As promised, this week finds me deep in the Classic playbook, trying to separate potential winners from overrated anglers hyped by the press. My goal is to again give you insight into the biggest event in bass fishing and offer you a fool-proof plan to dominate the fantasy fishing leagues.
In reality, most of my previous attempts to predict a champion were fairly strong, finding several high-level finishers mixed in with a couple of bombs. This year, I’m back with a vengeance after tedious research into the fishery, coupled with gut feelings and advice from the pros themselves. So, without further adieu, here are my picks to dominate and win the Conroe Classic, as well as the methods behind the madness:
> Keith Combs: Let’s just put Combs' name out there and get it over with. A dominator of the TTBC events – with two wins coming on Conroe – Combs is likely the biggest Classic favorite since Woo Daves at the James River. Combine his affinity for destroying Texas events with knowledge of a lake few other competitors have spent much time on, and the choice becomes easy. Combs is a prominent offshore cranker, a trait that will likely play a key role in this event. However, being the most prominent pick in the field is nearly always a Classic curse, considering pressure and boat traffic.
> Greg Hackney: Hackney is probably the best fisherman on the Bassmaster tour without a Classic win. Each season I pick an angler to finally break free and take his career to the next level with a Classic trophy. The name Edwin Evers comes to mind in recent seasons. With Conroe playing to power-fishing strengths, Hack will attack, no doubt.
> Skeet Reese: One of the best big swimbait fishermen on tour, with multiple wins to prove it, Reese will likely be tossing some major rubber at Conroe. The lake sets up for such tactics, with a large population of giant fish, fairly stout fishing pressure and lots of structural edges and manmade cover. This year’s Classic could very well be won by an angler using alternative methods to catch big, pressured fish, and Reese is more than capable.
> Dave Lefebre: Lefebre is now settling into his Elite Series status after hammering competitors for decades on the FLW Tour, and with such transition comes much needed confidence. Lefebre has taken down a TTBC title on Conroe in the past, and is one of the most gifted casters and dock-skippers in the history of the sport. He will put his bait around more big fish than most competitors and won’t back down on the water; possibly a key factor as Conroe will fish small by Classic standards. When a hard-target brawl is imminent, always bet on Lefebre.
While any of these competitors have a strong chance to take down the title, I predict none will, as Classic XLVII will go to …
> Mike Iaconelli: It’s no secret that Iaconelli has a history of strong finishes on Conroe. Twice he finished second to Combs – once a victim of a sudden death fish-off where just one scrawny bass determined the outcome. But Iaconelli’s dominance in this event will be a result of more than just experience in Texas.
The doubters will argue that Iaconelli has been making more waves on the big screen than in bass tournaments recently, with an ever-expanding television and online video presence, as well as a successful podcast filling out his mega “Ike” business profile. In addition, Iaconelli’s peak performances recently have been at the triple-A Open level, with a lack of real threats coming on the Elite Tour, other than an East Coast “hometown” win.
But Iaconelli always puts on his game face for the Classic. He’s a 17-time qualifier with a win under his belt, and he’s had two top-10 finishes at the big show in recent years. Perhaps it’s the added publicity; more than likely it’s the burning competitor finally finding time to shine. Either way, Iaconelli plays money-ball at the Classic, and with his proven Conroe experience, he’s my pick to win.
So there you have it. We’re sure to witness a great event with the first real threat at double-digit giants since the days of Toho. I’ll be front and center to again witness fishing change another man’s life.
(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.)