Fantasy Fishing: Largemouth, Coosa River spots or both?

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Dalton Tumblin

Patrick Walters is currently sitting in second in the AOY standings coming into Neely Henry.

Can you believe that we’re already at Bassmaster Elite Series event number six of 2021?

It seems like during last year’s Bizarro World of a season we didn’t hit that mark until sometime after Thanksgiving. Now we’re just turning from April showers to May flowers, and before you know it we’ll be two-thirds done.

Some of the Elites – including some big names – better get rolling soon if they want to make the Classic or requalify for the tour. Some of the others who’ve jackrabbited out to a quick start better hope that first group never wakes up. 

Neely Henry provides a good place to either cement your position or forge a new start. Unlike last week’s derby, it shouldn’t produce any Century Belts. Unlike the next one, at Guntersville, it’s not a venue that seems to host an event every season. In fact, most of the field has not participated in a B.A.S.S. event there. That makes it a fresh proving ground, if not a clean slate. Moreover, it has healthy populations of both largemouth and mean Coosa River spots. Anglers might choose one over the other, or they can mix and match both species. I’m betting that with a 100-boat field it’ll take a junk game involving both of them to come out on top.

Here are my picks:

BUCKET A: WALTERS

My pick: At this point, I’d be more surprised if Patrick Walters misses the cut to Sunday than if he makes it. The all-everything Millennial just catches fish wherever he goes, no matter the season or the necessary technique. Two Century Belts before the age of 27 speaks for itself, as do 40 money finishes in 48 career events. He’s more than competent with both spots and largemouth and would love to make up some of his small deficit to Seth Feider before the tour heads north.

Safe backup: Matt Herren likely has more experience on Neely Henry than 90% of the field, and while he’s yet to make a Day 4 cut this year, he’s been close multiple times – after this event I may not be able to repeat that statement accurately. 

BUCKET B: KENNEDY

My pick: I was so tempted to pick Steve Kennedy before the glide bait festival on Fork, and now I’m glad I didn’t. Not sure what went wrong on a week that should have favored his obsession, but he’s still well inside the Classic cut with two home-state events to go. He’ll get it back on track this week.

Safe backup: This is a tournament that should favor not only Gerald Swindle’s institutional knowledge, but also his abilities as a junk fisherman. He was good-but-not-great the last two events and needs to earn his first Elite Top 10 since 2018 (did I read that correctly?) to stay on pace for the Classic.

BUCKET C: PIRCH

My pick: The Golden Ram, Clifford Pirch, is currently outside the Classic cut looking in. He won’t fish Ray Roberts next month, the first Classic he’s missed since 2013. Don’t expect it to be two in a row, and a spot factory like Neely Henry is a good place for the finesse guru to grab some momentum.

Safe backup: Scott Canterbury, the 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, also finished sixth in the race last year. He’s too good of an angler to be saddled at about the Mendoza Line, and Texas was not kind to him. Alabama wasn’t either, at least at Pickwick, but Neely Henry provides him an opportunity to right his ship.

BUCKET D: DAVIS

My pick: Clent Davis, a former Forrest Wood Cup winner, has loads of Alabama experience for a young pro. He’s underpicked in Bucket D right now, and after making two Classics in a row he needs to work some Coosa River magic to make it three.

Safe backup: Will the Magdraft play at Neely Henry? At this point, you can’t bet against Chris Zaldain making it work anywhere, and in Bucket D he could be a bargain.

BUCKET E: MUELLER

My pick: After struggling at the St. Johns, a place he’d previously won, Connecticut pro Paul Mueller has yet to get into a groove, with two low-level checks and two finishes of 86th or worse. He’s too good of an angler to remain mired in Bucket E for much longer, and if he wants to have a chance of qualifying for the Classic as the tour heads north, he’ll need to turn things around in Alabama.

Safe backup: Kelley Jaye is another Alabama angler who has a mixed history in home-state Elite tournaments. At 86th in the points, he’ll need to dig deep to make the Classic, and also perhaps to ensure that he requalifies going forward.

Drain the Lake

With only three tournaments left after this one, you’ll want to save some grass flippers and offshore experts for Guntersville, and some northern hammers for the last two, but otherwise it’s wide open: 

  • Clent Davis
  • Matt Herren
  • Kelley Jaye
  • Paul Mueller
  • Clifford Pirch
  • Gerald Swindle
  • Patrick Walters
  • Kyle Welcher