Fantasy Fishing begins Monday!
Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing opens Monday, Feb. 15!
The past tournament results are currently not posted on Bassmaster.com, but you can see how the competitors did in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on the same lake, here:
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Here are the pundit picks for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic! Click each link to read the articles on Bassmaster.com, or scroll down to reach each individual article.
Go for pros lurking just out of the spotlight By Pete Robbins
Go for anglers who ‘rock’ By Kevin Hawk
Should you listen to the voices in your head? By Thomas Allen
Go with heavy hitters on the ‘Grand’ stage By Ronnie Moore
Stick with shallow-water powerhouses By Cody Hanley
The search for the perfect roster By Jason Collins
Go for pros lurking just out of the spotlight
By Pete Robbins
It seems like we were just at a frigid Grand Lake, watching Cliff Pace direct boat traffic and grind his way through a tough final day to win the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
Until last year’s rodeo at Hartwell, that was the coldest Classic on record, one of several Grand Lake chillers in B.A.S.S. history, and Pace earned every bit of his prize money.
Now we’re headed back, but Pace is not. He finished a disappointing 95th in the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. For every cagey veteran who failed to make the cut, though, there’s a hungry newcomer ready to take a shot at the win.
We’ve had four new Classic winners in the past four years — Chris Lane, Pace, Randy Howell and Casey Ashley — none of them wide-eyed rookies by any means, but all of whom needed the victory to establish themselves as stars. While it’s entirely possible that we’ll see a repeat winner this time around, my money says it’ll be another newcomer, someone for whom this will truly be a life-altering event.
While the voting hadn’t officially opened at the time of this writing, I’m making a concerted effort to stay away from crowd favorites. Certainly the likes of Kevin VanDam or Jason Christie could win on any body of water at any time, but I believe that Grand, unlike some other Classic waterways, sets up to benefit the angler who doesn’t have an armada of followers from the get-go.
Last time around, with Christie and Iaconelli and Pace all fishing in the same general part of the lake, at times the water resembled an E-ticket ride or a giant washing machine more than the placid ponds of angling lore. Now, with the tournament moved back a few weeks, if it’s warmer, expect many of those who stayed home last time around because of the cold to join their more foolhardy friends.
By the end of the tournament — win or lose — Jason Christie may hope he never sees another bass boat for the rest of his life. While the folks at Grand were generally courteous, they were also mighty plentiful.
With that in mind, here are my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks.
BUCKET A: PALANIUK
Popular Pick: You know that Aaron Martens is going to win a Classic at some point, but in order to do so, you can’t have one bad hour, let alone a bad day. On the heels of his dominant season, it appears he’s gotten over any mental roadblocks that plagued him in the past — like forgetting his crankbait box in 2011. I don’t think he’ll miss the cut like he did in 2013, but I think he’s a year or two away from adding this piece of hardware to his mantle.
Almost Picked: This is a home field derby for Edwin Evers, and no one’s going to be surprised when he unlocks the Classic puzzle or the AOY puzzle, possibly in the same year.
My Pick: Brandon Palaniuk finished second on Grand in 2013, and he’s had three more years of seasoning since then to continue to dial in his prolific natural talents. You can bet he has some new crankbaits, jerkbaits or swimbaits he’s been working on that no one else will have, or he might end up winning with a bait that’s older than him. Nothing seems to faze him, which is good, because he’ll likely have more spectators than he did the last time around.
BUCKET B: COMBS
Popular Pick: If Jason Christie doesn’t command at least two-thirds of the votes in this bucket, I’ll be shocked, and while he gave up some of his good stuff to the masses last time around, I don’t think that’s even a fraction of what he knows on Grand. Still, the spectator traffic is going to be immense, and if he has to run and gun to pick off individual fish, they’ll inadvertently cost him quite a few casts per day.
Almost Picked: No one really talks about Matt Herren, so you’d probably make a killing if you picked him and he came out on top. While he finished a below-average 29th here in 2013, he recently told me about some places he found that could pay off if conditions turn sour. While others struggle to get a few bites, he could be culling — and he probably won’t have major boat traffic impeding his efforts until he claims the lead.
My Pick: Keith Combs. It’s not Texas, where he’s dominant, but it’s one state up. More importantly, in a big fish event, do you want the guy who’s used to fishing for a 10-pound limit or the one who thinks that any five fish that combine for less than 20 pounds should be considered bait? Go for the home run hitter.
BUCKET C: DEFOE
Popular Pick: KVD. Everyone’s talking about his demise, but most of those same people are afraid NOT to pick him. He’s won at Grand before, albeit at a totally different time of year. Despite the naysayers, if he wins another Classic — or two, or three — I won’t be surprised.
Almost Picked: Todd Faircloth, like Evers, is going to win a Classic or an AOY — or both — at some point.
My Pick: Ott DeFoe finished 11th here in 2013. If there’s a jerkbait bite, or they’re chewing a Shad Rap, he’ll make something happen. After making the Classic relatively easily early in his B.A.S.S. career, DeFoe sweated it out until the end last year, and knowing that it’s not a sure thing will make him value the opportunity even more.
BUCKET D: BERTRAND
Popular Pick: Mike Iaconelli. There’s a still a dog on the bank at Grand that wants his revenge, but a combination of cold and crowds is right up his alley.
Almost Picked: Mark Davis may move a little bit slower than he did back when he won the Classic in 1995, but Mount Ida’s most famous resident still knows how to catch ’em. He’s talked about retiring, but I’m guessing he won’t do it until he has at least one more big trophy, or until he’s physically unable to compete.
My Pick: Josh Bertrand. I know that I chose Combs in Bucket B because of his Century Club tendencies, but here I’m going the opposite direction, choosing a young pro who’s an absolute finesse guru. If things get tough, the big hitters may whiff and guys like Bertrand may swoop in to pick up the pieces. It’s not like that’s all he can do, either. He’ll catch them in a variety of ways, and he won’t have an entourage while he’s doing it.
BUCKET E: WATSON
Popular Pick: I don’t know that there will be a consensus most-popular angler in this bucket, but I’m guessing that Albert Collins is the closest thing to a household name here. He fished the previous Classic at Grand, which is a plus, but he finished 48th — which is not.
Almost Picked: In a tournament where second place doesn’t truly matter, you want someone who knows how to catch a big string, and then another, and then another, and that’s Brandon McMillan. My only fear is that if the weather gets horrendous, the Florida crew may freeze their Sunkists off.
My Pick: James Watson. He’s competed on the tour level, he’s won in B.A.S.S. competition and he’s from the region. He may not win, but he could, and he’s unlikely to stumble.
Go for anglers who ‘rock’
By Kevin Hawk
Does Grand Lake sound familiar? It should. The Classic was held on the upland reservoir in 2013 — a tournament hit by a severe winter storm two days before competition started. The storm brought rain, snow and sleet, and the temperature at takeoff hovered in the teens. The water temperature also dropped several degrees and broke up concentrated prespawn bass.
One angler, however, made the right adjustments and fished the current conditions better than anyone else. Cliff Pace avoided fishing in the main lake’s current (the coldest water) and concentrated on the first channel swing inside major creeks where the water was a few degrees warmer.
Pace patiently fished channel swings while keying in on areas where large rock transitioned into pea gravel. His commitment to go after single fish proved an angler didn’t have to catch a limit every day to win the Classic. He caught 21-pound limits the first two days, but only weighed in four fish on the final day and still won by 3 pounds.
This Classic, however, will likely fish differently than the last. It takes place two weeks later, which may seem trivial any other time of the year, but it can make a big difference during the early spring. If there’s a warming trend leading into the event, many of Grand Lake’s bass will move from their winter holding areas to staging locations.
Of course, there’s El Niño to consider. Early El Nio forecasts show winter weather could arrive in the Tulsa area as late as March, but it’s impossible to accurately predict this far in advance.
Regardless of the weather conditions, we still need to fill our Fantasy Fishing rosters.
The following are my Classic picks:
BUCKET A: LUCAS
Fan Favorite: Edwin Evers
My Pick: Justin Lucas
If you’re scratching your head at my pick, you shouldn’t be. I realize Bucket A has both the reigning and former Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, but after finishing second in last year’s AOY standings, Justin Lucas has proved he can compete all over the country, especially in the late winter and early spring. He also has strong finishes on rock-filled reservoirs similar to Grand.
Lucas broke out last year and is going to only continue getting better. Watch for him to get started quickly at the Classic.
Edwin Evers is one of the few Oklahomans in the field and has experienced more success on Grand than anyone besides Jason Christie. Evers started strong on Grand during the 2013 Classic, but faded on Days 2 and 3. Even so, he’s too solid of an angler on upland reservoirs during the early spring not to be the majority pick.
BUCKET B: CHRISTIE
Fan Favorite: Jason Christie
My Pick: Jason Christie
Jason Christie is not only going to be the fan favorite, but he’s also my pick as well. Christie will likely have the most heat (media requests and spectator boats) of any angler in the Classic field, just like he did in 2013. This time, however, he understands how to handle those pressured situations and will not make the same mistakes he did last time.
Christie knows Grand better than anyone in the field, and after Casey Ashley’s Classic win on Lake Hartwell last year, the fans aren’t afraid to pick the “local” favorite anymore.
BUCKET C: HOWELL
Fan Favorite: Kevin VanDam
My Pick: Randy Howell
Kevin VanDam is an intense competitor with multiple Classic and AOY titles, so he’s an immediate fan favorite. I, however, am picking Randy Howell. Howell is also a passionate angler and has an impressive résumé himself.
Howell is an instinctual angler who used both his instincts and cranking ability to win the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville. On the last day of the event, Howell listened to his gut and abandoned his starting spot in favor of an area he hadn’t fished since practice. He made the right decision and caught the biggest final-day limit cranking rock.
I’m confident Howell’s natural instincts and cranking skills will serve him well on the rock-filled Grand Lake this March.
BUCKET D: IACONELLI
Fan Favorite: Mike Iaconelli
My Pick: Mike Iaconelli
Mike Iaconelli is everyone’s favorite (at least everyone under the age of 50), including mine. Ike finished fourth in 2013 on Grand, and I see him having another successful Classic. Ike is a fierce competitor, and his ability to fish fast when he needs to is impressive. This Classic may reward the angler who can cover the most water. If so, look for Iaconelli to compete for the win.
BUCKET E: MCMILLAN
Fan Favorite: James Watson
My Pick: Brandon McMillan
James Watson, a Missouri resident, has a loud and likable personality, so he’ll quickly capture the fans’ attention.
Brandond McMillan, a Florida-based pro, doesn’t have much experience fishing outside the Southeast region. Yet he’s one of the most skilled anglers I’ve seen fish in 5 feet or less of water by fishing directly what’s in front of him. If there’s a shallow bite on Grand this March, look for McMillan to compete.
I’m curious, who are your picks?
Should you listen to the voices in your head?
By Thomas Allen
Another season of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing presented by Toyota is about to kick off. Many consider luck to be a major factor, but I believe the best contestants are deeply involved in the stats and research.
However, any given angler can win any given tournament, so the element of luck can indeed wreck your plans. Just roll with it, and ignore my contradictions.
I base my selections on several criteria, in no particular order:
-History/Experience on particular body of water
-Momentum coming into each event
-Hunger/Overdue for a win
-Home body of water/local favorite
Paying attention to those criteria should negate whatever role “luck” plays in this game. Having a deep, intimate understanding of tournament fishing and being willing to research historical data will help you make the best choices.
I will pick a few likely anglers from each bucket, one being a dark horse that could rise up and run away with it.
Finally, there’s been a little voice in my head that seems to offer quality selections at each tournament — but they do occasionally disagree with what my gut says. Let’s call him “Gerald.”
I will refer to Gerald on a regular basis, as he seems to know his stuff. Above all else, having an imaginary friend allows me to blame him if I make a bad selection.
Work with me here.
On to my Classic picks.
BUCKET A: PALANIUK
My top choices for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro are Brandon Palaniuk and Edwin Evers. Both come in with different types of momentum. Both are hungry for a Classic victory.
Palaniuk managed a second-place finish on Grand Lake in 2013, and he seems to excel when water conditions are tough. I’d expect difficult water, which should help BP with a solid finish, possibly a win.
Evers is returning after an amazing season with back-to-back victories and a solid run at AOY, and you could consider Grand Lake the Oklahoma native’s home waters. He finished 25th at the 2013 Classic and has been close to a Classic victory several other times. As one of the most accomplished anglers on tour, a Classic title would be well celebrated. It could be Evers’ time.
The Bucket A dark horse was a tossup for me between Jacob Powroznik and Aaron Martens. Powroznik has proved to be a fierce competitor in the Elite Series, and could easily swoop in and win this — plus the likely cold and muddy water will play to his strengths.
Martens has accomplished everything possible in professional bass fishing, except for winning the Classic. With his four Bassmaster Classic second-place finishes, he’s as hungry for a world title as anyone out there, and just like Evers — he’s due.
Gerald says Evers, but after some painful deliberation, I’m going with Brandon Palaniuk.
BUCKET B: CHRISTIE
The clear choice in a stacked Bucket B is Jason Christie. He is an Oklahoma native and finished in seventh place on Grand in 2013. He stands as good of a chance to win as anyone in the field. But, if he doesn’t claim the W, a quality finish is very likely.
If you need more options, “Big Fish” Bobby Lane comes to mind. He has a history of good performances at the Classic, and he managed a 15th-place finish the last time the Bassmaster Classic visited Grand Lake. He has good momentum coming into this event, and like several of the others we’ve discussed thus far, he’s due for a big win.
The dark horse in this bucket could be either Matt Herren or Alton Jones, who finished 29th and 31st, respectively, in 2013 on Grand.
Gerald is telling me Skeet Reese could be a factor, too. I can’t help but agree. (Gerald needs to calm down. Three choices of potential dark horses is making my head hurt.)
Gerald’s choice is Bobby Lane, but I’m going with Jason Christie. I’m sure he’ll yell at me later about that.
BUCKET C: FAIRCLOTH
How can you not pick Kevin VanDam in Bucket C? I’m guessing he’ll be the strong favorite among Fantasy Fishing gamers, and why not? He’s won on Grand in the past, and it’s only been a few years since he’s won a Classic, so another KVD Classic title could be possible. He would certainly be a safe bet for a quality finish, but it’s not that simple.
If you look back at the 2013 Classic on Grand Lake, you’ll notice that KVD, Todd Faircloth, Randy Howell and Ott DeFoe finished eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th respectively. And, you’ll notice that each of those gents is in the same bucket this year. They know the game, know the lake and know the Classic. But, who has momentum on their side?
Looking back at the 2015 AOY points race, Faircloth made the most dramatic jump, and that’s well worth considering. Plus, this will be his 14th Classic appearance. He’s due.
Gerald went easy on me here; we both agree that the dark horse is David Walker. He’s a relatively quiet competitor, but he has proven his prowess more than once.
We also agree that Faircloth is the best pick for this bucket.
BUCKET D: IACONELLI
James Elam is an Oklahoma native and has a lot of momentum on his side. After a 10th-place finish at St. Clair in 2015, he went on to win the Central Open on Fort Gibson Lake, which he immediately followed up with another 10th-place finish at the Sturgeon Bay AOY Championship. He knows Grand, and he’s been fishing well. Elam would be a very safe pick for Grand Lake.
But, without evaluating further, my selection is going to Mike Iaconelli. As long as the barking dogs are kept at bay and he isn’t confronted with mechanical issues, he could easily place well in this event, if not win the whole dang thing.
Gerald is telling me that Brandon Lester or Josh Bertrand are also worth considering. I agree and think both could be the dark horse in this bucket.
My Bucket C selection is Iaconelli. Gerald is quiet, so he must agree.
BUCKET E: COLLINS
This is a tough pool to select from because many of the anglers are new to the Classic or Elite Series and don’t have a tremendous amount of experience at the top level yet. But that certainly doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. There are some solid sticks in this bucket that could very easily surprise the entire field.
After the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship that shot Fabian Rodriguez into the professional bass fishing limelight, I’ve become an even bigger proponent of fate. Rodriguez overcame the loss of his grandmother during the championship, and felt that — before he earned a Classic berth and an Elite Series invite — he was destined to fish on the top levels of the sport. He finished an emotional event with a clear mind, and is right where he said he would be.
On the day his grandmother died, Rodriguez finished his limit and then offered nearby John Proctor the spot. That move helped Proctor win his division and ultimately proceed to the Classic alongside Rodriguez.
So, back to fate: Because of that move, I’ll make Rodriguez my dark horse.
However, when it comes to experience and the pressure of the Classic, you’ll want to consider Albert Collins. Through the Weekend Series, he qualified for the 2013 Classic, which, of course, took place on Grand Lake. He knows what he’s getting into this time around, and he says he’s far better prepared.
Gerald wants to go with fate; he’s picking Rodriguez.
But my gut is telling me Collins will be a major contender in this year’s Classic, and I don’t ignore my gut.
Go with heavy hitters on the ‘Grand’ stage
By Ronnie Moore
Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing season is upon us!
For some it will be a season of revenge over their buddies after a tough 2015, while others flew high above the competition and want to stay at the top of their game.
The Classic is always the craziest event to try and predict because it is like the Daytona 500. There will be those drivers who always shine at Daytona and rise to the occasion, and the same goes for the Classic. Sometimes the styles suit some anglers better, but when the time is running out and decisions have to be made, anything can happen.
Here are my picks for the Grand Lake Bassmaster Classic.
BUCKET A: HACKNEY
Safe Bet: Edwin Evers
You’ll be hard-pressed to find many anglers with more insight on Grand Lake than Edwin Evers. The Talala, Okla., native hasn’t won a Bassmaster Classic yet, but if you ask around the industry, he is one of the top anglers who hasn’t won bass fishing’s biggest tournament. With some of the pre-practice fishing time being washed out because of the Oklahoma flooding, probably half of the anglers competing didn’t accomplish as much as they would have hoped with that opportunity. With the wild weather this winter so far, I expect local knowledge to help out significantly.
Worth a Risk: Greg Hackney
Greg Hackney fared well in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, the last time B.A.S.S. traveled to Grand Lake. The recent inconsistent weather will likely continue up to the Classic. The last Grand Lake Classic was cold — not Lake Hartwell cold, but still cold. I think it will be much warmer this time around, and I think Hackney is one angler to watch for, especially if a jig plays a factor.
Gut tells me: Hackney
Something about Greg Hackney fishing a Classic that could possibly be a shallow water tournament sounds good with me. Plus if it turns into a cold weather event, Hackney’s beard ought to keep him warmer than most.
BUCKET B: B. LANE
Safe Bet: Bobby Lane
In Bobby Lane’s eight Bassmaster Classic appearances, he has never finished worse than 20th. That is impressive for any tournament trail, but with it being the biggest tournament of them all, that speaks volumes. Coming off a 21st-place finish in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and a second-place finish in last year’s Classic, I’d say Lane had a successful season, and if I was a betting man, my money would be on Big Fish Bobby Lane. A 15th-place finish at the last Grand Lake Classic also sweetens the deal even more. I know, Jason Christie could possibly be the safest bet in the entire field, but I guarantee his ownership percentage will be through the roof.
Worth a Risk: Skeet Reese
Skeet Reese is one of the best anglers in the world and one of the best closers in the game, so why not put confidence in him on the biggest stage? I could see this tournament turning into a shallow water event with the Classic slated for the first week of March. Shallow junk fishing and adapting every day to changing conditions sounds like Skeet Reese. He’s a heavy hitter, no matter the venue.
Gut tells me: B. Lane
Big Fish Bobby Lane may be one of the most underrated anglers in cold weather events. Even though he is a Florida angler who prefers fishing healthy green grass, a little cold weather never hurt, especially for Lane at the Classic. I expect another good showing and possibly another high finish.
BUCKET C: VANDAM
Safe Bet: Ott DeFoe
Four Classics with four Top 11 finishes for Ott DeFoe is not too shabby. After talking to DeFoe last year, I found out he enjoys fishing colder Classics because they are truly prespawn events, something he doesn’t get to fish often on the Elite Series. Most of the time, the Elite Series season starts down south and is dominated by the spawn or at least a warmer prespawn pattern. In the 2013 Grand Lake Classic, DeFoe finished 11th, and if history translates, then he should factor in once again in the top half of the field.
Worth a Risk: Kevin VanDam
It’s been far too long since Kevin VanDam has hoisted a Bassmaster Classic trophy above his head. With his history on Grand Lake, eighth in the 2013 Classic, he is a threat. I could see VanDam doing some damage by shallow cranking and running and gunning.
Gut tells me: VanDam
“On the move” may be my gut phrase for this Classic. I think bouncing around areas and making as many casts as possible will be successful in this Classic. It genuinely depends on the weather and how it sets up, but I think VanDam will really shine and prove any of the doubters wrong.
BUCKET D: IACONELLI
Safe Bet: Michael Iaconelli
It’s the biggest stage on a body of water Iaconelli has done well at before; that is almost too good to be true. It seems that every Bassmaster Classic Iaconelli fishes, he has a chance to really impact the final outcome. There were those moments in the Lake Hartwell Classic as well as Grand Lake in 2013.
Worth a Risk: Brandon Card
Card had a fantastic season this year on many diverse fisheries, and on a confidence level, he is ready to compete in the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing. There are always wildcard anglers who come out of the shadows and excel in the big moment.
Gut tells me: Iaconelli
Big moment = Iconic Ike. I expect a crisp and crazy Iaconelli to play a big factor in another Classic. He is always trying to adjust, and this tournament will be about bouncing around and not necessarily grinding it out in one or two areas.
BUCKET E: WATSON
Safe Bet: James Watson
For Watson, there isn’t anything new about Grand Lake, other than the high muddy water he faced during the pre-practice period. He doesn’t live in Oklahoma, but his knowledge of Grand and lakes like Table Rock is certainly noted. Bucket E can be a toss-up at times, especially for the Classic because this is where all of the Opens winners, Nation anglers and College champion are tucked together. I’d expect Watson to do well and carry his iconic smile with him all over Tulsa that week.
Worth a Risk: Albert Collins
Many won’t know his name, but Collins has excelled in the B.A.S.S. Nation over the last few years, and in 2015, he took home the title. Collins has done well from Texas to Ohio and basically everywhere in between. This also isn’t his first Bassmaster Classic rodeo — he competed at Grand Lake in 2013 as well — and I think he will correct any mistakes he may have made a few years ago.
Gut tells me: Watson
I’ve passed on some of the anglers who will know Grand better, but I personally like to avoid high percentage anglers if I can. Watson is a comfortable choice for me in Bucket E.
Stick with shallow-water powerhouses
By Cody Hanley
We’re back for 2016, and this year on Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, it’s going to be awesome!
We have a great schedule to play with this season. The first event is the Bassmaster Classic on a thriving fishery. Grand Lake is consistent — and full of big largemouth bass! Fishing shallow or deep is the pro’s choice; both are good this time of the year.
I am somewhat familiar with Grand Lake, and I think it will be won shallow, up in Elk River. The Classic is hitting on Grand Lake on the prespawn/spawn transition, and the lake is so full of bass, the pros’ areas will keep replenishing.
Here are my Fantasy Fishing picks.
BUCKET A: ROJAS
Dean “The Machine” Rojas is a master shallow-water power fisherman. I think he’s going to flip his way into a Top 10 finish. Being from out West, Rojas has mastered the deeper water, and if conditions call for it, you’ll see him out cranking off a deep water point.
BUCKET B: CHRISTIE
Local Jason Christie is my pick to win this Classic. He learned to fish on this lake, and he even notched an FLW win here back in 2013. He is a master shallow fisherman, and he can adapt to any conditions here.
BUCKET C: VANDAM
Kevin VanDam is still the best. Regardless of what seems like a couple of “off” seasons for him, you can’t count him out, especially in a Classic. He can fish any way possible, and he will figure out these big Grand Lake bass. Watch him show everyone he is still the greatest angler in the world.
BUCKET D: IACONELLI
Mike Iaconelli is a master angler and extremely versatile. He can flip, toss a deep diver or fish a worm, and he is comfortable doing it all. The New Jersey native will shine in Okalahoma.
BUCKET E: MCMILLAN
I know Brandon McMillan from his years over at the FLW Tour; he’s part of that famous McMillan family out of Southern Florida. A shallow-water master, McMillan will excel to the top on Grand Lake.
The search for the perfect roster
By Jason Collins
Classic — (adjective) judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its own kind. (noun) a work of art that is of recognized and established value.
The Bassmaster Classic, which brings 55 of the world’s best anglers together on one lake, will ultimately encompass that very definition of being “classic.” The 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro on the world-renowned Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees in Tulsa, Okla., shall be no exception to that very definition.
It was only three years ago that we visited Grand Lake, and it certainly had its memorable moments. One major factor that played a part in that tournament was extremely cold weather. Ice formed on the guides of the angler’s finely tuned rods and reels, and their apparel resembled that of an ice fishing event more so than a bass fishing championship. Mother Nature dealt a tough hand.
The cream of the crop rose to the top while battling through the elements and making key adjustments to claim their spot in history. Winner Cliff Pace did just that while honing in on transition areas just off main lake points that featured a channel swing and the most vertical structure and/or contour. Methodically and strategically fishing the conditions, Pace was able to hone in on a slower, more deliberate approach using a technique he has since dubbed “gravity fishing” — allowing gravity to move the bait down that vertical and fishable structure — while sticking with his “one-two punch” approach with a V&M jig and Jackall jerkbait to trigger the more finicky and ultimately bigger bites. When it was all said and done, the tournament certainly played itself well into Pace’s winning hand.
Don’t forget Hank Cherry’s huge missed fish, Brandon Palaniuk’s almost-win and Mike Iaconelli’s shout-out to a spectator dog.
Who’s ready for the sequel? I know I am. I’m definitely ready to set my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks.
Fantasy Fishing players need to base our selections on multiple variables, including tournament history, weather, local advantage, type of fishery, angler strength for that particular type of fishery, momentum, need to win, gut instinct and ownership percentage. My goal for this year is put together a perfect roster, at least once. Hopefully, this one is it!
Bucket A: Palaniuk
My Pick: Brandon Palaniuk
Bucket A is filled with aces, and rightfully so. The anglers in this bucket have the world’s greatest bass fishing talent. I’m picking Brandon Palaniuk here because, not only was he first runner-up in 2013, but this lake sets up to favor his preferred style of fishing. When I think of Palaniuk, I think of open water and an opportunity for a freestyle approach. His ability to diversify power fishing with finesse techniques while working areas of rock and riprap sets him up nicely to play the game he’s most comfortable playing. And when Palaniuk is comfortable, watch out. It could be over before it even started! With a bittersweet taste of almost hoisting that trophy over his head three years ago, he’s one hungry competitor with a chip on his shoulder. I will put my chips on the table that say he will do whatever it takes to put him in position to be back in that VIP group of the “Super Six” come the final day of competition.
Gut Pick: Edwin Evers/Aaron Martens
It’s very hard for me not to Edwin Evers, who had such a great run in the previous season, including winning back-to-back events. I watched Evers on my home waters of the St. Lawrence River last year, and I was in awe of how efficient he was with every little nuance. However, he had his shot on “his turf” in 2013 and yet Palaniuk still outperformed him.
And what can I say that hasn’t already been said about “The Natural” Aaron Martens. The guy is a stud. He recently had arguably the best performance of any Elite Series season over the years, and if you kept that stallion in your roster last year, he kept you in the blue ribbon category throughout the Fantasy Fishing season. So why am I not picking him? It’s because of the anticipated high ownership percentage he’ll probably have. I may later regret this one, though.
Sleeper: Jacob Powroznik. Just sayin.
Bucket B: Christie
My Pick: Jason Christie
Jason Christie is my overall pick to win the Classic outright. Actually, it came down to Christie and Justin Lucas as my picks for overall winner, but it was a tough call.
For one, Christie’s hometown is in the host state of Oklahoma (Park Hill to be exact), and familiarity often is an advantage. When it comes to such a high-stakes game at the highest level of competition, every advantage is one more opportunity to stack the deck in your favor. Furthermore, Christie is a seasoned veteran and has proved himself as one of the fiercest and most accomplished competitors in professional bass fishing.
Christie finished seventh overall in the 2013 Classic. He can adapt at a moment’s notice and will make the slightest of adjustments to get that extra bite or two. He has poise under the most tremendous amount of pressure, never losing his cool and always staying on point. He dissects each and every lake with surgeon-like precision. He’s deliberate, focused and determined to make a run for the title once again. Take Jason Christie in Bucket B, and you can bet he’ll pay big dividends for your roster.
Long Shot: Cliff Pirch
Clifford Pirch had a good season last year, and in terms of momentum, he may still be building. I like him in open-water situations. He could make for a bank roll if you wanted to take a long shot in this bucket.
Bucket C: Lowen
My Pick: Bill Lowen
Such a highly skilled group of anglers make up this bucket that it’s hard to imagine any of them not making the cut. But I think Bill Lowen is going to overshadow the rest.
Lowen may get a shot to slow down and methodically put a jig to work, which is where he excels. He can show poise under pressure. With Kevin VanDam and Todd Faircloth in this bucket, I’m going with Lowen as a semi-safe pick with a dark horse appeal in hopes of making a big move. It may backfire, but it may make for a big payoff as well.
Wanted to pick: Kevin VanDam
It’s K to the V to the D, y’all! There’s countless reasons to pick the legend, but I don’t play favorites and will normally resort to the underdogs when there’s an overwhelming spread on the over/under. This is just a risk/reward play here.
Bucket D: Iaconelli
My Pick: Mike Iaconelli
I know, I know — I just contradicted myself in saying that I’m not all about the fan favorites here, but Iaconelli has a strong hand coming into this wager and in just too many ways to ignore. I feel as if not picking him, despite his projected high ownership percentage, can work against me. Sometimes, in Fantasy Fishing, you risk losing much more by picking against the favorite than you would gain by going against the grain. This feels like one of those times.
Iaconelli put together a solid game plan back in 2013 and ended in fourth place. As a Northern angler, Iaconelli is familiar with cold weather/early spring fishing. He also has that proverbial chip on his shoulder knowing he was so close to closing it out. Iaconelli is dangerous when emotion is the best card in his hand. Does the Delaware River ring a (Liberty) bell?
Take away the mechanical issues he encountered in the 2013 Classic, and it’s very possible there would have been a different outcome. I’m “going Ike” in this bucket.
Almost a safe pick: Boyd Duckett
Bucket E: Sim
My Pick: Charles Sim
Bucket E is very tricky, and if you’re not careful, it could completely alter whether you’re a fantasy stud or a fantasy dud. Charles Sim of Canada is a bit of a dart throw, but he’s got the ability to pull off a great showing in his first-ever Classic appearance. His story encompasses the Cinderella story of paths to the Classic, being the second Canadian ever in the Classic and the first through the B.A.S.S. Nation. He also celebrates our international appeal, as we saw in our Australian contender in the Bassmaster Elite Series last year, Carl Jocumsen.
Instinct Pick: James Watson
There it is, my 2016 Bassmaster Classic “bucket list.” Good luck setting yours!