Picking a Bassmaster Classic champion is a tough proposition. The field is large and there’s only one winner. All of the competitors can fish. Anything can happen.
Bassmaster.com has rounded up the best bass fishing pundits in the business and asked them for five names — the names of the anglers they think have the best chance to win the 2011 Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta.
When it’s over, we’ll tally the finishes and give you the King of the Pundits!
As you’ll see, Kevin VanDam was most popular among the pundits with eight selections. Gary Klein was second with seven, while Mike Iaconelli was on six lists. Greg Hackney and Gerald Swindle were the only other competitors who rated with five different pundits. Overall, just 17 qualifiers earned a vote from 10 different pundits.
Without further ado, here are our pundits. Their selections are in no particular order.
Steve Price, senior writer, Bassmaster Magazine
- Tommy Biffle — The best flipper on tour, and flipping is likely to be one of the top patterns in the Delta. Won the last event of 2010, so he’s confident.
- Michael Iaconelli — Past winner here; had an excellent practice. He’s versatile and adjusts to conditions faster than anyone else.
- Greg Hackney — He has years of experience fishing the Delta and is an excellent flipper like Biffle. Had very good practice, and knows this will be his best chance to win.
- Skeet Reese — By far the best angler in the Elites the past three years; coming into this Classic with even more determination; excellent with spinnerbait or jig, which is probably how this will be won.
- Gary Klein — Superb with a flipping stick; lots of experience here, including a runner-up finish; willing to make long runs and to gamble, if needed.
Louie Stout, senior writer, Bassmaster Magazine
- Kevin VanDam — No explanation required.
- Greg Hackney — No one knows his way around the bayou better, and he’s one of the best shallow-water pitchers on tour.
- Jeff Kreit — He’s done his homework and is driven by his near-miss last year in Alabama.
- Gary Klein — He also has done his homework and has been among the contenders in two previous Classics held on the Delta.
- Cliff Pace — He’s familiar with the fishery, is not overwhelmed by the Classic hoopla and might be the most underrated pro on tour.
Mark Zona, host of The World’s Greatest Fishing Show
- Greg Hackney — One of the keys to winning is getting around the Delta, and he knows it better than anyone. This will be a flipping tournament, and that automatically puts him the running.
- Edwin Evers — He ended 2010 fishing better than ever. He won a tournament at Morgan City a year ago and that will go a long way.
- Cliff Pace — Another homer pick and one who ended 2010 strong and made the postseason. He’s always asking me to fish with him there, which tells me he knows something.
- Bill Lowen — There won’t be a bass caught deeper than four feet, and Lowen is wicked at that.
- Scott Rook — Scott can read a river better than anyone I know. His track record on waterways from the Delta to Little Rock is frightening.
Ed Harp, senior writer, Bassmaster.com
- Greg Hackney — The Hack Attack knows the fishery and can fish under pressure. Look for him to quietly catch bass all three days.
- Michael Iaconelli — Ike wants a repeat of 2003 — bad! The hawk is sitting on his shoulder squawking, “Go for it! Go for it!” That’s not good if you’re one of the other guys.
- Gary Klein — How long can a man with Klein’s skills and experience fish the Classic without a win? I’m betting not much longer. Besides, the Delta is his kind of fishery. Watch out if he has a strong first day.
- Gerald Swindle — The G-Man’s facade of rapper/singer/stand-up comic often obscures the heart of a serious angler — and one with skills. The only question is his head.
- Kevin VanDam — KVD may — or may not — be the best competitive bass angler ever. There’s no denying he’s the best active one, and there’s no way I can leave him off my list.
Dan O’Sullivan, editor of AdvancedAngler.com and Bassmaster.com contributor
- Kevin VanDam — He’s the best in the game and has been fishing at his peak in big events for the past several years.
- Todd Faircloth — After coming close in Birmingham, his skills in grass and shallow water make Faircloth one to watch.
- Greg Hackney — Coming into his own as a competitor, a grass specialist and a man who has the killer instinct, Hackney’s dangerous.
- Gary Klein — Klein’s been close in New Orleans before, he’s still hungry and has been fishing at his best the past few years.
- Skeet Reese — Fired up for competition to begin. Skeet wants to cement his legacy. He’s very versatile and can do it all.
James Hall, editor of Bassmaster Magazine
- Keith Combs — According to the Chinese Zodiac, it is Combs’ time to shine. At the very least, he’ll eat General Tso’s chicken during the championship.
- Gerald Swindle — Now that the G-Man has finally won an event (Toho Open), I believe he may win about five tourneys in a row to make up for lost time. Sit back and grab a beer, his acceptance speech will be a riot.
- Anyone but KVD — I know this is a hard one to plug into your fantasy roster … and it’s kind of a dark horse pick … but for the love of all that’s holy, I pray for somebody different to wear the crown for a year.
- Terry Butcher — How cool is this headline: “Butcher Hacks Apart Competition” or “A Bass Butcher on the Bayou.”
- Kevin VanDam — Don’t be stupid; put him on your team always and forever.
Nathan Benson, associate producer of Bassmaster.com
- Gary Klein — In the two Classics he’s fished on the Louisiana Delta, he finished second and fourth. Yeah, you want him on your fantasy team.
- Mike Iaconelli — He won the last Classic held here and is going to win another one in his career. Might as well be this one.
- Kevin VanDam — He’s won a Classic on this body of water, finished eighth in another and, oh yeah, he’s also Kevin VanDam.
- Gerald Swindle — Now that he’s got his first ever B.A.S.S. win under his belt, he can focus on his first Classic win on water where he’s performed well in the past.
- Todd Faircloth — This guy is due for a big win, and his worst finish in a Classic here is 15th.
Althea Cabarrao, associate editor of Bassmaster.com
- Kevin VanDam — The three-time (and defending) Classic champ is a bass fishing machine who’s keenly aware of his superior skills. That confidence makes also-rans of some of the world’s top anglers.
- Gerald Swindle — With his first B.A.S.S. win and an early 2012 Classic qualification under his belt, the G-man can’t be faded. He placed just outside the top 10 on the Delta in 2003.
- Michael Iaconelli — For his 12th Classic, the former champ returns to the Delta — a body of water that forever changed his life in 2003. He and (wife) Becky have a baby on the way that may just prove to be his good luck charm.
- Gary Klein — Maybe 2011 is the year of the monkey — getting that monkey off your back, that is. If Swindle can post his first B.A.S.S. win, Klein can win his first Classic.
- Jeff Kriet — “The Squirrel” (as KVD dubbed him) will be fishing his seventh Classic in 2011. In his two most recent Classic appearances, the Oklahoma pro placed in the top 10 — second place in 2010 and sixth in 2008.
David Hunter Jones, B.A.S.S. staff writer
- Michael Iaconelli — It’s been a while since Ike has made a splash (2006 was his last B.A.S.S. win). He’s looking for a second Classic win on the Delta.
- Kevin VanDam — You leave him off of your Fantasy Fishing team at your own peril. Plus, he’s won a Classic on the Delta before (2001).
- Bobby Lane — This is a young pro who’s on the verge of really breaking out. He’s good on tidal fisheries and even better at shallow-water fishing.
- Tommy Biffle — This wily veteran is as adept at shallow-water fishing as anyone alive. Plus, he’s 0-for-16 in Classics, so you could call him “due.”
- Steve Kennedy — Ask any Elite pro who they’re afraid of most, and Kennedy is usually the third name mentioned behind VanDam and Reese.
Ken Duke, editor of Bassmaster.com and author of two books on bass fishing
- Michael Iaconelli — He’s won here before, and although his winning area from 2003 is high and dry, he has the drive and talent to do it again.
- Gary Klein — Talk about due! Klein is hoping that 29 is the charm. He’s been terrific here — fourth in 1999 and second in 2003.
- Cliff Pace — A talented young angler who’s going to challenge for this title many times in the future. He knows the waters as well as anyone.
- Gerald Swindle — He was fifth here in 2001 and 11th in 2003. Plus, he’s hot after finally winning a B.A.S.S. event earlier this year.
- Kevin VanDam — You’d have to be kidding yourself not to put him on this list. He’s the best there ever was and has won here before.