The Phoenix Fantasy Fishing season on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals side of the ledger wraps up this week at the Mississippi River, and it should be a good derby to end on. In addition to the top-notch cheese curd situation in La Crosse, the fishing is pretty interesting as well. The season finale, which is presented by Mercury, heads to the Mississippi River for a true summertime event, which should see some good frogging, plus a lot of current-related action.
Picking for this event was easy on the top end and local side in my opinion, but deciding who to put on the squad is tough if they’re lacking a Wisconsin address. Here’s who I’m rolling out to wrap up the year.
Putting Laufenberg and Monsoor on the squad was a no-brainer in my opinion, and this goes for my later pick of Mike Brueggen as well. They’re all among the best on the river at any given time, and Monsoor obviously has a heck of a track record nationally. Water conditions at the time of the event could mitigate their advantage some, but the Mississippi has so many little hidey holes and nuances that it’d be hard to learn in a lifetime, let alone the three days of practice and a few tournaments of history the majority of the field is dealing with.
There are more than a few locals in this event, and I tried to pick the best of the bunch. But, you could reasonably go for a super-heavy local approach. Nick Trim is in the field, and he’s already won a BFL on the river in 2023, and there are others of note as well.
It doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense that Alex Davis would do great on the Mississippi River, but he’s got quite a good track record there, having made a check every time he’s gone. Obviously, he’s very good at fishing current, and he really does love fishing shallow, so his strengths do align well, even if he’s more expert when it comes to the Tennessee River. There might be better gambles to try to lock in a Top 10, but it feels like Davis is a solid choice, and he should be fishing free, considering he’s out of it on the points side of things.
A whiz with currents and tides, Villa really should be a shoe-in for success at the Mississippi, despite having no prior tournament experience there. Still, there’s a slight danger that he doesn’t go all-in on this event – the pros at the top of the standings are pretty well locked-in to Bass Pro Tour qualification, and the only thing that could reasonably derail it would be getting stuck on a sandbar or missing a lock.
Now, pros should be able to do really well in the takeoff pool, and the Black River may honestly suit Villa very well, but there’s still a chance that he and some others don’t gamble for a Top 10.
For Group B, I’m running out AOY leader Ron Nelson, Keith Carson, Matthew Stefan, David Walker, and the previously discussed Brueggen. It’s a group filled with talent, but also with some anglers that could back off or chase consistency instead of a win.
Both Nelson and Carson are more than 100 points ahead of eighth place, which means they’re pretty locked in to the BPT with decent performances. So, that being the case, you might not expect them to do anything fancy when it comes to fishing – Pool 8 is pretty safe. Still, the river suites both of them very well – they’re tremendous shallow-water anglers, they have current expertise, and they love grass.
As an aside, if you’re looking for a little hope that Nelson will still give it 110 percent, you can look at the 2020 season for some guidance. Then, Nelson fished in Pool 7 when he was in the midst of the AOY race, and then ran all the way to the Detroit River from Sandusky in the season finale to ice down AOY. If Nelson values this title like he did his first, he just might go for the gusto.
Not truly in the local bucket, and certainly someone with points considerations in play, Stefan has a sterling record on the Mississippi, which is definitely one of his home bodies of water when it comes to big tournaments. Though he could coast to the BPT, Stefan says that he’s going to fish to win, which is likely good news for fantasy pickers. Assuming a normal Mississippi River showing for Stefan, he’s someone you want locked on the team.
Lately, it seems like Walker has figured things out on the Mississippi River. His BASS stats for the river are not super inspiring, with one Top 20, and two rough ones on the ledger. Since then however, he’s cruised, finishing third in the 2020 Pro Circuit event and 10th in the TITLE in 2021. It seems like he’s mastered flipping a jig for quality, which is obviously perfect for him, and if that sort of thing plays again, he feels like one of the most solid picks in the field to me.