Championship Picks: Lake Hamilton - Major League Fishing

Championship Picks: Lake Hamilton

July 8, 2005 • MLF • Archives

Welcome to the final installment of this season’s Pundits’ Picks. After a long, arduous and sometimes contentious season of prognostication, it all comes down to this: six qualifying pundits competing in a winner-take-all Pundits’ Championship at Lake Hamilton. Here’s how we got here.

In the Pro Division, Mark Zona put his money where his mustache is by accumulating a 3-2 record during the five-event, head-to-head Pundits’ regular season. He edged out Randy Blaukat (also 3-2 in the regular season) for top pro pundit honors by a total score of 3,519-3,515.

Loquacious Rob Newell dominated the Staff Division in the regular season with a 3-2 record and a total score of 3,756. No other staff member came within 297 total points of Newell after the first five events.

Then came the Pundits’ Playoffs at the Potomac River last month, where the pros and staff finally clashed to gain berths into the championship. The upsets came with it.

Like Duke and Kentucky in March, both Zona and Newell advanced to the finals without incident. But after that, the higher seeds dropped like flies, proving once again that a pundit is only as good as his last round of picks. Results from the Potomac:

No. 1 Mark Zona def. No. 6 Keith Lebowitz 720-547

No. 1 Rob Newell def. No. 6 David Dudley 832-591

No. 4 Gary Mortenson def. No. 3 Carl Svebek 816-535

No. 4 Dave Lefebre def. No. 3 Patrick Baker 831-484

No. 5 Jeff Schroeder def. No. 2 Randy Blaukat 710-662

No. 5 Clark Wendlandt def. No. 2 Chris Eubanks 657-644

Thus, in the spirit of the FLW Championship final round, we have six pundits remaining in a winner-take-all Picks Championship at Lake Hamilton. Top score for the tournament takes the 2005 Pundit of the Year title. May the most prophetic pundit win.

Tournament site

While new to the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Lake Hamilton is by no means new to FLW Outdoors or the FLW Championship qualifiers, for that matter. The BFL held the All-American here three times in recent years – 2000, 2001 and 2004 – and a number of pros fishing this week have either fished here before or, at the very least, watched intently the outcome of those prior events. (In fact, one pro fishing the FLW Championship this week, Dave Lefebre – who also happens to be a pundit – finished second last year at Lake Hamilton’s All-American.) The 7,200-acre clear-water lake nestled in the hills near Hot Springs, Ark., is a cozy, developed impoundment filled with bass structure. Docks, ledges, brush piles – anglers will have their fill of structure to poke around to find that key school of fish. It’s summer, and that will certainly impact where those fish will be found. As far as your picks, it probably won’t hurt to zero in on guys known for their dock-fishing skills or ability with deep crankbaits. Problem is, that pretty much describes most of the pros who’ve come this far. It’s tough to make the FLW Championship by not knowing how to fish docks.

Hot picks

While every angler who made the FLW Championship rightfully deserves mention as a potential winner – especially through the bracket format – there were some trends among the picks. Angler of the Year Greg Hackney, red-hot Dave Lefebre and Arkansas local favorite Scott Suggs all made four out of the six championship pundits’ lists. Next were another local favorite, Rob Kilby, and AOY runner-up Toshinari Namiki, each with three picks. Also with honorable mention are Brent Chapman and Jeremiah Kindy, who both made two picks lists.


Wal-Mart FLW Tour stop No. 7

Forrest L. Wood Championship

Lake Hamilton, Hot Springs, Ark.

July 13-16

FLW writer Rob Newell Rob Newell
Contributing editor
FLW Outdoors

Record: 4-2 (includes playoffs)
Points: 4,588 (includes playoffs)

1) ROB KILBY .Picking locals is unoriginal, but I’m going with it in the final round. Local advantage does not count for near as much when it’s spring or fall, but in the summer and winter, local knowledge is a premium.
2) SCOTT SUGGS .Same as above, including the fact that Suggs is so due for a major breakout tournament.
3) JEREMIAH KINDY .Same as above.
4) TOSHINARI NAMIKI .Who can argue with Namiki this year? He goes to lakes for two or three weeks ahead of time and learns every nook and cranny. I’m betting he has been at Hamilton since the last day of the Potomac tournament.
5) DAN MOREHEAD .The guy does his homework. And with half a million on the line, chances are he has really done his homework at Hamilton.

EverStart pro Mark Zona Mark Zona
EverStart pro
Sturgis, Mich.

Record: 4-2
Points: 4,239

1) CHIP HARRISON .Even though he’s in the same bracket as Suggs, I’m showing the big guy some love. He’s earned me some big points this year, so I’m not putting him back in the tackle box just yet.
2) GREG HACKNEY .I’m not even giving a reason for this.
3) DAVE LEFEBRE .If not for Beaver, he would be commanding this tour. If there’s a fish under a dock, he’ll find it.
4) ROB KILBY .The only local I’m picking, he has a ton of experience in big-game situations.
5) JOHN MURRAY .A sneaky little pick, this is another guy who seems to step up when it’s all on the line.

FLW writer Gary Mortenson Gary Mortenson

Record: 4-2
Points: 4,116

1) KELLY JORDON .The Mineola, Texas, native has done well on this body of water in previous BASS tournaments; he’s got big-time fishing experience; and he’s finally coming into his own on the FLW Tour. But perhaps most importantly, he’s got great matchups – a fact which cannot be understated when fishing a tournament of this caliber. Don’t let the 30th seed fool you. Jordon is ready to roll.
2) DAVE LEFEBRE .The Keebler Kid hasn’t let me down all year. He’s got great matchups, and he’s fishing as well as anyone on the tour right now. Plus, he finished second overall on this exact same body of water at the 2004 BFL All-American. As an added bonus, if Lefebre does make it to the finals, I’m officially changing his moniker to “Mr. Cool.” If that’s not incentive enough for Lefebre to perform up to his capabilities, I don’t know what is.
3) SCOTT SUGGS .Picking a rookie in an FLW Championship is always a dangerous proposition. However, Suggs – who hails from Bryant, Ark. – is not your typical rookie. Suggs has already turned in a top-10 and top-20 performance in his first year alone on the FLW Tour. And he finished the year-end standings race in 12th place – an impressive feat for anyone. Throw in the fact that he’s fishing on his home waters, and it becomes clear that Suggs is too good of a flyer to pass up.
4) BRENT CHAPMAN .Not to sound like a broken record, but Chapman is consistent, has great matchups and has tons of angling experience. Sure, he’s soft-spoken, hails from Kansas and isn’t yet a household name. But so what? Championship Picks is all about picking excellent anglers who have the path of least resistance. That sums up Chapman to a tee.
5) TOSHINARI NAMIKI .The young gun from Hachioji-City, Japan, narrowly missed out on this year’s FLW Tour Angler of the Year award. So, obviously, he’s fishing great. But more importantly, Namiki goes into every tournament as prepared as anyone. He’s got a favorable bracket, and I’m sure he’s more than anxious to make up for his heartbreaking 8-point loss to Greg Hackney in the AOY contest. In sum, I wouldn’t want to be facing Namiki in the championship, and I’m sure most anglers feel the same way.

FLW pro Dave Lefebre Dave Lefebre
FLW pro
Erie, Pa.

Record: 4-2
Points: 4,028

1) DAVE LEFEBRE .I want the Pundits’ Picks Championship more than the FLW Championship. That’s why I am putting it all on my own shoulders. I feel good about Hamilton. It is the spitting image of one of my favorite lakes just down the road from my house. I’ve been fishing that lake like crazy, getting in the groove for clear water, docks, brush piles, party boats and tons of jet skis. After losing the All-American by 1 ounce there last year, I’m seeking revenge on those Hot Springs bass.
2) GREG HACKNEY .We spent last Sunday morning together on a photo shoot for the FLW Angler of the Year Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box. I think I’ve finally figured out why Greg is so stinkin’ good: He’s a freak! That’s right, a bass-fishing, nutcase freak. There’s no other way to describe his success. Why would he stop being a freak at the biggest bass fishing event in the universe? He won’t. Sorry, Newby, I’m glad he’s not in my bracket.
3) TOSHINARI NAMIKI .I’m sure he’s heartbroken about losing Angler of the Year the way he did, but he’s a class act and is still on a serious roll. He could have a tough time with my good buddy Vatalaro in the first round, but if he gets through that, I believe he will make the finals. Besides, Hamilton was made for Japanese baits and techniques.
4) SCOTT SUGGS .I feel like I have to pick him. He’s on a roll this year, and what more could you ask for than to be fishing your home lake for half a million? Dang, can you imagine that? He said he has 50 spots already lined up and will take this week off. That’s confidence, and that equals 10 pounds a day and a top-five in Hot Springs.
5) KOBY KREIGER .This is my gut pick, and it’s such a tough call. I think Nixon will do well. Same with Takahiro. Herren’s tough, and Kindy’s another local guy. Gary Yamamoto is hot, too, but based on the brackets, my instincts are telling me to go with Kreiger. I was going to pick Craig Powers, but I suddenly realized that he didn’t make it. These two practice together and split their earnings. Powers is always strong when there’s a topwater bite, plus he’s on fire in the EverStarts. Kreiger had a great year, but I look for Craig to live through his good buddy Koby and deliver me the Pundits’ Picks Championship trophy.

FLW pro Clark Wendlandt Clark Wendlandt
FLW pro
Cedar Park, Texas

Record: 3-3
Points: 4,067

1) ANTHONY GAGLIARDI .Has fished great all year, and I think his strength is deepwater cranking. The summer tournaments on Hamilton that I know of have all been won by deep cranking. Gagliardi is the real deal.
2) DAVE LEFEBRE .I have had Dave in my top five all year long and I won’t stop now. He is, without question, one of the best fishermen in the world and should fare very well this week.
3) SCOTT SUGGS .Local knowledge could be a huge key this week. Brush piles should play a key role in the tournament, and Scott should have a big advantage there. He is also fishing as well as anyone right now. If he can shake the home-lake jinx, then he could win it.
4) GREG HACKNEY .Greg is, far and away, the best fisherman in the world right now. People say his strength is flipping, but I think it is the rare ability to understand bass in almost every situation. I feel confident that he will be fishing docks, and I also think it could be won that way. Look out!
5) BRENT CHAPMAN .Brent is one of the most versatile fishermen that I have ever been around. He just seems to catch them everywhere he goes. He has a tough first-round matchup against his good friend Randy Blaukat, but if he survives it he should do very well.

FLW writer Jeff Schroeder Jeff Schroeder

Record: 3-3
Points: 3,899

1) ROB KILBY .I’m not sure if Hamilton really favors locals a whole lot, but in whatever manner it does, the Hot Springs pro is my pick to take advantage of it. There are a lot of sunken brush piles and other structure in that lake that will be crucial to the winner’s strategy. Kilby should know where most of them are. Plus, he has a tendency to strike hard at the biggest tournament of the year. If he can get by his tough opening-round matchup with Takahiro Omori, this is the year that Kilby seals the deal and gives his hometown fans something to cheer about.
2) ALVIN SHAW .Unparalleled in terms of championship appearances, Shaw also gets up for the big one. Almost every year, it seems, we reach the final round of the championship and see Alvin quietly hanging around in the top 10. He, too, has a nasty draw in Alton Jones, then either Matt Herren or Tom Monsoor and his tricky swimming jig, but Shaw has been to the rodeo enough times to block all that out and just fish against the fish, as they say. That, combined with his stellar regular-season record in 2005, earns him the second spot.
3) GREG HACKNEY .Sorry, Sam, Larry and Bobby, the Hack Attack’s just too inviting to pass up here. Last year, Hackney followed up his draining race for Angler of the Year with a decent run at the championship. I think he’s still amped about finally winning that pesky points title this year, and he’ll carry it right into Hot Springs. He’ll also have a tough bracket to beat, especially with the Arkansas General, Nixon, lurking in there, but Hackney will ultimately come out ahead once again.
4) JEREMIAH KINDY .This is the pick I already regret – not because of any doubts I have about Jeremiah, but because this is Toshi Namiki’s bracket. You could set your watch by Toshi making the cut this season: “In fourth place, Toshinari Namiki.” Hmmm, must be 5 o’clock, Thursday afternoon. Nevertheless, I like Kindy’s home-field advantage here. His apprenticeship in the BFL’s Arkie Division will serve him well at Hamilton.
5) ART BERRY .To be honest, I’m not sure Berry can beat Wes Strader in the opening round, especially in Arkansas, but I’m covering my rear end with a Western pick. Luke Clausen wins at Logan Martin? Who’d a thunk it? There’s no Luke this year, and I just don’t see Michael Bennett, while a poised and talented young pro, carrying California’s water very far at this one yet. Thus, Art. He’s entirely capable of winning it as long as he just goes fishing and doesn’t think about the stakes too much.


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