It’s no secret that the change of date for the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake has everybody excited. There have been plenty of rumblings about the tournament weights potentially reaching the century mark. While I’m a little hesitant to think that anyone will reach 100 pounds over four days of competition, I do think that given consistent weather leading up to the event, the Top 10 could get very close.
Pickwick has potential to be extremely diverse in the way that it fishes. There will inevitably be plenty of big smallmouth caught below the dam, but the big largemouth moving to the bank will also be a huge factor. It’s more than possible that whoever wins the event will mix both smallmouth and largemouth.
Regardless of which direction is chosen, power fishing will be the name of the game. Smallmouth fishing on Pickwick is not your traditional light line, spinning rod style smallmouth fishing, and I can’t imagine the largemouth being caught any other way than power fishing. When picking my Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team this week I really focused on anglers who are strong shallow water power fisherman.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: HACKNEY
I thought long and hard for reasons not to pick Greg Hackney in Bucket A, just as I did the first two Elite events, and I just couldn’t come up with a logical reason to not pick him. The Louisiana pro is on an absolute tear, notching back-to-back Top 10 finishes. Regardless of how Hackney started the season, this event sets up perfectly in his wheelhouse. There will be solid population of fish super shallow, or at least headed there, and the Hack Attack will be there to crack them. Also worth noting: Hackney won a tour level event on Pickwick in 2014 and finished in the Top 10 in the last Elite Series event on Pickwick in 2011.
Solid secondary choice: If you’re looking to get away from the high player percentage that comes with Hackney, look at Elite Series rookie Justin Hamner. The Alabama native has a great start to his Elite Series career with back-to-back top-30 finishes. Hamner lives just over two hours from Pickwick, so I’m sure he’s spent some time on the Tennessee River impoundment.
BUCKET B: CREWS
After a bounce-back event on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, expect John Crews to carry that momentum into Pickwick. Crews is as versatile of an angler as the Elite Series has to offer, and I could see him mixing both smallmouth and largemouth. Over the course of Crew’s Elite Series career, he has seen plenty of success on the Tennessee River. In 2011, Crews made the cut at Pickwick in the most recent Elite event on the Tennessee River impoundment.
Solid secondary choice: Although Brandon Lester has a relatively high player percentage, it’s hard to think Lester won’t bounce back after a surprisingly tough event in Knoxville. Lester is another angler that I think could mix both smallmouth and largemouth to have a good event on Pickwick. Read an article Craig Lamb wrote with Brandon Lester discussing largemouth fishing on Pickwick in 2020.
BUCKET C: FRAZIER
Micah Frazier has become one of the most well-rounded Elite Series pros in the field over the past few years, which is why it’s shocking to me that his player percentage is only at 2%. I keep thinking back to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville where Frazier utilized a big hollow-belly swimbait to catch big largemouth. That same technique is a staple on Pickwick for catching smallmouth near current. The Georgia pro could just as easily power fish up shallow to catch largemouth if the smallmouth don’t cooperate.
Solid secondary choice: Another angler who has a surprisingly low player percentage is Elite Series rookie Pat Schlapper. Don’t get me wrong, Bucket C is full of proven hammers so it would be easy to overlook a rookie like Schlapper. In 2020, the Wisconsin native dominated the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Pickwick, winning by more than 8 pounds. Granted, that event was in November, so the fishing will inevitably be different, but Schlapper should still be a factor this time around. At just over 2% player percentage, Schlapper may be a risk worth taking in Bucket C.
BUCKET D: AUTEN
I’m riding with Todd Auten in back-to-back events. With the power theme in mind, I imagine Auten will figure out a way to wind a bladed jig or spinnerbait up shallow to catch big largemouth. Over the course of his career, Auten fished plenty of tour level events on Pickwick which he can use to his advantage. The South Carolinian also has a low player percentage at just over 3%, which is a risk I’m willing to take in Bucket D.
Solid secondary pick: The only thing keeping me from choosing David Mullins in Bucket D is his high player percentage. Considering I am picking two of the highest percentage anglers in Bucket A and Bucket E, I tried my best to select anglers with lower percentages where I could. With that being said, I think this event sets up well for Mullins. I wouldn’t expect to see the Tennessee pro in Bucket D for much longer.
BUCKET E: ATKINS
I often try to stay away from anglers with high player percentages, but in the case of Justin Atkins I’ll have to make an exception. Atkins lives in Florence, Ala., and calls Pickwick his home lake. In springtime events, the bite is constantly changing and having a long list of back up plans will be a huge advantage for Atkins. There’s no doubt that Atkins is widely considered a favorite to win the event which makes it nearly impossible to not choose him in Bucket E.
Solid secondary choice: Paul Mueller has gotten off to an uncharacteristically bad start for his 2021 Elite Series season. Look for Mueller to bounce back on Pickwick and make a move up the Bassmaster Angler of the Year points leaderboard. I could easily see Mueller focusing on smallmouth at Pickwick and being a real factor.