Of favorites and darkhorses – 5 to watch at the Classic

Category: article

 Feb 14th, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Feb 14th, 2014 at 12:00 AM

BassFIRST tournament-trail gurus Dave Landahl and Joel Shangle recently sized up the field of the 2014 Geico Bassmaster Classic. As is usual, they didn’t agree on anything. Here are their favorites and darkhorses to pay attention to next week at Guntersville:


Randall Tharp is riding a wave of momentum heading into the Classic. (Joel Shangle)

Randall Tharp
Talk about the hot stick, this guy is sizzling. Momentum is a big deal when it comes to tournament fishing – you’ll see anglers ride a wave of momentum for a couple of years.

Tharp won the Forrest Wood Cup last summer, and followed that up with B.A.S.S. Open win qualifying him for the Bassmaster Classic and the Elite Series. Earlier this month he finished in the Top 5 at the opener of the FLW Tour season. A couple of upgrade fish and he could’ve won that event too.

Oh yeah, Tharp may live in Florida now, but he grew up in Alabama fishing, you guessed it, Lake Guntersville. The rest of the field would rather he stay home.

Aaron Martens
Another angler riding the momentum train. After an epic comeback last season to win the Angler of the Year title, cashing a lot of checks along the way, Martens is in the zone. Don’t forget, a few years back Martens won an Elite event on Lake Guntersville. While speaking with A-Mart, he says he loves winter fishing. As of this writing there are several inches of snow on the ground at Lake Guntersville.

Hmmm, are the stars aligning for Martens to break his Bassmaster Classic drought? Perhaps they are.

Skeet Reese
No real reason here other than Reese’s ability to close when he needs to. He won an event last season on the Elite Series. He was in contention for the Angler of the Year title, but he faltered. So, the wave of momentum other anglers are riding is not there for Reese.

However, after a couple seasons where the zany post-season shenanigans used by B.A.S.S. effectively prevented Reese from taking two more Angler of the Year (AOY) titles, there is a slight chip on Skeet’s shoulder. Winning the Classic for the second time would offer him redemption for the perceived injustice regarding the AOY titles and the validation as one the best to ever play the game. Plus, he’s a swell guy.
-Dave Landahl


How does Brandon Palaniuk’s smallmouth success translate on Guntersville? You might be surprised. (Joel Shangle)

Brandon Palaniuk
To call Palaniuk a ”darkhorse” is probably a little disingenuous: the Rigid Industries pro has finished in the Top 5 two out of the three times he’s fished the Classic (fourth in 2011, second in 2013) and has proven in his short three-year career on the Elite Series that he’s a threat to win on any lake.

His lifetime experience on Guntersville, though?

”About six days total, my whole life,” Palaniuk said this week.

Not that it matters. One of BP’s strengths is his freakish ability to quickly break a fishery down and find tournament-winning quality. He’ll decipher Guntersville just fine, thank you. Add to that the weather conditions, which are starting to shape up nicely for a reaction-bait bite. That plays right into Palaniuk’s wheelhouse, with his array of Storm Wiggle Warts, Arashis, and Rapala DTs and Rippin’ Raps.

Don’t be surprised if the kid from Idaho upgrades from his second-place finish at last year’s Classic.

Jordan Lee
He might be the youngest angler in the field – a 21-year-old computer science major at Auburn University and a Bassmaster Classic neophyte – but this Tiger has some claws on Guntersville.

Lee, who qualified to fish the classic by winning the Carhartt Bassmaster College Bracket during All-Star Week in Michigan, grew up precisely 37.3 miles down Highway 69 from Guntersville in tiny Cullman, AL. He, like Chris Lane, Randall Tharp and now Aaron Martens, can call Guntersville his ”home lake”.

Lee won the FLW Walmart Bass Fishing League Choo Choo Division event on Guntersville in 2012 (held at the same time of the year) with 27.7 pounds, and has competed in tournaments on the lake since he was old enough to pick up a flippin’ stick. And like Tharp, Lee is riding with some momentum as he heads into the Classic: he kicked off his 2014 season with a top-5 finish at the Bassmaster Central Open last week at Lake Amistad.
-Joel Shangle

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