My Top 10 Picks to Win the 2022 Bassmaster Classic

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To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never done an article like this before. Heck, I don’t know if I’ll ever do another one. But after such a long winter and with all of the bad things going on in the world these days, I figured I’d put together a list of my top picks to win the 2022 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell and go all-in on this tournament; I think we all need a distraction. Plus, if you’ve seen the weather forecast for this event, things could get ugly in the prettiest of ways.

I follow professional fishing very closely and I grew up occasionally fishing Lake Hartwell with my dad so maybe this blind hog will find a proverbial nut and accidentally make a good (lucky) pick for this derby. I could be absolutely wrong, so before you fuss at me on social media, understand this is strictly for fun. I also have not spoken to any of these guys lately, so these are all total shots in the dark.

So in no particular order, here are my picks to win the 2022 Bassmaster Classic.

angler catching bass

Brandon Palaniuk

Palaniuk is one of those dudes who’s simply due for a big win. He has the resumé and certainly has the experience by now to finally close the deal. For whatever reason, it seems like the bigger the stage, the more relaxed he becomes. He’s also an excellent angler when it comes to fishing clear-water fisheries and there will be plenty of that to enjoy on Lake Hartwell. There’s also a good chance of a vertical bite (if the warming trend doesn’t move ‘em too shallow) and as most of us know, he’s a handful when it comes to video-gaming ‘em with vertical presentations.

It’s also worth noting that the newly married Palaniuk is also expecting a baby this year… so maybe the stars will align and everything, both personal and professional, will go right for him this year. It’s crazy how stuff like that works.

professional angler holding a big largemouth bass

Patrick Walters

I’ve known this guy since he was a college angler and he’s another one who just doesn’t have a pulse; it seems like there’s absolutely nothing you can do to Walters to make him spin out. He’s cool as a cucumber and not a thing in the world gets to him… including the pressure of the Bassmaster Classic.

A South Carolina native, Walters has plenty of experience on Lake Hartwell and although I suspect he’d rather be flipping and pitching thick cover somewhere, I’d have a hard time believing he doesn’t have something special up his sleeve for this tournament. We all know he’s going to win one (or several) Classics in his career. Is this the one that starts it all?

Brandon Cobb

Cobb won the 2019 Elite Series tournament on Lake Hartwell, so need I say much more? He’s from South Carolina, he’s an absolute hammer throughout most of the country and when you put him on his home pond, he’s awfully tough to beat.

Although I don’t know him well, I’ve watched enough of his live tournament coverage to know how calm he tends to be under pressure. With almost $490,000 in career earnings in his young career, I know I’d hate to be leading this deal heading into the final day with him a few spots behind me. If he’s fishing the final day, nobody will feel comfortable.

pro angler brandon lester bass fishing in shallow water

Brandon Lester

Momentum is a real thing in tournament bass fishing and there are very few anglers out there who have more forward momentum than Brandon Lester. The guy just had an incredible start to the season during the Florida swing notching an Opens win at Kissimmee Chain, a top-30 finish at St. Johns River and a fifth-place finish on the Harris Chain. I don’t know how you can start a season much better than that. He’s in a groove and you can see it when you watch him fish.

Hartwell is a far cry from those Florida fisheries he has been dominating but there’s something telling me I need to include him on this list. His confidence is probably high and he always has a great support crew behind him. Similar to Brandon Cobb, I’d hate to have this guy behind me on the final day of the Classic.

Hank Cherry

Clear water. Prespawn. The potential for a jerkbait bite.

He has won the Classic twice in a row.

Yea. That’s all I got.

The dude is dialed in and knows how to get it done.

angler fighting a smallmouth bass

Jeff Gustafson

If, and that’s a huge “if”, the weather doesn’t warm up too much and a certain population of the bass stay in deep water, this guy could be tough to beat. He’s a renowned smallmouth fisherman but depending upon the weather forecast, he has an excellent chance of finding a pile of big spotted bass in deeper water, following them shallow throughout the weekend and mopping the floor.

He may not weigh a mega bag like a few will with largemouth but I could see Gustafson being that “Steady Eddie”-type guy who weighs in a high- to mid-teens bag for three days straight and edges everyone out for a close win.

fisherman casting

Matt Herren

Judging by the forecast on my iPhone, it looks like we might have a perfect storm for a shallow-water beatdown come Sunday on the final day of the Classic. Herren is a gritty Southern angler and knows how to get in the dirt and grind out big bites, so I certainly wouldn’t bet against him in this one.

With 9 Classic berths and several respectable finishes, keep an eye on this guy. I’ve always thought he will win a Classic before he hangs it up and man… looking at this forecast, it sure sets up pretty for him.

fisherman holding largemouth bass

Shane Powell

You can go look at his bio on Bassmaster’s website and you won’t be blown away. Heck, the dude doesn’t even have a picture on there. But growing up in Georgia next to his home state of Alabama, I know plenty about Shane to include him in this list. This being his first Classic, he could fall into the trap and totally lay an egg due to the pressure of the event. But for whatever reason, I don’t see that happening. He’s an oustanding fisherman and Wired2fish contributor and one of his college teammates, Shaye Baker, and I were talking about him a few weeks ago—he’s something special and no matter what happens this weekend, he’s not going anywhere.

He has nothing to lose in this tournament. Not many folks are talking about him but my gosh, can he fish. That’s a dangerous combination that could easily lead him to the final-day cut and some big-time drama during the Sunday weigh-in.

John Cox

He is all over professional fishing right now and rightly so—he’s one of the best fisherman on the planet. Something about him is just so cool and laid back and no matter the situation, he just seems to smile and enjoy the moment. From what I’ve seen at the Classic over the years, that’s a heck of a trait to have during this event. There are a bunch of media obligations, people sticking cameras in your face and lots of folks asking silly questions while you’re trying to get ready for the biggest tournament of your life. Without knowing him, it seems like Cox just wouldn’t give a crap. He’s there to catch fish. The rest doesn’t seem to matter to him.

And as we mentioned earlier, the warm front that seems to be coming could play right into his wheelhouse. He’s undisputedly one of the best shallow-water anglers in the world and if those bass get their noses pointed towards the bank… he could come in with a jaw-dropping bag of largemouth.

bass fisherman casting for bass

Taku Ito

Sometimes these weather fronts come in a bit too quickly and can put the big bass in a weird funk; it happens to the best of us. If this happens and things get a little squirrely during the weekend, make sure to watch Taku Ito. The man seems to make fish bite when most anglers can’t and for that reason, I have a feeling he’ll make a strong showing at the 2022 Classic on Hartwell. When you combine his incredible finesse-fishing skills with his positive and upbeat attitude, a lot of guys will be looking for him in their rearview mirrors this weekend. How cool would it be to see Ito win it all?