably not alone. He’s not a former Classic winner, like Alton Jones and Mark Davis. He’s not a former Angler of the Year, like Brent Chapman and, again, Davis. He’s not Bass Fishing’s Most Interesting Man, like Tommy Biffle. And heck, he’s not even from Alabama, like Randy Howell.

But data indicate Walker’s the best pick. He finished sixth and ninth here in two February tournaments, and fourth and 13th on two comparable riverine reservoirs in a similar time period. He also placed fourth here in a summer tournament.

Bucket C: Tharp, Palaniuk or Omori

In several ways, Tharp (32%) is the “Jason Christie” of this year’s Classic — an FLW-crossover fishing on essentially his home lake. In one important way, however, he’s not: This ain’t his first rodeo. He competed in the 2011 Classic on the Louisiana Delta, finishing 35th.

Tharp is a favorite to win. He’s won three tournaments here, including a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open presented by Allstate, and notched two Top 10s in late-February FLW BFLs. Last year, he won the FLW’s season-champion tournament, the Forrest Wood Cup. So, yeah, he’s a Prime Time gamer.

Palaniuk (33%) is again a popular Fantasy Fishing pick, perhaps because he appears to fish best when the stakes are the highest. In his three consecutive Classic appearances, Palaniuk finished fourth, 48th and second.

But Palaniuk has never competed on Guntersville. Nor has he competed on any comparable reservoirs in February. This makes for an intriguing Tharp vs. Palaniuk match-up. Will experience pay off better than seeing the lake with fresh eyes?

Think neither Tharp nor Palaniuk will overcome the hype? Pick Takahiro Omori (2%), who finished 27th in his one February tournament here. His best finish in six tournaments here is sixth. His February Classic history on comparable riverine reservoirs includes two Top 15s.

Bucket D: Lee or Miyazaki

Should you pick a veteran with Classic and Guntersville experience, or a youngster with no Classic experience but lots of lower-tier success here (both in general and in February)? Your answer will likely determine your Fantasy Fishing fate.

Jordan Lee (41%), Carhartt Bassmaster College Series champion, has placed sixth and ninth in two February tournaments here, and he won an early March tournament here last year. He can catch coldwater bass. But is he better than Classic veterans who have faced tougher competition here? It will be fun to find out.

Data indicate the best veteran pick is Yusuke Miyazaki (4%), who placed 18th on Guntersville in February 2005. While he bombed here (97th) in February 2004, he notched Top 15 finishes in two April tournaments (2006 and 2007). He fished his first Classic last year, so he’s less likely to be negatively affected this year by the hype and extra schedule demands.

Bucket E: Carden

So few of these guys have any history on Guntersville or a comparable riverine reservoir — in February or otherwise. So play it safe and take Alabamian Coby Carden (64%), who placed 32nd here in a February 2004 Bassmaster tournament. He placed fourth in an early March tournament on Lay Lake, and he’s also won a Southern Open.

Pick big names in Fantasy

By Cody Hanley

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro will be held on one of the best lakes in North America, Lake Guntersville. You can bet these guys will be battling it out BIG time for a shot at the title. Will the “sleepers” be a factor? Will Kevin VanDam win another Classic? So many questions to be answered, and they will be — after the final day weigh in!

It will be a fight to the end, but here are my thoughts on who will take home that HUGE trophy, and who are the best picks for your Basmaster Fantasy Fishing team.

Bucket A: VanDam

Kevin VanDam is arguably the best bass angler who will ever live; you can never count out KVD, especially in a Classic. The man is very versatile and can catch bass every way known to man. Plus, he won a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Guntersville back in 2007 and also has several Top 10 finishes throughout his career, so he can catch ’em there.

Bucket B: Walker

David Walker can catch bass on Guntersville! The Tennessee native is another versatile angler. He can fish deep with a jig or a crankbait, or he can go flip a grass mat — either way works for this guy! Before Walker came to the Elite Series scene, he fished the FLW Tour, and his track record on Guntersville is very good. So, this guy will be on my Fantasy team for sure!

Bucket C: Tharp

Randall Tharp, the “Honey Badger,” is a Guntersville legend. Before moving to Florida last year, Tharp was a native of Alabama and fished Guntersville a lot. I know Randall, and the man is a flipping master. Combine that with his history of the lake, and boom you’ve got yourself a great Fantasy pick. In fact, he’s who I am predicting to win the Classic!

If you check his track record, you can see in every B.A.S.S. event he fished, he has done well, including a win in 2008. On the FLW side, he has won three tournaments at Guntersville and more than 10 other Top 10 finishes. You want this guy!

Bucket D: VanDam

Another VanDam, Jonathan VanDam, will place well at the Classic. With his knowledge of deep fishing, I think VanDam will do well at the Classic, not to mention he’s Kevin VanDam’s nephew and practice partner! Add that the only B.A.S.S. event he fished on Guntersville landed him a 45th-place finish, and there ya go — a terrific pick!

Bucket E: Carden

I am not very familiar with these guys, but I took a look at their angler profiles, and Coby Carden seemed to be what Guntersville is all about. He has fished the lake several times in B.A.S.S. events and did pretty well. On top of that, he is experienced in shallow and deep fishing, plus he has a lot of experience fishing in Alabama. Add that together and you got a heck of a good sleeper pick for the Classic!

Registration is now open!

Set your teams now! Pick your favorites for the Bassmaster Classic and get ready to play!

Fantasy Fishing launches Feb. 1

Are you ready to compete against your friends for bragging rights — as well as prizes? Then get ready for the 2014 season of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing.

You can sign up and set your teams beginning Saturday, Feb. 1. In the meantime, think about who you want to play against, what your league name will be and which anglers you think will perform best at the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro!

Fantasy win upgrades New Hampshire angler from canoe to bass boat

By Cara Clark

Jason Hill

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Jason Hill has never owned a bass boat, but he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his favorite hobby of bass fishing. Instead, he strapped his canoe to the top of whatever vehicle he owned at the time — from an old sedan to an SUV — and fished the ponds and smaller bodies of water near his home in Holderness, N.H.

Now, the situation has changed. By winning Fantasy Fishing presented by Toyota on, Hill now has a fully rigged Triton bass boat, and the canoe, a gift from his grandparents long ago, will be sidelined — at least for bass fishing purposes. His new Triton 18XS boat is equipped with a Mercury 150 Pro XS motor and comes with a Triton single axle trailer, a MotorGuide trolling motor, a Lowrance HDS-5 Gen 2, a Tempest Prop and 8-foot Talon shallow water anchors. His prize also includes a $2,500 Bass Pro Shops gift card and a B.A.S.S. branded jersey, bringing the total prize package to $45,318.

“I’ve been telling myself I would buy a bass boat for years,” Hill said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. Being a teacher, you don’t make a whole lot of money for extra things, and to win a boat, especially one that is so awesome and more than I ever would have been able to buy myself, is incredible.”

Hill, a middle school English teacher and high school soccer coach, grew up on Squam Lake (No. 76 on Bassmaster’s “100 Best Bass Lakes” list) where his grandparents and parents had pontoon boats he could fish from. Hill still lives near Squam, the place he’ll debut his shiny new boat. Lake Winnipesaukee, a fishery he doesn’t venture onto often with the canoe, probably will be his second stop.

“I really cannot believe this has happened to me,” Hill said. “I’ve never really won anything before. During the last few weeks of Fantasy Fishing, I went with a gut feeling of the guys I thought would do well. The last couple of tournaments were smallmouth events, and I leaned toward anglers who were good on smallmouth.”

Hill first started playing Fantasy Fishing a few years ago when his childhood pal and fishing buddy Joe Vanasse started a group. This year’s game on began in early 2013 and lasted until the Bassmaster Elite Series ended with the Aug. 22-25 Plano Championship Chase. To enter before each of the eight regular season tournaments, contestants choose five anglers from five different categories into which the Elite field of 99 anglers was sorted. Each angler was worth a number of points based on his performance during the Elite season.

Hill and his buddy had a friendly rivalry to see who had better picks, but neither excelled with their choices.

“This year was pretty much the same until there were about three tournaments left in the season,” Hill said. “I realized I had gone up in the rankings to the Top 30, so each tournament I focused a little more on my picks and tried to keep in mind the percentages of ownership of each of the anglers. I figured if I made smart picks, I might have a chance to win. I really didn’t think I would until the last tournament when I was in second place. I was fortunate I picked Mark Davis, an angler not many picked, and he finished second in the last tournament. I couldn’t believe it.”

As Hill’s opportunity to win grew, so did the encouragement of Vanesse, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn. After the Plano Championship Chase, Vanesse was confident his buddy was the winner.

“He kept leaving me messages saying that I won,” Hill said. “We were waiting for the points to be updated, and I honestly thought I hadn’t won. One of my anglers (Aaron Martens) missed the weigh-in and dropped from third to 12th place. I still had three anglers in the Top 12. I kept saying no way, but he was so excited for me. He said, ‘Now you’re not going to be able to carry your boat on top of the car.’”

Hill is eager to take his best friend out on a bass fishing outing in the spring, and he has others clamoring to go out on the boat.

“We have several avid fishermen on the soccer team, and the state of New Hampshire recently adopted high school bass fishing as a sport,” Hill said. “(When the soccer team heard), they said, ‘Coach, now that you have a boat, you can be our fishing coach, too.’”

Hill, who had Aaron Martens as one of his top picks, said the Alabama pro is one of his favorite anglers.

“He’s fantastic, and he had a fantastic season,” Hill said. “I’m surprised more people weren’t picking him. Mark Davis is one of my new favorites. I don’t know a lot about him, but I plan to learn more and follow him more closely. His performance in that last tournament is part of the reason I won.”

Big Bass catchers will earn you bonus Fantasy Fishing points

By Greg Huff

Need big finishes in the next two tournaments to save your Fantasy Fishing season? You’ll earn big bonus points by picking an angler likely to catch a Carhartt Big Bass.

“The bonus points are where you really make up ground,” advises Brett Baker, president and owner of Big Game Software, the company that manages the program that runs Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. “If someone places 10 points better than someone else in the standings, it may not equate to huge number of points more for that one tournament. But if they’re also getting bonus points for having gotten big fish … that can really make up points faster. And in that scenario, very few other people are getting those points.”

Anglers who catch the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament score 40 bonus points for the Fantasy Fishing players that picked them.

Great, you may be thinking, not only do I have to guess the anglers who will finish highest in their buckets, I also have to guess who will catch the biggest fish? That’s impossible!

Not necessarily. Some anglers consistently catch more big fish and weigh heavier stringers than others. And they may not be the ones you think.

“Not to put these guys down because I love ’em and they’re great sticks, but Ish Monroe and Bobby Lane have bigger reputations for catching big fish than the numbers would support,” said Ken Duke, Senior Editor of B.A.S.S. Publications and chronicler of even the most esoteric Elite Series competition stats. “So, don’t buy into the hype, folks!”

“But wait,” I implored Duke in a recent phone conversation, “isn’t Bobby Lane’s nickname Big Fish Bobby Lane? Doesn’t Bassmaster Elite Series emcee Dave Mercer call Ish Monroe the BBS — Big Bass Specialist?”

“Those guys do catch some big fish,” said Duke, “but as far as catching big fish in Elite Series events goes, those guys are good, but they’re not as good as some of the other guys out there.”

Guys like Todd Faircloth, Kelly Jordon, Greg Hackney, Dean Rojas, Randy Howell and Brent Chapman lead the Elite Series in daily Big Bass catches (as Duke documented in this column).

“Those guys are really good at it,” Duke told me, explaining that each excels also at catching big numbers of bass. And from there, the law of averages is a factor. “These are the guys that. Day in, day out, they’ve got a limit in the boat by 10 o’clock, so they’ve got an opportunity to go out and look for that kicker.”

But catching a daily Big Bass doesn’t earn Fantasy Fishing bonus points unless it holds up as Big Bass of the tournament. For that, Jordon, Greg Hackney and Takahiro Omori are tops, each having won a tournament Big Bass award three times, according to Duke’s research. Fourteen others have caught the tournament big bass twice. Faircloth is one of them.

Faircloth has a system to catch big kicker fish, Duke said. “He’s got a plan for how many pounds of fish he thinks it’s going to take to be competitive, and he doesn’t stop fishing in that basic pattern until he gets to that number. And then he immediately starts pulling out all the stops, going for broke. Maybe making a long run, looking for a big fish; working isolated cover, looking for that big bite; things like that.”

So now that we’ve identified the Kings of Lunker Mountain, as Duke would say, how do we spin that info in Fantasy Fishing gold?

Value adds.

You shouldn’t pick Faircloth, Jordon, Hackney and Omori week in and week out (assuming you even could, based on which bucket they are in). You should, however, give the nod to one of those guys if and when he’s among a handful of anglers in one bucket who seem equally capable of finishing highest in that bucket (after comparing standard Fantasy Fishing metrics such as Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year momentum, performance history and skills-vs.-conditions.)

It’s like splitting eights in Blackjack: You don’t always win with the strategy, but a pair of eights does afford you an opportunity to score bonus points. So, attempt to capitalize on the opportunity whenever you can.

Let’s say you’re on the fence between picking Takahiro Omori, Stephen Browning and Kevin Short in a bucket in a river tournament. And let’s say Omori’s ownership is 2.5 percent, Browning’s is 5 percent and Short’s is 2 percent. (If you missed my column explaining how to use ownership percentage to your advantage in Fantasy Fishing, read it here.)

Short and Browning are self-styled river rats. Omori is a statistical river rat because he consistently makes Top 20s on rivers. So we’ll say that in their bucket, these three are the clear favorites but seem pretty equally matched when compared side by side. Seems like a classic “Pick’em” bet right?

Not so fast. This is when you split your eights and pick Omori, playing the odds to win a Big Bass bonus.

“In the case where the angler has [low] ownership,” says Baker, “if that angler does particularly well — especially if the angler qualifies for bonus points — then only [a small] percent of how ever many tens of thousands of entries that exist are going to get [the bonus. That’s why those bonus points are so important.”

An angler who places 12th will earn you 254 Fantasy points. The angler who places 20th earns you 235. That’s a difference of eight places and 19 points. But if Omori places 20th and Short places 12th, but Omori catches the tournament’s Big Bass, Omori would score you 275 to Short’s 254, a difference in your favor of 21 points. And if Short finishes 20th and Omori finishes 12th, also along with Big Bass, you’d outscore by 59 points in one bucket the guy who picked Short (294 to 235). That’s a huge payoff, especially considering Omori and Short initially seemed fairly evenly matched.

You also get 40 bonus points if your angler wins the Berkley Heavyweight Award for weighing in the heaviest five-fish limit of the tournament. You get five bonus points when an angler on your roster ends the day with the tournament lead (including on Day 4).

How picking underdogs can help or hurt in Fantasy FishingBy Greg Huff

Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing player David Beaver is one of several people who e-mailed requesting advice on how to analyze anglers’ ownership percentages in order to draft a better Fantasy roster:

“I get that the more people own an angler — and if you need to make up ground — the points aren’t going to help you a lot, so you’re better off picking an angler that, if he does well, can maybe jump you up in the points,” Beaver wrote. “But I’m unsure about these guys that are for example, 2.9 percent. Should that angler do well, is that going to be better for me in points, or just screw me up worse?”

Comparing anglers’ ownership percentages to their past history on the tournament venue (and/or comparable fisheries) is key to determining the best value Fantasy picks. You’ll win neither prizes nor braggin’ rights by playing it safe and picking highly owned anglers — the “favorites,” to borrow a term from horse racing.

To separate yourself from the pack, you must draft to your roster several lesser-owned anglers — and then those guys must finish higher than the heavily owned guys. That, of course, is easier said than done. You won’t win by picking the wrong long-odds horses either.

In my podcast, Fantasy Fishing Insider, I describe anglers as “undervalued” or “overvalued.” Undervalued anglers are those who appear to be in too low a bucket or those whose ownership percentages seem too low, based on several factors:

  • Momentum: Have they been making cuts and cashing checks? Have they been consistently finishing higher than their bucket suggests they will?
  • History: How have they performed on the tournament venue and/or on fisheries similar to it and the present season/spawn period?
  • Gut feeling: Never underestimate your Spidey Sense when it tingles.

Recognizing and selecting undervalued anglers is the best — but most difficult — key to picking successful Fantasy Fishing rosters. Familiarizing yourself with the résumés of anglers who don’t routinely appear on TV and magazine covers will help a lot.

To help explain the finer points of Fantasy Fishing strategy, I spoke with Brett Baker, president and owner of Big Game Software, the company that manages the program that runs Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. He confirmed that assessing anglers’ ownership percentages is a key to determining value.

“That’s where you get your advantage,” Baker explained. “The person who doesn’t really know thinks, ‘I’m going to go with the one the rest of the crowd is going with.’ The person who’s done a little more research may say, ‘I don’t care that everyone else is going with this guy, I know better. I know this other guy performs particularly well on this kind of river,’ and they go against the grain. That’s really where the ownership percentage would come into play.”

Tens of thousands of people compete in Fantasy Fishing, according to Baker — more at the beginning of the season and fewer toward the end of the season as some players fall out of contention. For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll say 25,000 people are playing. That’s the field you are competing against.

If 6,250 out of 25,000 players picked a given angler, his ownership percentage would be 10 percent. If only 250 people put him on their roster, his ownership percentage would be 1 percent. Those numbers are important to consider when setting your roster, because anglers with greater ownership percentages offer lesser returns.

Let’s say you pick Kevin VanDam in Bucket A at 35 percent ownership and I pick Steven Kennedy at 1 percent ownership. And let’s say VanDam finishes 10th and Kennedy finishes fifth. In that scenario, VanDam would earn 260 Fantasy points for you and Kennedy would earn 280 points for me — 20 points more than you.

But the real value Kennedy would offer in that scenario is the gain he would provide against the field. The player that picked KVD would be one of 8,750 people who scored 260 points, but the player who picked Kennedy would be one of only 250 people who scored 280 points. That’s what we mean when we say an angler offers a chance to “gain ground on the field” or “make a move against the field.”

“If I’m trying to make up ground on the guy ahead of me … and I see that a few anglers have an overwhelming ownership percentage, I’m probably going to go against the grain, hoping that the guy ahead of me is with the masses,” Baker explained. “Because I have to do something different than him to catch up.”

Beware, however, that this strategy is what we call a “high risk, high reward” strategy. Because if Kennedy finishes behind KVD, based on the scenario described earlier, the numbers turn tables on you — now 8,750 people jump in front of you.

So, how do you determine when to pick a 1-percenter over a 35-percenter? Or a 5-percenter over a 10-percenter? How do you determine which anglers are undervalued and which are overvalued?

Do some research, listen to your gut and keep reading the Fantasy Fishing columns here on And listen to the Fantasy Fishing Insider podcast. My cohosts and I are nerds for this stuff and explain in detail which anglers we deem the best values and why. We also do impressions, quote Ron Burgundy and Ron Swanson a lot and sing PG-13 songs about Yum Dingers.

6 Responses to Front Page

  1. Also would like to thank April Phillips , I received Fantasy Fishing hat and tee shirt. Just in time for Toledo Bend …Buck This is a fun game to play and does not coast , just little time , Thanks to all B.A.S.S. Bass master Owners and Staff Great Job . Buck

  2. when do 2013 season start?

  3. Myer Yanofsky says:

    I live in Canada, Utopia, New Brunswick and I find this is the greatest way to pass the winter fishing….. and can make some money if you pick the right pros…… keep up the good work……

  4. would but can’t find out when it starts.

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