Fantasy Fishing: A tale of two species at La Crosse

The grass is always greener on the other side. The problem with the grass over there is that it looks exactly like the grass over here. It takes a sharp fisherman to be able to put the puzzle together on a shallow, clear, grassy place like the upper Mississippi River.

The Elites are making a quick jump north to this little ole’ fishery. It’s been a couple years since they have graced the lush waters of the northern Miss’sip, and the last several times, we have had quite a show. Frogging, flipping and other solid grass techniques proved dominate for fish catches.

There were those that went against the grain and fished main river or sandy current breaks for big smallmouth. If you remember, Brandon Palaniuk nearly ran away with the event in 2013, catching nearly 20 pounds a day before an unfortunate and unintentional rules violation caused him to forfeit his Day 2 catch and took him out of contention. Tommy Biffle went on to win that event fishing in one primary area for most of four days catching smallmouth.

In 2016, Ott DeFoe won on one primary spot as well fishing a small swimbait on a community hole for nearly the whole tournament.

So what have we learned from the last events here?

  1. The average smallmouth weighs more than the average largemouth.
  2. Most anglers will lean toward fishing for grass fish.
  3. It seems that current is key for bigger bites.
  4. One special spot could produce for several days.

My strategy is going to be to pick guys who have a knack for finding something off the beaten path. I’m back and forth a bit, but I think I’m going to lean pretty heavily on guys who can do both. There will likely be a 20-place difference between a guy who catches 11 pounds and the guy who catches 13 pounds, and it should take about 12 pounds per day to get a check.

BUCKET A: B. LANE

After all that talk about smallmouth, my first pick out of the gate is a bona fide green fish catcher. The thing that sticks out to me about Bobby Lane is his ability to see a massive field of grass and to hone in on the specific flips that will get the better bites. His Florida blood will prove beneficial here as it has for him in the past. He has posted consistent results here with a 13th, seventh and 21st. I’m betting he will be sneaky pick that could pay off big.

Also consider: Greg Hackney

No one loves flipping more than Hackney. And after a stellar win on the Sabine, his momentum couldn’t be any hotter. His results are sort of mixed, but he has had two solid finishes here.

BUCKET B: FAIRCLOTH

Anywhere there is grass, Todd Faircloth should be in the mix. He has also had consistent finishes on this river including a win fishing a frog and a swimbait in mixed vegetation. He was on the green ones too. I’m bouncing back and forth with my secondary pick and might land elsewhere come tournament day. Faircloth has posted a 32nd, sixth and a first place in the prior events here.

Also consider: Brandon Palaniuk

He has a knack for finding something that’s just a little different than the field and for milking it for all it’s worth. As I stated above, he found the mother lode of 3 1/2- to 4-pound smallies in 2013. He is an absolute smallie hammer, and if he can find a stack of those somewhere this time around, he could do some serious damage.

BUCKET C: EVERS

Edwin Evers is in a bit of a funk right now. He can catch any color bass and is basically a factor anywhere the Elites go. He has had a less than stellar year by his standard, and I’m sure will want to turn it around and get back in the Classic cut. Once again, he has some solid finishes here scoring three checks out of the last four visits.

Also consider: Dustin Connell

He showed us his shallow grass-fishing prowess as Ross Barnett when he pulled off a win in his rookie season last year. Maybe he can wow us again and win events in back to back years.

BUCKET D: JONES

It’s not very often we see Alton Jones outside of the top two buckets. Fortunately, the rest of the season suits him well and will hopefully give him a shot to rebound. He is a master at picking grass apart, but he isn’t afraid to go look for something off the beaten path. Last time we were at this venue, he found a spot loaded with hundreds of bass with dozens more showing up every day. He milked it for every 2 3/4-pound bite he could, and it landed him a third place finish. He also finished in the top 20 two out of three of the other events on this body of water.

Also consider: Jonathan VanDam

JVD is from this lateral line, or at least closer to it than most of the other anglers, and he is very familiar with fishing shallow grassy northern fisheries. He finished 24th here in 2016 after tough events in 2012 and 2013. Maybe he can improve even further this time around.

BUCKET E: BIFFLE

Once again, this bucket is proving to be challenging. Tommy Biffle has an up-and-down history here. He bombed in 2012, won in 2013 and missed a check in 2016. If the pattern continues, he should be in for a Top 12. Most of his wins and high finishes come from very specific spots, especially his win here. However, I’m betting on his flipping prowess more than his lucky spot finding abilities. If he can get around ‘em, you can bet he’ll catch ‘em.

Also consider: Cliff Prince

There are a bunch of guys who need to rack up some AOY points and quick. Cliff Prince is no exception. Bucket E comes down to who wants it the most. I put my money on Shaw in the last event, and he let me down, so I’m switching my back-up money to Prince. He is no stranger when it comes to this type of fishing. He’ll definitely be worth a look here if you don’t feel comfortable betting on Biffle.

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