Fantasy Fishing: Old venue, new look

This is normally the time of year when we’re wrapping up the Bassmaster Elite Series season, but we’re only approaching the midpoint. As the field heads to St. Clair after a wildly successful New York swing, expect to see more than a few major shakeups in the standings as we progress.

The addition of fall tournaments in the South is a new wrinkle, but St. Clair in the summertime seems like a case of back to the future. One issue – the field will be limited to the U.S. portion of the lake. That doesn’t make it a new venue, but it changes the playing field. The lake will fish smaller, and some of the best-known and most productive areas will be off limits. Look for pros who know the entirety of the big pond and have something to prove.

BUCKET A: PIPKENS

My pick: Don’t look now but Chad Pipkens is in eighth place in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, and they’re headed to his fising stomping grounds. If that doesn’t motivate him, he needs to go into the haircare business. He won a Northern Open here in 2014 and came in fourth in a 2015 Elite. His other results have been mixed, but this is his time to shine.

Safe backup: It’s tough not to pick Seth Feider here. After all, last time he was on pace to catch 100 pounds if the tournament had lasted four days, and he’s more than in reach of the AOY title. Dude definitely doesn’t fold under pressure, but repeating is tough in this game.

BUCKET B: LESTER

My pick: Fans rightfully consider Brandon Lester a TVA hammer, but he’s equally effective anywhere a drop shot shines, and it should play big-time this week. His results have improved every time he’s gone to St. Clair, ending up 16th in last year’s AOY Championship event. He needs a signature win to cement himself as one of the sport’s stars, and at 18th in the AOY race, he’s far from mathematically eliminated.

Safe backup: Chris Zaldain has become one of the faces of B.A.S.S. and he’s highly visible. Despite several really good efforts he’s yet to make a charge at a win this year. That could and should change at some point – he’s simply too good not to go on one of those crazy 2019-type runs at some point in the future.

BUCKET C: PAQUETTE

My pick: Last year my brother, my nephew and I were driving to the Detroit airport after a Lions game (remember when we used to go to sporting events?), and we passed Garrett Paquette towing a boat at 7 p.m. on a Sunday. Like Pipkens, this is his neighborhood, and while right now he’s just inside the Classic cutline this is a perfect opportunity to gain some breathing room. Last year’s AOY Championship was not kind to him, so he needs to gain a sense of redemption.

Safe backup: Clifford Pirch is one of those Arizona desert guys who just gets light line fishing for northern smallmouth. If he wants to qualify for his eighth straight Classic, he needs to make it rain in Detroit before heading south. 

BUCKET D: CREWS

My pick: Veteran pro John Crews is in unfamiliar territory after two terrible events in New York and a tough one at Eufaula, but it’s not like he doesn’t know how to catch them. His track record at St. Clair is solid, and he had two really good tournaments this year before the whole deal got messed up by COVID. In Bucket D he’s a bargain.

Safe backup: Gregg DiPalma has been inconsistent this year, alternately making and missing the Elite cut to Day 3. This should be an “in” tournament, and while he struggled in last year’s AOY Championship, another year of experience — combined with the experience gained via a quality finish in the 2014 Northern Open — should motivate him to get things done. 

BUCKET E: PREUETT

My pick: When the Elites visited St. Clair in 2017, Brett Preuett finished 18th, his best Elite finish to date. In a bucket full of anglers who can all get the job done, but for one reason or another have mostly failed to do so this year, that’s enough to hang your hat on.

Safe backup: Chris Groh struggled in New York, but as the one true northern angler in this bucket it’s a chance to shine. He knows this place and still has time to turn around his season.

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