I’ll start this off by admitting that picking a fantasy roster for an event like REDCREST 2023 Presented by Shore Lunch can be very tricky. Let’s get that out of the way up front: setting your roster this week will not be an easy task.
For one, there are only 40 anglers to choose from, so there isn’t a lot of room for error – odds are high that the overall weight totals are going to be very good across the board. So many of you in the thousands of savvy fantasy managers are likely to pick multiple anglers who make the final day, and who fish all five days.
The other factor is the whole “swing for the fences” approach that some will take at this event. A hearty percentage of the 40-man roster may end going all in on patterns and techniques that they think will deliver them a big win instead of trying to save face and catch a limit to salvage points (for them and you).
Because in their minds, there ARE no points: REDCREST doesn’t award Angler of the Year points, so playing it safe is a less likely approach. There is the REDCREST champion … and then there’s everyone else. So in my opinion, you’ll likely see some uncharacteristic finishes (both high and low) from a few anglers.
With that disclaimer out there, my strategy for the event is to stick with the best at forward-facing sonar, a pair of locals, two more with an excellent REDCREST track record and some spotted bass specialists.
We’re now in an era where forward-facing sonar is almost always a factor, but it’s a shoo-in that “beaming” on Lake Norman will play a key role in the prespawn period on a lake with spotted bass.
I expect Jacob Wheeler, Dustin Connell and Dakota Ebare to shine. They’re all standouts with the technology, but they can just as easily switch it up, fish for shallow largemouth, and compete. No matter how the bite ends up, this trio should be in contention at the end.
Even though these anglers will tell you that they don’t get to fish Lake Norman as much as they used to, both Bryan Thrift and Andy Montgomery they still know the fishery better than anyone else in the field. Each has won on Norman in tour-level events, and there’s no telling how many local tournaments the two have won (they even paired up as a team during their younger years to win some of them).
So I’ll pick Thrift and Montgomery (along with most other fantasy managers) because it will be a wash on points/pounds. Even though both anglers are likely to do very well, most fantasy managers will have them on their teams and the other eight on the squad will matter the most.
There have been three REDCREST tournaments to date, and a handful of anglers have fished all of those and will again be in this year’s edition. The best producer in terms of finishes may surprise some, but it’s Zack Birge.
The Oklahoma pro’s REDCREST finishes have been fourth, fourth and sixth, and he’s due to climb the ladder and win it one of these years. In addition to his great REDCREST record, Birge is excellent at covering water with shallow power-fishing baits like a squarebill crankbait, which may serve him well on Lake Norman.
Michael Neal has also done very well, making the Championship Round three times at REDCREST. No matter the lake, the format, or the season, Neal is a threat and earned a spot on my roster.
None of the picks above will be a surprise to anyone who follows the Bass Pro Tour, so you’ll need a few wild cards to go with the easy choices.
It’s hard to call anyone who qualified by finishing 40th and better on the Bass Pro Tour a “wild card,” but mine are Cody Meyer, Greg Vinson, and Casey Ashley. All three are spotted bass gurus. Meyer thinks like a spotted bass, Vinson spends plenty of time chasing them on the Coosa River Chain, and Ashley has won big events – including the Bassmaster Classic and the FLW Tour – with the help of his spotted friends.
To separate yourself from the other fantasyfishing.com managers, you’ll want a few under-the-radar picks like these three. Expect them to do well if spotted bass become the way to win REDCREST.