Smallmouth smackdown at AOY Championship

By Ronnie Moore

If it’s any consolation prize for my Fantasy Fishing season, I capped the year with my best regular season event this year. All five of my anglers finished in the Top 30 and two fished on the final day, which gave me 1,218 points and a 79th place ranking out of all players. Now we venture into the finale for the season where the Top 50 Elite Series anglers battle it out for the Toyota Angler of the Year, Geico Bassmaster Classic spots and higher winnings based on their season standings.

Mille Lacs Lake shouldn’t disappoint and the best 50 Elite anglers of the 2016 season should showcase how strong of a fishery it genuinely is.

Here are my Mille Lacs moneymakers:


Safe Bet: Gerald Swindle
Gerald Swindle has been the safest bet this entire season by far. He went 9 for 9 on checks this season and made 6 Top 12’s on top of that. That is an impressive feat and his season has definitely been one of the best seasons in history. Nothing would surprise me this week from Swindle as he tries to close out the year and cap it off with the Angler of the Year title.

Worth a risk: Chris Zaldain
Chris Zaldain has had a tremendous year and that is why he has been in Bucket A for most of this season. I wouldn’t doubt his smallmouth skill this week and with as many big ones that live in Mille Lacs, Zaldain should find a few for sure. He did win the Angler of the Year championship event last year at Sturgeon Bay.

Gut tells me: Zaldain

Zaldaingerous wants to finish as high as possible in the AOY standings so he wants to bring the heat this week. It will be hard for him to move from 7th to 6th because he trails Jacob Powroznik by 19 points and J-Proz is fantastic on smallmouth fisheries. Zaldain does need to hold serve though because Justin Lucas is hot on his tail and Edwin Evers is in striking distance.


Safe Bet: Mike Iaconelli
Bucket B has some smallmouth studs. With Iaconelli, Brandon Palaniuk and Aaron Martens at the forefront at that group it can be hard to decide. Then when you see Jason Christie, Ott DeFoe and Alton Jones it can get even harder. Iaconelli is a pretty safe bet for me in this event and it also helps that his first bite at Mille Lacs on Monday morning was a 6+ giant smallmouth.

Worth a risk: Brandon Palaniuk
BP likes the big water smallmouth fishing that will be showcased at Mille Lacs. It may get rough on the water, but Palaniuk isn’t afraid to venture out in the rough stuff to fish for big smallies. He showed it years ago running out to Lake Ontario and taking the St. Lawrence River victory. After the Mississippi River event didn’t go like he had hoped, he certainly wants to end his year on a high note to cap off a great season.

Gut tells me: Iaconelli

It’s going to be hard to pick anglers that don’t have  a high ownership percentage because with just half the field fishing, more people will get picked. So this week percentage doesn’t matter to me and I’m taking Ike to prosper up in Minnesota waters.


Safe Bet: Brett Hite
It doesn’t really matter if he is fishing for largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass; B. Hite knows how to catch them deep. Drop shotting should be a key technique this week and Brett is one of the best in the field at using it. Can’t get much safer than that.

Worth a risk: Skeet Reese
Reese does well on these smallmouth fisheries. If my memory serves me right, he finished 2nd a few years ago at Bays de Noc in upper Michigan in this AOY format.

Gut tells me: B. Hite

His ownership percentage will be high, but so should his output. It will be hard to make up ground in Fantasy Fishing this week so I’m going with some heavy hitters and ignoring how many people pick them.


Safe Bet: Dave Lefebre
Dave Lefebre’s first year on the Elite Series has been interesting. He started the year terribly at the St. Johns River, but the next few events had some great finishes and before we knew it he almost won Wheeler Lake. He had been in the Top 15 points this season, but has since dropped to Classic bubble boy status as he is on that iffy line. He needs a knock out performance this week and I think living in Erie, Pennsylvania will help him because having that fantastic smallmouth fishery in your backyard is nothing but a positive.

Worth a risk: Chris Lane
It would honestly be weird without Chris Lane in the Bassmaster Classic. The last five years have been stellar for him and this year hasn’t been bad for the most part. It started very slow for Lane, but he has since climbed into the unofficial Classic field, but now he is a bubble boy and will need a good finish this week to make another Classic appearance. Watch out for the 2012 Classic Champ.

Gut tells me: Lefebre

I’m going with Dave Lefebre. He doesn’t need to prove anything to those watching, but he will want to showcase who he is as an angler. Making the Classic will be the best way to do so. Watch out for Lefebre this week.


Safe Bet: Seth Feider
I know, shocker. Feider knows this fishery better than everyone in the field and possibly anyone in the world. That sounds crazy, but I wouldn’t doubt it. He made an incredible comeback in the final event of the season to make this event so he could fish his home body of water and now he has the chance. It is a long shot for him to make the Classic, but we also said it was a longshot for him to make it here this week.

Worth a risk: Adrian Avena
His roller coaster rookie season ends this week and Avena wouldn’t want to end it on the outside of the Classic cutline. He normally puts it the longest practice days I’ve seen and that will eventually pay off big time for him. This week could be it. He sits in 47th place in points and most likely will need a Top 10 this week, but that’s not official.

Gut tells me: Avena

Since almost everyone in the world will pick Feider, for good reason, I’m going to pick Avena. Also, last week Feider told me to stop picking him because he doesn’t want that extra pressure. I call bull though because his pressure level was through the roof with the deficit he had to make up. Feider should be a big time player, but I think Avena will as well.

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