Go with favorites for the AOY
By Jesse Heinecke
So here it is, the final installment of my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing knowledge for the year.
I wanted to wait to write this one because I knew I would be fishing Sturgeon Bay the weekend before the AOY was set to happen. So after fishing “The Bay” for the last two days, I know that if the pros could, they would not be asking me for advice. It is tough out there. A cold front blew in last week Tuesday and I think the smallmouth are confused. They are not sure whether to go fall or summer pattern.
It will be interesting to see how the pros do there. They always catch ’em and someone always finds a pile of them to bring to the scales. The Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation just had its state tournament on Sturgeon Bay, and the bite was tough. When the wind picks up, it can get even tougher. Hopefully, the big girls are hungry this week. I would love to see a 7-pound or bigger bass brought in.
Last event. Condensed buckets. Not enough time to make up a ton of ground for me as I sit with 7,936 pts and in the top 4.3 percent of Fantasy Fishing pickers. Here is what I am seeing and feeling.
Bucket A: Powroznik
Two anglers come to mind right away for me: Jacob Powroznik and Aaron Martens. I fully expect both anglers to lock in on a pattern and ride that pattern to 22 to 24 pounds of fish a day. Martens has AOY wrapped up, and Powroznik showed he is no slouch on these Northern smallmouth, and he may find a spot to throw that swimbait again and key on some big fish.
I am taking Powroznik.
Maggie is taking Greg Hackney. Sam is taking Brent Ehrler.
Bucket B: Palaniuk
I may be leaning with a lot of favorites, but when the buckets are shrunk, it makes picking somewhat easier. I am going with Brandon Palaniuk. He has proven time and again that he is a smallmouth whisperer. I expect him to find an obscure spot or pattern and make a run. He will likely now catch them drop shotting a hump.
If I needed to make a long shot, I would go with Bill Lowen. Lowen is happy with a tube in his hands, and dragging a tube may be a winning pattern for the pros
Alton Jones could be a sleeper, too. He seems to find a way to catch the brown ones.
Maggie is taking Chris Lane because “he does good a lot.” Sam is also leaning toward Chris Lane as well based on skill.
Bucket C: K. VanDam
KVD. ’Nuff said. I do not need to convince anyone that Kevin VanDam has probably forgotten more about catching smallmouth than some of us will ever learn. More than 50 percent of the fans are taking him. I am anxious to see him on this water. I have fished it a few times and I plan to watch Bassmaster LIVE and crack jokes with Zona and Sanders, and I hope the live camera gets to be on KVD.
If I am picking on a “wing and a prayer,” I would wing it with Brandon Lester and I would pray that James Elam’s momentum continues.
Sam is going with his favorite angler, KVD, and Maggie is giving VanDam the Heinecke sweep. Consider yourself endorsed, Kevin.
Bucket D: Pipkens
Bucket D has been my nemesis all year, and this one proves to be the same. I like Todd Faircloth. I like Chad Pipkens. Faircloth/Pipkens. Pipkens/Faircloth (in my best Ace Ventura voice).
Faircloth is not Pipkens, though. Faircloth showed his mettle on St. Clair, so he has the smallie vibe going. Pipkens is a Michigan native, and he may feel as at home as anyone. I am taking Pipkens over Faircloth. Sorry, Todd. If anyone knows what these smallies are up to with the wind at “this” speed and with it coming out of “that” direction “this” time of year, it is Pipkens and anyone with the last name VanDam.
If it is ground you need to make up, try Josh Bertrand. Just a hunch.
Maggie says Chad Pickens. I say “Pipkens?” She says, “Yeah, him.” Sam is picking Todd Faircloth.
Bucket E: J. VanDam
Mike Iacanelli or Jonathon VanDam? These are really the only two I am considering in this bucket. Yes, I know, lots of favorites. But I will help steer you to the right top guy.
Take JVD. I would love to see Ike win, though, on “The Black Hair.” It may come into play.
If you need to make up ground here, try Morizo Shimizu or Steve Kennedy. Both have the ability and track record on similar water to find a school of bigguns and wear them out for a few days.
Maggie is taking “Big Mama” Morizo Shimizu. Sam is taking Ike.
Again, I hope I helped a few people and that you were at least mildly entertained. I enjoy all things B.A.S.S., and this is fun for me.
Maggie, Sam and I have enjoyed this all season and wish we were not going into winter just yet. Good fishing to you all! Best of luck!
Bet on pros with something to prove
By Pete Robbins
Don’t be surprised if you start to see more Elite Series pros wearing those funny “five finger” shoes.
The word “dude” is going to be sprinkled around prolifically at all future weigh-ins.
A bunch of the pros may take a sledgehammer to their alarm clocks.
The way Aaron Martens has been fishing this year, the rest of the field would be wise to pay close attention to his fashion sense, his mannerisms and every utterance that comes out of his mouth. The dude (there’s that word again) has been on fire, and if you’ve bet against him then you’ve played a losing hand.
Heading into the AOY Championship, he’ll have little to fish for except pride and fun. The trophy is wrapped up and B.A.S.S. has probably already engraved his name on it. Of course, based on recent history, that means he’ll probably fish even better. I’m going to bet against him in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing just to keep it sporting, but you should do so at your peril.
This is going to be a fun event to watch because we’re going to see some monster sacks of smallmouth, and I sense they’ll be caught a number of different ways. Had it been held a few months earlier, the all-time four-day smallmouth record might’ve been broken — and it still might — but no matter what, this is going to be like an end-of-summer swan song for the guys we’ve been watching since the beginning of the year. With no direct payout, it’ll be easy to slip into a veneer of nonchalance, so my strategy is going to be to bet on anglers who have something to prove or something tangible to gain.
With that in mind, here are my picks:
Bucket A: Ehrler
Wanted to Pick: A-Mart (duh)
It’s hard not to pick Martens here. He’s likely the best drop shotter in the world, can catch them at will on other baits (did you read the part from St. Clair about randomly picking up a swimbait on Day 4 and whacking ’em?), and he’s absolutely en fuego right now. At nearly 50 percent ownership (why isn’t it higher?), he’s not going to allow me to make up any points, even if he doesn’t sleep at all, so I need to look elsewhere.
Picked: Brent Ehrler
Brent Ehrler doesn’t have anything to prove in this sport, given his solid track record. Like Martens, he’s a Western native, deadly with finesse tactics and having a fantastic season. He bombed at the Sabine and struggled at St. Clair, but other than that, he’s been true to form. And if I was someone used to being on the Classic bubble, I’d be pretty upset that he made the switch from FLW to B.A.S.S. — that’s another Classic slot gone every year. If he can move up a few slots in the AOY race, that’ll pay some of his gas bill for the coast-to-coast hauls he’ll be making every year.
Bucket B: Christie
Wanted to Pick: Brandon Palaniuk
You should just pencil in Brandon Palaniuk for your team on every smallmouth tournament from here on out. He’s closed ’em out and come close in others, and he’s still improving. Nevertheless, at nearly 50 percent ownership, he’s a bad bet for points-challenged bettors like myself.
Picked: Jason Christie
Maybe it’s because he’s not from the North Country, but the quiet Oklahoman should be better known as a smallmouth-catching dynamo. He’s won at St. Clair before and made the final day cut this time around. Except for stumbles at Havasu and the St. Lawrence, he’s had an exceptional year, and his finishes are headed in the right direction now. He’s a definite value pick, and five years from now, we’ll be talking about him in the same breath as the other Top 10 hammers.
Bucket C: Lester
Wanted to Pick: KVD
Michigan. Smallmouth. Enough said. I don’t think Kevin VanDam’s psychological makeup has enough gaps in it that he’d ever feel pressured, but if it was ever going to happen, this would be the year. After hearing “What happened to you?” for two years, a good finish to end the season would put him back near the top of the AOY standings to shut up the naysayers.
Picked: Brandon Lester
Why don’t we know more about talented Mr. Lester? He’s in 30th place overall, just about where he ended up last year. With a recent string of tough finishes, his Classic berth and his status as a guy likely to make it every year are on the line. Where was his best finish last year? Bay de Noc, where he ended up ninth. Look for history to repeat itself in a good way.
Bucket D: Faircloth
Wanted to Pick: Josh Bertrand
Josh Bertrand’s another guy who’s around the bubble and has something to prove after missing the 2015 Classic. Unlike most of these guys, he genuinely likes to drop shot. I don’t know if that’ll be enough this week.
Picked: Todd Faircloth
Normally it’s difficult for me to convince myself to pick an angler with more than 30 percent ownership, but Faircloth is a special case. He’s on fire now, and it always makes sense to ride an angler’s momentum. He’s been fishing well since the second day at the Chesapeake Bay, when my wife was his Marshal. She’s trying to take credit for the Faircloth-renaissance (“Fairclothaissance”?). More importantly, he hasn’t missed a Classic since 2006. After seeing KVD’s Classic streak end last season, I’m not sure that the fishing world could handle it if Faircloth failed to make the big dance.
Bucket E: DeFoe
Wanted to Pick: Ike
This bucket is full of talented anglers used to making the Classic but not currently in line to do so. The last time that happened to Mike Iaconelli, he won an Open (in smallmouth country) to get back in, but I’m not sure that lightning will strike twice.
Picked: Ott DeFoe
Like Faircloth, Ott DeFoe is an angler who simply doesn’t miss championships. He’s fished four straight Classics on the heels of four consecutive Forrest Wood Cups. He was in prime position to keep the streak alive until he had uncharacteristically difficult tournaments at both St. Lawrence and St. Clair (guessing he’s not a fan of the New Orleans Saints), sandwiched around a low check at the Chesapeake. I know that I said above that momentum is a powerful thing, but occasionally so is desperation. While I can’t imagine the even-tempered DeFoe ever getting truly desperate, I’m sure that this one means a lot to him and he has a week to get his head in order and get the job done.
Pick heavy hitters on Sturgeon Bay
By Ronnie Moore
My Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks this season have been calculated, and I have never strayed from my picks or plan even after talking to anglers before each event. I like to be true to my stories and the anglers I pick beforehand.
Yet, I come into the last event of the season shaking my head. Like some Elite Series anglers this season, I never got a break. My great picks weren’t as plentiful, and my bad picks choked out my success. With the final event of the season drawing near, I look to finish the season strong at Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. I’m pulling out all the stops and going with some heavy hitters in the season finale.
Bucket A: Powroznik
Conservative pick: Jacob Powroznik
Jacob Powroznik knows how smallmouth operate. He has proven that so far in his short Elite Series career. In this very tournament last year on Bays de Noc, Powroznik dominated and took home the win in the weather-shortened event. With only 10 percent ownership, Powroznik is a no-brainer for Bucket A.
Dark horse pick: Chris Zaldain
The California Kid has performed almost flawlessly this season, and that is why he is in Bucket A and 10th in the Angler of the Year standings. This season, Chris Zaldain has finished 22nd and 17th in the two smallmouth-dominated venues of the Elite Series. Whether he is drop shotting for smallmouth or throwing a swimbait or jerkbait, Zaldain is dangerous in this tournament.
But my gut is telling me Powroznik on this one.
Bucket B: Combs
Conservative pick: Jason Christie
Jason Christie is dangerous in almost every tournament he enters, and coming off a seventh-place finish at Lake St. Clair, the Oklahoma native could carry that momentum into Sturgeon Bay. I’ve never used one of the Garmin Panoptix units, but after seeing how important they were for Christie at St. Clair, they could pay dividends here as well.
Dark horse pick: Keith Combs
Anytime heavy weights are expected for a tournament, Keith Combs could be a factor. Even when smallmouth are involved, Combs will find a way to figure them out. The Texas pro has cashed a check in 77 percent of B.A.S.S. events he has competed in; that’s stout. I could see a swimbait playing a role, but even if it came down to spinning tackle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Combs near the top.
I’ll take Combs for Bucket B.
Bucket C: VanDam
Conservative pick: Kevin VanDam
I tend to shy away from anglers who have a high ownership percentage, but I will negate those feelings for Bucket C because I think this could be one that caters to Kevin VanDam. His smallmouth knowledge is extensive and I think after a less-than-stellar St. Clair event, he looks to lock up his Classic spot with a great finish here.
Dark horse pick: Micah Frazier
Two Top 12s this season and five checks have Micah Frazier on the verge of his first Bassmaster Classic appearance. Frazier is 27th in the Angler of the Year standings and has a 28-point buffer over the final Classic spot as of now. Frazier now needs a decent finish to seal the deal.
But I’m taking VanDam for Sturgeon Bay.
Bucket D: Robinson
Conservative pick: Josh Bertrand
The Arizona pro is a fantastic smallmouth angler and I expect nothing different at Sturgeon Bay. Josh Bertrand is in the Classic for now, and the power to clinch his spot is in his own hands. Of the four Elite Series tournaments on smallmouth fisheries that Bertrand has competed in, he has three Top 30 finishes. The most recent Lake St. Clair event was the first smallmouth tournament where he didn’t cash a check. I expect a bounce-back event here.
Dark horse pick: Marty Robinson
Marty “the Party” Robinson saved his season on Day 2 of the Lake St. Clair event. After a rough Day 1, Robinson dropped out of the Classic cut line and even out of the Top 50 AOY cut. After 18 pounds, 13 ounces resurrected him in the AOY standings; he is now back in the Classic cut, even if it is only by three points. The South Carolina pro is looking to get back to Grand Lake for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic where he had a 20th-place finish in 2013.
Marty Robinson is on the verge of the Classic and, with a jerkbait in his hand at Sturgeon Bay, he could quite possibly clinch his spot.
Bucket E: Kennedy
Conservative pick: Jonathon VanDam
There aren’t any home field advantages on Sturgeon Bay because no anglers competing are from there, but if you had to bet money on the closest anglers, then the VanDams would be at the top. A Top 12 at Lake St. Clair bolstered Jonathon VanDam into the Top 50, and now another smallmouth fishery awaits him at Sturgeon.
Dark horse pick: Steve Kennedy
Six straight paychecks have helped Kennedy rise in the standings every week. He started the year with two finishes sub-90, but he has since rebounded. Kennedy is one of the most underrated pros on the Elite Series, but that is the reason I like him in this situation. Kennedy is one of the best swimbait anglers I know. Most of all, I like how much fun he has while fishing. He is always carefree and full of joy, and that is what I like the most about this pick.
I’ll take Steve Kennedy on Sturgeon Bay and, as he would say, “War Eagle!”
Toyota wrap-up: Palaniuk was the best pick on St. Clair
By Tyler Wade
DETROIT, Mich. — Todd Faircloth may have won the tournament on Lake St. Clair, but runner-up Brandon Palaniuk did the most damage in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing.
Palaniuk was the best overall pick for Fantasy Fishing players, with a 69-plus-point lead over everyone in his bucket.
Here’s the perfect team:
Bucket A: Brandon Palaniuk, 345 points
B: Chris Lane, 330
C: Todd Faircloth, 345
D: Keith Poche, 257
E: Dave Smith, 248
No one achieved a score that high.
Bucket A: Palaniuk
Brandon Palaniuk’s second-place finish and bonus points put him at the top of the leaderboard in Bucket A.
He ended with 345 points — 295 for finishing as runner-up, 10 for leading for two days, and 40 for tying for biggest bass of the tournament with winner Todd Faircloth.
Believe it or not, only 5.1 percent of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players picked him. Those who did ended up with a 69-point gain over all the Aaron Martens pickers, and much more than that over everyone else.
Martens was the favorite of the bucket, and he delivered a stout 276 points to his 31.1 percent of owners. Too bad he doesn’t get a bonus for winning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, an honor he earned at St. Clair, even with one tournament left to go.
The other favorite of bucket at 22.9 percent was Kevin VanDam. But VanDam didn’t make the first cut and ended with only 149 points — 200 points behind Palaniuk.
The worst pick of the bucket was Clifford Pirch. He earned only 73 points for his 1 percent of owners.
Bucket B: Lane
If you chose Chris Lane, you did good work. He was the favorite of the bucket at 24.5 percent, and his big bag on Day 3 earned him a hefty bonus and pushed him up to 330 points.
The next-best pick was Greg Vinson at only 0.2 percent with 280 points.
The second-favorite of the bucket was Ott DeFoe, who did not make the cut and ended with 91 points for his 15.7 percent of players.
The worst pick of the bucket was Tim Horton, who delivered only 65 points to his 2.3 percent of owners.
Bucket C: Faircloth
Todd Faircloth has had a group of people who has stuck with him in Fantasy Fishing throughout the season, even though his points have hurt them time and time again.
But this week was a different story. Faircloth paid good dividends to his faithful with 345 points. He won, got 5 points for leading on the last day and also got the 40-point bonus for biggest bass (tied with Palaniuk).
For the 4.8 percent of people who picked him, Faircloth’s owners got a 60-point boost over his next-closest competitor, Chad Pipkens.
Pipkens ended in fourth place with 285 points for his 24.1 percent of players. Right behind him was Jonathon VanDam, 16.7 percent, 268 points.
Mike Iaconelli was the favorite of the bucket, but a tiebreaker in the 50 spot left him on the shore on Day 3. His 29.9 percent of players got only 173 points, a huge drop from the other favorties, Pipkens and VanDam.
The worst pick of the bucket was Ken Iyobe with 67 points for his 0.6 percent of owners.
Bucket D: Poche
Although almost no one owned him — at 0.7 percent — Keith Poche busted out 257 points for his players.
Right behind him was Fletcher Shryock at 4.9 percent and 254 points. And then right behind him was Casey Ashley, 12.3 percent, 251 points.
Takahiro Omori and Nate Wellman were the favorites of the bucket, at 16.8 and 16.7 percent respectively. Omori’s owners earned a 207-point finish, and Wellman’s got 243 points.
The worst pick of the bucket was Paul Mueller, who only got 61 points for his 13.8 percent of fans.
Bucket E: Smith
Dave Smith has a faithful few followers — usually 0.1 percent — who pick him every time. And almost every time, that gamble is a loss.
But this time, those Fantasy Fishing players reaped their reward.
Smith earned 248 points, the best performance in Bucket E.
Just behind him, with 229 points, was Charlie Hartley, who owned 5.8 percent of the vote.
The favorites didn’t do anything for their owners. Cliff Pace, who was owned by 26.9 percent of players, only turned in 105 points, and Kotaro Kiriyama, with 19.6 percent, delivered a meager 99.
The worst pick of the bucket was Cliff Crochet, with 63 points. He was owned by 3.2 percent. But, hey, the guy wanted to see his first baby born, so don’t be too hard on him.
Get ready to set your teams for the AOY Championship! Be sure to set a solid tiebreaker because, with only 10 anglers in each bucket, the likelihood for a tie is higher than usual.