Fantasy Fishing: Gonna need bigger livewells

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James Overstreet

Lee Livesay will be heading back to his home lake after a Top 10 finish at the Sabine River.

Halfway through the Day 1 weigh-in at the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Falcon, Tournament Director Trip Weldon made an announcement: “If it’s not at least 10 pounds, don’t bother asking to weigh it for big fish.”

The upcoming Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork may not make 10-pounders afterthoughts, and it may not take 130-plus pounds to win — although that’s clearly possible if the stars line up correctly. It may not even produce a Century Club belt, but again, no one will be surprised if B.A.S.S. staff has to commission a few extras before the event is over. 

One of the world’s best-known and most-fished trophy lakes is not going to make it easy on the field. No one is going to stumble onto the winning bag. Don’t expect finesse tactics to play a major role. Instead, when picking your team, look to anglers who can catch big weights at “oddball” times of year — when the fish are done spawning, but not truly in a summertime mode. They’ll be moving, they may act funny, but there should be some decent schools to exploit. The angler who stakes a claim and can adjust with them will earn the big blue trophy. Here are my five giant-killers: 

BUCKET A: LIVESAY

My pick: In a group that includes last year’s runaway winner Patrick Walters, all-everything Brandon Palaniuk and current Bassmaster Angler of the Year leader Seth Feider, I’m going with the local hammer Lee Livesay. Fork was not particularly kind to him in 2019, but last year he finished seventh. If Mother Nature throws the Elites a curveball, he may have more knowledge than anyone else about which way to turn to transform a disadvantage into an advantage.

Solid backup: Brock Mosley has back-to-back runner up finishes, three straight Top 10s and four Top 10s in the last five, including an eighth-place finish last year at Fork. Still, almost no one is talking about him in the context of AOY. We all should be doing so for the foreseeable future.

BUCKET B: HANSELMAN

My pick: Texas is a big state, and it takes Del Rio’s Ray Hanselman longer to drive to Fork than many of the pros in states like Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, but being a Texas angler is as much a state of mind as it is a matter of geography. Hanselman knows how to rope in the bigs. Even though he’s twice finished in the forties in B.A.S.S. competition on Fork, he could blow away the field this week without surprising in-the-know fans and anglers.

Solid backup: Buddy Gross was 14th last year at Fork, and this is a time of year and style of fishing where he excels. It’s not that some fish won’t be caught shallow, but rather that he’s likely to find a consistent and reliable population of offshore specimens.

BUCKET C: COMBS

My pick: I know that his ownership percentage will likely be through the roof, but that’s because it should be — Keith Combs is the closest thing to a steel trap lock we’ll have at Fork. The proof is in the past results, and while he could stumble, it’s unlikely. But if it wasn’t for the dominant performance by Walters last year, Combs would have added another blue trophy to his collection.

Solid backup: Brad Whatley was fifth at Fork last year, and if he’s going to climb back inside the Classic cut, he’ll need to get healthy on some home-state cooking.

BUCKET D: PIPKENS

My pick: While most of us understandably think of Chad Pipkens as a smallmouth guy and haircare specialist, he’s found something he likes at Fork – he was eighth there in 2019 and 18th last year.

Solid backup: Todd Auten has been middle-of-the-pack the last two years at Fork, but he’s one of those anglers who cracks a Top 10 now and then, and not on any one type of water. That makes him dangerous, especially in Bucket D.

BUCKET E: GLEASON

My pick: Darold Gleason’s nascent Elite career hasn’t progressed the way he wanted, with three straight missed cuts, but he has too much experience on big fish waters in and near East Texas to miss out at Fork. If he’s going to get his 2021 campaign back on track, this is where he has to do it, and that makes him a good bet, especially in the struggling Bucket E.

Solid backup: Which Garrett Paquette will show up this week, the one who finished 80th last year at Fork or the 2019 runner-up? If it’s the latter, he could make a lot of people who grab him in this devalued bucket quite happy.

Drain the Lake

The conspiracy theorist deep inside me suspects that the new Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge is some sort of cosmic practical joke on my struggling Fantasy Fishing campaign. Is it a chance for me to excel, or might “DTL” stand for “destined to lose” instead? I’m sure that the quants among you are crunching the numbers, but I’m going to bet that the emphasis and increased value on picking winners will make a huge difference. Nevertheless, there are a few anglers I’d like to pick — like Brandon Palaniuk, Feider and the Johnstons — who I’m going to do my best to save for the northern derbies. With that in mind, in no particular order, here are my eight picks:

  • Keith Combs
  • Lee Livesay
  • Brad Whatley
  • Stetson Blaylock    
  • Jason Christie
  • Clark Wendlandt
  • John Crews
  • Greg Hackney