No matter what Thomas Allen says…
Before each event, I take a few key points into consideration. Criteria 1: I look at history; how have they done at a particular venue in the past? Criteria 2: What techniques are likely to play there? Does that play into their wheelhouse? And lastly, Criteria 3: how much momentum do they have?
I have to admit, for the Elite event on the Upper Mississippi River, I all but ignored momentum and relied solely on history and probable techniques. I looked at my picks — and back-up picks — out of my 10 guys to watch, eight of those were in the bottom 50. So no matter how I picked them, I was going to be in pain after the event.
This time, I’m going back to my roots and going to make more thorough decisions in each bucket. I’m going to have my top three picks in each bucket based on the three criteria I listed above.
As for history, B.A.S.S. hasn't been to this lake, so I’m going to check into similar smallmouth dominated fisheries. A key difference with this lake is that power-fishing techniques will probably dominate. I would watch out for the crankbait, big jig and jerkbait fishermen to do well here.
BUCKET A: K. VANDAM
Criteria 1: There probably isn’t an Elite series angler with more solid history on northern lakes like this than KVD. He has good finishes on Mille Lacs (17th and 10th), St Clair (first) and a myriad of other top finishes on smallmouth fisheries.
Criteria 2: If my suspicions are correct, power finishing is going to dominate — specifically crankbaits and jerkbaits. Nobody can come close to the money KVD has won on those two baits.
Criteria 3: KVD has only missed two checks this year, and one of them was a close miss (54th on Kentucky Lake). His average finish is around 34th. That pretty stout momentum.
Watch out ror: Skeet Reese
He has some solid finishes on Mille Lacs (third and 36th), St. Clair (20th) and the St. Lawrence River (18th and fifth). Skeet is a heck of a power fisherman. He loves throwing swimbaits and that technique tends to produce above average fish. He’s also lethal with a jerkbait. Skeet has also only missed two checks so far. His average finish is 37th. Not too bad.
BUCKET B: FEIDER
C1: The ‘Stache is a beast when it comes to brown fish. He routinely is in the top end of the field during the northern swing, and I can’t imagine this event will be any different. He has smashed 25-pounds per day to win on Mille Lacs in 2016 and followed it up with a 13th in 2017. He also has top-end finishes on Champlain (second), St. Lawrence River (12th and 34th).
C2: He is more of a finesse angler. However, I think he can power fish if he needs to. If the bite gets tough though, having a solid finesse guy on the team could pay off.
C3: He has some back-and-forth momentum. He has missed a few checks, but had several solid finishes this year. His average so far this year is 45th. Now that he is more in his element, I expect that to climb the leaderboard for the rest of the season.
Watch out ror: Brandon Palanuik
Brandon has plenty of solid finishes on smallmouth fisheries. During last year’s northern swing, he had two third-place finishes and two top 30s on smallmouth dominated events. He is a power-fishing fool and has pretty good momentum having cut four checks and only barely missing two others. His average finish this year is 41st.
BUCKET C: COMBS
C1: The technique behind Combs winning the AOY Championship last year wasn’t thoroughly covered namely because Palanuik and Christie were battling it out for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of they Year title. However, Combs picked up on a 1-ounce jig bite that got better-than-average bites on his way to over 72-pounds of smallies over three days. He is known for fishing deep Texas-type lakes, but does have some solid finishes on Champlain and the St. Lawrence.
C2: My guess is that he will pick up a crankbait and land a high finish here. Again, covering water will be key. One of his weaknesses is knowing too much and putting all his eggs in one basket. Can’t do that here.
C3: His average finish is just outside the check line at 54th, but coming off a 32nd on the Mississippi River should have some carry-over to this event.
Watch out ror: Ish Monroe
Don’t let him fool you … Ish can catch smallies. His biggest historical factor is that typically after he pulls off a win, he doesn’t let up for a few events. Basically every win he has is followed up with a finish in the teens or better. His picture is next to the term power fishing in the Encyclopedia Basstanica. He won the last event on the Mississippi River. Don’t count him out.
BUCKET D: JONES
C1: It may be because he lives near a pretty solid smallmouth lake in Texas, but when Alton gets to the northern swing, you can never count him out. He has logged 11th place finishes on the St. Lawrence River and Champlain. He finished third on Mille Lacs in 2016 as well. The dude knows smallmouth.
C2: Generally he is fishing some sort of structure with a drop shot. If it’s a power fishing deal, I might be in trouble, but if he can find a jig bite, it might be game on.
C3: The bottom buckets are harder to judge momentum, but it’s safe to say he’s had a tougher than usual year. He might be starting to climb his way back out after a 30th on the Mississippi River. He needs to make a charge to get to a comfortable spot inside the Classic cut.
Watch out for: JVD
For the same reasons as KVD, JVD will likely show up here. This is the kind of event I can see his coming in from nowhere and winning. I’ll be tossing this one around a bit. He is killer with a drop shot in hand. He’s had a tough season and will be looking to get back in the Classic cut as well.
BUCKET E: WALKER
C1: For whatever reason, Walker tends to sneak into top-12s during this part of the season. In 2017, he posted 14th place finishes on Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. He’s also carded a second-place finish on Sturgeon Bay a few years back.
C2: When Walker does well, it’s because he has found a sweet spot and milks it for all it’s worth. He’ll probably throw the kitchen sink at them, but if he can find a decent school, he could go deep.
C3: There’s not an angler with momentum in this bucket. In fact, Walker has finished 85th, 101st, and 96th in the last three events. However, prior to Lake Travis, he was having a decent year cashing checks in three out of four events. . Not sure what changed, but he has to do something different.
Watch out for: Bernie Schultz
A smallmouth bass in Florida is like a $3 bill in Trump’s wallet … and why Bernie Schultz (a native Floridian) excels in smallmouth events continues to baffle me. I think I’ve picked him in a half dozen smallie events and only had one where he let me down. He may be dead last in points, but something is telling me I should ignore his dismal finishes and throw him in the mix.