I’m very much looking forward to picking my teams in Phoenix Fantasy Fishing on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals this year. There’s obviously a great chance I’ll do poorly, but I love a local favorite, and the rosters are going to be riddled with them this year. Additionally, there are just some really fun events on the schedule – I’m fascinated by Clarks Hill in Georgia and Eufaula in Oklahoma.
Of course, starting in Florida is great for the flip-flop game, but it’s a little less fun from a fantasy perspective. At Okeechobee, there are plenty of Sunshine State stalwarts to count on, but you can bet that one or two wild cards will do really well. When the Pro Circuit last hit Okeechobee in 2021, seemingly half of the Top 10 came out of nowhere. Still, your Florida standards did hit – Chris Lane finished second, Bobby Lane finished 12th and Brandon McMillan finished 13th.
This year for Okeechobee, I’ve stocked the team with a bunch of Floridians, but a few out-of-towners as well.
In Flight 1, I went with Chris Lane, Matt Stefan, Christian Greico, Jacob Wheeler and Mark Daniels Jr. Early in the season, both groups are easy to pick a bunch of good anglers from, and Flight 1 is blessed with some really standout talent.
This doesn’t really need to be said, but leaving any Lane brother on the bench in Florida is a risky proposition. In Bassmaster competition, Chris has four wins in Florida, with two coming at the Big O. In the 2021 Pro Circuit event, he was the only serious competition for Skeet Reese on the final day. I’m happy to lock him on the roster.
It would’ve been great to see Greico knock out a good finish at the Harris Chain last week, but I’m not going to let it bother me too much. Extremely skilled with the big stick and more than competent when it comes to every other Florida thing, Greico should be good to go in the season opener. He knocked down a Phoenix Bass Fishing League win in the fall of ’21 on Okeechobee, and he nearly always does well when he’s fishing in Florida.
Daniels first fished Okeechobee as a pro in 2014, in his rookie season on the FLW Tour. Then, he tallied 19 pounds, 14 ounces on Day 1, and caught four bass on Day 2. Finishing 85th, it was his third-best finish on the season – not an auspicious start for the Circuit Breaker star and perennial contender we see today. Regardless, he’s been really solid in Florida since then – admittedly a bit better on the Kissimmee Chain. Daniels finished 20th in the 2020 Bass Pro Tour event at Okeechobee, finished fourth there in a 2015 Rayovac FLW Series event and has generally been super solid at the Big O.
There’s a good amount of Florida talent throughout the flights, but Flight 2 is stacked with Okeechobee-specific heat. It feels like there are 10 anglers in it that have made money on Okeechobee in the last six months, and one of them is Jared McMillan. So, deciding who to actually roll with is going to be nearly impossible. I was a little tempted to just take Angler of the Year favorites and the like, but I ended up going pretty heavily with Florida anglers again. For Flight 2, I went with Eric Panzironi, Matt Wieteha, Jared McMillan, Michael Neal and Ron Nelson.
Of the available Floridians, I think Jared McMillan will be heavily owned, and probably should be. When he’s not on the road, he’s on Okeechobee, and he’s had very consistent success there in big events.
Outside of Jared McMillan, you have Val Osinski, Wieteha, Panzironi and Bobby Bakewell who could all reasonably make a roster. Both my picks on this front are dart throws to an extent, but there’s a little reasoning behind them. For Panzironi, I went with a hot hand – coming off success at the Harris Chain will likely have him fishing very confidently. For Wieteha, I went with a regular at Okeechobee – one of the main things he fished in 2022 was the Roland Martin Marine Center Series, and he and partner Nick Hoinig won Team of the Year.
If you could sight fish on Okeechobee, I’d say everyone should add Nelson to their squad. As-is, you can be forgiven for taking a Floridian or some other high-flyer (Dakota Ebare is literally right there). Still, Nelson loves Florida, and he’s seen some good success on Okeechobee before – mostly winding and not sight fishing, which gives me a fair bit of confidence. Additionally, I have Nelson picked for AOY this year, so I’ll put my money where my mouth is on this one.