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Don’t overload on shallow-grass guys

By Greg Huff

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — Although largemouth will outnumber smallmouth this week, don’t overload on shallow grass guys on your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. Docks and deep weedlines will lead to Top 12 finishes, too, and you might need at least one roster pick to target smallmouth.

Because the Elite Series has never visited Cayuga (and only a few in the field competed in the 2012 Open there), we’ll consider angler history on three other New York fisheries — Oneida, Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

We’re not going to factor in angler history on Lake Erie, however, because to win, place and show in those tournaments, you’ve got to target smallmouth. By all accounts, Cayuga will be won with largemouth — although you will see several mixed bags. Cayuga has smallies, but it does not feature the humps and reefs found in other New York fisheries, so the offshore brown bass here are much harder to find and pattern.

That being said, several smallmouth will be caught on deep weedlines that also hold largemouth. Green bass will come from grass shallower than a foot, from underneath docks and from the deep weedline edge out to 16 to 20 feet.

In each bucket, I’ve made a “Best Bet,” “Safe Bet” and “Bold Bet” pick, based on a combination of Fantasy Fishing ownership, momentum heading into the tournament and past history on Cayuga or other New York fisheries not dominated by smallmouth.

If you’re leading your Fantasy league, err toward the more conservative “Safe Bet” picks. Those anglers, while very likely to finish high, won’t help you as much against the field, because they have high ownership. If you’re in the middle of the pack, consider more of the “Best Bet” picks, which comprise anglers with similar histories in New York but lower ownership percentages.

If you’re in the back of the pack and really need make a move against the field, you’ll want to roll the dice on at least three “Bold Bet” picks, which mostly feature high-risk/high-reward anglers with very low ownership percentages.

Bucket A

Best Bet: Dean Rojas

Safe Bet: Skeet Reese

Bold Bet: Aaron Martens

Dean Rojas (4.3 percent ownership), has a great history in New York in the summer. When the shallow-grass frog bite is on, he’s hard to beat.

In five July/August Elite events on Oneida between 2006 and 2009, Rojas finished in the Top 5 three times (first, third and fourth), and only once out of the money. In five events on Champlain between 2002 and 2006, he notched a runner-up and a 12th-place finish, and only missed making a check once.

Coming off a sixth-place finish on the Delaware River, Skeet Reese (14.1 percent) also has a decent history in New York summer tournaments. In five Elite Series events between 2006 and 2012, he notched one Top 10, two additional Top 20s, and never finished out of the money. Additionally, he finished second on Champlain in a late July 2007 Elite Series event.

Despite his 23.3 percent ownership, Aaron Martens is my “Bold Bet” because he’s more likely than others to target offshore smallmouth with finesse tactics while the rest of the field power fishes for shallow largemouth. That’s a pretty big gamble here — especially when shallow-water specialist Greg Hackney (7.7 percent) is leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race over Martens by a mere ounce. But if he finds some giants, he’ll likely have them all to himself.

Note: In my Fantasy Fishing Insider podcast, Bassmaster TV co-host Mark Zona said Martens and Hackney will be factors this week. He said he’d give the nod to Hackney, but Martens will be “the X factor.”

Bucket B

Best Bet: Bernie Schultz

Safe Bet: Mike Iaconelli

Bold Bet: Steve Kennedy

In five Elite Series events on Oneida between 2006 and 2013, Bernie Schultz (0.4 percent) made the final-day 12-cut every time. Last August on the St. Lawrence River, Schultz took a chance on a shallow bite, when most other top contenders were fishing deep with drop shot rigs. The gamble paid off with a sixth-place finish, his best since Bassmaster launched the Elite Series tournament format in 2006.

Having already qualified for the Classic, Mike Iaconelli (28.1%) can fish to win, unlike many others in Bucket B, who must fish more conservatively to manage their AOY points. A bomb here could potentially drop them out of the Top 50, preventing them from fishing in the final tournament of the year.

In seven tournaments on Oneida, Iaconelli notched five Top 10s (two of them Top 5s) and only finished out of the Top 50 once. Of those events, five were Elite Series events and two were Opens. He’s also good friends with Pete Gluszek, who won the 2012 Open on Cayuga.

Zona said Ike won’t be “shy of ammo for this tournament.”

In five Elite Series events on Oneida between 2006 and 2012, Stephen Kennedy (1.1 percent) scored a runner-up and sixth-place finish, as well as another Top 20. In seven trips to Lake Champlain, Kennedy notched a third-place finish, a 15th and 20th. On the St. Lawrence River last August, he placed seventh.

Kennedy’s also got some momentum. Last week, he placed fifth, fishing shallow, in the Forrest Wood Cup. The week before, he placed 16th on the Delaware River.

Bucket C

Best Bet: Chad Pipkens

Safe Bet: Jeff Kriet

Bold Bet: Andy Montgomery

A Michigan native used to weighing mixed bags of largemouth and smallmouth, Chad Pipkens (10.4%) has a lot of history on New York waters. In 11 events between 2008 and 2013, he’s notched three Top 10s — an eighth and ninth in two FLW Everstart events and an impressive 10th last August in the Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River. Also in the mix are a Top 20 and two Top 50s in New York. Consider that he’s coming off a 12th-place showing in the brutal Delaware River event, and Pipkens looks even better.

Zona told me Jeff Kriet “will be a headache in this tournament.” I agree; Kriet has both momentum and history on his side. In four summer Elite events on Oneida alone, he finished second and 11th. He also finished 24th on Champlain in Elite competition. Kriet is coming into Cayuga on the strength of a Top 20 finish on the Delaware River.

There’s a lot of fish-holding docks on Cayuga, and Andy Montgomery (3.8 percent) is one of the best dock-skipping aces in the game. He also fared well on the Delaware (27th) and has a Top 5 and a Top 20 in summer events on Champlain. Note: Gluszek’s winning Open game plan included fishing docks, in addition to deep, mid-lake weedlines.

Bucket D

Best Bet: Brent Chapman

Safe Bet: J. Todd Tucker

Bold Bet: Kotaro Kiriyama

Sitting at 68th in AOY points, Brent Chapman (11.8 percent) needs a great finish this week to keep alive hopes of qualifying for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. I think he’s up to the challenge. Although he’s coming off an 89th-place finish on the Delaware, the bright spots in his history in New York in the summer should encourage him — a second and 13th on Champlain, and a sixth on Oneida. He made the Top 50 in seven of 11 events on those two fisheries.

J Todd Tucker (0.3 percent) has some stellar finishes in summer New York tournaments. In eight events on Oneida and Champlain, he made the Top 50 in six. His best finishes are eighth (twice), 10th and 15th. Like Chapman, though, he bombed on the Delaware (91st), so he’ll need to rebound well and get his head right.

If big smallmouth live in the zip code, you can bet Kotaro Kiriyama (3.1%) will try to find ’em. And if he does, watch out! He’s dominated several smallie-centric derbies in New York and elsewhere. Few will target smallmouth, so he could potentially have some schools to himself. But smallie schools are much harder to find offshore in Cayuga than on Oneida and Champlain, where Top 12 anglers have targeted them. Kota’s history in New York indicate he can weigh a pretty heavy mixed bag. In 15 events on Oneida and Champlain between 2005 and 2013, he made 10 Top 50s. Two of those were Top 5s, one was a Top 10, and two were Top 20s.

Bucket E

Best Bet: Boyd Duckett

Safe Bet: Boyd Duckett

Bold Bet: Tracy Adams

Boyd Duckett (30.5 percent) has both momentum and history going for him. Coming off a Top 12 on the Delaware River, he’ll be fishing water similar to that found on Oneida and Champlain, where he’s finished first and 15th, and eighth, respectively.

In nine events on Oneida or Champlain between 2007 and 2013, Tracy Adams (1.8 percent) made the Top 50 five times, including an FLW Tour win on Champlain in summer 2006. Other highlights are a runner-up on Oneida in the 2013 Open, and a third-place on the 2010 Open on Champlain.

Go after grassy anglers

By Ronnie Moore

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — After a fantastic Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing event on the Delaware River, I hope to keep it rolling as the Elites head farther north to Cayuga Lake.

Last event, I stuck to the river rats and cashed in more than 1,100 points, 200 more than the average score. This event is different because I don’t know much about Cayuga, but from what I’ve heard, largemouth may be the way to go for the better weights. I expect many mixed bags of smallmouth and largemouth to propel anglers into the Top 12.

Bucket A

Take Justin Lucas …

… but keep an eye on Cliff Crochet.

Justin Lucas excels at Southern fisheries, and he proved it early in the season. Although Cayuga is a Northern finger lake, I fully expect it to be a grass tournament. Grass should dictate the bite, and Lucas is not new to fishing in and around the green stuff.

Cliff Crochet is having a fantastic season and now he gets to pick up his frog rod (as if he ever put it down) and attack the shallows like Dean Rojas did a few years ago on Oneida Lake. In and on top of the grass should be the way to go this week.

Bucket B

Take Brett Hite …

… but keep an eye on Randy Howell.

Even though the Chatterbait is perceived as a prespawn lure, Brett Hite is so in-tune with this technique that he can make it work wherever and whenever he sees fit. Shallow grass is perfect for this technique, but in his win on Lake Seminole earlier this year, Hite targeted a little deeper grass because it was a highway for those incoming and outgoing bass. I expect the same this event for the Arizona pro.

Randy Howell is one of the best junk fishermen, and he seems to grind it out no matter where the Elites travel. I’m not saying Howell will win this event, but he is a safe bet to do well. The Delaware River threw a wrench in many anglers’ seasons, including Howell’s — he finished 76th. I expect a bounce-back event for the reigning Classic champ.

Bucket C

Take Fred Roumbanis …

… but keep an eye on Brandon Lester.

Fred Roumbanis knows how to fish a frog — very well. Same deal with some of the other picks, he fishes around grass very well, and I think he is even more motivated than normal. With a 17th-place finish on the Delaware and his new membership in the B.A.S.S. Millionaires Club, his sights are set on the Top 50 in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. To fish the final event in Michigan, anglers need to be in the Top 50; he is in 60th. Even though it seems so far away, Roumbanis can jump into contention with another Top 20 finish.

Brandon Lester is sixth in the Rookie of the Year standings, but he is actually the first genuine rookie who appears on the list. Anglers like Jacob Powroznik, Chad Morgenthaler, Brett Hite, Justin Lucas and Randall Tharp came from FLW and other series to fish the Elites. So for Lester to jump into the highest and most competitive series there is and be 46th in the AOY standings says a lot. I think he will fish his strengths and come away with a good finish and punch his ticket to Escanaba.

Bucket D

Take Hank Cherry …

… but keep an eye on Brent Chapman.

Hank Cherry has had an up-and-down season thus far, but last year’s Rookie of the Year is still a force to be reckoned with in specific tournaments. He is arguably the best jerkbait fisherman in the Elite Series field and during last year’s All Star week event he showed why…winning the tournament. I think he could find a way to be successful with his favorite technique on Cayuga as well.

Former Angler of the Year Brent Chapman is due for a really good finish to end this season. His last 50-cut was at Toledo Bend. I expect him to be one of the anglers to weigh in a mixed bag of smallmouth and largemouth each day of this event.

Bucket E

Take Grant Goldbeck …

… but keep an eye on Boyd Duckett.

There is something in my gut saying that Grant Goldbeck will be successful this week on Cayuga Lake. It has been a struggle this season, but every year you can expect everything to go right for an unsuspecting angler. I think Goldbeck can do it up North. He is used to fishing plenty of grass around the Potomac River area, and sometimes a shot in the dark hits the target. Plus the percentage of owners is low, so a Top 50 finish will bump his owners up higher than others.

I would pick Boyd Duckett here because of his recent success, but it’s one of those “when will it end?” kind of trends. Duckett called himself out this summer about poor finishes and then he did well at BASSFest and notched a Top 12 on the Delaware River. So things are looking up for the former Classic champ.

Set your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team for Cayuga Lake now, and discuss your picks in the new group on Facebook.

Expect bags in the mid-20s on Cayuga

By Jim Root

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — First off, welcome to my home lake.

Having lived on the Eastern Shore in Aurora for two years, it’s no wonder I call Cayuga my home lake. It’s unique and can be incredibly challenging if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

This vast body of water will fish small to some, and endless to others. It will offer the opportunity for anglers to fish their strengths, whether they are deep or shallow, and could set up to be one of the favorite lakes on the Elite Series in 2014 for a few.

I’m sure by now many people are tired of hearing about how cold last winter was. However, many lakes in New York were still frozen over (at least partially) on April 1. These late cold temps caused a serious delay in the growth of the hydrilla and milfoil grasses.

While much of the lake has recovered for the most part, it’s still behind in terms of where it would have been under milder circumstances. It has condensed the fish into tighter groups and made for some unbelievable weights thus far for the anglers who can find them.

What traditionally has required fairly modest weights to win or do well won’t cut it this week. Every week, winners are bringing in 24 pounds, and the New York B.A.S.S. Nation big bass record of almost 8 pounds was caught less than a month ago.

Factor in that the Elite Series pros are the best in the world and are hungry following the stingier Delaware River, and you have yourself the makings of a slug fest.

Cayuga sets up a lot like California lakes, which should give Chris Zaldain a big advantage this week. It’s roughly 500 feet deep and offers crystal clear visibility of nearly 20 feet in some places. Stocked with brown trout, lake trout and landlocked salmon, there’s really no shortage of forage for bass to feast on.

And while the tournaments here are dominated by largemouth bass, it’s not because the smallmouth don’t exist. Expect to see them this week. While those who flip grass will find it really congested from time to time, anyone targeting smallmouth or schooling fish and finding the larger of those will be alone. Cliff Pace would love this lake.

What will be the biggest factor this week will be a forecast that could be rougher than what most people find ideal, but that sets up really nicely for big swimbait guys. When winds blow in double digits from the north or sout, it can get nautical in a hurry, and four days this week are showing potential for that.

If the winds blow that hard, it’ll force many guys off the main lake and into the channel at the north end or smaller bays where the reprieve will be minimal. To some, this might sound impossible, but with the recently passing supermoon and moderate temps, I really think that the winner will break 100 pounds this week.

Many anglers have compared this lake to Oneida. There are some similarities, and the people who have done well there should do well here also.

For Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, I like Randall Tharp, Hank Cherry, Brandon Palaniuk, Chris Zaldain, and New York native Joe Sancho, who probably knows this lake better than anyone else this week.

See the 10-day forecast below, and click here for up-to-the-minute weather this week, provided by Weather Underground.

cayuga

It’s crunch time at Cayuga

By Pete Robbins

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — I salvaged a decent finish in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing at the Delaware River largely on the strength of picking Ike, like the rest of the free world.

While I missed out on Bill Lowen and Kevin Short (the latter of whom competed in the same bucket as Ike), I only truly bombed with picking Joe Sancho in Bucket E. I desperately wanted to pick Boyd Duckett, but his performance to that point had been decidedly un-Duckett-like and I couldn’t pull the trigger. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Fortunately, Ott Defoe and Jacob Powroznik showed up to play and Stephen Browning snuck into the check line. Once again, my hypothesis that “winners win” will be my guiding light this week.

While Cayuga isn’t as much of an unknown as the Delaware, the lake has yet to host an Elite Series event. Many of the competitors fished a 2012 Northern Open there, including James Niggemeyer (third), Mike Iaconelli (fifth), Ish Monroe (13th), Chad Pipkens (19th) and Kurt Dove (21st), and of course most of the field has fished one or more events on Oneida, so this one isn’t going to take anyone by surprise.

Also, it’s a relatively small lake, so unlike the Delaware, there probably won’t be any secret hidey-holes left to be discovered at the end of 2 1/2 days of practice.

The other complicating factor is that this is the last full-field regular season event of the year. There are some notable names trying to establish position for the Angler of the Year race, others trying to get into the Classic, and still others just trying to get into the final 50-man cut for Escanaba.

Additionally, the FLW Cup is taking place this week, so for a few guys — including Jason Christie, Randall Tharp, Matt Herren, Steve Kennedy and Casey Ashley — I might have considered, I’m ruling them out because of the Philly-Carolina-New York slog.

With all of that in mind, here are my picks:

Bucket A

Picked: Dean Rojas

Second Choice: Skeet Reese

It’s tough not to pick Skeet Reese here because he’s fishing out of his mind right now. While most of the talk about AOY has concerned Mark Davis, Greg Hackney and Aaron Martens, there’s the yellow killer in third.

Reese has earned a check in the last five events he’s fished, and six of seven this year, including three Top 12 finishes and a 13th place. He’s going to get you some points and could very well claim another AOY title.

Still, I can’t forget seeing Rojas at Oneida in 2008, holding the big Kermit doll on stage to celebrate his win. If the final day hadn’t been held on Onondoga in 2007, he probably would’ve won that one, too. They always say that all of the obvious frog fish will be picked off in practice or early in the event, and still he always finds a way to make bass — big bass — bite his SPRO frog.

Bucket B

Picked: Mike Iaconelli

Second Choice: Kevin VanDam

I know, not original and their ownership totals tell the tale that I haven’t made a dark horse pick by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t resist.

Ike is fishing incredibly well, with the win in Delaware and the near-win the week before on Champlain. Combine that with his previous finish on Cayuga and I think that’s a nearly foolproof winning hand.

Still, I flip-flopped back and forth between him and KVD quite a few times. KVD is currently outside the Classic cut and not far enough inside the Top 50 cut for comfort. It would boggle my mind if he missed either of them, and that’s going to take a Top 20 finish here. I can’t imagine him not getting that done, but it might not matter for Fantasy Fishing purposes if Ike gets a Top 5.

Bucket C

Picked: Chad Pipkens

Second Choice: Shaw Grigsby

The fifth-place finish on the Delaware might have given Shaw some momentum after missing a check at every event since Seminole. That has him in 56th in AOY, 12 points out of the 50 cut, so he has everything to gain. Despite the Florida mailing address, he’s a veteran with a lot of experience up North, but his experiences at Oneida are average.

Pipkens, likewise, made the Top 12 at the Delaware. Certainly, he hopes that finish has turned his season around after three straight times of missing the money (including BASSfest and Champlain). As noted above, he had a good tournament at Cayuga in 2012, which helped him to get into the Elites. Right now he’s in 50th, the bubble boy for Escanaba, and you can be sure that he wants to fish the event in his home state. At less than 10 percent ownership, he could be a steal.

Bucket D

Picked: Ish Monroe

Second Choice: Hank Cherry

For the same reason I’m picking Rojas, I’m sticking with Ish, whom I often shy away from because he seems just as likely to take a big swing and miss as he does to win a tournament. But if it’s a frogging and flipping deal, he’ll stick with those until the last possible minute. He finished well here in 2012 and won the Oneida Open in 2011. Additionally, he probably can’t make the Classic without winning the tournament.

Hank Cherry has gone through a bit of a sophomore slump, and I keep expecting the guy who won in All-Star Week last year to show up, but any consideration I gave to picking him ended when I saw that nearly a quarter of the Fantasy Fishing players had chosen him. I need to make up some points, so I’m going monster hunting with Ish.

Bucket E

Picked: Boyd Duckett

Second Choice: Greg Vinson

Duckett didn’t move up far in the AOY standings, but he’s clearly the winningest angler in this bucket (or should that be “Buckett”?). I sincerely hope that the Top 12 finish last week, combined with a 22nd at BASSfest, has him back on track. If there’s any place it’s likely to keep going, New York would seem to be it. He won an Elite Series event on Oneida in 2012 and has earned several other checks there, including a 15th-place finish in 2008. In the E class, he should be a bargain.

There are lots of other talented anglers in this group, including past winners Jeremy Starks and Byron Velvick (coming off a Top 12 himself), but I keep expecting Vinson to break out of his tough season. Those expectations aren’t enough to trump Duckett’s talents and track record, though.

The Delaware monkey wrench

By Tyler Reed

PHILADELPHIA — The Bassmaster Elite at Delaware River is the monkey wrench that got thrown into multiple players’ plans for Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing.

That’s because many buckets were heavily skewed toward one angler, and that single angler performed really well — or really terribly.

Here’s the perfect team for Fantasy Fishing for the Delaware:

A: Skeet Reese, 316

B: Bill Lowen, 272

C: Edwin Evers, 251

D: Michael Iaconelli, 315

E: Boyd Duckett, 313

Total points: 1,467

No Fantasy Fishing player achieved a score that high.

Here’s the breakdown, bucket by bucket.

Bucket A: Reese

Skeet Reese delivered the highest score in Fantasy Fishing this week by virtue of his sixth-place finish and Carhartt Big Bass, a 4-pound, 6-ouncer on Day 3. He scored 316 points total.

Reese had solid ownership at 9.1 percent, but he was not the most chosen in the bucket. That honor belonged to Aaron Martens at 18.8 percent, who finished nearly 100 points back at 219.

Greg Hackney was the next-most owned angler at 12.7 percent, and he earned 179 points for his owners.

If you didn’t choose Reese, you would have done well with Chris Lane, 295 points, or Jason Christie, 290.

Bucket B: Lowen

This bucket is the one where many of the mighty fell, and fell hard. Exactly 40 percent of players chose Kevin VanDam. And exactly 40 percent paid dearly for that choice by earning only 81 points. Ouch.

That decision put VanDam owners 191 points behind Bill Lowen pickers. Lowen was owned by 9.2 percent of the field, and those players got 272 points.

If you didn’t choose Lowen, you should have gone with Scott Rook at 264 percent, although almost no one did. Less than 1 percent of players believed in Rook.

The two anglers most picked besides VanDam were Ott DeFoe, 14.4 percent, and Brandon Palaniuk, 14 percent. DeFoe pickers earned 229 points, and Palaniuk owners got 177 — which is not a great number, but it’s still much higher than VanDam’s owners received.

Only two Bucket B anglers scored lower than VanDam — Rick Clunn (1.7 percent) and Russ Lane (0.5 percent). What that means is, if you chose VanDam, you were beaten by (or tied with) 97.8 percent of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players. Double ouch.

Bucket C: Evers

In Bucket C, the most-owned angler delivered best. Edwin Evers pulled 251 points to give to his 37.4 percent of owners.

However, the second-most owned angler, Hank Cherry, delivered third-worst, behind Josh Bertrand and David Mullins — owned by a combined 1 percent. What that means for Cherry’s 13.9 percent of owners is that 99 percent of players beat them.

Two anglers who were not far behind Evers were Steve Kennedy with 243 points and Jeff Kriet with 239. Players who chose them were indeed behind Evers pickers, but not by much.

Bucket D: Iaconelli

Mike Iaconelli was owned by the majority of the bucket — 66.9 percent — and his 315 points were pure gold to the people who believed in him.

But that high percentage had others scurrying to find an alternative. That proved to be a misstep, more for some than for others.

Players who picked Kevin Short (2.3 percent) and Shaw Grigsby (1.9 percent) were rewarded with 285 and 280 points, respectively. Those players were not hurt that badly.

Alas, the 7.3 percent of players who chose to go with Jonathon VanDam got a real hurting put on them. The goose-egg that he got on the Delaware transferred directly to them.

It hurts to get beaten by 100 points or even 200 points in a Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing bucket. But Jonathon VanDam’s owners were beaten by a solid 315 points by two-thirds of the field. And they were beaten by at least 69 points (Charlie Hartley, who posted the lowest non-zero score) by every single player.

Bucket E: Duckett

Fantasy Fishing players have stood strong with Boyd Duckett all season. He’s been the second choice (behind Ish Monroe) in Bucket E all season. Finally, after all this time, it paid off — and paid off big.

Duckett’s big bag on Day 1 of 16-14, his Day 1 leader points, and his eighth-place finish earned 313 points for his owners. That vaulted 4.8 percent of the players into the lead in this bucket.

It gave them a 104-point lead over the 23.4 percent who chose Ish Monroe, who scored 209 points, and a huge 224-point lead over the 15.3 percent who chose Grant Goldbeck (89 points).

The next-best pick in E was Byron Velvick, who gave 260 points to his 1.4 percent of owners. James Elam was third in the bucket with 237 points for his 0.2 percent.

Buckets are open for the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake! This is your last chance to make a difference in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing while playing the whole field of pros.

Biffle out, Pirch replaces him

By Tyler Reed

PHILADELPHIA — With Mike Iaconelli so highly owned in Bucket D in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing (currently at 64 percent), several players looked for an alternative in case Iaconelli bombed.

Tommy Biffle was a worthy alternative. Pundits credited his flipping prowess and his success in tidal events. Ten percent of players jumped on the Biffle bandwagon, and he became the second-highest pick in the bucket.

But, Biffle’s wife, Sharon, suffered a heart attack over the weekend. He has withdrawn from the Bassmaster Elite at Delaware River to help her recover.

What that means for Fantasy Fishing is that the ownership percentages will shift as players disperse their anti-Iaconelli vote. Undoubtedly, many will move their allegiance to Jonathon VanDam, who is currently third in the bucket behind Biffle.

The Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing managers prefer for no player to score a zero when possible. We are shifting all of Biffle’s owners to the angler ranked ahead of Biffle in Fantasy points, Cliff Pirch. Iaconelli is actually ranked one place ahead of Biffle, but the percentage for Iaconelli is high enough already. So we moved up another place to Pirch.

In the meantime, anyone who had chosen Biffle and who will soon have Pirch can change their angler at any time before launch on Thursday morning.

Fantasy: Pick pros who can fish when it’s tough

By Ronnie Moore

This week’s event on the Delaware River is something different than what the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers face during a regular season. Keep that in mind when setting yourBassmaster Fantasy Fishing team.

The Delaware River can be described as an equivalent body of water to what anglers faced in Pittsburgh in 2005 and even in Chicago in 2000. The bite is expected to be tough and every fish will count. The smallest of keepers will make a huge difference in a Top 50 or finishing 70th.

Bucket A

Take John Crews…

…but keep an eye on Todd Faircloth.

John Crews has a considerable record when it comes to river systems. And even though all rivers aren’t created equal, one thing that it shows is that Crews can grind out weight in tough tournaments and make the needed adjustments when the river changes.

That will be key this week when the tide fluctuates. Another thing in his corner is that he doesn’t live too far from the Potomac River, which also revolves around tidal conditions. A shaky head will be key this week, and Crews is a good finesse fisherman.

The last time the Elite Series pros faced a low weight and very tough tournament on a river system, Todd Faircloth came out on top. In that Sabine River tournament, he averaged just less than 12 1/2 pounds per day. If he can achieve that weight per day, Faircloth might find his way high up the leaderboard.

Bucket B

Take Bill Lowen…

…but keep an eye on Ott Defoe.

For Bucket B, I’m going with a river rat. Bill Lowen has a proven track record on river systems and low weight tournaments, so this event should be right up his alley. Small crankbaits, shaky heads, target fishing and changing conditions every day should position Lowen in his comfort zone as much as this venue can.

Ott DeFoe has been on somewhat of a hot streak lately. In the last two months, he has finished in the Top 25 three times (Elite Series on Lake Dardanelle and two Northern Opens), and he took home a win among those finishes. It also helps that he posted a picture on Facebook of a very good fish during his practice, which has been hard to come by for the Elites during practice on the Delaware River.

Bucket C

Take Andy Montgomery…

…but keep an eye on Jeff Kriet.

Andy Montgomery is a solid jig/shaky head angler, and with so many targets to pitch/flip/skip and cast to, I think Montgomery could be successful this week.

Montgomery also has a track record for excelling in low weight events. He has a victory on Smith Lake in the Southern Opens, where it took just more than 11 pounds a day to win. The same can be said for his other Top 10s like at Lake Norman, West Point Lake and in 2012 at Smith Lake once again.

With good finishes for Jeff Kriet on the Sabine River and most recently the Red River, the “Squirrel” finds a way to build a solid pattern in these low weight events. It will be interesting to see who can keep their mind right during the dead periods of the tournament when bites are hard to come by.

Bucket D

Take Kevin Short…

…but keep an eye on Jason Williamson.

Kevin Short has had a tough season and one that he doesn’t probably want to remember. Outside of fishing, personal issues — such as the destruction of his home by a tornado — have cluttered his mind and have taken priority this season. He started the season strong with a Top 12 at Lake Seminole, but I think Short’s ability to navigate backwaters and find nooks and crannies should help him excel this week.

Instead of predominately focusing on shaky heads and finesse tactics, I could see a small crankbait in his hand, bouncing off the ample cover that the Delaware River provides.

Williamson has been a wildcard this season. To go with his three Top 25 finishes, he has two finishes 90th or worse. So don’t let his 68th place in the AOY standings fool you: He has more Top 12s this season than anyone else in Bucket D.

Bucket E

Take Fletcher Shryock…

…but keep an eye on Joe Sancho.

Fletcher Shryock hasn’t experienced the season he would have liked, but as the Elites head north, I could see Shryock finishing the season strong. After the hiatus since Chickamauga, Shryock has taken some time to do fun fishing and possibly bring some confidence into this event. One 3-pound fish can jump an angler up the standings, and Shryock could be that guy to turn it around.

Rookie Joe Sancho is taking his first season with the Elite Series on the chin, but the New York native is used to fishing around skyscrapers and weird objects floating in the water. I could see him finding his footing in the depths of the Delaware River.

 

Be sure to set your team before launch on Thursday morning, and discuss your picks in the new Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing group on Facebook.

Fantasy: Cold temps, go finesse

By Jim Root

PHILADELPHIA — This is the city of brotherly love.

Of Rocky Balboa.

But it will not be a “warm” welcome for anyone looking to get cozy.

Welcome to the North.

You’ll need to keep the temperatures — and the pros’ fishing styles — in mind when selecting your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team.

The Elite Series begins to close out the season at the Delaware River, and one thing I heard a lot of while at Champlain for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate is, “Man, it’s cold up here.”

This has been just a cold year, period. I can’t remember an end of July/beginning of August that saw temperatures hover in the low 80s and try to reach the 50s at night. That’s just not a kind way to take off at 6 a.m. and drive at high speed. It’s also not your ideal largemouth weather.

But this is the North, and there’s another option.

Like we saw at Champlain, smallmouth play a huge roll up here. Find the big ones, and you can blow away your competition like Brandon Palaniuk did last year at the St. Lawrence River.

I think the smallmouth will have a huge impact this week, as their behavior isn’t nearly as impacted by the weather as their greener cousins. There’s rain in the forecast this week (surprise) and that too will cloud up the water and make largemouth fishing difficult during the first couple of days.

Barometric pressure will be higher than the preferable 30 to 29 and falling range for most of the event, climbing after Thursday and bringing clear skies for the rest of the week. Look for the event to open with a bang, then for weights to drop off and fishing to get tough. No clouds, no real wind.

Not enough? Throw in the tidal impact and it’s like you have the Frankenstein child of the James River and the St. Lawrence. In my mind, that’s another reason to pick guys who like to go brown when given the choice of smallmouth or largemouth.

Go with your finesse guys for Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing — especially the ones who were getting dialed in on Northern fish last week at Champlain, like Palaniuk, Aaron Martens and Ott DeFoe. The smallmouth bite will stay hot for anglers who can locate them. And this is the Elite Series; they’ll be found by one of those guys for sure.

Also, Mike Iaconelli is heating up, and he’s excited to be home (he lives not far away in New Jersey). Anytime Ike gets excited, it’s exciting!

See the 10-day forecast below, or get the most up-to-date forecast by clicking here.

Root

I like Ike, but avoid the other favorites

 By Greg Huff

PHILADELPHIA — Owing to a disconnect between the favorites and actual angler history on East Coast tidal waters in August, I almost balked at making my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks public this week. Had I the option to keep them secret, I’d like my chances to win.

That’s a bold statement, I know. But the numbers point away from most of the favorites (with one major exception) and toward anglers who are flying way under radar.

Because neither B.A.S.S. nor FLW has ever held a top-level tournament on the Delaware River, we can’t make apples-to-apples comparisons when evaluating angler histories. But with a wealth of tournament data from East Coast tidal fisheries like the Potomac, James and Hudson rivers, we can make oranges-to-tangerines comparisons, so to speak.

We’ll also consider — but not weigh as heavily — angler history on tidal fisheries like the California and Louisiana deltas. We’re not, however, going to consider history on the St. Johns or Sabine rivers. Even though they are tidal fisheries, most of their tournament bass are caught in areas not greatly affected by the tide. Successful tactics for sight fishing on the St. Johns River’s Lake George in early spring are not likely to translate to early-August fishing on the Delaware River, where the average tidal swing is 7 feet.

Bucket A: Reese or Howell

Although Aaron Martens and Greg Hackney are the most-picked anglers in Bucket A (18.4 percent and 16.5 percent), they’re a bit overvalued compared to anglers with similar histories but lower ownership percentages, like Skeet Reese and Randy Howell.

At only 2.9 percent ownership, Reese is the best value in Bucket A — and it’s not even close. Consider his track record on the Potomac in August: first, second (Elite Series) and third (Bassmaster Top 150). He finishes almost as well on tidal fisheries elsewhere and at other times — seventh on the Louisiana Delta in August; fifth, fifth, fourth and second on the California Delta in the spring; and fifth on the Columbia River in the fall.

At 4.3 percent ownership, Howell is undervalued also. In three top-level Bassmaster tournaments on the Potomac in August, he has finished increasingly better — 21st in 2000, 14th in 2006 and fourth in 2007. And in mid-June 2013, he won a Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River.

I’m sticking with Skeet.

Bucket B: B. Lane or K. VanDam

Here’s another revelation I wish I could keep under wraps this week — Bobby Lane has excelled in summer tournaments on an East Cost tidal river. Of five FLW tournaments he fished on the Potomac between 2005 and 2011, he won two Everstarts and finished third in two FLW Tour events.

You’d think the safe play is Kevin VanDam — who doesn’t spend much time in Bucket B — but you won’t be getting as much résumé from the Kalamazoo Kid as you should for 47.9 percent ownership. In three trips to the Potomac in August, he’s been in the Top 12 only once, a fourth place way back in the 2000 Bassmaster Top 150. In 2006 and 2007, he placed 29th and 20th, respectively. He’s been better on other tidal waters and/or at other times of year — first on the Louisiana Delta, also in August; sixth on the James River in September (2003 Forrest Wood Cup); and sixth and eighth on the California Delta in spring Elite Series events. But he’s also finished 32nd and 29th on the Louisiana and California deltas, respectively.

I’m buying Bobby.

Bucket C: Kennedy or Jordon

My best bets in Bucket C, Stephen Kennedy (3.7 percent) and Kelly Jordon (2.1 percent), come with caveats. Although the numbers indicate they have the best histories on tidal fisheries in August — specifically the Potomac — neither has ever been a Fantasy Fishing star.

For starters, most of the best finishes in their careers came in the last 10 years rather than the last five. Secondly — and this is not scientific in the least — whenever I pick one of them, they don’t even cash a check, it seems. That said, their numbers are best in the bucket.

In 2006 and 2007, Jordon won an Elite Series tournament on the Potomac River in August and was runner-up in another. In two other top-level tournaments on the Potomac, one in August, the other in June, he finished 36th and 30th.

Kennedy placed third and 14th in the August 2006 and 2007 Elite Series tournaments on the Potomac. He didn’t fare as well there in June FLW Tour events, however, placing 21st, 81st and 117th.

At 45.2 percent, Edwin Evers is overvalued this week. And not just because almost half the field is picking him. Tidal fisheries (not counting the St. Johns River, remember) have not been his best venues. In three tries between 2000 and 2007 on the Potomac River in August, he placed 90th, 30th and 71st. The California and Louisiana deltas have not been kind either: He finished 50th on the former (August 2003), and 85th and 96th on the latter (spring 2003 and 2007).

I’ve justified picking Jordon.

Bucket D: Iaconelli or Morris

At 62.3 percent ownership, you’d think Michael Iaconelli would be overvalued. And if he were up against Bucket B or A competition — and on any other fishery — you’d be right. But in Bucket D on the Delaware River, the numbers make sense.

Iaconelli is one of the only Elite Series anglers — if not the only one — with a history on the Delaware. You can read about it here [http://www.bassmaster.com/news/delawares-rising-bass-tid] and here [http://www.bassmaster.com/blog/think-rocky-balboa].

Now, consider this résumé AND the fact that Ike needs to win a tournament to qualify for the Classic: August Bassmaster tournaments on the Potomac — fourth, fifth, 14th and 31st; June/July FLW tournaments on the Potomac — first, second and 27th; June/July Bassmaster event on the James River — third and fourth.

If, however, you want or need to go against the tide to make up ground against the field, consider picking Rick Morris. At 1.2 percent, he’s very undervalued. Although he did not cash a check the first two times he fished top-tier tournaments on the Potomac (65th and 58th, in 2000 and 2002), he got much, much better over the years. In four tournaments there between 2003 and 2007, he finished second, third, fifth and 39th. Also encouraging is a 10th-place finish on the Hudson River in August 2004.

Cliff Pirch (1.5 percent) is my dark-horse pick. He’s got a lot of experience on tidal rivers, but he’s never finished well on them consistently.

I like Ike.

Bucket E: Remitz or Goldbeck

Grant Goldbeck (11 percent) is the safest pick in Bucket E, but Derek Remitz (1.8 percent) has the potential to help you make a better move against the field.

A native Marylander, Goldbeck is no stranger to fishing tidal waters. He is, however, an inconsistent competitor on them. Between 2002 and 2007, his finishes on the Potomac were all over the map.

In Elite Series competition, Goldbeck has been stellar on tidal rivers in August, placing 15th and ninth on the Potomac in 2006 and 2007, respectively. His Bassmaster Open and FLW Everstart summer finishes on East Coast tidal waters, however, have been inconsistent — 11th in 2004, Hudson River; 134th in 2005, Potomac; 25th in 2013, Potomac; 28th in 2002, Potomac; 70th in 2011, James River.

Remitz’s history is not as good as Goldbeck’s, but it’s better than almost everyone else in the bucket, including Ish Monroe, who is most popular at 25.6 percent. In three summer tournaments on East Coast tidal rivers between 2007 and 2001, Remitz placed 19th, 28th and 24th. Monroe, on the other hand, has never cashed a check in a summer East Coast tidal river tournament — 92nd, 69th, 89th between 2000 and 2011. Interestingly, Remitz has fared better in Elite Series competition on West Coast tidal waters too. He placed second and 14th on the California Delta in 2007 and 2010; Monroe finished 47th and 49th.

I got Goldbeck.

Sancho and Mueller discuss their picks

Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Joe Sancho and 2014 Bassmaster Classic runner-up Paul Mueller reveal their Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks for the Delaware River. sanchomueller1

On the Delaware, let the best man win

By Pete Robbins

PHILADELPHIA — Shortly after BASSfest at Chickamauga, the cryptic hashtags started to emerge:

#delawareriver

#strongtide

#wouldkillfora3pounder

With a healthy gap in the Elite Series schedule and a short time before the Delaware River went off limits, what seemed like hordes of pros made their way to Philly to scout the site of the next event. I’m sure there were even more there in semi-stealth mode, not broadcasting their whereabouts even if they were heading up and down the river in wrapped boats.

They posted pictures of urban scenery. They posted pictures of a few bass. Mostly they posted pictures of big freighters heading up and down the river, dwarfing their 20-foot fiberglass rockets. For those pros used to fishing the large reservoirs of the south and west, as well as the Great Lakes, the passing boats may have been big, but the Delaware is going to fish small. It’s going to confuse some of them.

Even though a bunch of pros have now visited the river, more than 90 percent hadn’t been there before this year (with one very notable exception among the minority), so for the first time in a while we have as close to a level playing field as possible.

I love it. Don’t get me wrong: Florida in March, Toledo Bend in the late spring and Kentucky Lake in the summertime are all great venues, but when those types of events are on the schedule, there aren’t necessarily a lot of new areas or tricks to uncover. At the Delaware, everything is comparatively new to almost everyone and the script has yet to be written.

When picking a Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team, you can try to work the angles to your advantage, picking river specialists or Northeasterners or those who best understand current. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe in one rule: Winners win. You are what your record says you are. When you don’t have much to go on, go with anglers who consistently do well on a wide variety of waterways. Here are my choices:

Bucket A

Picked: Jacob Powroznik

Almost Picked: Todd Faircloth

This bucket has lots of proven winners — Elite Series victors, Classic champs and AOYs — but to me, few are surer bets than Powroznik to be near the top. In nine career Bassmaster professional tournaments, he’s been in the money eight times and in the Top 10 on three occasions, including this year’s win at Toledo Bend. He’s also local to Virginia’s James River, a multi-faceted waterway with heavy industrial activity and a strong tide. That gives him the edge over Todd Faircloth, one of the best “win everywhere” anglers. Faircloth has won on two river systems (the Sabine last year, and the Mississippi in 2012), on a big Texas reservoir and on a highland reservoir, with five second-places (two in Florida) and three thirds (including one on the Red River). Tough not to pick him, especially since he’s having a slightly better year than Powroznik, but after a hot start, he cooled off substantially in the last two events. That’s enough to give the Virginia “rookie” my nod, especially because his ownership percentage is quite low.

Bucket B

Picked: Ott DeFoe

Almost Picked: Bill Lowen

Every time I pass up KVD, it makes me cringe, but I have to do it here, especially because he’s approaching 50 percent ownership. This event would seem to set up well for DeFoe’s proven versatility and expertise with current. He won this year’s Northern Open on Douglas in the current and won the All-Star event on the Alabama River in 2011 as well. He hasn’t yet had a Top 12 in Elite competition this year, but he’s been solid throughout, missing only one check. I wanted to pick Lowen, and one day he’s going to win one of these grind ’em out tournaments, but he’s burned me a couple of times and I’m afraid to take the chance with so many other top sticks in this bucket.

Bucket C

Picked: Stephen Browning

Almost Picked: Steve Kennedy

Browning’s Classic ticket is already punched via his Open win on the Red River, where he’s gotten the job done in consecutive years. He’s a winner and he knows river systems, including the industrial Arkansas River, so he seems like a safe pick. I’d love to pick Kennedy, who seems to win something on some tour every year, but he hasn’t finished higher than 29th on the Elites this year. I don’t know if that means he’s due or he’s in a slump, but he’s just as likely to finish 100th as he is to finish at the top, so with Browning rolling, I’ll err on the side of caution here. I thought about picking Edwin Evers, who, like Faircloth, seems to do well on every type of waterway, but at more than 45 percent ownership, I’ll go with Browning, who stands to earn me more distance from the competition if he wins.

Bucket D

Picked: Mike Iaconelli

Almost Picked: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago

Seriously? Ike’s still in Bucket D? And he’s fishing on his home water? This one is like the free square in a game of “Bingo.” Unless he makes a hard turn and parks his boat on the bank or gets captured by the ASPCA, he’s money in the bank here. At the very least, he’ll get a good check. For sentimental reasons related to tough off-the-water issues, and because he’s a proven winner on river systems, I’d love to see Kevin Short turn the Delaware pink, but like Lowen he’s burned me too many times in the past when I’ve chosen him in tournaments where he was expected to do well. It’s not enough to overcome Ike’s built-in advantage. Yes, I realize that more than 60 percent have picked Ike, but truth be told, that’s fewer than I expected.

Bucket E

Picked: Joe Sancho

Almost Picked: Ish Monroe

Here’s one where I’m going against my own rule of picking winners. Boyd Duckett and Kevin Hawk have proven themselves on the sport’s biggest stages, but they’re both really struggling now. I’m also tempted to pick former Rookie of the Year Billy McCaghren, another Arkansas River rat, but he too can’t seem to get on track. I’d love to pick Ish Monroe, too, because of his four B.A.S.S. wins on four different waterways (one of them, Oneida Lake, in the Northeast), but they’ve all been relatively high-weight affairs. In low-weight tournaments, his results are less dominant, including a 42nd-place finish in the Pittsburgh Classic and 79th on the Mississippi in Iowa (2009). He did have a fourth place at the Sabine last year, but if I’m going to gamble in this case it’s going to be with an unknown commodity like Sancho. Sancho’s track record with B.A.S.S. has been mediocre, and since making the Elites, he’s yet to cash a check, but given his proximity to Philly, he’d be a fool if he didn’t put every ounce of effort before the cutoff into making this a career-turning event. For the sake of one Bucket E pick, I’m willing to bet that Joe Sancho (whom I’ve yet to meet) is not a fool.

To Ike or not to Ike on the Delaware River

 By Tyler Reed

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If you’re planning to pick Mike Iaconelli for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team for the Delaware River, know that you are among 62.2 percent of people who are planning to do the same. Picking against Iaconelli is a real gamble. If he blows it out on his home water and goes home with a win, you are now behind more than 60 percent of the other players — and because it’s Bucket D, you’re probably substantially behind. But if he stinks it up and you chose someone who did better, you’ve hit the mother lode. We asked Bassmaster Elite Series pros who they thought Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players should choose for their teams. Bernie Schultz’s response? “Ike, Ike and Ike!” Will you follow Schultz’s advice and go with the crowd? Or is there someone in Bucket D who is worth the gamble? Below are the Elite Series pros’ picks for Fantasy, bucket by bucket.

Bucket A

John Crews says you should pick him on the Delaware River. “I like what I saw [in pre-fish], so I would bet on myself,” said Crews. But, he added, “if you think I am just being biased, pick [Jacob] Powroznik.” Chris Zaldain based his picks on anglers who are good on waters similar to the Delaware. “Anglers with tidal water backgrounds know what to look for and where to go once the tide turns and targets dry up or disappear,” said Chris Zaldain. For Bucket A, that means Greg Hackney or Skeet Reese for their knowledge of their respective deltas’ tidal fisheries (Louisiana and California). Elite Series rookie Joel Baker would pick Aaron Martens. Currently, Martens and Hackney are the leaders in the A bucket for fan picks.

Bucket B

Zaldain will go with Terry Scroggins in the B bucket for his knowledge of tidal fisheries. Crews agrees, kind of: “Never bet against KVD, but if you do, go for the Big Show,” referring to Scroggins. Baker is going with a pick of Ott DeFoe. Right now, it appears that many people are on board with Crews as far as not betting against VanDam. He is owned by 48 percent of players right now, surely thanks largely to his 2005 victory in Pennsylvania when the pros visited Pittsburgh for the Bassmaster Classic. Brandon Palaniuk is owned by 14 percent, and third in popularity is DeFoe. Zaldain’s pick of Scroggins is only at 1 percent currently.

Bucket C

Baker is going with Edwin Evers in Bucket C, as are most players. Evers, in a low bucket for someone with such a résumé, has garnered 45 percent of the players’ confidence on the Delaware. Zaldain will pick himself in C because of his experience on the California Delta’s tidal waters. For Crews, it’s Stephen Browning. “Browning is the name that jumps off to me, but there are multiple other decent choices here,” said Crews. The highest-owned angler next to Evers is Hank Cherry, far back at 16 percent but still a much more popular pick than anyone else in C.

Bucket D

Mike Iaconelli is definitely the star of the show in this bucket. At 62 percent ownership, a lot of fans are pinning their hopes on Iaconelli’s performance and will likely be either elated or devastated with the results. Baker, Zaldain and Crews are all picking Iaconelli, but Crews said to not rule out Rick Morris, who is owned by only 1 percent. “Morris will likely do well, too,” said Crews. The counter-Ike picks in this bucket are going to Tommy Biffle, who’s got 10 percent, and Jonathon VanDam, who’s got 7.

Bucket E

Oh, Bucket E. You cause so much trouble. This one is often the hardest to choose from, yet the biggest points producers usually come from it because the angler who gets away from the pack usually gets far ahead. Players can spike or bust on their pick in this bucket alone. Ish Monroe gets the nod from Crews and Zaldain. Zaldain chose him for the same reason he chose himself and Reese – that California experience in the delta. Crews said Monroe will be able to fish his strengths there, and that’s why he’s a good pick. Monroe is currently on the team of 25 percent of players, the highest of the bucket. Crews also recommends Fletcher Shryock and Tracy Adams. “Fletcher is a good river angler,” said Crews, “and Tracy is a good tidal river angler because I have competed against him.” Joel Baker chose himself in this bucket, just like Crews, Zaldain and Howell chose themselves when asked. You’ve got to have confidence in yourself or why should anyone else have confidence in you? The other top picks so far in this bucket behind Monroe are Grant Goldbeck, 11 percent, and Jeremy Starks, 10 percent. Who are you picking for the Delaware River? Do you trust Elite Series pros’ judgments better than those of other pundits? Post your comments below or discuss your picks in the Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing group on Facebook.

Who Randy Howell is putting on his Fantasy team

PHILADELPHIA — Results build confidence, and confidence builds results. So says Bassmaster Classic champion Randy Howell. “Momentum is a big factor in how well we do in tournaments,” said Howell, “and I think more people should think about that in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. Everybody feeds off confidence. If you put two or three bad tournaments behind somebody, they’re probably not going to go and win the next one.” Howell helps his wife, Robin, set her Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team each event. “She’s ranked 5,099. That’s my fault.” He pauses, then laughs and says, “No, it’s the guys’ faults for not doing so well after I pick them!” The Howells may be ranked lower than they’d like, but they’re in the 80th percentile, and they have the added advantage of being Bassmaster Elite Series insiders. Here are Randy Howell’s top picks for a Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team leading into the Delaware River, Aug. 7-10.

Bucket A: Howell

“All of us need to pick ourselves,” said Howell. “If we don’t, it means we don’t have confidence in ourselves. So my first pick is me. “Bucket A is the hardest group because all of these guys are doing well and have momentum. That momentum is a big player in my picks, and it should be on any Fantasy Fishing player’s mind. “My next pick for this bucket would be Greg Hackney. I’d almost rather pick him than me,” Howell said with a laugh. “He’s had a phenomenal year, with a win on FLW and other Top 5s and Top 10s. “Also, he’s a great river fisherman. He won the FLW Championship in Pittsburgh in 2009 [on Three Rivers]. So I think he would be a great pick.” We asked Howell for a dark horse pick in every bucket. “It’s hard to even find a dark horse in A. I would say Jason Christie, but he might even end up being a white horse! “If I have to come up with a dark horse, I’d say Randall Tharp. He’s not really a dark horse, but he’s considered a rookie on the Bassmaster Elite Series, even though he’s not a rookie to fishing. “He’s a good river fisherman, and he did well in FLW up there. So I would go with him.”

 Bucket B: Lowen

Without a moment’s hesitation, Howell picked Bill Lowen for Bucket B. “He is a very good, experienced river fisherman, especially in fluctuating tidal fisheries,” said Howell. “The Ohio River is really tough, but he’s done well on it all his life. It’s similar to the Delaware. “I’ve got confidence in Bill.” Howell also recommends Ott DeFoe as a Bucket B pick. “Ott is a really good shallow fisherman and river fisherman,” said Howell, “and he’s got good momentum.” For a dark horse, Howell suggests Kevin VanDam. “That’s pretty bad to say Kevin VanDam is a dark horse, but let’s do it,” said Howell. “Get him as a bargain while he’s in the B group. Plus, of course, he won the Classic in Pittsburgh,” said Howell, referring to the 2005 Bassmaster Classic held on the Three Rivers.

Bucket C: Browning

“I’d go with Stephen Browning in Bucket C,” said Howell. “He’s got a lot of good history on rivers, and he’s already going to the Classic because of his Red River win in the Opens. He’s proved himself, and because of that Classic qualification, there’s not a lot of pressure on him. “Next, I’d go with my buddy Brent Chapman. He’s typically in a higher group than C. But he’s a good river fisherman, and we fish a lot alike, so I know. He’s on his way to scout and prepare for the Delaware River now. He’s got to do well to get into the Classic. “For my dark horse, Andy Montgomery stands out to me,” said Howell. “He’s a good shallow river fisherman. He’s come out strong in the first part of every tournament so far, but then he doesn’t have a good second or third day. He hasn’t had the finishes he’s had the starts for. He’s due for a better finish this time. He’s hungry. And he’s got a little pressure on him with a baby coming along soon.”

Bucket D: Iaconelli

“It’s a shocker to me that Mike Iaconelli is in the D group,” said Howell. “His momentum is really strong, and his state of mind is positive. And we’re going to his back door, right near to where he lives. He’s fished club and B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments there, and his good friend and Bassmaster University partner Pete Gluszek is a guide there. “Iaconelli will be hard to beat in this tournament,” said Howell. “He’s got advantages in every direction.” Tommy Biffle would be another good pick in D, according to the Classic champ. “He’s a seasoned angler. He’s great at flipping in rivers and in tidal events. He should be a strong finisher. “My dark horse would be Kevin Short. He’s good on the Arkansas River. And he can all of a sudden come in with a big stringer from time to time.”

Bucket E: Adams

“I’m going to start right at the top alphabetically here for this one,” said Howell. “Tracy Adams is not as well-known as some of the others. Like Tharp, he’s a Bassmaster Elite Series rookie, but he’s not a real rookie. He’s made it to the Classic through the Opens. “He’s a North Carolina boy, good at shallow and river fishing. He’s doing pretty good recently. He’s got that momentum.” Howell also recommends Billy McCaghren. “He might not stand out to some people, but he’s a good Arkansas River guy. He’s good at those square-bill-type fisheries. He’s a good one to look at.” And for a dark horse? “Greg Vinson. He’s an Alabama boy, but he’s good at that shallow fishing. He doesn’t have great momentum right now, which is not characteristic of him. It happens to every fisherman some time. He’s due to break out of his bad luck spell and do better this time.”

The Fantasy effect

We’ve got one last question for Howell: “Does it affect you when you see that lots of players have chosen you for their Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team — or when almost none have?” “I’m happy when people are picking me,” said Howell. “I feel a responsibility to do well, and I want the ones who have chosen me to do well in Fantasy. “You can’t take it personally when no one chooses you, though. I only think about it when I’m looking at the screen. Once I get up from the computer, it’s out of my head. Back in the day when no one ever picked me, I didn’t let it bother me. They’ve got to play it smart, just like in any fantasy sport. They’ve got to base it on the numbers.” Your turn! Who will you be picking for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team for the Delaware River? Discuss your team in the new Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing group on Facebook. Be sure to set your team before launch on Aug. 7.

Discuss your Fantasy picks!

We’ve created a group on Facebook where you can chat with other Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players about which anglers to pick. Join the discussion here.

Fantasy: Locals didn’t pan out, Cherry did

By Tyler Reed

DAYTON, Tenn. — If you picked local for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team for BASSfest, you’re surely wishing you hadn’t. Here is the best possible team you could have assembled: Bucket A: Gerald Swindle, 290 points Bucket B: Kevin VanDam, 300 Bucket C: Hank Cherry, 300 Bucket D: Jason Williamson, 264 Bucket E: Tracy Adams, 245 Total: 1,399 No Fantasy Fishing player achieved a score this high. The 8.1 percent of players who chose Hank Cherry got a bigger boost for their overall points because in Bucket C, Cherry beat his closest opponent, Nate Wellman, by 67. Here is the breakdown, bucket by bucket, of the best picks and the biggest disappointments.

Bucket A

Gerald Swindle, with his fourth-place finish, gave 290 points to the 2.4 percent of people who chose him. That’s only 10 points ahead of Greg Hackney pickers, who made up 6 percent, and 14 points ahead of Casey Ashley pickers, 4.9 percent. The most-picked anglers in Bucket A were the biggest disappointments. Aaron Martens, at 15.1 percent, delivered only 77 points. David Walker’s fans, 11.8 percent, earned 155. And Mark Davis fans, 10.1 percent, scored 91.

Bucket B

In Bucket B, two anglers were heavily favored: Kevin VanDam and Ott DeFoe. VanDam owners came out way ahead of the local pro’s owners. VanDam, who was owned at 24.4 percent, delivered a solid 300 points to his fans. DeFoe, who held more than a third of the players with 36.5 percent, was a big letdown at 178 points. DeFoe pickers not only came out behind VanDam pickers but also several other angler owners. Bucket B was full of top performers who were close enough to VanDam’s final points to not hurt their Fantasy Fishing owners too much, including Matt Herren, 295 (0.3 percent), Brett Hite, 285 (2.9 percent), Terry Scroggins, 272 (0.8 percent) and Russ Lane, 268 (1.4 percent). Two other highly owned anglers, Tim Horton (8.6 percent) and Brandon Palaniuk (10.5 percent), delivered points similar to DeFoe (180 and 187, respectively). If you were part of the VanDam/Herren/Hite/Scroggins/Lane crowd (29.8 percent), you beat more than half the players (55.6 percent with DeFoe/Horton/Palaniuk) by an average of 100 points.

Bucket C

Hank Cherry’s huge fish, a 10-11 on Day 2, gave Cherry’s owners a welcome 40-point boost. Added to Cherry’s 12th-place finish, he earned 300 points for his fans. The next-closest angler, Nate Wellman, had 133 points. The fans who were hurt the most in this bucket were Edwin Evers’ 38.6 percent holdings. He delivered only 209 points, putting more than one-third of the players nearly 100 points back from Cherry’s owners. Other highly favored anglers in this bucket were the locals, Brandon Lester and David Mullins. Lester’s 6.3 percent of fans earned only 125 points. Mullins’ 10.8 percent were unhappy with his 100-something-place on Day 2 but relieved when he made the Top 10 in the Second Chance tournament, moving him up more than 50 places. He ultimately posted 170 points for his fans.

Bucket D

At first, it looked like Mike Iaconelli was the breakout in Bucket D. His 24.5 percent of fans rejoiced on Day 1 when he took the lead, but he ended up finishing in 42nd place. He posted 206 points for his fans. The next-highest pick in the bucket was Jonathon VanDam at 19.5 percent. His fans earned almost the lowest score in the bucket, 79. Ouch. Jason Williamson, who had 2 percent ownership, was the best pick with 264. Right behind him was Fred Roumbanis, 5 percent, with 257 points.

Bucket E

The Bucket E picks are generally the hardest. Usually, one angler breaks out of his season slump and does something amazing in each tournament, but figuring out who that might be and placing your bet on the right guy is really tough. Fans keep betting on powerhouse Ish Monroe, but he has not delivered the points very often this season. The same thing happened again at BASSfest. More than a quarter of the players (26.2 percent) added him to their team, and he ended with 161 points. That score put Monroe pickers more than 80 points behind the 1.6 percent of people who chose Tracy Adams (245 points) and nearly 80 points behind the 9.1 percent of Boyd Duckett’s faithful fans (237 points). The only other high picks in this bucket were Kevin Hawk, 9.8 percent, 174 points; Greg Vinson, 12.2 percent, 135; and Jeremy Starks, 11.8 percent, 184. It’s nearly two months before the next Bassmaster Elite Series event, the Delaware River, Aug. 7-10, but you can go ahead and set your team. This break gives the anglers a little bit of R&R and gives Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players plenty of time to figure out who they should add to their roster. Good luck!

Score correction

By Tyler Reed You may have noticed your score shifted some overnight. That’s because we made a correction on a technical error that was giving some Opens anglers Fantasy Fishing points, therefore shifting Elite Series anglers down in points. All anglers were affected at least by a couple of points, but the most significant change occurred to the anglers at the very bottom. Everyone who is currently below Mark Davis in 113th place was erroneously awarded zero points; all of them now have points. That change comes as very good news to the high percentages of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players who had Jonathon VanDam, David Mullins and Aaron Martens on their teams.

Fantasy Fishing and the Second Chance

By Tyler Reed If you’re one of the 10 percent of anglers who chose Keith Combs for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team or one of the 26 percent who picked Ish Monroe, don’t panic just yet. You, just like the anglers you picked, get a second chance tomorrow. The competitors who did not make the Top 50 cut today get a whole day of fishing on Nickajack. The Top 10 from tomorrow’s competition will advance to Saturday, and they’ll do so with today’s weight. Here are two potential occurrences: 1. Combs, who’s currently in 53rd place, if he is anywhere in the Top 10 tomorrow, will begin Saturday with his current weight of 25-6. 2. John Murray, who’s currently the last-place Elite Series angler in the 138 spot, if he is anywhere in the Top 10 tomorrow, will begin Saturday around 60th place with his current weight of 3-10. Two other important things to note: Although all Elite Series pros earn Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing points on a sliding scale that pushes them into the next-highest Opens angler’s spot, they do not earn bonus points that Opens anglers earned. That’s why today, owners of Kevin VanDam do not get daily leader points. Jacob Wheeler, from the Opens, earned them, and they do not move down to the next Elite Series pro. Also, no bonus points will be earned tomorrow on Nickajack. Regardless of who leads, he will not give you 5 points. And even if someone brings in a 10-11 that trumps Hank Cherry’s big bass from today and ultimately is the biggest bass of the entire tournament, he will not earn you 40 points. The same goes for the biggest bag of the tournament. There will be no live leaderboard tomorrow, but you can check the Live Blog or follow us on Twitter for updates during the weigh-in. And, because the second chance tournament will not affect Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing points, you won’t see any updates to your points tomorrow either. Good luck to those of you who own one guy — or even all five — in the second chance tournament. We’ll see you back on this page Saturday evening after the weigh-in.

Don’t overload on ledge crankers for Chickamauga

By Greg Huff
DAYTON, Tenn. — Although pundits pretty much agree that BASSfest on Chickamauga will be won on offshore ledges, resist the urge to go all in on deep crankers. Balance your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster with some anglers likely to fish shallow or in mid-depths.

While Chickamauga’s deeper ledges do hold good populations of big bass, there aren’t nearly as many ledges here as there are on other TVA lakes known for ledge fishing, like Kentucky Lake. So Chickamauga’s ledges are going to be crowded this week, especially with the expanded BASSfest field of Opens anglers.

There’s always some summer fish shallow, and on Chickamauga, they’re likely to be around grass. Chickamauga has been described recently as a “mini Guntersville,” based on a resurgence of grass — aquatic vegetation like hydrilla and milfoil. Some good shallower bags might be caught also in manner similar to how Greg Hackney won an FLW tournament last week on Pickwick, another Tennessee River reservoir known for summer ledge fishing. He caught prespawn and postspawn bass cranking a shallow shellbed in a backwater.

Weather could be a factor also. It’s supposed to rain a lot prior to, and during, the tournament, which launches Wednesday morning (a day earlier than usual). That could muddy up the main-river ledge bite, sending anglers looking for clearer water in shallower pockets and cuts.

Because Bassmaster has not visited Chickamauga in the Elite Series era, I researched summer FLW tournaments there, May and June Guntersville Elite Series tournaments, and other June Elite Series and FLW tournaments won fishing ledges on riverine reservoirs like Kentucky Lake, Wheeler and Old Hickory.

Bucket A: Reese or Combs

Anytime and anywhere bass can be caught deep on a crankbait, I’m considering picking Keith Combs (7.8 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership). He doesn’t have a long history of success in summer ledge tournaments as do some others in Bucket A, but the highlights in his young career are impressive: fifth onGuntersville in a June 2010 tournament and 15th on Wheeler in a June 2011 Elites Series event.

Although Skeet Reese (2.3 percent) wasn’t the first name that popped into my mind when I started my research for this tournament, I kept coming back to the notes I took on him. Call it a hunch, but I think Reese gets back in the headlines this week.

Reese certainly has the history on summer ledge tournaments to justify picking him — a win onGuntersville in a May 2010 Elite Series event in which the winner cranked ledges; fourth in two Kentucky Lake tournaments in June (2006 and 2009); and 14th in a June 2008 event on Wheeler.

Bucket B: VanDam

Even at 21.9 percent ownership, Kevin VanDam is a bargain in Bucket B. No one in the field has a résumé this impressive for major summer ledge-fishing tournaments: two wins, a runner-up and a third on Kentucky Lake, all in early to mid-June; two runners-up and a fourth on Wheeler, all in early to mid-June; and ninth place in an early May tournament on Guntersville that was won not in the grass, but by cranking ledges.

Bucket C: Jordon, Lester or Mullins

Rookies Brandon Lester (5.6 percent) of Fayetteville, Tenn., and David Mullins (10.6 percent) of Mount Carmel, Tenn., are getting more Fantasy Fishing attention this week than ever before, owing to their home-state status. Which one to choose?

Lester categorizes himself a shallow-water angler, but he went to college for a few years in Chattanooga, the closest city to Chickamauga. Mullins cut his teeth on Douglas and Cherokee lakes in Tennessee, and travels with Aaron Martens, whom he became friends with as a high schooler when he met Martens at a Douglas Lake boat ramp. I give the edge to Lester.

If you’d rather base your pick on Elite Series history in summer ledge tournaments, however, consider Kelly Jordon, who is a pretty good value at 2.9 percent. In 10 summer ledge-fishing tournaments between 2003 and 2011, he scored three Top 12s, two more Top 20s and finished out of the money only twice. Only Edwin Evers has a better résumé in this bucket than Jordon, but at 42.1 percent ownership, it makes more sense to pick against Evers if your player percentage is below 95 percent.

Bucket D: Biffle

Tommy Biffle (9.5 percent) is too good a value in Bucket D to not take him. While others elbow for position on the ledges, Biffle will likely find shallow to mid-depth water of his own and throw his Biffle Bug/Biffle Hardhead combo to shellbeds and other small hard spots to make the Top 12.

A lesser owned option would be Jason Williamson (1.9 percent). Based on his history in summer ledge tournaments, Williamson is likely to finish about 25th. In seven such tournaments between 2008 and 2011, his in-the-money finishes were 21st, 23rd, 30th, 31st and 36th; his out-of-the-cut finishes were 56th and 74th.

Bucket E: Remitz or Reed

In 2010, Derek Remitz (5.9 percent) racked up three Top 12s on riverine reservoirs known for ledge fishing, one of which was an eighth-place showing in an FLW event. That one, however, was held in mid-September. Still, in June of that summer, he placed fifth on Kentucky Lake in an Elite tournament won by cranking ledges. In May of that year, he placed 12th on Guntersville in an event also won by cranking ledges.

In five June ledge-cranking tournaments between 2008 and 2009, however, Remitz did not fare as well: 34th, 43rd, 67th, 69th and 83rd. That said, few others in this bucket have any Top 12s to go along with out-of-the money finishes.

The other angler in this bucket who has had a modicum of success in summer ledge-fishing tournaments is Matt Reed, who’s a decent value this week at 1.2 percent ownership. In early June 2008, Reed finished eighth on Wheeler; in mid-June 2008, he finished 16th on Kentucky Lake. In five more June tournaments on ledge-fishing riverine reservoirs between 2006 and 2011, he finished in the money three times (29th, 39th and 40th).

Be sure to set your team before launch tomorrow. Remember, this tournament is an out-of-the-ordinary Wednesday start rather than the traditional Thursday.

Rojas’ record could fall on Day 1 at BASSfest

By Jim Root DAYTON, Tenn. — If there’s one thing I have learned, in a very cold and humbling way, it’s that trying to nail down the weather forecast part of my practice and tournament game plan in Tennessee can be incredibly difficult. Storm systems are constantly changing direction and duration, resulting in conditions that can leave you scrambling for a Plan D. So bear with me when I say this but, as of right now, should the weather forecast hold up, we could see something legendary this week at BASSfest on Tennessee’s Chickamauga Lake. Legendary. Let me set the stage for what is predicted during most of this event that is packed with the most talented anglers in the world: overcast skies, favorable wind and moon phase, likelihood of rain on four of the five days (cross your fingers and hope lightning doesn’t come with it), a barometer that will be falling at some point during each day of competition, and modest temperatures during the day with no significantly cold nights to speak of. Let us not forget this is a TVA lake, meaning these fish will respond to current. With rain forecasted for much of the week, water will be moving, and fish will be chomping. What’s most interesting is Wednesday, because the conditions look like the kind I lie in bed at night dreaming about. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for wind and rain, but the fish, particularly the big fish, will be easier to catch, thereby showing themselves and giving anglers an added boost of confidence going into Thursday and even carrying that angler all week. Chickamauga manufactures huge bass. You’ve likely seen the 13-plus-pounder that was just caught there last month. The lake also showed a mega school to Casey Martin last year in a tournament when he sacked more than 100 pounds, beating his closest competitor by about 20 pounds. If these conditions for cloudy skies and choppy water can hold up, then guys who favor cranking and can find those big schools have the potential to show us what we all suspect this lake is capable of. I think there’s even a chance that the single day record of 45-2 set by Dean Rojas could fall Wednesday (no disrespect, Dean). This week I like Cliff Crochet, Brandon Palaniuk, Hank Cherry, Rick Morris and my New York brother Joe Sancho, with Cherry as my pick to win. But I almost picked Randy Howell because this week reminds me of the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, only much warmer. See the forecast below, and get the latest by clicking here.

weather

Pick Tennessee River experts for your BASSfest team

By Ronnie Moore DAYTON, Tenn. — The last Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Dardanelle was a mix of emotions as I successfully picked John Crews and Mike Iaconelli to do well, and they both notched Top 12 finishes for my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. The bad thing is that local pro Scott Rook didn’t do so well, and neither did Yusuke Miyazaki. Davy Hite successfully placed in the mid-20s. The really bad part? I never actually set my Fantasy Fishing lineup. (I know…way to drop the ball). So as a result, my week could have been successful, but I will take my “good lineup” and just reassure myself that I am not bad at picking teams (as long as I actually select them). That said, check out my team for Chickamauga and the sleepers that you should keep your eye on.

Bucket A: Powroznik

My choice: Jacob Powroznik

Sleeper pick: Casey Ashley

Many don’t realize this, but the current Rookie of the Year leader won on Lake Chickamauga this year. Jacob Powroznik and his partner won the Fishers of Men National Championship on the Chick one week before Powroznik took home the Toledo Bend title.

J-Proz didn’t cash a check for the first time this season at Dardanelle, and he probably didn’t like the way his 77th-place finish tasted. Expect him to come back strong.

Casey Ashley has been underrated this season and with a 12th-place standing in the Angler of the Year race. Ashley has proved that he is on the same level as many of the top pros. Since an 89th-place finish to start the season, the South Carolina pro has reeled in finishes of 24, 27, five and 22. Ashley also notched a victory on Lake Hartwell in March on the FLW circuit.

Bucket B: T. Horton

My choice: Timmy Horton

Sleeper pick: Mike McClelland

Timmy Horton is a great postspawn fisherman. Lake Chickamauga is one of those monsters in a sense that the winning school of fish is lurking anywhere and everywhere on this lake. As Casey Martin showed on last season’s FLW Tour, more than 100 pounds in four days of competition is possible, and for crankers and draggers, it’s there for the taking. Horton lives near Pickwick Lake, the last lake on the Tennessee River, so he undoubtedly knows how to fish these bodies of water.

Mike McClelland is one of those draggers who can dissect a school of fish and milk everything he can out of them. McClelland already has a win this season and his ticket to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic is punched. He can freely go big or go home and gamble to make Top 50 and even Top 12 cuts. That’s what I expect him to do.

Bucket C: Mullins

My choice: David Mullins

Sleeper pick: Chris Zaldain

David Mullins is an east Tennessee fisherman, and Lake Chickamauga isn’t far from him at all. You have to expect that one of the local fishermen (Ott Defoe, Brandon Card, David Walker and Mullins) will do well at this event, but the others have a huge following and their ownership percentage shows that. With only 5 percent owning Mullins, there is no way I can’t take him here.

Why not Chris Zaldain? He started the season flat and was in the cellar of the AOY standings, but with back-to-back Top 12s and a renewed confidence, I expect the California kid to keep the train rolling. Only 7 percent have him on their team, and the risk is worth the value when it comes to choosing him.

Bucket D: J. VanDam

My choice: Jonathon VanDam

Sleeper pick: Bradley Roy

Jonathon VanDam has shown strength over his career during the later parts of the Elite Series season. After already making a Top 12 early this year, I expect JVD to keep up some of his success and find the postspawn schools that will put him in contention this week.

Bradley Roy is from Kentucky, and Chickamauga, in many ways, fishes like a Kentucky Lake. Roy has a chance to turn around his season and I can see it happening in his neck of the woods. With the shad spawn starting on many of the east Tennessee lakes, it’s anyone’s game. But I have no doubt that the winner should come by fishing the deep parts of Lake Chickamauga.

Bucket E: Starks

My choice: Jeremy Starks

Sleeper pick: Kevin Hawk

Jeremy Starks registered both of his Elite Series wins on and in the vicinity of the Tennessee River (Wheeler Lake and Douglas Lake), and if you can fish one TVA lake, you should be able to fish others well, too. Only 7.5 percent of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players own him, and I will be a part of that group for sure.

Kevin Hawk has had somewhat of a disappointing season to date, and while his only Top 12 this season came on Table Rock Lake, I can see Hawk fishing a big school of fish well. Hawk is good with a football jig and a drop shot. Casey Martin won the Chickamauga FLW event last season mixing in a drop shot with a power fishing approach. This should be right up Hawk’s alley.

Be sure to set your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team by launch on Wednesday, June 11, to have a chance at winning a $2,500 Bass Pro Shops gift card for winning the tournament or a Triton/Mercury package valued at $38,450 for winning the whole season.

Going with my gut (again) on Chickamauga

By Pete Robbins DAYTON, Tenn. — I was pretty pleased with my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing advice at the last Elite Series. I went mostly with anglers who’d been chosen by few fans, and the picks paid off. Specifically, I had Greg Hackney (third), Cliff Crochet (seventh), world’s greatest bargain Zell Rowland (17th) and Tommy Biffle (30th). Stephen Browning was my only non-check-casher, just out of the money in 57th. More importantly, when you compare them to my second choices in each “bucket,” it shows that my picker was working well.

  • Hackney beat my alternate, Scott Rook, by 76 places;
  • Crochet beat Bill Lowen by 52 places;
  • Browning beat Steve Kennedy by seven places;
  • Biffle beat Kevin Short by 33 places; and
  • Rowland beat my two other choices, Boyd Duckett and Greg Vinson, by 74 and 89 places, respectively.

That may be dumb luck, but I’m going to ride this gut hunch horse until it leads me to the glue factory. With rare exceptions, I’m just not convinced that there’s a more scientific way to do this. Most of us expect that this event is going to be a slugfest. Last year, just a few weeks later in the season, Casey Martin won an FLW Tour event on Chickamauga with 103-3. There are two things that make that deceiving. First off, second place was a still-impressive-but-far-less-so 80-8, and the 10th-place finisher had 20 bass for 65-15. Second, Martin and many of the other top finishers did much of their damage with an Alabama rig, which Elite Series pros can’t use. Still, it’s the Tennessee River and big fish live there. A few members of this stacked field are going to whack them. The other potential complication is that the field is larger than normal with the addition of a few dozen Open-level pros. As Tyler Reed explained, though, while they’ll impact the final payout, their presence likely won’t meaningfully change things as far as Fantasy Fishing goes. If it was a body of water where you had to scratch and claw for every bare keeper, I’d say that their dilution of the fishery could be a game changer, but this place is a pig factory. FLW also visited in 2011, and current Elite Series pro Clifford Pirch won, but he didn’t fish last year’s tournament. Is one event enough to justify a pick? For that matter, are two events enough? The only angler in this year’s field who had two very good finishes in FLW Tour events on the Chick is Brett Hite (fifth and 32nd). Others, such as Justin Lucas and Randall Tharp, paired finishes in the teens with another worse than 70th place. All of these guys can fish grass. It may just come down to who averages a little bit more per fish to make a difference of a lot of points. Without further delay, here are my picks.

Bucket A: Combs

Almost Picked: Walker

As usual, this bucket is loaded. David Walker may be the closest thing to a local in this group, but at more than 14 percent ownership, I can’t quite justify him as a dark horse or a hunch. Jason Christie (8 percent) is tough to pass up, as is Todd Faircloth, at approximately the same percentage of ownership and one of the best grass anglers on the planet.

Without the castable umbrella rig in play, and with big fish at stake, I think a cranker will win it, and Keith Combs is my pick. Despite what I’ve written previously about his exceptional Lone Star State prowess, he’s due for another win elsewhere.

Bucket B: Palaniuk

Almost Picked: McClelland When was the last season Kevin VanDam was in anything but the first class cabin (i.e., Bucket A)? I desperately want to pick him or Ott DeFoe, but even if one of them were to win, the high ownership percentages wouldn’t allow me to separate from the pack. I was tempted to go with Timmy Horton, a Tennessee River stud, or Mike McClelland, one of the best offshore anglers in the game, but I’m taking a gamble on the inconsistent Palaniuk, another cranker who knows how to win. Go big or go home, indeed.

Bucket C: Zaldain

Almost Picked: Lester or Pirch As with KVD in Bucket B, it’s a rare Evers sighting here in Mendoza Line territory. Apparently the whole world has figured that out, because right now just about one of every two Fantasy Fishing players has last year’s near AOY winner as their pick. I suppose you could call Brandon Lester the home state favorite, but to tell you the truth, I couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. I’m sure he’s a great guy and a great angler, but his hometown is 139 miles from Dayton, slightly less than Atlanta and slightly more than Guntersville, so there’s no guarantee he’s fished Chickamauga much. That being the case, I’m going with the guy who had the longest commute — Zaldain — who seems to have gotten on track with back-to-back eighth-place finishes. How’s that for the scientific method?

Bucket D: Iaconelli

Almost Picked: Card If you think KVD is an outsider in Bucket B and Evers doesn’t belong in Bucket C, what the heck is Iaconelli doing in Bucket D? It’s like finding a $400 swimbait in the bargain bin marked down to $3.99. It may not be, strictly speaking, a ‘necessary’ purchase, but you can’t pass it up, even at more than 26 percent ownership. Brandon Card lives about 90 miles away and I often succumb to the need to pick Tommy Biffle on big fish fisheries, but again my pick here is clear. Similarly, it’s tough to disregard past winner Pirch, especially at less than 2 percent ownership, but this time, to coin a phrase, I like Ike.

Bucket E: Hawk

Almost Picked: Duckett I had to go back three times because I kept reinserting Boyd Duckett. Once again, this bracket offers up a lot of value investments, with no clear-cut winner. I had to rule out Ish Monroe because a third of the contestants picked him. After that, only Greg Vinson was picked in double digits. I desperately want to pick Duckett, who doesn’t live far away, and has loads of Tennessee River experience, but he’s coming off four finishes of 90th place or worse in a row. Really? Did I read that wrong? Maybe there’s some off-the-water issue that we don’t know about, but that kind of funk can’t last for an angler that good. Still, that kind of negative momentum could be hard to overcome. Would a mere check be satisfactory? Maybe for him (although I doubt it), but 49th doesn’t do players a whole lot of good in Fantasy Fishing. As a result, I’m going with Kevin Hawk, who is not fishing the Opens this year in order to put more time into the Elites. He’s had some clunkers, too, but this is the time in the season when he tends to figure a little something out. Be sure to pick your team by takeoff on Wednesday, June 11!

How BASSfest will affect your Fantasy team

By Tyler Reed

DAYTON, Tenn. — BASSfest is a multifaceted event with multiple cuts, a unique second-chance tournament and a field made up of Opens pros in addition to Elite Series anglers. Those distinctive features — as well as being on a body of water the Elite Series trail has never visited — could make choosing a Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team difficult. We can’t help you decide who will be good on Chickamauga Lake, but we can spell out for you how it will affect Fantasy Fishing.

Opens anglers

First of all, no Opens pros are accounted for in Fantasy Fishing. Points will be calculated based on the number of points an Elite Series pro would have earned if no Opens anglers were participating. If an Opens angler wins BASSfest, the next-highest-finishing Elite Series pro will earn winner points. For example, if the final Top 5 looks like this: 1. Gary Clouse (Opens) 2. Ott DeFoe (Elites) 3. Skylar Hamilton (Opens) 4. David Walker (Elites) 5. Kevin VanDam (Elites) Then the Fantasy Fishing points awarded will look like this: 1. Ott DeFoe (300 points) 2. David Walker (295) 3. Kevin VanDam (290)

Bonus points

Bonus points that are not awarded to Elite Series pros will not be counted. If Opens pro David Kilgore wins the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, then no Fantasy Fishing player will earn the coveted 40-point big bass award. The same goes for the 5-point daily leader award and the 40-point big bag award. But if an Elite Series pro collects either of those honors, his Fantasy Fishing owners will collect the points.

Cut lines

BASSfest contains several cuts and the second-chance tournament. A full field of Elite Series pros and 33 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens pros will compete on Days 1 and 2 on Chickamauga. The Top 50 will advance to Day 4. Day 3 is reserved for the anglers who did not make the Top 50 cut. All of those anglers — about 90 competitors — will advance to a second-chance tournament on nearby Nickajack Lake. The bags weighed in on Friday only (their previous weight does not count) will either get them into the Top 10 — in which case they advance to Day 4 with the rest of the Top 50 — or the tournament is over for them. On Day 4, the Top 50 from Day 2 and the Top 10 from Day 3 go back to compete on Chickamauga with their final weight from Day 2. It does not matter on Day 4 how much weight the anglers sack on Day 3; it only matters if they got into the Top 10. For instance, if Alton Jones comes in 51st place on Day 2 and in 10th place on Day 3, and Steve Kennedy comes in 112th place on Day 2 and first place on Day 3, Jones still begins Day 4 in 51st place and Kennedy starts with his 112th-place weight. So, on Day 4, 60 anglers are competing to get into the Top 12 and compete on Day 5.

Second chance

The second-chance event on Nickajack does not affect Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing points. No leader points will be awarded, and if the biggest bass or biggest bag is caught on this day, it will not count. The biggest bass and biggest bag must both come from Chickamauga. There will be no update to Fantasy Fishing on Day 3.

Choose your team!

Now that you understand how it works, all that’s left is for you to pick your team! You have until the Day 1 launch on Wednesday, June 11, to set your anglers. Good luck!

Rowland rules on Dardanelle

By Tyler Reed RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — If you didn’t get your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks for Dardanelle right, don’t worry. No one did. Here are the anglers who made up the perfect team for Fantasy: Bucket A: Greg Hackney, 300 points Bucket B: Jason Christie, 305 Bucket C: Rick Clunn, 285 Bucket D: Mike Iaconelli, 276 Bucket E: Zell Rowland, 321 Total: 1,487 points No Fantasy Fishing player achieved a score that high. Zell Rowland’s big bass on Day 2 made him the best Fantasy Fishing pick of all. With his Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, he earned more than 100 points better than anyone else in the bucket. Here’s how each bucket breaks down: Bucket A: Hackney A moderate number of players chose Hackney, with 4.7 percent ownership, and with two days of leader points and a third-place finish, he scored 300 points for his fans. And 1 percent of players chose Keith Combs, who delivered 280 points. Gerald Swindle, who finished in second place, performed well for his very small number of owners (0.9 percent) with 295 points. Mark Davis, who had very small ownership percentages until now, finally picked up a huge number of owners at 33.2 percent. But they jumped on the Davis train too late. He outscored most other anglers the last several events, but this time, he was a letdown. He only delivered 113 points. Other big letdowns were Randall Tharp, 8.5 percent, 115 points, and Kevin VanDam, 17.7 percent, 133 points. Look at it this way: If you were one of the 6.6 percent of people who chose Hackney, Swindle or Combs, you beat 59.4 percent of players — those who chose Davis, Tharp or VanDam – by an average of 170 points. Bucket B: Christie Jason Christie had a solid number of owners at 13.6 percent. Those owners are sitting pretty with at least a 33-point advantage over anyone else in Bucket B. The next-closest angler was Cliff Crochet with 272 points and a 3.3 percent ownership. And John Crews was not far behind with 269 points, although a scant 1.5 percent of owners got to enjoy that. Randy Howell’s Fantasy Fishing owners — and there were a lot at 22.2 percent — collected 235 points, which is strong, but it created a 70-point deficit behind the Christie pickers. Ott DeFoe (11.3 percent) and Brandon Palaniuk (13.7 percent) similarly had high ownership percentages but posted lower scores (225 and 163, respectively). Bucket C: Clunn Rick Clunn’s ownership was not nearly as high as it should have been, considering the veteran angler’s tournament history. But with Stephen Browning and Edwin Evers sharing the bucket, he couldn’t garner the vote. The 2.9 percent of people who believed in Clunn were rewarded with 285 points. The next-closest angler was 25 points back, with another veteran — Paul Elias — who had only 1 percent ownership. The bandwagoners who chose Browning (26.3 percent) and Evers (34.7 percent) earned only 161 and 229 points, respectively. In other words, if you were one of the 3.9 percent of people who chose the veterans (Clunn and Elias) over the younger hot sticks (Browning and Evers), you beat 61 percent of the bucket by an average of 77 points. Anglers with moderate ownership numbers — Fred Roumbanis, 7.9 percent, and Davy Hite, 8.9 percent — gave their fans 101 and 221 points, respectively. Bucket D: Iaconelli Mike Iaconelli, despite his lack of helping out Fantasy Fishing players this year, was owned by 11.6 percent of players on Dardanelle. And this time, he was a big help, earning 276 points for his fans. Chris Zaldain was the next-closest angler with 268 points that he gave to 4.4 percent of players. Kevin Short was heavily favored for this tournament because it’s his home water. He was owned by 22.5 percent of players, despite the fact that his house was just destroyed by a tornado. Fantasy Fishing players who wanted to choose a local angler but thought Short might be preoccupied with his natural disaster issues went with Billy McCaghren instead, who garnered 9 percent of the vote. Neither Short nor McCaghren were good choices. Short delivered 149 points, and McCaghren was even worse with 95 points. Bucket E: Rowland If you didn’t pick Zell Rowland in Bucket E, you flat-out lost. That means 97.5 percent of players were big losers in E. Rowland’s big bass and high finish earned 321 points for his fans. The next-closest angler was Kenyon Hill at 213 points. The 2.5 percent of players who picked Rowland had at least 108 points over all the other players. Most players chose Ish Monroe (24.9 percent) and Greg Vinson (24.5 percent). Those two anglers only posted 153 and 63 points, respectively. Ouch. If you chose Rowland, you had twice the score of one-quarter of your opponents (the Monroe pickers) and five times the score of another one-quarter of them (Vinson pickers). This tournament marks the second event in a row in which a Bucket E pick was the defining decision in a lineup. At Toledo Bend, it was Chris Zaldain who gave a huge boost to his Bucket E owners. Never ignore Bucket E. The buckets are open now for Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee. It’s going to be a very different tournament, scoring-wise, so stay tuned for updates on how Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing will work for that event.

Ozarkians and Alabamians will dominate on Dardanelle

By Greg Huff

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Ozarkians and Alabamians will likely dominate this week on Lake Dardanelle, which is essentially a wide spot on the Arkansas River. Keep that in mind when setting yourBassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster. That anglers hailing from the Ozarks region of Arkansas are likely to succeed on familiar waters relatively close to home is no secret: Arkansans Mark Davis and Stephen Browning are the most-owned anglers in Buckets A and C, at 36.2 and 24.7 percent, respectively. But consider also anglers with track records of April and May success on the Alabama River and Alabama riverine reservoirs Logan Martin, Wheeler and Neely Henry. Not surprisingly, many anglers with good history on those Coosa River impoundments hail from Alabama.

Bucket A: Tharp, VanDam or Jones

It was Alabama native Randall Tharp (4.3 percent ownership) that told me in a recent interview that Dardanelle would fish similar to Coosa River reservoirs. And that’s partially why I’m picking him this week in a bucket that’s stocked with anglers with both the momentum and résumés to justify picking them instead — such as Kevin VanDam (17.3 percent), Mark Davis, Greg Hackney (5.3 percent) Alton Jones (1.1 percent) and Aaron Martens (6.2 percent). My other reason for picking Tharp is that I think this tournament will be won fishing shallow grass, which is Tharp’s strong suit. Two weeks ago, he flipped grass to place third on Toledo Bend. Flipping and swimming grass could be the ticket this week. My Bassmaster.com colleague David Bell made a good case for KVD, who has notched numerous postspawn Top 5s and 10s on Dardanelle and similar reservoirs, and it was hard to ignore that history. I was intrigued also by Jones, whose 1.1 ownership percentage is way too low for someone with two springtime Top 12s on Dardanelle and four Top 20s on comparable reservoirs (one of which is a fourth-place finish on the Alabama River last year in the second week of May).

Bucket B: Chapman or Herren

Having grown up fishing in the Ozarks, Kansan Brent Chapman (5.5 percent) has a solid springtime history on Dardanelle and on similar riverine reservoirs: third, 20th and 27th on Dardanelle (April 2004, May 2005, March 2009); two second-place finishes on the Alabama River (May 2003 and 2005); and fourth on Wheeler (April 2009). On the other hand, his résumé also includes a 93rd-place bomb in early April on Neely Henry and a 155th-place showing in a mid-May 2005 event. Alabamian Matt Herren (2.6 percent) has a better average finish on Dardanelle than Chapman, having won an event here in May 2007 and placed ninth in a late March 2009 Elite Series tournament. His springtime body of work on similar riverine reservoirs, however, is not as good as Chapman’s. In five April or May events between 2005 and 2013, his finishes were: 16th, 30th and 100th on Wheeler; 110th on Neely Henry; and 50th on the Alabama River.

Bucket C: Browning or Hite

I’m following the crowd in Bucket C and taking Hot Springs, Ark., resident Stephen Browning (24.7 percent), who enters this tournament hot off his Open win on the Red River. With his Classic ticket already punched, Browning will be able to fish pretty loose and aggressively on pretty familiar water. Browning placed 23rd on Dardanelle in a late March Elite Series tournament and 16th in a late August 2007 one. In three springtime visits to comparable riverine reservoirs, he placed 10th (Wheeler, early April), 13th (mid-May, Logan Martin) and 65th (early May, Alabama River). South Carolinian Davy Hite (6.8 percent) has an up-and-down track record on Dardanelle and similar riverine reservoirs in the spring. In addition to a mid-May win here in 2005 and an 18th-place showing in late March 2009, he just barely made a check in mid-April 2004, placing 49th. Likewise, in mid-May 2013, he placed 15th in the Alabama River, but finished 80th and 81st on Wheeler in mid-May 2000 and early April 2009.

Bucket D: Klein or Biffle

Only in Bucket D am I straying from my overall theme and not recommending an Ozarkian or Alabamian. Instead, I like veterans Gary Klein (4.1 percent) and Tommy Biffle (19.2 percent), of California and Oklahoma, respectively. I’m giving the nod to Klein, who has a great history here and on similar riverine reservoirs this time of year — fifth and 10th on Dardanelle (May 2005, April 2004); 11th and 20th on Wheeler (April 2009, May 2000); and 15th on the Alabama River in late May 2003. On the other hand, he bombed on the Alabama River in the second week of May last year, placing 63rd. While Biffle has never notched a Top 10 on Dardanelle in the spring, he placed 22nd here in May 2005. On similar fisheries, he won an April 2009 Elite series event on Wheeler, placed 28th on Wheeler in May 2005, and placed sixth on the Alabama River last year in May. On the other hand, his spring history on riverine reservoirs also includes finishes of 35th, 38th and 42nd place on Dardanelle, and finishes of 60th, 129th on Neely Henry and Wheeler, respectively.

Bucket E: Vinson or Duckett

I’m with the crowd again in Bucket E, where I’m picking Alabama’s Greg Vinson (20.5 percent). Although Vinson placed 43rd on Dardanelle in a May 2007 event, he balanced out his résumé here with an 11th-place showing in a March 2009 Elite Series tournament. In five April or May tournaments on similar riverine reservoirs, he finished out of the money only once (58th, Wheeler), in the 20s twice, in the 40s once, and was the runner-up on Logan Martin in last May’s Open there. A good case can be made for Duckett, another Alabamian, who won here in late August 2007. Conditions then, of course, were not similar to now, but Duckett does have two high finishes on similar riverine reservoirs in April or May — fourth on Neely Henry (2009, PAA), and 14th (2013, Elites). Who are you picking for your Fantasy Fishing roster?

Pick pros who will head north

By Jim Root

Whoever makes the run north at the Bassmaster Elite on Lake Dardanelle is going to win. Period. Remember that when you’re setting your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. Running north is not as easy as it sounds, and it could be downright dangerous. Last Monday, May 5, there was a small craft advisory with only a 6 mph wind from the southeast. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t imagine how any lake, let alone a river system, could generate waves of that magnitude from such a small wind. I grew up on Lake Ontario, and those waves will practically lay down at 6 mph! What’s different at Dardanelle is the current, and any time you have a southeast wind, it’s going to push up against that current and get nautical real quick. Why would I bet the winner would battle through that? That’s what Elite Series pros do. Right now, there are nasty thunderstorms slamming into Russellville that are creating flash flood advisories, which will no doubt muddy the waters. The forecast also shows a cold front moving in late Monday night and early Tuesday morning that will replace the mid-80-degree temperatures that have been there with mid-60s to high 50s, as well as lows threatening to touch the 30s midweek. Welcome, all you guys who just got sunburned in Texas! I’m starting to wonder if B.A.S.S. is dragging this front with it everywhere the tournament trail goes. The end of the week shows a couple of small storms, but only on one day (as of now) is there a chance of that wind coming out of the southeast, and that’s Friday. So why head north? Charles “Chuck” Morrison at Classic Catch Guide Service gave me some different thoughts on the lake and told me that the fish are done spawning for the most part. There are still some on beds, still some males guarding, but the majority of the spawn is over. On the north end of the river, those bigger schools of large fish will be condensed and easier to find day after day. They’re also more likely to be left untouched by guys unwilling to drive more than an hour each way. The fish here are river fish, not lake fish, so they rely on current. The north end will have plenty of that and won’t be impacted as greatly by water being pulled by the dam. Morrison said there is also a school of monsters at the south end. However, those fish can be hard to find day after day and may not produce 20-plus pounds a day like the school to the north will. Pros looking to stay in the central or main lake fishing the water willows and hydrilla will find good topwater action in the morning. Morrison said swim jigs and crankbaits will dominate. Like we saw at Toledo Bend, guys will pretty much be able to fish their strengths this week in Arkansas. I love that about this time of year. Just remember that a lot could change between now and Saturday, and if that front hangs around, it could be a finesse fishing fiesta, and a guy like Aaron Martens could be dominant. My Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks for this week are Mark Davis and Brandon Palaniuk. Davis is the hometown favorite who also just happens to be hotter than a $2 pistol, but we’ve seen Palaniuk make runs more than an hour long at the St. Lawrence to pull in the huge smallmouth that led to victory in New York. If anyone would make that run this week, it’s him. See the weather predictions for Russellville below, or get a real-time update here. Dardweather

Rely on Dardanelle’s history for your Fantasy picks

By David Bell

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — The Elite Series heads to Lake Dardanelle, May 15-18. This marks the third stop for the Elite Series at Lake Dardanelle and the first since 2009. It’s time to look at previous tournament data from Dardanelle as we set our Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing teams.

Mark Menendez worked a smaller aluminum boat through a culvert to win the event back in 2009. (Side note: I wish Mark was able to defend his Lake Dardanelle title this year, but I am also glad to see all the support from Skeet Reese, Dave Mercer and all the other Elite anglers helping support Mark and his family after his wife died earlier this year.)

Anglers will not be able to reach that area this year because they have to use the same boat they started the season with. The bigger fiberglass boats will not fit through that same culvert. There are still several big areas that anglers can focus on at Lake Dardanelle that could be the winning areas. The main river can be a place to catch a big sack in the summer, but with the cold winter, the bass have not moved out that far yet. Illinois Bayou by the launch site and Spadra Creek at the north end of Lake Dardanelle should be the two biggest players in the tournament.

Remember, the percentages listed here are likely to change before the tournament starts. Keep that in mind when deciding on your Fantasy Fishing team.

Bucket A: Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam is having a “slow” season sitting 14th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings. This sounds like a copy from any event, but this lake blends well into the way VanDam likes to fish. With four major B.A.S.S. events on Lake Dardanelle, VanDam has finished no worse than 10th (eighth in 2004, 10th in 2005, third in 2007, and second in 2009). VanDam was the runner-up to Mark Menendez in the 2009 event on Lake Dardanelle. KVD is the second-most owned Fantasy Fishing angler at 13.4 percent, but that is still pretty low considering his past history at this lake. I hope this is the event KVD wins and makes a strong charge up the AOY leaderboard.

Greg Hackney

Greg Hackney may be from Louisiana, but he has fished a lot of tournaments in Arkansas. Lake Dardanelle offers a lot of areas to fish the way Hackney likes to fish. Hackney has fished three B.A.S.S. events at Lake Dardanelle, making a check at each event, and he took home a Top 12 at two of those events. He is only owned by 1.4 percent of Fantasy Fishing players, so he really is a steal for the bucket.

Scott Rook

There are very few anglers on the Elite Series that have as much experience on the Arkansas River as Scott Rook. Rook has more experience farther down the river around Little Rock or Pine Bluff, but do not be afraid to take Rook on your Fantasy Fishing team. He is having one of his best seasons in a while on the Elite Series, sitting in 10th in AOY. Rook is owned by 1.9 percent of players, so there is plenty to be gained over other players by taking him. Having a few of VanDam’s lucky cookies in his box does not hurt. I left Mark Davis off not because I expect him to have his first bad tournament, but more for his 44.5 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership. With this being a postspawn event on a lake not far from his home, Lake Dardanelle could easily host Davis to his fifth Top 12 finish out of five events this season.

Bucket B: Brent Chapman

Brent Chapman is sitting right around the cut line for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, currently at 27th in AOY. Interestingly enough, 27th is Chapman’s worst finish in four B.A.S.S. events on Lake Dardanelle. Chapman is the fifth-most-owned angler for the bucket at 5.0 percent. I am hopeful Chapman is the highest points earner for the bucket, but I expect him to at least beat several of the other anglers who have higher ownership percentages.

Randy Howell

Classic champ Randy Howell is a camping buddy of Brent Chapman’s. These two have a chance to be battling each other Sunday on Lake Dardanelle. Howell has made a check in three B.A.S.S. events on Lake Dardanelle, including a win in 2004. The one event Howell did not make a check at Lake Dardanelle was 2007, when only the Top 25 earned a check, and Howell finished 28th. Howell is the favorite for the bucket at 24.8 percent, so if you need a safe pick, Howell should be your choice.

Matt Herren

Matt Herren has only fished one B.A.S.S. event on Lake Dardanelle, but he made the Top 12 cut in that event. He is having a solid season with three Top 50 finishes in the four events so far. At 1.8 percent ownership, he is a real steal. Look for Herren to be right in the hunt for his first Top 12 finish of the season.

Bucket C: Davy Hite

Davy Hite mentioned on First Look at Toledo Bend that he did not make the cut there but that he will make the Top 12 at Lake Dardanelle. It did not look like he was saying it to blow smoke, either. Hite won an event on Lake Dardanelle in 2005 at the same time of year. He also finished 18th at the Lake Dardanelle event in 2009. Only 4.6 percent of Fantasy Fishing players are taking Hite right now, so if he has a strong finish, his players have a lot to gain over other players.

Fred Roumbanis

Fred Roumbanis had a bit of an off-tournament at Toledo Bend, but Lake Dardanelle could be just what he needs to forget about that. He has fished two B.A.S.S. events at Lake Dardanelle and took home Top 12 finishes in each event. I have a feeling it could be Hite and Roumbanis fighting for the best finisher of this bucket. Roumbanis is owned by 7.8 percent of players, so there is still plenty of opportunity to gain an advantage.

Stephen Browning

Stephen Browning, who’s from Hot Springs, Ark., may have as much experience on Lake Dardanelle as Scott Rook. Browning already has a Classic spot with his win at the last Central Open on the Red River. The combination of Browning having experience here and a Classic spot wrapped up should let Browning fish a little more aggressively. Watch for Browning to be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday. The only reason to avoid Browning is his 26.1 percent ownership. If you want a safe pick for this bucket, Browning would be the angler to take. If you want to try and pass other fantasy players, I would look for a lower owned angler.

Bucket D: Kevin Short

No one will have a bigger cheering section or fans pulling an angler to have a great tournament than Kevin Short will. What his family has been through in the last two weeks — with the tornado destruction in his hometown of Mayflower, Ark. — is something no one would want to go through. However, Short is not just a sentimental pick, but a smart pick. He has fished Lake Dardanelle since he was a boy. He has seen the lake through its ups and downs over time. Short may have a lot going on in his hometown, about an hour from Lake Dardanelle, but he will be able to find what he needs to excel at this event. Short is the most-owned angler at 23.4 percent for the bucket, but that does not really matter to me this week. He is a stick on Lake Dardanelle, and a solid tournament can be the right therapy for him at this point.

Tommy Biffle

Tommy Biffle is the third-most-owned angler in the bucket at 14.8 percent, but he has made a check in all four events he has fished on Lake Dardanelle. He won an event not far up the Arkansas River at Fort Gibson. This has not been the best season for Biffle, so he needs to do what it takes to shoot for a win and the automatic Classic berth that comes with it.

Billy McCaghren

Billy McCaghren lives in Mayflower as well, but he was spared from the tornado. Like Short, McCaghren has fished Lake Dardanelle most than almost any other lake. He took home a 14th-place finish in his one B.A.S.S. event on Lake Dardanelle. Watch for him to be right there again battling for a Top 12 finish. McCaghren is owned by 9.3 percent of players, which seems pretty low considering he lives so close to Lake Dardanelle.

Bucket E: Greg Vinson

Greg Vinson has fished one B.A.S.S. event at Lake Dardanelle, taking home an 11th-place finish in 2009. Lake Dardanelle is the type of fishery that fits right into the way Vinson likes to fish. He is the second-most-owned angler at 20.8 percent, but that is because he could be the safest pick for the event. If Vinson is the highest finisher for the bucket, he can still beat four out of five Fantasy Fishing players for you.

Boyd Duckett

Boyd Duckett is the angler I wanted to take for Lake Dardanelle this week, but he has not had a solid finish yet this year, which has hurt my Fantasy Fishing team a couple times already. Duckett won the Bassmaster Major event at Lake Dardanelle in 2007 and made a check at the 2009 event. He is a nice value pick at 8.9 percent ownership, but his strategy of fishing for Sunday is a high-risk/high-reward strategy. Get Duckett on your team if you think he gets his first Top 12 finish of the season at Lake Dardanelle.

Pete Ponds

Pete Ponds may not be the first name to jump out at you in Bucket E, but do not let him surprise you. Ponds was the last angler to make a check at the 2009 event on Lake Dardanelle. His last Top 12 finish came at West Point Lake in 2013 fishing a secret little runoff flowing into the lake. Lake Dardanelle offers places that could set up just like this if Ponds can find them. A 2.1 percent ownership does not hurt, either.

Remember to get your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team locked in before the event starts May 15. The person who chooses the best team for Dardanelle wins $2,500 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards.

Choose easily overlooked anglers for Dardanelle

By Ronnie Moore Last event at Toledo Bend played out well for my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks, and for that, I was rewarded with almost 1,200 points to show for it. Chris Zaldain came through in the clutch, and all five of my anglers made the 50 cut and “cut” themselves a check in the process. Lake Dardanelle is the next stop and it has me scratching my head (kind of).

Bucket A

Who I’m taking: Scott Rook The tempting choice: Mark Davis So many heavy hitters are in this all-important bucket and for good reason. I chose Rook here because of his consistency this season. As quiet as he may be, he is sitting in 10th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. With his lone slip up being a 54th-place finish at Lake Seminole, I’ll take it. Not to mention, he is from Little Rock, so he is a local in my mind and a good enough postspawn fisherman to bank on his consistent skill set. Hard not to pick the AOY leader Mark Davis when he has reeled off such a fantastic season thus far, but he stumbled in his last event (SARCASM) and is coming off his worst finish of the season — fourth place at Toledo Bend. He is a great fisherman wherever the Elites go, but his going rate of 44 percent is too high for me. I’ll stick with the underdogs.

Bucket B

Who I’m taking: John Crews The tempting choice: Morizo Shimizu With 57.6 percent of people in Bucket B choosing Jason Christie, Brandon Palaniuk or Randy Howell, I would steer clear if you want to leapfrog some Fantasy Fishing participants in the standings. John Crews is due for a Top 12 and, when it comes down to it, I think he can do it here on Dardanelle. He has missed two cuts this season (52nd place at Toledo Bend, 58th at Seminole) and has been on the edge of making every cut. He has been a great pick for a mid-30 finish. I think he gets it done this time around. Another angler to consider when picking from this bucket is Morizo Shimizu. He has made the cut in three of the four regular season Elite Series events, and with a 0.3 percent going rate, snagging him comes with low-risk, high-reward potential. Shimizu has proven he can compete during the season before they hit the Northern smallmouth fisheries.

Bucket C

Who I’m taking: Davy Hite The tempting choice: Brandon Lester Davy Hite has had an up and down season thus far and with two early checks to start the year, I think Hite will bounce back for a good finish on Dardanelle. If a 5.1 percent rate doesn’t have you smiling already, a win in May 2005 on Dardanelle will stretch your smile ear to ear. Hite obviously has history on this lake during this time of the year. Under the radar and off the beaten path, rookie Brandon Lester has done well in his freshman campaign. He has cashed two checks (one at Seminole and this past event at Toledo Bend) and with an “unknown” vibe, many people will overlook him. Even with a ninth-place standing in a stacked rookie class, Lester has shown he can hang so far this season.

Bucket D

Who I’m taking: Mike Iaconelli The tempting choice: Kevin Short This season has been one of a train wreck for Iaconelli. Actually, the train is still at the station waiting to take off. And this is the exact reason I’m buying stock in Ike as I type this. Usually at a solid 30 percent ownership, Ike is owned by just 11 percent of Fantasy Fishing players and this (in my opinion) will be the biggest payoff for those risking it by choosing him. Dardanelle will be a confidence booster for Ike, who started the season with finishes of 75, 64, 33 and 100 respectively. My heart goes out to Kevin Short and his family for the situation they are faced with after the devastating tornadoes that ravaged Mayflower, Ark. I could see this tournament lining up to be a great storybook finish with Short rising above the adversity and clinching his berth to the Classic with a win. Then again, he has more pressing issues ahead of him and his head might not be in the game.

Bucket E

Who I’m taking: Yusuke Miyazaki The tempting choice: Dennis Tietje Miyazaki has stepped his game up in the recent years and has been successful. With big (and recognizable names) such as Ish Monroe, Boyd Duckett and Greg Vinson, I could see many Fantasy Fishing players choosing them over anglers they aren’t that familiar with. Maybe that’s just me. But the 7 percent of you who have picked Miyazaki, he could be a points-earner. I truly could see Tietje doing well here. He was the local favorite last event at Toledo Bend, but that isn’t always a good thing for an angler’s mindset. Same deal with Cliff Prince. He was a favorite on the St. Johns and didn’t do well, and then he got a Top 12 on Table Rock — a completely different fishery. We will see.

Don’t play it safe on Dardanelle

By Pete Robbins

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Last week at Toledo Bend, I tried to play it safe in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing and choose anglers I “knew” would garner me some key points — safe bets, such as Dean Rojas, Todd Faircloth, Edwin Evers and Dennis Tietje, all of whom had strong records on the Bend. Expecting that it was going to be a big weight event, I also picked Ish Monroe, who has a strong track record in slugfests, but seems equally likely to score a bottom 20 finish as a Top 20 finish. Unfortunately, I got the Mr. Hyde version of Ish instead of the Dr. Jekyll iteration, as he finished a dismal 94th. At least I still had my four “safe” picks to salvage the event, right? Well, Rojas and Faircloth did the heavy lifting, finishing sixth and ninth, respectively. Meanwhile, Evers turned in a very un-Evers-like performance, landing in 68th. Home crowd favorite Dennis Tietje didn’t help me, either, and ended up 92nd. In short, my picks averaged a 54th-place finish, smack dab in the middle of the 108-man field. Actually it was slightly worse than that because two anglers sat the event out. In other words, I probably could’ve had a computer pick an angler from each bucket at random and do at least as well. I recognize that picking a Fantasy Fishing team is far from an exact science. We don’t have the reams of information that analysts in other sports have in front of them to inform their picks. Still, it burns me up to get my butt kicked like I did at Toledo Bend, especially because I tried to play it close to the vest. If I’d picked a group of no-names or has-beens and gotten killed, it wouldn’t be so galling. The best analogy I can come up with is an angler who “chases checks” rather than betting on a few big bites, and ends up with neither. With that in mind, I’m going to do my best to take some risks this week — maybe not extreme risks, but enough that if all goes well, it’ll help me leapfrog a few people who have been more prescient up to this midway point of the season. Here are my choices for Dardanelle.

Bucket A

Picked: Hackney Almost picked: Rook Reasoning: Tough not to pick Kevin VanDam here. In three B.A.S.S. events at Dardanelle dating back to 2004, he’s finished eighth, third and second, so if the upward trend continues there’s only one slot left to move. Tough not to pick Mark Davis, Jared Lintner or Chad Morgenthaler, either, because all three are fishing out of their heads. I’m going with Greg Hackney, though, whose ownership percentage is remarkably low. He’s a shallow-water stud and it’s close to home. He was second here in 2004 when Randy Howell won and eighth when Boyd Duckett won in 2008, so no one’s going to be surprised if he wins — except the thousands of people who failed to pick him.

Bucket B

Picked: Crochet Almost picked: Lowen Reasoning: Man, this one hurts. Bucket B is stacked. From what I’ve gathered informally, it’s going to be won shallow in the grass. Cliff Crochet doesn’t have B.A.S.S. experience here, but he’s rapidly becoming known as a premier level frogger. Matt Herren won here on the FLW Series, and Randy Howell won the 2004 Bassmaster E-50 here. Bill Lowen came in 17th in 2009 and he’s only gotten better since then. I could pick any of the four and feel good about it, and all except Howell have low ownership percentages. Last week, I went with “conventional wisdom” and it hurt me, so this time I’m going with Crochet as the gut pick.

Bucket C

Picked: Browning Almost picked: Kennedy Reasoning: When in doubt, go with the home-state boy. That didn’t work last week with Tietje, and for some reason I’m consciously avoided the Mark Davis momentum train (which pulls into its home station this week), but Stephen Browning is fishing well and Dardanelle is his type of fishery. I love picking Steve Kennedy, but he seems to burn me a lot, and I want Kelly Jordon’s career to rebound back to on-the-verge-of-superstardom again, but he’s in some kind of atypical funk and I’m not ready to take that much risk. If I have to make one high-ownership-percentage pick, let this be the one.

Bucket D

Picked: Biffle Almost picked: Short Reasoning: Man, Tommy Biffle is one of those Ish-type picks, not afraid to finish 90th if he feels there’s an equal chance he’ll win. Of his seven Bassmaster wins, four have come in the May-June-July time period. It’s when the jig works — not only flipping but also his crazy bottom-bugging deal — and that led me to pick him, despite a relatively high ownership rate. For sentimental reasons as well as logical ones (he’s a Dardanelle fixture), I wanted to pick Kevin Short, but I don’t have a sense of where his head is after his family’s recent tragedy. Can he compartmentalize his life enough to put his head down and earn his first B.A.S.S. win (Tour or Open level) since 2011 and his first in his home state? This is one bucket where it wouldn’t hurt too bad to have buyer’s remorse.

Bucket E

Picked: Rowland Almost picked: Duckett and Vinson Reasoning: Boyd Duckett won here in 2008 during the white-hot stretch of his career, and his ownership percentage isn’t too high, certainly not as high as that of Ish Monroe, who burned me last week. I really wanted to pick Greg Vinson because I have a feeling that swimming a jig will play a key role and he scored a Top 12 here in 2009, but his high ownership percentage scared me off. I need to make a move and can’t do it by being conventional. I’m tempted to go with one of the old-school veterans like Pete Ponds and Matt Reed, but neither has done well here in past events. My gut tells me to bet on Zell Rowland, who despite some struggles in recent years has had occasional flashes of success. He also had a Top 5 finish in the E-50 that Howell won. Gotta take a risk or two to get ahead, and there’s nothing less stable than a Pop-R bite. Who are you picking for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team?

Fantasy: Bandwagon-jumping was no help on Toledo Bend

James Overstreet
Chris Zaldain’s big bass on Day 1 made him the second-highest scorer in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing on Toledo Bend, even though he was mired in Bucket E.

MANY, La. — The No. 1 lesson from Toledo Bend regarding Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing is that jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t always pay. No one earned the maximum number of points available at Toledo Bend. Here’s the perfect lineup: Bucket A: Jacob Powroznik, 310 points Bucket B: Dean Rojas, 281 Bucket C: Cliff Crochet, 254 Bucket D: Cliff Pirch, 248 Bucket E: Chris Zaldain, 308 Total points: 1,401 The Fantasy Fishing players who hurt themselves the most are the ones who stuck with big familiar names like Edwin Evers and Aaron Martens and neglected the lesser-known pros. The big-name strategy worked at Table Rock, but it did not pay off on Toledo Bend. Here’s how each bucket fared.

Bucket A: Powroznik

Jacob Powroznik was the best pick by 15 points in Bucket A. And yet, he was the second-least angler owned with only 0.19 percent of fans believing in him. The highest-owned angler was Todd Faircloth at 25.56 percent. He performed well for his fans, posting a ninth-place finish, but his Fantasy Fishing points at 264 were no match for Powroznik’s 310. Similarly, Mark Davis had a high ownership (16.92 percent) and finished in fourth, delivering 285 points for his fans. Like Powroznik, Chad Morgenthaler had very low ownership (0.27 percent), but his second-place finish posted 295 points for his fans. Jared Lintner, at 302 points, scored strong for his small group of owners, only 0.58 percent. The way to get ahead of the field in Bucket A was to choose Powroznik, Morgenthaler, Lintner or Randall Tharp (4.19 percent with 290 points). The players who picked them eclipsed the majority in the bucket, who chose Faircloth or Davis. The biggest letdowns (high ownership, low reward) were Greg Hackney (13.64 percent, 207 points) and Aaron Martens (12.61 percent, 169).

Bucket B: Rojas

Dean Rojas made a lot of fans happy in Bucket B. He was the second-highest owned angler, and he posted 281 points, the best of the bucket. Kevin VanDam was the highest-owned at 28.74 percent, and his 19th-place finish garnered 237 points for his fans. By picking Rojas over VanDam, the Rojas owners earned an extra 44 points. Randy Howell (11.63 percent ownership) ended with 229 points, and Brent Chapman (10.04 percent) ended with 221. Fans guessed right by not picking Casey Scanlon or Rick Morris. At only 0.12 and 0.18 percent ownership respectively, they delivered only 83 and 67 points. Strong picks besides Rojas were Casey Ashley, 3.07 percent, 280 points (only 1 point behind Rojas), and Skeet Reese, 2.88 percent, 272.

Bucket C: Crochet

Cliff Crochet had a strong but not overwhelming ownership at 7.01 percent, and he brought it home for his fans with 254 points. Those 7 percent of owners are rejoicing right now that they didn’t jump on the bandwagon and choose Edwin Evers.

Evers was the biggest letdown of the tournament, as far as ownership/reward goes. He practically owned Bucket C with 43.95 percent of players picking him, but his 68th-place finish delivered a measly 141 points, putting his owners behind most in the group.

Brandon Palaniuk’s owners, 15.97 percent of players, didn’t match Crochet’s, but they were only 21 points behind them at 231 points. The best thing for the Palaniuk players is that they beat all of Evers’ owners by 92 points.

And ahead of Palaniuk was Glenn Browne with 251 points (only 3 points behind Crochet), but only 0.16 percent of players earned those points.

If you didn’t choose Crochet, Browne or Palaniuk, you would have done well with Mike Kernan, who gave 245 points to his small audience of 0.68 percent owners, or Hank Cherry, 243 points, 2.64 percent.

Bucket D: Pirch

Cliff Pirch was middle-of-the-pack on ownership, with 2.79 percent of players picking him. He earned 248 points for his owners, 23 points more than the next-highest scorer in the bucket, Rick Clunn.

Clunn had 6.97 percent of the ownership in D. Above him were two big letdowns, more than 100 points back: Tommy Biffle (27.35 percent, 123 points) and Ish Monroe (24.99 percent, 89 points).

If you didn’t choose Pirch or Clunn, you would have done well with David Mullins (0.46 percent, 215 points) or Chad Pipkens (0.31 percent, 209 points).

Bucket E: Zaldain

To get ahead in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, you should have chosen Chris Zaldain, hands-down. He had the biggest spread in the whole event, winning his bucket by 48 points. His Carhartt Big Bass on Day 1 earned him 40 of those points, and he finished in eighth place. His overall points for this tournament was 308, only 2 points behind the winner, Powroznik. Only 4.85 percent of players picked him and outdid the rest of the field.

If you didn’t choose Zaldain, you should have gone for Jonathon VanDam with 260 points. He was the second-highest earner and the second-highest pick (15.60 percent). The third-highest earner, Kotaro Kiriyama, was more than 100 points behind Zaldain with 197.

The biggest letdown was Dennis Tietje. Home lake advantage is sometimes a myth, and that’s what happened here. Tietje’s extensive experience on Toledo Bend prodded 23.31 percent of players to pick him, but he earned a dismal 93 points. Tietje was another example of the bandwagon busts.

You can go ahead and set your team for the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Dardanelle; buckets are already open. Don’t forget the pros who are likely to catch the biggest bass because, as was the case with Zaldain, the angler who catches the heaviest earns 40 points for his owners.

Good luck at Dardanelle!

Short (Bucket C) and Haseotes (Bucket E) out

Kevin Short and Byron (B.J.) Haseotes will not be competing on Toledo Bend.

Short is in Mayflower, Ark., tending to the damage done to his home during the recent Arkansas tornadoes.

Haseotes is home with a medical condition that’s preventing him from fishing this tournament.

We wish Short and Haseotes the best this week as they deal with their respective issues.

Fans, take note if you have either Short or Haseotes on your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team.

Postspawn masters and deepwater anglers will prevail at Toledo Bend

By Jim Root

MANY, La. — As the pros get ready to compete in the 2014 Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend, and as fans likewise get ready to set their teams for Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, it’s a good time to take note of the weather and the conditions the pros will face. With current temperatures pushing 90, Toledo Bend would lead you to believe that we would finally leave the cold behind us for good this year after nearly frigid temperatures at one event after another. But just when you think it’s all sunshine and clear skies, Mother Nature delivers a healthy thunderstorm and a cold front to rattle the first part of competition at the Texas/Louisiana border lake. What is initially most interesting about Toledo Bend is its size, at 185,000 surface acres. With the town of Many located roughly in the middle, anglers could find different conditions should they travel to the farthest north or south ends of the lake. With some bucks still guarding fry, there will be an opportunity for sight fishing, but the heavy winds yesterday (up to 20 mph) will deliver thunderstorms for today and tomorrow that could make that pattern either very difficult or downright impossible. What the storms will leave in their wake on Wednesday, the last day of practice, is much colder temperatures, particularly the lows, which are predicted to dip down into the 40s. With current lows in the high 60s and low 70s, this sharp decline is significant because it can really create conditions that are completely unlike any that the competitors had during practice, throwing all patterns the pros established right out the window for anyone on an early morning bite. Expect those fish to be slower to eat, waiting on temperatures to reach higher levels in the afternoon, leaving anglers with earlier check-in times with less time to target those fish than guys in later flights. A favorable west-southwest wind for the majority of the event will help the anglers who are targeting postspawn and/or schooling fish in deeper water. The Bassmaster Elite Series pros most likely to do well, based on these conditions, are Randall Tharp (Bucket A) and Brandon Palaniuk (Bucket C). Below is the Weather Underground forecast for Many, and you can click here to get an up-to-the-minute version.

Split the difference for Toledo Bend picks

By Greg Huff 

MANY, La. — When reviewing anglers’ past performances on Toledo Bend, be sure to note in what season they fared well or faltered. The differences should factor into your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks this week. When the Elite Series visited here in mid-April 2011, Dean Rojas won by mostly sight fishing. But other anglers in the Top 10 were fishing postspawn patterns in transition areas in varying depths. When Brent Chapman won here in early June 2012, he and others succeeded mostly with offshore, deep-water summer patterns. Recent and forecasted weather indicates that this year’s tournament will be contested in conditions that split the difference between the 2011 and 2012 tournaments here, with mostly postspawn bass to be found at several depths.

Bucket A: Faircloth, Hackney or Omori

The clear favorite in Bucket A is Todd Faircloth (21.4 percent ownership), who has lived all his life in nearby Jasper, Texas, and grew up fishing on Toledo Bend. In eight major tournaments on the Bend, he’s finished in the Top 20 six times (17th three times, including in the tournament held in the most similar conditions, the mid-April 2011 Elite Series tournament). Don’t believe in momentum in professional angling? Don’t tell Greg Hackney (18.1 percent), who tallied back-to-back third-place finishes earlier this spring (on Sam Rayburn in FLW competition; on Table Rock in Elite Series competition), after a Top 20 on the St. Johns River in late March. Although the Hack Attack bombed on the Bend in the mid-April 2011 Elite Series event, he scored Top 5s in Bassmaster events held here in February, December and June. For good measure, throw in a 21st-place PAA finish in October 2009. Need an undervalued angler to make a move against the field? Gamble on Takahiro Omori (1.1 percent) to finish ahead of heavily owned Faircloth, as he did in three of seven major tournaments in which they both competed.

Bucket B: Rojas, Montgomery or Chapman

The clear Bucket B favorite is Dean Rojas (19.5 percent), who won Bassmaster tournaments here in mid-April 2011 and late February 2001. Additionally, he finished fourth here in a late March 2002 event, 28th in late February 2003, 38th in early June 2012 and 48th in late February 2003. If you’re sitting comfortably in the top tier of Fantasy Fishing points, picking Rojas is probably the best play. If you need to make a major move to get back into contention, however, consider undervalued Andy Montgomery (0.5 percent). Although the South Carolina pro finished 53rd the last time the Elite Series hit the Bend, he finished sixth in the April 2011 Elite event and was runner-up in an October 2009 PAA tournament here. Although Brent Chapman (9.7 percent) won here when the Elite Series last competed on Toledo Bend in June 2012, he finished 56th in April 2011. In prespawn tournaments between 2001 and 2003, he finished 26th, 10th and 24th, respectively.

Bucket C: Evers, Robinson or Kennedy

The clear favorite and lead-protecting play in Bucket C is Edwin Evers (45.9 percent), who’s notched three Top 12s and an additional Top 20 on Toledo Bend. Word of caution: Evers just barely cashed a check here in April 2011, placing 49th. The high-risk, high-reward play this week is Marty Robinson (4 percent). He placed third here in June 2012 and 18th in April 2011. Want a wild card? Try Steve Kennedy (2.1 percent). He finished eighth on Toledo Bend in April 2011, when conditions were similar to current conditions — more similar, at least, than they were when he finished 71st in early June 2012.

Bucket D: Clunn or Myers

No one in Bucket D has much momentum or a stunning history on Toledo Bend. I’ll probably pick Rick Clunn (4.3 percent), who has three decent finishes here and three bombs since 2001. His best finishes: 12th, sixth and 15th, in February 2001, December 2003 and February 2003, respectively. His worst: 94th, 76th and 81st, in April 2011, June 2012 and March 2009. Everyone else in this bucket either never has fished a major on Toledo Bend, or has a handful of bombs here, overshadowing a lone Top 10 or Top 20. I’ve got a gut feeling Britt Myers (1.6 percent) will have a good tournament, but I don’t have any data to support that hunch. His finishes here are 55th in April 2011 and 31st in June 2012.

Bucket E: Tietje or Vinson

Although he lives closer to the Sabine River, Dennis Tietje (17.5 percent) can lay claim to Toledo Bend as home water as well. His record in major tournaments is pretty good — seventh and 18th in March 2002 and 2009 Opens; 41st in April 2011. I don’t think Greg Vinson’s slump continues much longer. He should feel confident launching on Toledo Bend, where he placed 11th in April 2011 in similar seasonal conditions. He didn’t fare as well here in June 2012, finishing 59th, but that was when the bass were fully entrenched in their summer haunts. Who are you picking for your Fantasy Fishing team?

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 Bassmaster.com 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. Registration 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. Scoring 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. Prizes 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 BassGold.com. 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 Bassmaster.com, 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 Bassmaster.com 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 Bassmaster.com 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 Bassmaster.com 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 Bassmaster.com. 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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