UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — Greg Hackney was floating higher than a reel-peeling, skyward cast that seems to be held aloft by the sun itself.
Unlike a lure, he may not come down anytime soon.
In one fell swoop, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Gonzales, La., won the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake — and held tight to his lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race.
“I’ll ride this as long as I can,” Hackney said Sunday just after he took the trophy and was sure no other angler had busted into his AOY lead. “There are not too many times you get to do this. It’s pretty awesome.”
Hackney slapped the 12-man field in Sunday’s final round with a catch of 23 pounds, 15 ounces. That pumped his four-day total to 85-0. His margin of victory was 9 pounds, 3 ounces over Todd Faircloth, who weighed 15-6 Sunday to finish in second place at 75-13.
The Cayuga trophy was the fourth for Hackney in his B.A.S.S. career. Coming more than eight years after his only other Elite win in March 2006, the Cayuga victory broke his Bassmaster winner’s drought. He won an FLW Tour in June, and also owns the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup trophy.
Hackney collected $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. He virtually has a Classic entry in hand through his standing in points, so the Cayuga title will double-qualify him.
Taking third place at Cayuga was Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif., with 74-12. Fourth place was claimed by Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., with 72-9.
Anchoring the Top 5 was Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande, Calif., with 71-6. Lintner weighed a 6-2, tying him with Hackney for the largest bass of Sunday.
First-day leader Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, finished in eighth place with 69-0.
Hackney took the lead from Palaniuk on Day 2 and never let go. The champ started in fourth place with 20-1, then followed with 23-1 on Day 2. On Day 3, he weighed 17-11 despite being one short of the five-bass limit. But his best day was Sunday with his 23-15, the heaviest bag of the tournament.
Hackney’s strategy was go after the lake’s bigger bass. The tradeoff was sacrificing quantity for quality, taking the chance that he might not return to the docks with a limit — exactly what happened to him on Day 3. Every day he survived off of just a few bites. On Sunday, for example, the count was seven or eight, he said.
“You don’t get many bites fishing like that, doesn’t matter what part of the country you do that in,” he said. “I fish like that when there’s deep grass. When you catch them, they’re typically bigger fish on average.”
His primary spot was a grassy ledge that dropped off from 4 to 10 feet, then leveled off into another flat grass ledge, and then to a rocky bottom about 15 feet down.
“The fish were relating to that deep grass edge,” he said.
While he took the majority of his larger fish off his primary spot — the only one with rocks — he had several similar spots along a three- to four-mile stretch, he said.
“I could catch a big one off almost every one of those spots,” he said.
His secret was pitching a heavy skirted bass jig, either a 1-ounce or a 1 1/2-ounce. The heavier lure plummeted deep to the bottom, where the majority of his strikes came.
The jig was his signature Strike King Hack Attack, usually in the blue craw color. He used a Rage Craw trailer in a blue sapphire color to mimic the bluegill in the grass that bass were feeding on.
Only one bass he weighed in over the four days was taken with a different lure, he said. It was a Strike King Shim E Stik that yielded a 5-pounder on the first day, he said.
By Sunday morning about 11 a.m., Hackney had a limit he suspected would be hard to beat, even by himself.
“It got to the point that I felt I couldn’t do any better,” said Hackney. “I almost felt like I was fishing for a fish that didn’t exist.”
That is, a bass bigger than any of the five he had in his livewell.
But he experienced one twinge of doubt about being the winner as he headed back to the docks.
“With 10 minutes left, I started to worry about it,” he said.
The semifinal points standings tallied after the Cayuga tournament determined which 50 Elite pros will advance to next month’s season finale, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, Sept. 18-21 on Bays de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich. Those 50 will compete for a piece of the $900,000 purse.
At Escanaba, the plums of the season will be awarded. One is the 2014 Angler of the Year title to the Elite pro who earned the most points over the nine 2014 events. He will take home $100,000 of the $900,000 total payout.
Barring epic career disaster at Escanaba, Hackney has a strong chance to win the AOY crown. Closest to catching him are Aaron Martens, Todd Faircloth, Jacob Powroznik, Keith Combs and Mark Davis, in that order.
After Cayuga, Martens, the reigning AOY, trailed Hackney by 16 points. Faircloth, who narrowly missed winning AOY in 2008, was behind by 18 points.
Powroznik was 41 back. A first-year Elite pro, Powroznik is the most likely candidate for the 2014 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year award.
Combs, like Powroznik, had 41 points to make up. Davis, who led in points after five consecutive events before falling behind, was 46 behind Hackney.
Hackney is looking for his first AOY title. The closest “The Hack Attack” had been before was in his rookie year, 2004, when he was runner-up to AOY Gerald Swindle.
Also at the Michigan event, the Top 29 pros in the points standings will have officially qualified for the Classic, Feb. 20-22, 2015, on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C. Several more Elite pros below the 29-cut will also make it into the 2015 world championship due to double-qualifiers who won events in 2014.
Notably absent from the Championship roster is Kevin VanDam, the famed seven-time AOY winner and four-time Classic champ. Finishing his season at 53rd place in the points standings, VanDam also won’t qualify for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. His string of 24 consecutive appearances at the world championship was broken.
Bonuses that Elite pros earned at the Cayuga Lake event were:
* Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $3,000 to the highest eligible finisher: Evers (fourth place).
* Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $2,000 to the second-highest eligible finisher: Jacob Powroznik of Port Haywood, Va. (sixth place).
* Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Bonus of $1,000 to the leader in the Elite Series points race: Hackney.
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Hackney for his Day 4 weight of 23-15.
* Carhartt Big Bass bonus of $1,000, plus $500 for wearing Carhartt clothing: Powroznik for his 6-6 on Day 1.
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $1,000 to the highest finisher equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system: Hackney.
* A.R.E. Truck Caps’ Top Angler Award of $2,500: Hackney.
* Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for being the Day 2 leader: Hackney.
The Bassmasters TV show on ESPN2 will feature the Cayuga event on Sunday, Sept. 7, in the 2:30-3:30 p.m. ET slot.