Here we go! It is almost time for the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. If you’re anything like me, you have been looking forward to this Classic since the time it was announced. One thing that makes this particular Classic so interesting is the fact that it’s a new fishery for most of the anglers. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the field has never fished Ray Roberts before pre-practice, if they decided to pre-practice.
The only event on Ray Roberts in recent memory that could be used to select anglers based on history was the 2016 Texas Toyota Bass Classic, which was won by Matt Herren. That event was held towards the end of May, so it will be fairly similar to what we will see, but I believe the fish should be further along for the Classic.
Per usual, I have put plenty of thought into why I believe certain anglers will do well, but a lot of my picks for the Classic are gut feelings. There is a really good chance that both deep and shallow fishing will factor, but it’s hard to think that this Classic won’t be won out deep based on how late in the year the event is being held. However, some of the best shallow-water anglers in the world are fishing in this Classic, so I know good and well that someone will figure out how to catch them shallow. The possibility of high water leads me to believe that the shallow-water anglers may very well have the upper hand, but I will primarily stick with deep-water anglers. If you can’t tell, I’m a little torn on which direction to lean.
Let’s begin with my Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge roster:
- Keith Carson
- Buddy Gross
- John Cox
- Kyle Welcher
- Chris Zaldain
- Patrick Walters
- Cody Bird
- Brandon Card
BUCKET A: BLAYLOCK
You could pick any name out of a hat in Bucket A and be pretty confident in your selection, but I really like Stetson Blaylock in this event. The Arkansas native has a knack for locating groups of fish offshore on fisheries that compare to Ray Roberts. Blaylock is an extremely versatile angler who I believe will put in plenty of time graphing in practice but will likely have a backup plan if that doesn’t pan out.
Solid secondary selection: With all of the standing timber in Ray Roberts, it wouldn’t be too hard to believe that Patrick Walters could pull off some more magic with his forward-facing sonar. Frankly, it’s hard to find an event that doesn’t set up well for the third year Elite Series pro. The South Carolinian is another extremely versatile angler who likely won’t miss anything in practice.
BUCKET B: LESTER
If there is a group of offshore structure fish to be found, Brandon Lester is going to find them. The Tennessee pro has been extremely deadly in almost every offshore structure event over the course of his career. Lester came close to hoisting the coveted Classic trophy last year, so look for him to have another strong showing in 2021.
Solid secondary selection: Sticking with the theme of offshore specialist, David Mullins is another great pick in Bucket B. It’s a little surprising to only see him at 2.3% player percentage. The East Tennessee pro is one of the best deep crankbait fishermen on the Elite Series, and I fully expect him to make that work at Ray Roberts.
BUCKET C: FRAZIER
Over the course of the 2021 Elite Series season, every time I’ve picked Micah Frazier it hasn’t ended well, but I feel like this could be a reset in his year, if you will. One thing that always sticks out about Micah Frazier is his even keel mentality, which is typically an advantage when it comes to fishing the Classic. The former Elite Series champion seems to always be in the mix in big fish events, and Ray Roberts definitely has the big ones.
Solid secondary selection: Bucket C has several postspawn, deep-fishing hammers but maybe none better than Brandon Card. This will be Card’s fourth Classic appearance and the timing of it may be perfect. Card is one of the best in the game at locating and catching fish offshore. Expect the North Carolinian to put in the time out deep and make a run at his first Classic title.
BUCKET D: AUTEN
I wouldn’t think being the second to last man standing on the Bassmaster Classic stage and getting beat is much fun, but I would also think Todd Auten is that much more motivated to be holding the Classic trophy over his head in this year’s Classic. Auten will be fishing his fifth Bassmaster Classic in 2021, and much like Micah Frazier, I believe his even keel personality is what makes him a threat.
Solid secondary selection: It’s not really fair to call Brad Whatley a local favorite on Ray Roberts, but I do think it’s fair to say that the lake sets up similarly to lakes he frequently fishes in East Texas. Regardless of how much the Texan has fished Ray Roberts, a postspawn event in Texas should be right up his alley.
BUCKET E: CARSON
I am completely going against the deep-water anglers with my Bucket E pick by selecting Keith Carson. Having covered Carson at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open on Lay Lake in 2020, I can honestly say he’s one of the most naturally talented anglers I have watched. Much like his buddy John Cox, Carson is a tremendous shallow-water angler. Expect the Floridian to have a good showing in his first Bassmaster Classic.
Solid secondary selection: If it wasn’t for the extremely high player percentage, I would without a doubt pick Shane LeHew in Bucket E. It’s probably not fair to have LeHew in Bucket E, but evidently almost 50% of players are glad he’s available in the bucket.