March 04, 2016
While I'm not sure what this says about me, I've got to admit, I love playing fantasy sports.
In Fantasy Football, I've won two straight league championships, something that I'm quick to note to my two sons, a couple of football players in their own right who also enjoy playing the fantasy version of pigskin.
Truth be known, I also love playing Fantasy Fishing, something that I got started in more than a decade ago when my boss suggested that such a task might be a worthwhile endeavor for an outdoor writer covering the professional bass fishing tours.
I agreed with him and promptly filled out a Fantasy Fishing roster and quickly began to play the game.
Apparently, I was pretty good at it, garnering a third place finish in my first attempt.
Not in my league, mind you, but a third place overall finish in the nation.
As in the entire U.S. of A.
Of course, if memory serves correct, there were only four or five people actually playing that year, but that's beside the point.
Before digressing any further, the truth is that I have continued to enjoy the Fantasy Fishing game over the years, carefully researching pros and how they do on particular water bodies, what the current conditions are on a particular tournament venue and how a week of competition might unfold.
In fact, I've moved from just playing the game to actually managing several leagues over the years with my fishing buddies, something that we've all participated in because of our great love of the sport.
And our hope for bragging rights out on the water or in the local marina coffee shop.
But lately, whatever early success I might have enjoyed in this cyber fishing pursuit has been stymied as I've been middle of the pack at best and end of the bench at worst.
And that's in my league, mind you, let alone in anything bigger and beyond.
For the March 4-6, 2016 Bassmaster Classic derby on Oklahoma's Grand Lake o' the Cherokees, I figured out that I could use a little help in picking my roster this year.
Which is why I queried veteran Bassmaster Elite Series member and Major League Fishing pro Mike McClelland.
Why Mr. McStick? Because he's one of my favorite interviews, not to mention a better judge of angling talent and trends than I am.
And with plenty of experience on Grand Lake (he lives an hour away in Bella Vista, Ark.; has won an Elite Series event on Grand Lake; and finished in eighth place at the 2013 Classic on Grand) I knew that McClelland could help me out.
Even if he was a bit chagrined that he's on the sidelines looking in this year, something that rarely happens when a Bassmaster Classic is contested somewhere.
So I asked the 11-time Classic qualifier this: Who are the five anglers that McClelland would pick if he were filling out a Fantasy Fishing roster for the 46th Bassmaster Classic?
"I have to put Jason Christie right up there at the top of my list," said McClelland. "Jason has spent years and years fishing at Grand Lake.
"Before he started chasing the trail, he would fish Red Man (tournaments) and spend tons and tons of time on the lake at this time of the year."
Who else would McClelland select for a Fantasy Fishing roster?
"Edwin will be up there as well," he said, tabbing one of this year's favorites heading into the 2016 Classic.
"(And) I'd have to put James Watson in my group (too). He is one of those guys who has a ton of experience and will be overlooked by a lot of anglers and a lot of people. I think he's going to be in his own little world (out there) and he knows how to win. I don't think it matters to James that it is the Classic versus any other tournament. He's just going to go out there and fish his hardest."
Speaking of anglers named James, there's another bass fishing pro with that same first name that is high on McClelland's list, an up-and-coming young pro who hails from nearby Tulsa, Okla.
"James Elam is another angler that I think you have to take a serious look at," said McClelland of Elam, who is a new member of the Simms Pro Fishing team.
"(James) won the (BASS) Open on (Fort Gibson last year) and he's kind of come into his own and has a lot of momentum and a lot of things happening," he added.
"I think that he could be tough over there just due to the fact that he's got a lot of (positive) things happening (in his career right now). He's an Oklahoma boy who has a lot of experience fishing on those kinds of lakes (too)."
If those are four pros that McClelland touts as possible Classic champions on Grand Lake, who might the fifth one be?
How about the 800-pound gorilla that's always in the room whenever a Bassmaster Classic is being discussed? Or a Fantasy Fishing roster is being picked?
"You can't not put Kevin VanDam in your top five," laughed McClelland. "If it's going to be a shallow tournament and covering the water is a key, then VanDam is going to be right there (at the top of the list) in my top-5."
Ok, that's a pretty good group of anglers to fill out McClelland's Fantasy Fishing team roster for sure.
But which one of those five is he going to pick first? In other words, who does Mike McClelland think is going to win the 2016 Classic?
At that, McClelland laughed and paused for just a couple of moments.
Then he cleared his throat and gave his answer.
"I'm going to have to say Jason Christie," said McClelland. "I just think that his vast experience on the lake, the fact that he is fishing with so much confidence right now, (that) just makes someone like him really tough to beat (in this scenario)."
And if it's possible for one of the sport's best anglers to feel this way, Christie (ranked ninth in the latest world rankings compiled by BassFan.com) is a hungry angler heading into the 2016 Classic.
"He had somewhat of a disappointing Classic the last time we were there (in 2013) – it wasn't horrible by any means – but he didn't do as well as a lot of people expected him to do (at that event).
"That may take some of the pressure off of him (this year), (the pressure) that he had the first time."
And thanks to the advice of Mike McClelland, that takes the pressure off of me in selecting my Fantasy Fishing team for the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.
Just don't tell any of my buddies competing against me in my league.
Otherwise, I'm probably buying breakfast the next time we get together to go fishing.