Fantasy Fishing: The tale of two species

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James Overstreet

Greg Hackney looks to stay atop the AOY leaderboard at Pickwick Lake.

Well, how about that — a wire-to-wire victory with nothing but smallmouth bass on the Tennessee River by that stealthy Canadian Jeff Gustafson. Each morning I’d roll over and grab my phone, turn on the online coverage or FS1 and couldn’t put it down all day.

Pickwick Lake promises to be equally exciting, and you should see a myriad of different techniques and depths at play. This fishery also has a stout population of both largemouth and smallmouth, and more than likely, both species will be equally targeted. A few weeks ago, an Alabama Bass Trail tournament was won with 27 pounds of largemouth, however 4- to 6-pound smallies are not at all out of the question and will certainly come across the weigh-in stage.   

Current will also be a factor here. Weather reports show a fair chance for some rain, which should do a few things for the fishery. They should be pulling water throughout the event, and on river impoundments that usually means they’ll be strapping on the feedbags. It should also put a little color in the water, and that could absolutely fire up the fat prespawn largemouth as they get ready to spawn. 

The nights have been relatively warm and could get some moving up to bed, but all my money will be on the prespawn, rather than the spawning bass, to be the predominant target. 

Stopping grounds along the main highways should give up some big bags and will likely be reloading throughout the event as fresh fish move in to stage. The angler who can locate those productive spots and have them to themselves will likely come away with a victory. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs and finesse fishing should be the ticket offshore. The shallow bite should be better for numbers, and if you can get a big bite or two flipping or throwing moving baits, like bladed jigs or crankbaits, a Championship Sunday will not be out of the question.

Which lake will show up? Will it be the largemouth up shallow — or will they be out deep? Will someone “Gussy-up” some mega-bags of smallmouth out in the current? I’m going to choose versatile anglers that will likely stay off the banks. 

BUCKET A: HACKNEY

Looking at the current ownership, it seems that a few folks have figured out that Greg Hackney is a good pick. Not only does he currently hold the lead for Bassmster Angler of the Year points, have two Top-10 finishes in the first two Elite events and a 13th-place finish in the first 2021 Bassmaster Open on the Harris Chain, but he also has a sixth and a 28th-place finish in late spring events on Pickwick. Top that off with a win in a June FLW tournament here and you’ve got a guy that is hard to pass over. His win came off a shallow offshore ledge, which is the kind of thing that could be a major player here. Have to go with the him on this one. 

Don’t forget about: Palaniuk

If the smallmouth end up being the winning species here, the victor will almost certainly come from this bucket. Brandon Palaniuk has figured something out with shallow bass the last two seasons and he certainly has the scraps to duke it out up in the mud, but his bread and butter seems to be both fishing offshore and fishing for smallies. If those two elements can collide here, he may be a six-time Elite Series champion.

BUCKET B: LESTER 

Brandon Lester blistered my team in the last event on the Tennessee River. I’m pretty hesitant to pick him here, but this one should tee him up to rebound after his last showing. He’ll probably spend a fair bit of time fishing offshore. He is a master with his electronics and can finesse them up if it gets tough. He lives less than an hour from Florence, Ala., and has absolutely spent some good time on Pickwick.

Don’t forget about: Welcher 

Kyle Welcher is one of those anglers that I expect will be culling up with shallow fish each day looking for the occasional giant bite. He is a relative local, living just a few hours away. His YouTube channel is full of local tournament videos all over Alabama, and you can rest assured he has wet a hook on Pickwick a time or two.

BUCKET C: GROSS

Man, was this a tough bucket for me, but I have go with Buddy Gross. He won an FLW tournament on this lake in late spring, fishing the highway stopping grounds on their way out of the creeks in the postspawn. He won by a 2-pound margin after going into the final day with a massive lead and only coming in with two fish. He knows how to win an Elite Series event after his offshore victory on Eufaula, and that confidence could make him deadly in this one.

Don’t forget about: Schlapper

I was so close to picking Pat Schlapper in this event. Not only is he a huge bargain with 2.7% ownership at the moment, but he has also won an event on Pickwick. It wasn’t years ago. In fact, you can barely say it was “months” ago. He won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship back in November of 2020. He should have a good feel for how this lake is setting up. 

BUCKET D: MULLINS 

David Mullins is off to a slow start this season, but this one should be right in his wheelhouse. He will likely spend his practice looking for spots where he can drag a crankbait around some eelgrass for five big bites and go to work on them.

Don’t forget about: Wendlandt

As a former FLW pro, the 2020 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt has spent a fair bit of time on this fishery and can do just about everything well. He is among the best sight fisherman on the Elites, but he can also grind it out offshore as well. 

BUCKET E: ATKINS

Justin Atkins lives in the host city of Florence, Ala. This is his rookie year on the Elites, but he doesn’t qualify for rookie status due to an FLW Cup victory among his long list of top finishes. All that to say — this dude can fish. He struggled at the first two events, which is why he is down in this bucket, but if there is anyone who is poised to make a run from the bottom of the buckets, it’s Atkins. Back in 2017, he finished in the Top 10 in a BFL competition here and is perfectly comfortable on this fishery.

Don’t forget about: Zaldain

To say I’m going against the grain when considering a highly owned angler like Chris Zaldain is a stretch. With as good as he is, it’s been a struggle for him to catch a limit, much less land the quality bites it takes to move out of Bucket E. I have a gut feeling though that he’s going to put a swimbait to work on some slob smallies in the current. I may have to make a shift the night before this derby gets kicked off.