I think it’s fair to say that the Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing pundits will be rustier than the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers themselves. It honestly feels like we are starting a new season all over again, but I would venture to guess that the majority of these anglers have been on the water and staying sharp.
Lake Eufaula in Alabama is a historic venue for tournaments, but the great majority of those events were many moons ago. Most of the recent tournament data is from weekend and regional events.
I expect the winner of this event will weigh the majority of their creel from offshore brush and small key areas while catching a few key fish on shallow or oddball things. While I say that, I expect a few anglers make the final-day cut chasing bass that have stayed shallow. There will also be the tail end of shad spawns and emerging bluegill spawns at varied depths. Eufaula is not known as an offshore grass fishery as most of the vegetation is shallow and emergent.
In my mind, the smart play is to build your Rapala Fantasy Fishing roster around anglers that excel at adjusting to postspawn bass fishing. If you are high in the standings, don’t take too many low percentage risks. Look for smaller calculated risks to move up the standings.
BUCKET A: BLAYLOCK
Stetson Blaylock is quickly becoming a tour veteran and has had his fair share of Top 10s in offshore tournaments. Anglers from Arkansas understand fishing brush. He earned a top 10 in a May tour event, so this pond won’t be brand new to him. Something just feels right about Blaylock, although I was tempted to keep Buddy Gross in my roster for this event.
Home-state heroes: Here are a couple of anglers to keep an eye on that have had some success on Eufaula via past tournaments: Kyle Welcher and Kelley Jaye. If you prefer the safety of that home cooking, these guys both have high upside in the percentage game. There should be a little meat on the shallow junk fishing bone for Welcher to do what he likes to do, and Jaye seems to make a jerkbait work just about anywhere. Both could be strong plays.
BUCKET B: COX
Picking John Cox in Bucket B kind of flies in the face of what I said above, but much of what Cox does contradicts traditional bass fishing wisdom. At the same time he is very successful at his craft. In two tour level events earlier this decade, Cox had two top-10 finishes in May at Eufaula. I expect Cox to milk solid bags fishing shallow and picking off a few straggling bedding bass or fry guarders. He can junk fish his way to a strong finish. There are a lot of anglers in Bucket B that have the potential to win this tournament offshore, but trying to figure out which ones will prevail could be tricky. I feel comfortable that Cox will find a way to be in the mix.
Home-state heroes: If you want a pick with a lot of upside, think about what Steve Kennedy did at West Point a few years ago, which is upriver from Eufaula. Kennedy has burned me too many times for me to take that risk, but I can see it working it out this time. Also, don’t overlook Wes Logan. The guy has been catching them, and I am quite sure he knows where the boat ramps are on Eufaula.
BUCKET C: DAVIS
Did I mention brush piles yet? Didn’t ol’ Clent Davis win $300,000 fishing brush piles in a pretty big derby last year, and he lives in Alabama. Case closed.
Junk-fishing alternates: Gerald Swindle has to be feeling like a caged lion, watching all the other anglers fish the Bassmaster Classic on his home lake. I look for him to be ready to rock and roll on Eufaula, which I’m sure he has been to a time or two. Expect Swindle to have about 20 rods on the deck and put some solid limits in the boat. Need somebody with lower ownership? Look at Jeff Gustafson; he had two strong tour-level finishes on topwater on Eufaula in 2013 and 2015. One last note: If you love you some David Fritts, this may be the best derby to pick him in all year.
BUCKET D: FEIDER
I don’t have any strong data to support this pick, but Seth Feider is one of the most talented anglers in this bucket, and I don’t expect him to stay here long. Might as well take advantage of his good hair and skills while he is in a lower bucket. Plus he has several recent solid finishes in the state of Alabama.
Junk-fishing alternate: Hunter Shryock is as comfortable as anyone in this field fishing for shallow largemouth, and I am pretty sure he could junk up a decent limit to give you some solid points from Bucket D. I think he is a solid, safe play and should be a rock-solid pick.
BUCKET E: WEIDLER
Bill Weidler loves to catch them on a swim jig which should be a solid bet for this event. I feel he is the best blend of percentages owned and likeliness to weigh solid bags each day.
Backup: Chris Zaldain is dangerous with his Mega 360 and that should serve him well in dissecting brush piles and offshore sweet spots. I am sure he is angry after the 2020 Academy Sports Bassmater Classic, and he says a mad Zaldain is a good Zaldain when it comes to fishing.