It’s time to set your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing rosters for the upcoming Plano Bassmaster Elite at the Mississippi River presented by Favorite Fishing, Sept. 8-11, 2016.
Read the articles below to help in making your selections.
Let historical success be your guide, by Pete Robbins
Rely on experienced river anglers, by Kevin Hawk
Take it in stride at La Crosse, by Ronnie Moore
Keep momentum and heartbreak in mind, by Thomas Allen
Let Historical Success Be Your Guide
By Pete Robbins
La Crosse, Wisconsin is no longer a mystery to the vast majority of the Elite Series pros. Whether it’s been recent Elite Series visits in 2012 and 2013 or stops with other tours, just about all of them have been there by this point and it’s become one of the most welcome stops on any schedule.
Well first of all, it’s a chance to get out of the blast furnace caliber heat that tortured some anglers and fans at the Potomac. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an absolute fish factory. When the scales start churning, sometimes it seems like the few guys who didn’t catch a limit must’ve spent the day in one of the town’s many bars. In 2013, one pro told me that he Power-Poled down and caught 70 bass on a swim jig without moving his boat.
But the bounty that giveth also taketh away. The prolific nature of the fishery means that just catching a limit doesn’t do you much good. In fact, catching 10 pounds a day typically gets you a firm handshake and an early trip home. In 2013, 20 pounds over two days was good for 71st place. In 2012, it would’ve put you in 93rd. It took 23-05 and 25-08 to make the cut, so a few extra ounces per fish makes a huge difference. Catch 2-pounders, go home, catch 2 1/2-pounders and get paid. Kickers matter because there’s probably no reliable way to target fish that weigh 6 or 8 ounces more than the norm.
I know that the investment houses like to tell you that “past performance is not an indicator of future results,” but at La Crosse I’m going to try to stick with the guys who have track records of somehow managing to catch fish that average just slightly bigger, or much bigger if available. Their solid performances may be mere coincidence, or perhaps even they don’t know why they’ve done so well, but I’m going to let the past guide my future.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: MARTENS
Aaron Martens has the Mississippi River mayfly pattern dialed in. That’s only slightly more odd to most of us around the country than his Havasu blackbird pattern, but I never doubt the man. He’s missed three checks this year and I’d bet the house that he won’t miss four in an Elite Series regular season. In fact, after finishing second and fifth here previously, I think he’s more likely to make a top 12 than a bottom 50.
ALMOST PICKED: Bill Lowen
There may be no name on tour more closely associated with the swim jig than Bill Lowen, and the Cheeseheads argue that they invented technique. When in Rome? He finished seventh here in 2012. His 44th place finish here in 2013 wouldn’t disqualify him in any other bracket, but it does in Bucket A.
BUCKET B: FAIRCLOTH
I’m not supposed to root for particular anglers, but I can cheer on exciting TV footage, and Todd Faircloth’s frog catches in 2012 were my personal Super Bowl. He took home all the cheese curds that year and finished sixth in 2013. He can frog, he can flip, he can catch smallmouths and he loves grass. He’s not quite a bubble boy for the Classic, in 28th, but he still needs to catch them to stay in.
ALMOST PICKED: Takahiro Omori
Tak has finished ninth and 19th in La Crosse, and because he is secretive he doesn’t get credit for being one of the most versatile anglers on tour. He won earlier this year at Wheeler, but has only notched one check in the last four tournaments and that lack of momentum is the only thing that holds me back. Cliff Pace, who finished second and 23rd would also be a good pick, and after missing this year’s Classic he needs to hold his position to get back to the big dance.
BUCKET C: CREWS
Right now Crews is barely inside the top 50 to qualify for Mille Lacs, coming off a surprising 90th place finish at the Potomac. Look for him to bounce back in Packer-land, where he finished 17th and third in prior attempts. He’s had an up and down season, and this one is non-negotiable if he doesn’t want to miss the Classic for the first time since 2010.
ALMOST PICKED: Randy Howell
Howell is another veteran who is in danger of missing the 50 cut for Mille Lacs which would mean that he’d also miss the Classic for the first time since 2011. He finished 10th and 11th at La Crosse previously, so the motivation and the experience should produce a quality finish.
BUCKET D: VINSON
After qualifying for his fourth Classic last year, Vinson is currently mired in 82nd in the AOY standings. He’s earned four Elite Series checks this year, but none better than a 37th place finish, and he’s been brought down by three finishes of 86th or worse. Fortunately for him, he has a good track record in La Crosse, finishing 25th in 2012 and 13th in 2013. If he can improve by 12 places again, he’ll drive home with a big blue trophy in the passenger seat.
ALMOST PICKED: Seth Feider
In the absence of any other compelling evidence, I’m inclined to pick the semi-local northerner. He stubbed his toe at the Potomac, but may still have an outside shot to make it to his “home waters” of Mille Lacs. He spent lots of time here before the off limits.
BUCKET E: PIPKENS
This year has been a disaster for the Michigan pro, and he’s currently stuck in triple digits in the AOY race as a result of six Elite Series finished of 89th or worse. He always seems to get healthy in smallmouth country, and while this isn’t the Great Lakes and he finished 76th here in 2013, look for him to salvage a disappointing season with a top finish.
ALMOST PICKED: Paul Elias
There aren’t any anglers with consistent Wisconsin track records in this bucket. For every one who’s had a great finish – like Terry Scroggins finishing sixth in 2012 – he’s also had a cruddy one, like Terry Scroggins finishing 87th in 2013. Paul Elias has gotten a check both times. He certainly won’t break his weight record in Badgerville, but at least he could end his season with his first check of the year.
Rely on experienced river anglers
by Kevin Hawk
There’s just one regular-season event remaining this season — the Mississippi River. Not only will this event determine the Top-50 anglers who qualify for this year’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Minnesota’s famed Mille Lacs, but it will also get anglers one tournament closer to qualifying for the 2017 GEAICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro in Houston, Texas.
The Mississippi River is a fun place to fish (one of my all-time favorites) because there’s plenty of shallow visible cover, like vegetation, rock, and wood, holding abundant hungry large- and smallmouth bass.
Power fishing techniques will likely catch the heaviest limits and determine the Champion on Sunday, but don’t completely ignore anglers who specialize in finesse tactics. The drop shot rig could prove to be as effective on the Mississippi as it did on the Potomac. I know Justin Lucas’ win will be fresh in everyone’s mind.
I’m picking anglers who have performed well on the Mississippi in past Elite events and who are experienced river anglers — those who are good at fishing shallow cover. I’m also choosing anglers who fish well under pressure with the AOY championship qualification at stake.
BUCKET A: MARTENS
The only angler to finish in the Top-5 in both previous Elite events (‘12 and ‘13) on the Mississippi is Aaron Martens. I’m not one to pick an angler solely based on previous finishes, but Martens’ ability to both power and finesse fish combined with his impressive history on the River makes him hard to ignore. I feel confident choosing Martens in this bucket and so should you.
Seriously considered: Gerald Swindle
The current AOY leader is fishing out of his mind having cashed a check in every single event so far this year, including five Top-5 finishes. Swindle is on a mission to claim the AOY title and is fishing confidently — likely more so than any other angler in the field.
BUCKET B: FAIRCLOTH
Faircloth, like Martens, has a stout River resume. He won in ‘12 and finished sixth in ‘13. It’s no secret Faircloth is one of the most talented grass anglers in the field, and with this years event scheduled for September rather than June there should be even more grass available to fish than in years past.
Look for Faricloth to use his previous experience and grass fishing confidence for another impressive finish on the River. He’s going to be the Fantasy Fishing favorite in Bucket B.
Seriously considered: Clifford Pirch
Pirch is coming off a Top-12 finish on the Potomac, and also logged an eighth place finish on the Mississippi River in ‘13. He relied on a drop shot rig in both events and I feel the proven technique will again be effective on the River, especially with the fish further along in a late summer and early fall pattern.
BUCKET C: CREWS
John Crews is well versed on northern waters and has both experience and success on the Mississippi River. Crew’s placed 17th in ’12 and third in ‘13 primarily fishing a frog. Rather than focusing on the vast open water mats many of the other anglers keyed on he fished smaller isolated mats along the River’s back channels.
Crews is currently in 49th place in the AOY race and will need a solid tournament to ensure he qualifies for the AOY Championship on Mille Lacs. He’s a poised and confident angler who thrives in pressure situations, so I’m confident he’ll get the job done.
Seriously considered: Brandon Card
Card is on the outside looking in on the AOY Championship. He’s currently in 65th place and needs to make up considerable ground to close the 33 points between him and 50th place. I feel he’s capable of having another strong event on the River (he placed fifth in ‘13) to not only compete against the talented anglers in Bucket C, but to qualify for the AOY Championship.
BUCKET D: CLAUSEN
I picked Luke Clausen last event on the Potomac, and it looked to be the right choice until day three when he fell out of the Top-12. But I feel he’s the smart pick in this bucket. Sure, there are plenty of capable anglers to choose from, but his overall success, experience and shallow-water fishing ability are too much to pass up.
Clausen may not be in contention for the AOY Championship or the Classic, but he’s still fishing for the win in this event.
Seriously considered: Brandon Lester
This will be Lester’s first Elite event on the Mississippi River, but there’s no denying he loves to throw a frog, and pitch and flip Texas-rigged creature baits. Lester has the ability to perform well on shallow rivers, so look for Lester to be in both his comfort and confident zone on the Mississippi.
BUCKET E: SCROGGINS
Terry Scroggins hasn’t fished well this year despite getting off to a strong start at the St. Johns River, but his ability to break down a vegetation filled river and overall experience compared to many of the other anglers in Bucket E make him the wise pick in my opinion.
Seriously considered: Matt Lee
Lee has gained lot of experience fishing shallow vegetation, especially since relocating to Lake Guntersville a few years ago. I remember when I fished the River during the ‘13 Elite event and was immediately was reminded of Lake Guntersville. Lee’s experience and attitude will give him an opportunity to fish well on River.
Take it in stride at La Crosse
By Ronnie Moore
Unfortunately, I can’t pat myself on the back for picking Justin Lucas to win the Potomac River because the rest of my lineup was so sporadic that I can chock it up to a blind squirrel finding a nut eventually.
I had Lucas, Bobby Lane and David Williams all make it to Day 3; meanwhile after Day 1 I had two anglers in the 100s. Seth Feider picked it up on Day 2 and salvaged a finish in the 80s, but by then the damage had already been handed out. The downside for Feider was his Potomac River finish may have sealed his fate on missing out on the Toyota Angler of the Year tournament on Mille Lacs, which is one of his home bodies of water. It remains to be seen and I wouldn’t be surprised if a win in La Crosse, Wisconsin snuck him in.
There shouldn’t be a shortage of fish catches and limits weighed by the 107 Elite Series anglers at the Mississippi River as it has been plentiful in the past and with this being the third trip in the last five years or so, most of the field has experience here.
BUCKET A: MARTENS
Safe bet: Aaron Martens
On the outside it would seem that Martens hasn’t been his hog-snatching self this season because he hasn’t put up incredible finishes at a high rate like last year. When you look a little deeper you would realize that his 2015 season would be so hard to duplicate and that he is having a good year and is sitting in 20th place. The one thing Martens has yet to claim in the 2016 season and that is a Top 12 finish. His best finish is 16th at Toledo Bend and, like I said last event about Justin Lucas, I’ll gamble on a numbers game because it is hard to imagine a whole season without Martens fishing a final day.
Worth a risk: Bill Lowen
When the word “River” is on the Elite Series schedule Bill Lowen should be your first thought. Over the last two or three years Lowen has removed his “underrated” tag and is an expected force at every event. Lowen just registered a Top 12 finish at the Potomac River and it wouldn’t surprise me for him to put together another great event because the Mississippi River seems to set up in his wheelhouse.
Gut tells me: Furious Hog Snatcher
I’ve got to go with the Furious Hog Snatcher on this one because I’m playing the numbers, and my gut feeling is reinforced with the fact that Martens has finished in the Top 5 the last two times the Elites have visited La Crosse.
BUCKET B: JONES
Safe bet: Chris Lane
Just like Lowen, it feels like the Mississippi River sets up well for Lane. After a tough start to the season he was mired deep in the Angler of the Year cellar and was worried about getting out. After three sub-par events to start, he has garnered a check in the last five events, which also included a 2nd place finish at Toledo Bend.
Worth a risk: Alton Jones
On fisheries with a plentiful population of fish, anglers can get caught up in the numbers game and lose a grasp on the big fish nature they are so inclined to fish for at other venues. I think Jones brings a certain patience when it comes to fishing grass and picking apart the cover to where the kicker fish will hide.
Gut tells me: Jones
The last time the Elites visited La Crosse to fish the Mississippi River, Jones finished 20th. Like Martens, he hasn’t notched a Top 12 finish, but instead has chugged along with consistent finishes across the board, excluding Winyah Bay. I think Jones is going to be one of the best picks and underrated choices this next event.
BUCKET C: HOWELL
Safe bet: Randy Howell
Randy Howell has a solid resume in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and boy does he need another good event this week. At the Potomac, Howell found himself thin on water and time on Day 2, which resulted in the 2014 Classic Champion checking in 10 minutes late. That gave him a 10-pound penalty and also zeroed his catch for the day and dropped him to 102nd place. Howell dropped out of the Top 50 in AOY points and is now just a couple points and places out with one event left. I think Howell does well in pressure situations and I don’t think a couple points will be any feat for him to overcome.
Worth a risk: Koby Kreiger
Remember Koby Kreiger? He was the angler that everyone counted out of the Classic hunt when the Top 8 anglers competed in the Classic Bracket on the Niagara River. After another solid finish at the Potomac River, Kreiger moved up a dozen places in the AOY standings and is just 20 points from the Top 50, which is doable with one full-field event left. Another Top 20-30 finish and Kreiger may find himself in Minnesota with a shot at the Classic. Crazier things have happened so I’m not counting this out.
Gut tells me: Howell
A 10-pound penalty doesn’t seem like much in the big scheme of an Elite Series season, but for Randy Howell it cost him 27 possible Angler of the Year points, which would have him in the Top 50 in points and about 20 points ahead of the cut spot, but instead he is chasing 50th place and is so close. I think a solid event is ahead for Howell and I would be surprised if he wasn’t fishing the AOY Championship.
BUCKET D: LESTER
Safe bet: Brandon Lester
Some anglers have a defined fishing style and have a technique they excel at, which gives them an identity. I’m not so sure that Brandon Lester has an identity yet, but if I was to label one of his better skills it seems to be flipping/punching thick vegetation. He did just that at the last stop on the Potomac River. That gave him a solid payday and a punch in the arm late in the season. Pairing another strong finish to end the year could be just what Lester needs in his third year of the Elites.
Worth a risk: Mark Davis
The same reason I would like Alton Jones’ patience to pay off at La Crosse is the same reason I think Mark Davis could be worth a risk for Fantasy Fishing players. Davis had a stellar showing at the Potomac River with a 16th place finish and once anglers at this level get some momentum rolling, they tend to keep building it.
Gut tells me: Lester
Lester is fishing with a blank slate at the Mississippi River because the last time B.A.S.S. visited the venue he wasn’t on the Elite Series yet, he would join later that year via the Opens. For Lester, there was no sophomore slump in year two on the Elite Series, but year three has been the toughest season for Lester to date. He is 68th in the Toyota Angler of the Year standings and can move up more with another Top 50 finish.
BUCKET E: M. LEE
Safe bet: Scott Rook
Scott Rook is an Arkansas River rat that hasn’t found his stride this year, but there is a familiar venue at the end of the road for Rook. In the two events he has fished in La Crosse, he placed 20th and 84th. We can’t draw any kind of pattern from those two finishes, but it is hopeful that his second visit to La Crosse produced his best finish. Sometimes the first time around on a new fishery can fool you.
Worth a risk: Matt Lee
The eldest Lee spends a ton of time on his home water of Lake Guntersville. Sometimes fishing a lot keeps you sharp and in-tune with how fishing is changing during the year, but it can also hurt if your home fishery is one of the best lakes in the nation. When the Elites visit ultra-tough fisheries it can be hard to relate the new body of water to his home lakes and it could shake an angler’s confidence. The La Crosse pool on the Mississippi River has a plentiful population of bass and catching limits shouldn’t be too hard for the best in the world so I expect Lee to have some confidence after practice and have a little less pressure and stress on his shoulders on Day 1 of the event.
Gut tells me: Lee
Fishing free and loose in the final event of the year could be exactly what Matt Lee needs as he wraps up year two against the best in the world.
Keep momentum and heartbreak in mind
By Thomas Allen
With the final regular-season tournament on the horizon, it’s all coming down to the Plano Bassmaster Elite at the Mississippi River presented by Favorite Fishing for most of the Bassmaster Elite Series field — and Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players.
The top 20 to 25 pros in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings most likely have a safe path to the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, but beyond that a poor showing La Crosse could prove to be a major setback for everyone else.
So, what’s the key to late-season Fantasy Fishing gaming? In my mind it’s all about momentum and who has the most to loose or gain. It’s hard to argue that momentum plays a major role in tournament angling; it often seems that when an angler is having a great year, he can’t make any mistakes.
Being a dominant angler almost becomes a personality trait — whether that’s annual or perennial — they are just flat hard to beat.
The upper pools of the mighty Mississippi River are full of bass. In fact, there’s a good chance that each angler will weigh a limit of bass all four days of competition. The fishery is in tremendous health and will show out in early September.
What does Swindle have to do to keep a tight grip on his AOY lead? He has to catch fish and remain competitive. That may not sound like a big hurdle to overcome, but as we like to say — over and over again — anything can happen in this game. He doesn’t have the kind of lead Aaron Martens did at this point last year, but he’s got a strong handle on things.
Watch for Swindle to do well, just as he has all year long — there’s no reason to stop that G-Train now!
BUCKET A: SWINDLE
I am unabashedly standing by Swindle yet again. I think he’s got the momentum in his favor, and the kind of fishing that will be required on the upper Mississippi fits right into Swindle’s strengths. Hey may even notch his first Elite victory.
Dark Horse: It’s hard to not pick Brandon Palaniuk. He absolutely dominated here in 2013, except for an unfortunate culling incident that DQ’d his Day 2 total and keeping him from progressing. That really lit a fire in the young angler, as he went on to win the following event on the St. Lawrence River. He’s done well in the AOY race this year, and has pretty much punched his ticket to the 2017 Classic. That makes him dangerous, and I expect him to fish like he’s got nothing to loose. Expect Palaniuk to show up with a chip on his shoulder.
BUCKET B: ELAM
Oklahoma angler James Elam is my Dark Horse for this whole event. He’s steadily climbed the AOY leaderboard all year long, and he’s a talented river and slop angler — both of which will be dominant presentations on the Mississippi River. I’d look for a solid finish out of Elam.
Dark Horse: Todd Faircloth won on the Mississippi River in 2012 and finished sixth in 2013. How can you not root for him at this one? He will finish strong in this event and he’s a safe bet. I’m still sticking with Elam, but choosing to not select Faircloth could come back to bite me.
BUCKET C: CREWS
John Crews has a lot to gain and a lot to loose. He’s just barely inside the cut for the AOY championship at 49th place, and he has two Top 20 finishes on the Mississippi, including a third place. I think Crews will show up and fish like he’s starving.
Dark Horse: Mark Menendez — like Crews — is just inside the invite list to the AOY Championship in 47th place. Menendez is very accomplished river stick, and with a lot to win or loose. I’d be confident in betting on Menendez, but Crews is getting my vote in Bucket C.
BUCKET D: FEIDER
Minnesota native Seth Feider struggled on the Potomac, unfortunately. He is likely one of the toughest anglers on Mille Lacs, and he knows that he’ll most likely need a Top 12 to make the cut for the AOY Championship. I know he’s very familiar with this portion of the Mississippi River, and if a come-from-behind finish is possible, this is the place where Feider could earn redemption. I want to see him perform on Mille Lacs, so he’s getting my choice because I believe in him.
Dark Horse: Brandon Lester has struggled this year, but that’s not an adequate representation of how good Lester really is. He’s a stud when it comes to froggin’ and flipping and pitching, and that’s exactly how a good majority of the limits will be produced on the Mississippi. He needs a strong finish to his season, and this is his final shot. Look for Lester to do well.
BUCKET E: SCROGGINS
What has happened to Terry “Big Show” Scroggins? We all know he’s way better than what the last two seasons have illustrated, why not turn that bus around at this event? He’s a river angler, he loves to flip and pitch, he’s very good with topwater. I know he could surprise everyone, and I for one, would love to see it happen in Wisconsin.
Dark Horse: Matt Lee has had a difficult year, but as it’s been said in other Fantasy Fishing articles for this event, the upper Mississippi will fish a lot like Guntersville this time of year. The elder Lee brother is a hammer on Alabama’s largest lake, and I think he’ll fish for the win. Anglers with nothing to loose are dangerous!
How did you team fare at the Potomac River?
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