GREENVILLE, S.C. — Friday night, after Charlie Hartley weighed in more than 21 pounds of bass to take the Day One lead in the Bassmaster Classic, he sat with his friend, fellow pro angler Byron Velvick.
"He was hugging on me, telling me that he was going to wake up and it was going to be over," Velvick said at the Lake Hartwell dock where the 50 Classic contenders had just blasted off for Day Two.
At one point, he recalled, Hartley stood up and blurted to Velvick: "I'm leading the Classic! Can you believe I'm leading the Classic? You should be leading the Classic!"
"I've never even made the Classic," Velvick replied.
"Well," Hartley told him, "neither have I, till now."
There aren't many people on the Elite Series tour who fish as much as Charlie Hartley, who even fishes in Tuesday and Wednesday night clubs around his home near Columbus, Ohio. What he lacks in recognition among casual fishing fans, he makes up for in respect among his fellow pros. They know him as a relentlessly positive, hardworking, kind fellow, an energetic clean-freak with the dedication to win but with a tendency, perhaps, to fade in tournaments.
"He's been known to catch them one day and have a bad second day," said pro Aaron Martens. "He calls it 'being in the doghouse.'"
But, Martens added, "This might be his tournament, you know?"
Angler Mike McClelland said Hartley reminds him of his hyperactive 17-year-old son. Terry Scroggins, who also battled Hartley in the Southern Opens this year, said he's so energetic he's on his trolling motor before his boat even comes off plane when he's running. Everyone knows him as so tidy that he jumps into his boat, rather than step on the fenders of his trailer — and after practices, he heads straight to the car wash, where he spends enough time that he'll rig tackle there before tournaments.
Asked about Hartley, Edwin Evers laughed about a tournament in which he beat Hartley on Lake Eufaula. Hartley finished second by throwing a spinnerbait onto the banks and dragging it through brush into the water. "He said that was the key to getting the fish to bite," Evers said. "It was hilarious."
It's not easy finding anyone around this tournament to so much as dig on Hartley — least of all his wife, Tracey. Before they ever met in person, they had known each other for years; he owns a commercial sign company, and she was an office manager at an awning canvas company. They grew to be friends. One night, they went for a beer.
"We went out April 9, 1996, got engaged in June, married in August, and we've never been apart since," she said at the dock Saturday. "What we say is, we fell in love with each other's insides."
Some of the biggest stars in the sport were within 3 pounds of Hartley at the start of Day Two: Scott Rook, Kevin VanDam, Scroggins, Evers, Mike Iaconelli. That's a big, roomy doghouse. But other pros had no problem rooting for Hartley.
Iaconelli: "If I wasn't going to win the Classic — which I want to, and I will — I would love to see Charlie Hartley win it. Even if he doesn't catch a fish, that's a splash. He already did a good job. It's hard enough making this tournament, but to lead it a day? I think I led the Classic two days, and that was the year I won. In nine years."
Kelly Jordon: "I think it would be great if Charlie Hartley won. That is, if I zero and he has a chance."
And Velvick, who's not competing this week: "He's the New York Giants in the Super Bowl this year. You really don't want to see the Patriots win. You want to see Charlie Hartley win."