The northern swing is coming to a close and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen a mind-blowing display of skill from all our Bassmaster Elite Series anglers. What is even more amazing is that it has been broadcast live on ESPN2, the biggest name in sports. It is incredible how far our sport has come and how well it has adapted to make the most of the last few months given the moving target also known as “2020.”
All that aside, the fish-catching and high level of competition is better than ever. We got to watch the Elites battle it out, not for just the cash and the blue trophy, but also for the accolade of the being first angler to hit the century belt with nothing but smallmouth bass. Unfortunately for those at the top — and fortunately for those who were not in contention — that 100-pound mark remains elusive, giving these fellas another chance to land the record of first smallmouth century belt. If there is a tournament where it can happen, Lake St. Clair would be the place to see it go down.
Before I jump into my picks, I want to briefly share an epiphany I had regarding how angler ownership affects your overall Fantasy Fishing performance. In this particular fantasy sports arena, the number of total accumulated points in an event dictates the entirety of how you rank in the standings. If I’m honest with myself, I used to get headaches trying to figure out the math if I balanced my roster with highly- and lowly-owned anglers and how that would stack up against another fantasy player, so on and so on.
To put it as simply as possible, if I have five anglers who have slightly above average finishes and land me 1,000 points, and another player has two outstanding finishers and three below average finishers that land him 1,000 points, we will be effectively tied in the standings.
That said, there is still value in picking lowly-owned players when the stars align for that particular player as well as the angler they pick. However, in my understanding, it comes down to much more of a gut instinct than math. If you pick a roster that has four hypothetical shoe-ins and one dark horse, you may out perform the guy who picked the five favorites if your dark horse finishes strong, and the opposite is true as well.
The goal here is to leap the masses though. Think about it like this: The highest owned angler in each bucket sort of serves as a “house team.” If you can outperform the house team, you will absolutely rise in the standings. As we get later and later in the season, you have less time to make up ground, so you’ll need to take riskier positions to jump up in the standings. If you hold par with the house team, you won’t gain or lose much.
I’m in the 94th percentile currently. I’m gunning for Ronnie Moore, who is just ahead of me, after he called me out on the Facebook Fantasy Fishing page for being slightly behind. Everything in me wants to wipe the floor with him and come out victorious for the season. But if I get too "horsey," I risk losing a lot of ground.
Let’s dive in.
BUCKET A: SETH FEIDER
One of my favorite things about being a pundit writer is I get to pick favorites while other folks have to stay subjective. I’m here to tell you that it was absolutely painful to watch Seth Feider finish second at Champlain. Hearty congrats to Brandon who went on to win, but I can only imagine that the fire burning inside the llama right now is hotter than ever. He won the Angler of the Year Championship event on Lake St. Clair last year with a staggering 77-pounds for three days of fishing. He says he got lucky and stumbled onto his Day 1 bag of over 26-pounds, but he is way too good to simply be lucky. With this being a four-day, full-field event, he can taste that century belt, and you better believe he’s gunning for it.
Also considered: Chad Pipkens
Chad Pipkens not only has momentum coming off a decent finish on Lake Champlain, but he also has some stout tournament history here. If Feider weren’t so mad at the fish, I’d definitely be picking Pipkens. His professional results go back to 2013 where he started off with a dismal 74th but turned around and won an Open here in 2014 followed by a fourth-place Elite finish in 2015. The years 2017 (42nd) and 2019 (37th) weren’t particularly kind to him, but he knows how to find big brown beauties. He is currently in eighth place in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, only 39 points out of the lead. He’s absolutely a contender but needs to keep it going here.
BUCKET B: CORY JOHNSTON
Here is another overwhelming bucket favorite. Cory Johnston is definitely on the house team with over 40% ownership currently. There is a good reason for that. He finished eighth place last year at the AOY Championship with better than a 20-pound average per day. He also has a 42nd-place finish here in an FLW tournament in 2018. He has unreal momentum coming off back-to-back top 10s at the last two stops, and he is making a stellar effort to keep himself inside the Classic cut.
Also considered: Stetson Blaylock
Stetson Blaylock is one of those anglers that you could see hoisting a trophy at the end of the week. He was the closest contender to Feider in 2019 with 71 pounds of smallies, finishing second. He loves to crank, and if the conditions remain favorable for it, that is one of the best ways to cover water to relocate a school day after day. If you’re looking to jump the “favorite,” this is a great pick.
BUCKET C: CHRIS JOHNSTON
The youngest of the Johnston brothers is my shoe-in pick in this bucket, and he has a whopping 60% ownership. He struggled here last year during the AOY Championship, finishing 38th out of the 50-angler field. While that could certainly happen again, confidence after winning on the St. Lawrence River a few weeks ago should carry over. Lake Champlain caused him to stub his toe a bit, finishing 30th, but this will be a true brown fish beatdown and should land right up his alley.
Also considered: Chad Morgenthaler
Chad Morgenthaler reminded us all that he can go toe-to-toe with the best on the St. Lawrence River where he finished fourth drifting for big smallies. Drift fishing has been a proven way to catch them here in past Elite events. If he can find a few productive areas, he could be a factor again in this one.
BUCKET D: GREG DIPALMA
The next two buckets are the ones that will make the difference between a solid 1,300 points and a mediocre 1,100-point finish. DiPalma is coming off a tough finish at Champlain where largemouth were in the mix. I would expect this tournament to fish very similarly to the St. Lawrence River event where GDP finished 17th. It would seem he loves the true smallmouth events as the bulk of his top-end finishes were on big northern waters where they were the main target. He is a beast with his electronics and is a true grinder.
Also considered: Destin DeMarion
If you read my article at Champlain, you know where I’m heading with this pick. Destin DeMarion loves bass of all colors, but he only wants one size: magnum. He is a smallmouth guide in the warm months when he’s not competing and should be perfectly in tune with how these northern lakes are fishing. He is a rookie and hasn’t quite hit his stride, but it could happen for him this week.
BUCKET E: LEE LIVESAY
If you follow Lee Livesay on his social media, you will have seen his recent beatdown in smallmouth country. He broke his personal best smallmouth several times over and smashed a “dirty-30” for his best five. The St. Lawrence River and Champlain were both difficult events for him, so he stuck around between the last event and now in order to get used to fishing for these beasts. It would seem that he figured a little something out. If he could put together even a smidge of what he did up there, he could be dangerous. In fact, I’m banking on that being that case. Go get ‘em hammer.
Also considered: Bill Lowen
Bill Lowen is the house team pick in this bucket at 45% owned. Absolutely nothing against Lowen, but when he doesn’t have momentum, he’s not my guy. Conversely, if he is on a tear — brown fish, green fish, doesn’t matter — he will catch them. That said, he has the skills and know-how to get it done. He just needs to overcome the lack of momentum.