Fantasy Fishing: Winners just win

The first rule of picking Bassmaster Classic winners is that there are no rules.

Sure, you can crunch numbers, play probabilities or consult your Magic 8-Ball – and the hometown favorite or defending champ may pull through – but it’s just as likely that there will be an unexpected victor making laps around the coliseum on Sunday.

There are so many factors at play that aren’t critical in regular season events, like spectator galleries and a lack of points, that it’s hard to predict. That means you need to sprinkle a bit of history with a lot of gut instinct – and don’t for a second think that a demonstrated ability to win isn’t important.

See you in Greenville, but first, here are my picks:


My pick: Brandon Palaniuk already has a Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to his name, but to secure his position as the best angler of his narrowly-defined generation, he needs to add a Classic title. Hartwell’s a good place for that, even though his past two Classics there have been mediocre and poor. With Brandon Cobb and Patrick Walters in this bracket, for once in his life BP’s a value pick.

Solid backup: This may be the last time in my lifetime that anyone has a chance to Threepeat at the Classic, and Hank Cherry has the ice water running through his veins to make it happen. Pick him if you have a lot invested in seeing history made.


My pick: Stetson Blaylock probably won’t get a lot of attention this week, which likely works to his advantage, allowing him to run a pattern without a flotilla hampering his moves – at least not until Day 3. He’s fished very well through two events this year, and that momentum should carry over. It doesn’t hurt that he finished second at a Hartwell Elite in 2019, followed by a win at Winyah Bay in the subsequent event.

Solid backup: If you want another non-sleeper who’s acting like a sleeper, consider Drew Cook, who finished fourth at Hartwell in his rookie season and already has two solid Classic appearances under his belt. 


My pick: The Classic is a time to gamble on someone willing to take risks, and that someone is my on-again, off-again Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing nemesis Steve Kennedy. I will half-cringe, half-cheer if I see him on Bassmster LIVE throwing a swimbait the size of his Jack Russell Terrier, but I’m pushing chips to the center of the table.

Solid backup: Drew Benton is probably a safer bet to end up in the top 10 than Mr. Kennedy, and coming off a runner-up finish at the Harris Chain he’d certainly like to carry that momentum forward.


My pick: On other circuits Ray Hanselman lit up the win column, but his entry to the Elites was kind of quiet. That may change as the result of increasing comfort, as evidenced by his third-place finish last week at the Harris Chain. He’s another guy who will fly under the radar – until it’s too late for others to catch up to him.

Solid backup: I kind of want Matthew Robertson to win just to hear the victory speech.


My pick: Daisuke Aoki’s Elite Series career hasn’t started off the way I expected, and probably not the way he expected, either. He’s missed two cuts. But don’t forget that he’s one of the most decorated anglers in Japanese tournament history, with a track record of wins, and a penchant for light line that may play better in South Carolina than it did in Florida.

Solid backup: This is a tough bracket to read, with lots of unknowns, but Justin Hamner has finished in the money in 17 out of 22 B.A.S.S. events. That’s consistency which may merit taking a risk.

Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

  • Brandon Cobb 
  • Daisuke Aoki 
  • Jason Christie 
  • Patrick Walters 
  • Luke Palmer 
  • Austin Felix 
  • Matt Robertson 
  • Ray Hanselman 

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