After a five-month offseason, we’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2024 Bass Pro Tour. When the 80-angler BPT field blasts off at Toledo Bend on Jan. 30 for B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Presented by Power-Pole, it will also mark the return of Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing for 2024.
Major League Fishing’s pick ‘em game has a new look in 2024, but the format will be largely the same. Before each event, Fantasy Fishing players will pick a roster of five anglers from Group A and five from Group B. Each angler’s weight caught during the event will be added to the team’s total weight. Players can also participate in the Mercury Predictor Game. Just answer six questions prior to each event for a chance to win prizes.
Part of the beauty of Fantasy Fishing is that players can change their roster for each tournament. There’s always a handful of anglers who have track records of success on given fisheries or who excel when targeting a specific species or in a particular region of the country, so it’s important to do your homework. We’ll have plenty of content prior to each event to help you make those picks.
However, it can also be beneficial to have a handful of anglers in mind who you can lock into your lineup at the start of the season and ride through all nine events. Here are six such anglers who have proven that they can catch ‘em everywhere and are can’t-miss choices for fantasy managers.
No one has been a safer bet to consistently earn fantasy points than Jacob Wheeler — and it isn’t close. The two-time Angler of the Year has made an astounding 27 Championship Round appearances in 41 career BPT events. He’s won six times and finished among the top three 13 times. It doesn’t matter the type of fishery or the target species, either. Wheeler has won in Alabama, Missouri, Michigan, New York and Texas. Any time he takes the water, he needs to be on your roster, period.
Ott DeFoe has been second only to Wheeler in terms of consistent BPT success, which is no small feat. He’s finished among the top three in the AOY race three times in five years and has won five events. The 2024 schedule seems to set up well for him, too. DeFoe is perhaps best known for his prowess on rivers, and the field will fish three of them to end the season. He’s also been excellent in both his home state of Tennessee (site of Stage Three at Dale Hollow) and Texas (Stage One on Toledo Bend is technically launching out of Louisiana, but it’s on the Texas border).
While it ended on a slightly bitter note with him falling from first in the AOY race to fourth at Stage Seven, Alton Jones Jr.’s 2023 campaign was one for the ages. Not only did he finish among the top 11 six times in nine events, he won General Tire Heavy Hitters and placed second in REDCREST. Since the start of the 2020 season, Jones has made 10 Championship Rounds in 31 events with two wins.
When 16th is your worst career finish in the points, you’re doing something right. That’s the case for Michael Neal, who has two top-five AOY finishes on his BPT resume. Plus, his 16th-place showing came in 2023, when the Bass Pro Tour switched to five-fish limits. With the tour going back to the every-fish-counts format that was in place from 2019-22, Neal should be poised to bounce back. Any time forward-facing sonar is in play (which, let’s face it, is just about every event these days), Neal should be on your short list.
Dustin Connell is another angler that figures to benefit from the return to every-fish-counts scoring. In fact, he won the last two regular-season BPT events contested under that format, part of his three-victory 2022 campaign. Connell is at his most dangerous when he’s able to target fish offshore using forward-facing sonar, but he’s good everywhere, as evidenced by his finishing among the top 15 in the points during all five Bass Pro Tour seasons.
The reigning Angler of the Year will look to defend his crown in 2024. To say Matt Becker impressed last season, his first on the BPT, would be an understatement. He logged four Top 10s plus a win at Saginaw Bay. While there are question marks — the schedule isn’t quite as smallmouth heavy, which could hurt the Great Lakes veteran, and this will be Becker’s first season competing in every-fish-counts events — he’s shown a combination of confidence and talent that I’m not willing to bet against.