Brandon Card Previews 2016 Elite Series

As the 2016 Elite Series season gets closer, I am getting more excited by the day. The schedule is great and is a mix of new places and old favorites of mine. I like all of the lakes and rivers on the schedule for different reasons and will give you my thoughts and a preview of each event. 

Bassmaster Classic: Grand Lake 

March 4 – 6, 2016

Tulsa, Oklahoma

The 2016 Classic will be my second Classic and also my second one on Grand Lake. I fished it in 2013 and did poorly, but learned quite a bit about the lake that time of year. This year’s event is a little later in the year but I expect the same patterns to do well.

Jerkbaits, crankbaits and jigs should all produce fish and the winner will probably use a combination of them. I was around the right fish the last tournament but just fished way too fast after the weather changed and made the fish less active. I plan to slow down and fish better this year and not let the excitement of the event get to me like it did in my first-ever Classic.

St. Johns River

March 17 – 20, 2016

Palatka, Florida

We kick off the 2016 elite season on the St. John’s once again. I have been there two other times and in 2012 it was my very first Elite Series event. In two trips there, I have tasted success and big-time failure. My first trip was good and I finished in the money and the second trip in 2014 I finished in 100th! Both of them were sight-fishing events and I expect this year’s event to be the same.

Before starting on the 2016 Elite Series, I considered myself a pretty good sight-fisherman. I had cashed quite a few checks and won several local tournaments doing it and I really liked it. I still do, but have realized just how good everyone on the Elite Series is at doing it. The fish you find in practice will almost all be found by other people and those go pretty fast on the first day. The guys who are truly good at it and separate themselves from everyone else are the ones who find fish throughout the event and keep finding more.

The last time we were there when I finished poorly, I had found close to 30 pounds of just bed fish and those all disappeared either due to the weather or because someone else got there first. Florida is finicky and the weather will play a big role in the event that starts this season.

The last event took over 90 pounds to win and Chris Lane was the winner. I expect it will be a similar tournament and that bed fishing will once again be the way to win.

Winyah Bay

April 7 – 10, 2016

Georgetown, South Carolina

This one is a real wild card for us. My guess is that it will be similar to the Sabine River events. Both of them are tidal rivers and both were mostly unknown to just about everyone in the field when they announced it on the schedule. They are also similar because they are mixed with brackish and fresh water and they are both so big. We are launching from Georgetown and can run 180 miles both to the north and south and still catch fish.

When looking at the map and just how far we can go, it is hard not to get overwhelmed. I do know that there are a few connected rivers with big potential. The Cooper and Santee rivers both flow out of parts of Santee Cooper reservoir and have giant fish in them. Last year, a tournament was won out of the Cooper with over 40 pounds for five fish. These rivers will have cleaner water because they are so far from the saltwater and have the potential to be full of sight-fish the time we are going to be there.

The Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers are two other ones we can fish and both of them will have more off-colored water. I think someone could do well in either of those flipping and pitching shallow cover.

I believe that this event will be won with bed fish, both those that can be seen and those that are caught blind casting in shallow areas. With the big bass that swim here, I think someone is going to have a giant bag one day on bedding fish and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it weigh over 25 pounds. After that it may get tougher, so I predict a winning weight of somewhere around 75 pounds for the four-day event.

Bull Shoals/Norfork Lakes

April 21 – 24, 2016

Mountain Home, Arkansas

Bull Shoals. (Credit: Michael Heisel via Creative Commons 2.0)

This one has an interesting twist. It will be held on two different lakes. The first day will be on Norfork and the next two will be on Bulls Shoals. After that, the final day is back on Norfork. It is an interesting concept and shows that B.A.S.S. is never afraid to mix things up. I like the concept and it reminds me of the old Bassmaster Megabucks tournament format that switched up different areas of the lake for the field. It will be a unique strategy when it comes to pre-fishing and the guys who do well will be the ones who can adapt the best, especially on the final day when they fish Bull Shoals after not being there for a couple days.

I have fished two Elite Series events on Bull Shoals and expect Norfork to be somewhat similar. The two times that I was there were almost complete opposite due to the water clarity during the event. The first time was when they had an algae bloom and the dirty water was perfect for reaction baits. The second time was crystal clear and finesse techniques like shaky head, finesse swimbaits and jerkbaits did well. I am thinking this year the tournament will be more finesse-dominated and that the fish will be in all phases of the spawn.

Wheeler Lake

April 28 – May 1, 2016

Decatur, Alabama

Wheeler is the redheaded stepchild of Guntersville and Pickwick. Most people who make a trip to that part of Alabama often pass by Wheeler to fish another lake. It is still a very good lake, but is often overlooked and it receives much less fishing pressure. It has been a while since the Elites visited there, but I expect this event to be very good because of the time of year we are going.

There are plenty of shallow targets to fish and places like docks, laydowns and buckbrush should all hold quality bass. Tommy Biffle won it flipping shallow cover the last time the Elites came to town and I believe it will be a good technique to try this year. Jigs, creature baits and other soft plastics will be key for me and the rest of the guys. Another technique that should play into it is a soft plastic jerkbait and floating worm. Wheeler is a great place for this and I definitely plan to use them. Sight-fishing might be another way to do well, but it just depends on the weather they have this spring and if it is an early or later spawn.

Toledo Bend

May 12 – 15, 2016

Many, Louisiana

Toledo Bend borders Texas and Louisiana and has really come on strong the past few years. Bassmaster rates it as one of the best lakes in the country almost every year and I really enjoy fishing it. I have always loved fishing in Texas because I seem to do well just about every time, so I am really looking forward to this one.

The great thing about Toledo Bend is you can fish just about any way you like. Fish will be caught in shallow grass and deeper offshore fishing and on a variety of techniques. Sight fishing should once again factor into this one as they seem to spawn a little later on Toledo Bend.

If they are all done spawning, jerkbaits and crankbaits on the edges of grass will be a good pattern and there are many ways to catch them if the fish are still shallow.

2016 Bassmaster BASSfest: Lake Texoma

June 8 – 12, 2016

Durant, Oklahoma

Lake Texoma. (Credit: Nicolas Henderson via Creative Commons 2.0)

BASSfest has become one of my favorite events every year. It is great to have the big crowds and everything else that comes with the annual bass fishing festival. Texoma should be a good place for this event and I have heard that it is one of the best lakes in all of Oklahoma and that maybe only Grand Lake is a better fishery in the state.

I pre-practiced for this event and spent time graphing and idling around. My impression was that this lake is very healthy. The water looked very good and fertile. It is not a huge lake, but big enough that we should be able to spread out.

Being that the event is in June, it should be hot and dominated by offshore fishing. If the water is flooded, the shallow haygrass as they call it could make for a good shallow bite. If not, offshore fishing will be the way to go and I think it will fish similar to the TVA lakes. It does not have as much current or real river ledges, but I still think the same techniques will work well. Those long tapering points and brush piles in the 8- to 14-foot range should be perfect for big worms, football jigs and mid-depth cranks. The fish should be schooled up after the spawn and ready to eat.

My prediction is that this will be one of the higher winning weights all season and a daily average of 18 to 19 pounds will win the event.

Cayuga Lake

June 23 – 26, 2016

Union Springs, New York

Cayuga Lake is a very good fishery and I am excited to go back. When you think of northern fishing in New York, you might think about smallmouth, but Cayuga is dominated by largemouth. Smallmouth are in there but there were only a handful of them brought to the scales the last time we visited. The smallmouth here are much more nomadic as they spend a lot of time out deeper chasing alewives.

It is a shallow lake that is basically an oval shape with not many bays. It is full of milfoil and eel grass that seems to be thriving there. The northern end is where the Seneca River comes in and this section is full of grass and perfect for throwing a frog or flipping the deep grass lines. This is how Greg Hackney won last time and it should again be a good approach to contend for the win.

Moving towards the lower end, the banks get steeper and the grass in deeper water. This part of the lake is great for crankbaits and flipping that deeper grass.

Our last visit was during late summer and this one should be either a spawn or post-spawn event. It will just depend on the spring they have up there. I have heard that if you hit it just right, the big smallmouth can appear and make a difference. If we hit the spawn at the perfect time, the smallmouth may be a factor.

My last event there was a good one for me and I ended up in 20th place. I expect the same type of shallow-water grass fishing to be my strategy again and that should be what it takes to win.

Potomac River

August 11 – 14, 2016

Charles County, Maryland

The Potomac has a long history as being one of the best bass fishing destinations in the country. Unfortunately, it has been in decline over the past few years. It gets tons of pressure and the river also had the Largemouth Bass Virus a few years ago and as a result, the fishing has suffered. I think this event is going to be our biggest challenge of the year.

Last year, the FLW Tour visited the Potomac the same time of year and I have heard from some of the guys who fished it about how tough it was. They said it was hard to just get five bites a day. I believe the weights and techniques will be similar to that event and the weights will be much lower than the event that Skeet Reese won the last time the Elites visited.

I believe that it will be typical late summer fishing on a river system. Places like docks, laydowns and grass will play into this event. It will probably be like the Chesapeake Bay event we had last year, where the fishing was tough and the winner Aaron Martens fished something far away that others overlooked or never found.

Mississippi River

September 8 – 11, 2016

La Crosse, Wisconsin

Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wisconsin. (Credit: Runner1928 via Creative Commons 3.0)

Our 2016 regular season wraps up on one of my favorite places to fish in the whole country. This section of the Mississippi River gets me excited just thinking about it. Frog fishing is one of my strengths and something that I love to do and the Mississippi is perfect for it.

We are allowed to fish three different pools of the river and every section of the river has the potential to produce fish. There is not a lot of dead water and it is all shallow and full of grass, which makes it perfect for a frog.

The key is finding the fish that it will take to win. There are fish just about everywhere and most of us will have days with 30 to 40 fish, but we just need to weed through them to get the bigger ones. I am going into the event planning to throw a frog so that makes it much simpler when I get there. I will just fish it in different places until I find the right-size fish.

There are two things that could change the event: the weather and smallmouth. Smallmouth have the chance to win this event as Tommy Biffle and Brandon Palaniuk showed on our last trip and they could again be a factor. The other is the weather with it being this time of year in Wisconsin and if they have an early fall it could change things. It is a phenomenal fishery for numbers and a 14- to 16-pound bag is a great day on the river. I expect it to take this type of weight to bring home the trophy.

Wrapping Up

The 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule is shaping up to be a shallow-water largemouth type of year. The last few years we had two or three events that were dominated by smallmouth and, looking at this schedule, it is possible that largemouth will win every single event. I am looking forward to this season and feel comfortable with all of the lakes, but I am most excited about BASSfest on Lake Texoma and a return to the mighty Mississippi River.

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