Fantasy Fishing: Bank on technique, not history

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Steve Bowman

I know these quick turn-around events are tough on the anglers, but as a fan, I am jacked up and ready for another tournament. At the drama-filled St. Johns River Elite event, the rookie Bryan New took home a victory in his first ever Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. I firmly believe that Championship Sunday set the tone for the rest of the season—no lead is safe and anyone can win.

Our next venue is the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn. There is limited tournament data that you can look back to in an effort to support your picks, however the 2019 Bassmaster Classic will give you a hint of what to expect. It was about this time of year and conditions should be similar. However, look less at who did well and more at what people were doing. With it being a Classic, it was a limited field and only a portion of the current roster participated in that tournament.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass play here, but the smallies will have to be over 18 inches and tend to be harder to come by. Look for moving baits like flat-sided crankbaits, big-bladed spinnerbaits and rattlebaits to shine. A jig or bulky Texas rig could also show up to play. Shallow rock and docks should be main points of interest.

Let’s dive into some picks.

BUCKET A: LESTER

Local knowledge can be both a benefit and a stumbling block depending on how you use it. If you look at the local Brandon Lester’s angling strengths, they include finesse fishing, docks, throwing a jig and cranking. Also, the cold temperatures should not phase him. He finished sixth in the 2019 Classic.

Don’t forget about: Palaniuk

Brandon Palaniuk made a solid run to finish 10th in the 2019 Classic. This guy loves to crank and throw a shaky head on rocks. He has some solid momentum after the St. Johns River too, after having a monster Day 3 that nearly rocketed him to the Top 10.

BUCKET B: BLAYLOCK

When you think of Stetson Blaylock, you think wacky worms and crankbaits. In 2019, between Hartwell and Lanier, he used both of these techniques to perfection. Again, with the lack of history on this venue, it’s about pinning down which techniques will play. With the chance of rain and wind being pretty high, he’ll likely lean hard on those moving baits.

Don’t forget about: Cook

You’re going to need to run and gun to get five big bites in this derby. Drew Cook is more than willing to burn the gas to hit a few thousand docks in an effort to find those bites.

BUCKET C: HARTMAN

In the last few seasons, Jamie Hartman seems to find a few events that are outside of his perceived wheelhouse and ends up fishing on Sunday. I can absolutely see this being one of those. He is stellar with a crankbait and is not afraid to grind for five bites. He is also stellar with a jig.

Don’t forget about: Wendlandt

Back in 2010, the 2020 AOY Clark Wendlandt found himself ninth out of a massive FLW field on this stretch of the river. That event was in April, so it was certainly a different system by that point, but he could have a few tricks up his sleeve that other anglers might overlook.

BUCKET D: MARTIN

While Lake Cumberland may be a much clearer lake on a different system, it fishes similarly to the Tennessee River in a lot of ways. Scott Martin has been an absolute hammer on that lake with a win and a 25th in FLW competition throwing a jerkbait and a crankbait along rocky banks and laydowns. He has a fire under his rear end after a disappointing debut event on the St. Johns River. You know he is ready to get back out there for some redemption.

Don’t forget about: Mullins

David Mullins loves to throw a red crankbait, which will certainly be a mainstay this week. In the last few years he has made it known that if he can find a way to crank them up, he will be a factor. Don’t be surprised to see him fishing on Sunday. 

BUCKET E: AUTEN

After a tough finish on the St. Johns, he is ready to get after ‘em this week. Todd Auten loves dock fishing and throwing bladed baits. He may be played by 10% of Fantasy players, but against the nearly 50% that Skylar Hamilton is played, all he has to do if finish better than Skylar to beat half the field in this bucket. Seems like a bargain to me. 

Don’t forget about: Whitaker

Jake Whitaker finds himself in Bucket E after a rough first event, but don’t expect him to stay here long. He seems to be in tune with the TVA with several good finishes over his career. He also has some experience on this system with a 31st place finish in the 2019 Classic.