Pundits pick Elite Series


When it comes to the next stop on the Bassmaster Elite Series, there's a whole lot of similarity regarding the favorites determined by ESPN Outdoors' crack team of pundits.

For starters, Arkansas pro Mike McClelland is a solid pick to fare well during the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon. And why not? McClelland is leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, has a win this season and won during last year's stop at Clark's Hill Lake.

The pundits have a few other familiar faces in mind. Kevin VanDam, after a showing in Texas that might be considered weak by his standards, is predicted to regain his form in Georgia. Other top names being bandied about include Davy Hite and Casey Ashley (because of their local ties to this fishery.) For the record, as far as this pundit is concerned, you may as well throw in a pair of Jasons (Williamson and Quinn) who also know their way around Clark's Hill.

And after a really solid start to the 2008 season, Arkansas' Kevin Short shows up on a couple lists too.

It should be an interesting ride, regardless of the winner. Here's who the pundits picked.

Alan Clemons, ESPN Outdoors contributor

Mike McClelland — He's comfortable here, is the defending
champion and is strong with a jig, which should work this week.

Gerald Swindle — G-Man has had a tough season so far, but I think this week could be his time to break out. He's familiar with Clark's Hill from his old regional tournament circuit days and could put the spinning rod mojo on them again this week.

Kevin VanDam — Lousy swing through Texas ends with KVD's crankbait bite on Clark's, which I believe he'll find and exploit similar to his efforts in the Classic on Hartwell.

Casey Ashley
— He's no stranger to these lakes or their conditions and is returning "home" after several weeks on the road. Ashley should be one to keep an eye on this week.

Kevin Short — Mr. Pink could put a black-and-blue bruise on a few folks this week if he can key in on the herring and make his jig or crankbait work.

James Overstreet, ESPN Outdoors photographer

Mike McClelland — It's never smart to bet against a man when he's on a roll, and McClelland's on an incredible roll. He's currently leading the TTBAOY point standings, and has already won a tournament this year. Now the tour is pointed to a lake he won on last year, and if he leaves there with a strong finish, he may be holding the TTBAOY trophy at the end of the season.

Kevin Short — Short is coming off a top-12 finish at Lake Amistad, and he usually carries momentum to the next few stops after a good tournament. Short caught his fish on a deep jig pattern on Amistad, but he can get back to fishing his strength at Clarks Hill, which is cranking.

Casey Ashley — With so much local knowledge on his side, this may be one of the easiest picks of the year.

Davy Hite — Davy has had a tough start, but look for him to turn his season around on a lake that is closer to home and where he won in 2006.

Aaron Martens — He was a headcase after the brutal disappointment at Falcon, and he carried that mental crutch to Amistad. He should be over that by now, and as long as he and Byron Velvick aren't fishing in the same zip code, he should be able to get back on his game.

M.A. Fisher, ESPN Outdoors contributor

Mike McClelland — I'll continue a common theme here by taking the Arkansas pro. He's leading in the Angler of the Year standings and has a win already this season — not to mention a win on Clark's Hill during the '07 Elite Series. That should make him a no-brainer, at least for these purposes.

Kevin VanDam — Hard not to like his shot here. He didn't do nearly as well as he would have liked on the Texas swing. The combination of a crank-bait bite, the "run and gun" tactics and finding the right groups of blueback herring is the remedy King Kevin seeks.

Casey Ashley — The South Carolina pro knows the area. I'm like Overstreet — he should be a lock to compete on Clark's Hill.

Davy Hite — Another local favorite. He's fished here for decades and won the Elite Series stop two years ago following a pattern he won with more than 20 years earlier. That kind of knowledge is hard to beat.

Boyd Duckett — Sometimes you just get a feeling about a certain guy fishing on a certain lake. Duckett could be that guy.

Trey Reid, ESPN Outdoors contributor

Mike McClelland — It's hard to look past the current Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year points leader and last year's Clark's Hill champion.

Mark Tucker — He always seems to be in the hunt on this lake.

Michael Iaconelli — In the spirit of the Kentucky Derby, which also takes place this weekend, I'm betting on past performance. And Ike has a solid track record at Clark's Hill.

John Crews — Another angler who seems to shine perpetually on Clark's Hill.

Jared Lintner — He carried my fantasy team last year, and I'm hoping this derby is the place where he returns to last year's form.

Steve Bowman, Executive Editor, ESPN Outdoors.com

Mike McClelland — It's hard to beat trends. McClelland is on a roll. That's a trend, but another is someone being unable to back up a win the next year with a win. Still McClelland and a football jig will be hard to bet against on Clark's Hill.

Davy Hite — He's one of the best anglers on tour, who doesn't back it up regularly. But when he gets in a position where he wants to win, he becomes an awesome competitor. He's won here, but more than that, his family and friends are there and he'll be on his game.

Todd Auten — He might as well be a local. He's one of the best hands with a crankbait on the tour. Nobody is looking at him. The only pressure on him is from himself and he could really be a dark horse.

Casey Ashley — I thought he was a flash in the pan last year at Clarks Hill, but the sucker jumped up and won at Smith Lake and has had several top finishes. He's for real and he will be close to home.

Mark Davis — He's still the best post-spawn angler in the business and he's determined to regain his reputation. Always bet on Davis.