Ladies and gentlemen, step right up. It’s the show you’ve all been waiting for.
That’s right, it’s Bassmaster Classic week, and things couldn’t be better. This year’s Classic is coming to one of the premier lakes of the decade, Lake Guntersville, admirably referred to by many as the Bass Factory.
Guntersville cranks out seemingly endless stringers of 4-plus pounders. Recent tournaments have seen bags eclipsing 30 pounds. The weather has been relatively warm and is due to remain that way, with a little wind and rain thrown in. Folks, we’re gonna have ourselves a bass derby!
As I promised earlier this year, I will give you my predicted winner. Again, as we stated before, if you’re a professional competing in this event and believe in jinxes or bad karma, or are overly susceptible to tournament head games, stop reading here.
Otherwise, lets’ look at a few variables that may prove very interesting at this week’s World Championship.
First, I can’t wait to see how the Classic pros do “against the spread," when compared to the umbrella-rig toting locals who fish here daily. I really think this event will open up some eyes as to the effectiveness, and potential dangers, of the umbrella rig. Perhaps it may dispel other myths.
When I reviewed the latest tournament results on Guntersville for 2014, nearly all the big stringers being caught have come on umbrella rigs. Umbrella rigs on main-lake points. Umbrella rigs on channel swings. Even umbrella rigs in shallow backwaters.
Also, I’m told that possibly nowhere else in the U.S. is overall bass-fishing pressure greater than it is on Guntersville. So we’ve got tons of locals, most of whom are real hardcore, very adept anglers, all of whom are throwing U-rigs in the same areas that the Classic pros will be focusing on.
If the umbrella rig is so unstoppable, maybe the Classic contenders won’t catch any fish.
Well, I highly doubt that, as we all know that bass can be caught a variety of ways. But will the Classic produce the same 30-pound bags being toted in every other Saturday? I think this will prove to enlighten us all, one way or the other. It may even influence the competitors themselves, especially if local fishing pressure is strong.
Getting back to the point at hand, I need to dig deep to find the right pick. The easy choice is Kevin VanDam. He seems to be the pick of anyone even mildly involved in the event. And he could very well win.
This tournament looks to be one in which mid-depth, offshore patterns will dominate and crankbaits and jerkbaits may produce the winning stringers. VanDam is very proficient in the use of these lures for both largemouth and smallmouth, as we all know. But, due to his overwhelming popularity and placement by all as the best in the world, I think it will be impossible for him to win a Classic on a body of water with high boat and spectator traffic. I feel it just handicaps him too much. He’s pulled it off in regular-season events (Kentucky Lake) by running all over the lake, but I think his flotilla will be just too overwhelming at Guntersville, and to win again he will need to do so on a truly massive, or uniquely remote, body of water.
Aaron Martens is on everyone’s radar, and I like his chances. However, I think too many people are giving credit to Martens and his fellow Alabamians simply because they live in Alabama. That really isn’t much of an advantage to many of the touring pros, as they’re on the road more than they're home. Besides, a bunch of these guys are transplants; growing up in one locale and then moving to the more central, bass-filled Guntersville area. Chris Lane, for example, may very well win the Classic based on his recent Alabama residency, but I’d have far more confidence in him if the event were at Toho.
There’s a ton of guys I think have a real shot. DeFoe, Evers, Iaconelli, Ish, Skeet, Faircloth and Palaniuk, all for various reasons of skill, experience and momentum.
And I’d give anything to see Gary Klein win, as I’ve been a fan of his since fiberglass “flip-sticks."
But I’ve narrowed my choices down to three.
Steve Kennedy will, one day, win a Classic and make all the industry sponsors mad. He is one of the most skilled, internal anglers on tour, and won’t have nearly the pressure from locals that others may. Yes, he’s from Alabama, but more importantly, he’s done very well throughout his career in the mid-South as a rule. I would seriously watch out for him.
Randall Tharp is Godzilla in a bass boat right now. This guy is unstoppable. All of his peers immediately comment on his confidence and ability. His resume was built on wins at Guntersville, long before he mastered Okeechobee. He can milk-run with the best of them, and will surely pick up a last-minute monster with a flipping stick. He’s also coming off the greatest win of his career.
But that, I think, is what can stop him. Perhaps Tharp is the man to do it, but I don’t think anyone will ever win Forrest Wood Cup and Classic titles back to back. I think there’s just too much taken away from fishing when an angler wins either, and that, therefore, prevents that angler from winning the other. I’m sure Tharp is just as hungry for this title. But a half-mill in his pocket might lead to just a little complacency. Just saying …
That leaves me with just one: David Walker. Yep, the soft-spoken, Southern gentleman is my pick to win the Classic. I’ve always liked Walker, but my pick here is based more on record than personality.
Walker has had several good finishes at Guntersville, with Top-10s on both the B.A.S.S. and FLW tours there in recent years. He’s also very good at fishing true pre-spawn patterns in this part of the country. I doubt this event can be won from one offshore spot due to pressure from competitors, fans and local fishermen, and I think a guy will need to catch a few key fish up shallow. And, although Walker is well-versed with all forms of hard baits, he is a premier flipper.
Also, I think Walker will fly beneath the radar a bit. Everybody who knows him likes him, but he’s never been pumped by the B.A.S.S. media, perhaps due to his previous allegiance with FLW. That may prove to be his greatest ally this week as we prepare for a mixing bowl of bass boats.
Having been to dozens of Classics over the years, I may be more excited for this years’ event than any. A premier lake, an incredibly strong field. I even signed up for the press ride-along program for Friday’s competition day. Assuming I’m still in one piece, I’ll report back with my findings following the Greatest Show in Bass.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)