Classic Analysis: Final Day at Grand Lake

A year ago, Justin Hamner was mowing lawns in between Bassmaster events to pay his bills. Now he can afford to have someone cut his grass. Nevertheless, despite the fact that he’s fished the Elite Series since 2021, challenged for a Classic win in 2022, and has finished in the money in over three-quarters of his professional events, and now won on the sport’s biggest stage, he’s still a relative unknown among even hardcore fishing fans.

In anticipation of his likely victory, I set out today to figure out how to package him in writing and what kind of Classic champ he’ll be. My first stop was his friend and traveling partner Patrick Walters in the Daiwa booth. They became tight fishing the Bassmaster Opens and now travel together on the Elite Series.

“Truly he is the grassroots of bass fishing, no pun intended,” Walters said. “He started from the bottom. When we went to college, he went to work. He poured concrete with his dad, got tired of that and bought a lawncare business. He finally sold it last year.”

What difference has Walters seen since Hamner became able to exclusively focus on family and fishing?

“He’s starting to bulk up a bit,” he laughed, a day after Bill Dance referred to Walters as “chubby” on BASS Live Mix. If that’s the case, it’s not because of his cooking prowess.

“I do all of the cooking” Walters explained. “If my dad’s with us, he’ll cook, but otherwise it’s usually me. I’ll go 30 times in a row and then he’ll offer. The problem is that he moves slower than a snail. We’ll leave two hours ahead of him and then pass him on the road. He’ll spend 30 minutes in a gas station – I don’t know what he’s doing. He also fishes like a snail. I’ll fish the entire lake, from the dam to up the river, and he’ll spend the same amount of time in one creek. So the one time he cooked he stayed late on the water and then stopped at the Dollar General. He got some off-brand hot dogs and some macaroni and made cheesy hot dogs. It was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. We told him, ‘You’re fired!”

South Carolina pro Brandon Cobb traveled with Hamner last year and likewise was befuddled by his life skills, but not his fishing skills.

“He’s strange, but in a good way,” Cobb said. “He’s hilarious without trying to be hilarious.” He likewise saw Hamner’s culinary struggles: “At Lay Lake he was convinced that you can microwave an egg and it will hard boil it. We learned that the egg will explode in one minute and four seconds.”

Fortunately, the newly-crowned champ can focus on a single job now. He’ll only mow lawns or hit the kitchen in cases of absolute necessity.

Here are a few additional notes on what I saw, thought and learned today:

Falconry – Hamner is the first angler to win a Classic title out of a Falcon bass boat. Other pros in the Classic field driving Falcons included Brandon Cobb, Jacob Powrzonik, Carl Jocumsen and Walters.

Alabama Connections I – “He’s one of my children,” said William Davis Sr., father of Elite Series pro Will Davis Jr., said of Hamner. Until today, the Alabama bass brigade hadn’t produced a Classic champ since Jordan Lee went back-to-back in 2017 and 2018. Before that it was transplant Randy Howell in 2014.

Alabama Connections II – “He’s just a country boy from Alabama,” Will Davis Jr. said about the champ. “But he was the very first person we knew who was catching fish with Livescope. When he’s out there, the fish ain’t got a chance.”

Alabama Disconnections – “He seems like a good guy,” Steve Kennedy remarked. “He’s a Bama fan so I can’t say I really like him, but he’s very outgoing.”

Home State Struggles – Based on geography, Sooner State pros Jason Christie and Luke Palmer were expected to contend for the crown, but even though they both made the cut to Day Three, neither seriously challenged Hamner. “I learned a lot,” said Christie, who finished 17th. “The hometown thing kind of got me. I wasn’t on a lot in practice, and I got to running too much old stuff rather than just fishing.” Palmer fell from 17th to 21st today. “I had one of those days today,” he said of his missed opportunities. “I’m just glad that it happened on Day Three rather than on Day One or Day Two.” Asked if he was tempted to curse a dog, he admitted that he thought about it: “There were a couple barking at me.”

Dad Joke Headlines I Was Tempted to Use – 

  • Stop, Hamner Time
  • If I had a Hamner
  • Better to be a Hamner than a nail
  • It hit me like a Hamner
  • Please Hamner, don’t hurt ‘em

Runner-Up Notes – Runner up Adam Rasmussen might be an even lesser-known commodity than Hamner. The Wisconsinite won a 2023 Open at Wheeler Lake in Alabama last year to get here. I sought out Matt Jensen and Sam McSharry in the Rapala booth to learn more about him. “He’s one of the best multi-species anglers out there,” McSharry said. “He’s a walleye guide, runs a salmon charter and fell in love with the smallmouth fishing in Sturgeon Bay. Now he’s doing it here with the largemouths, too.” They said that he’s a quiet, humble family man, but there’s also “a little bit of John Daly about him” – so much so that his friends were prepared to delay their flights home for a couple of days if he won.

Twenty to the Third – Of the three Grand Lake Classic champs, Hamner had the “heaviest lightest” weight. Today he produced his smallest limit of 15-13, but it was still larger than the 11-8 that Cliff Pace caught on Day Three in 2013 or the 13-12 that Edwin Evers caught on Day One in 2016. Still, no one has hit 30 or topped 20 three times.

International Competitors – Two Japanese anglers competed today. Taku Ito finished 10th and Kyoya Fujita finished 11th. Of the three remaining Canadian pros, Cooper Gallant finished 12th and Cory and Chris Johnston finished 6th and 25th, respectively. 

Past Classic Champs – Jason Christie and Hank Cherry finished 17th and 8th, respectively.

Past AOYs – Brandon Palaniuk and Kyle Welcher finished 22nd and 18th, respectively.

Mega Special – Palaniuk relied heavily on a single Megabass Z2 shallow diving crankbait that he was convinced had a special something that made it better than similar baits. He said that he estimated that he hung it up and had to retrieve it a minimum of 40 to 50 times over the course of the week. Anglers talked about needing to fish slowly to get bites, but that takes a special kind of patience – and confidence in a particular lure.

Fan Dedication – “The fans are crazy here,” said Lee Livesay. “We had two older gentlemen in full body suits with binoculars following us around and it was blowing 30 miles per hour.”

Career Satisfaction – Shane LeHew: “This might be the most badass job on the planet.”

Cobb’s Baits – As he did in Knoxville, Brandon Cobb kept a Greenfish Tackle buzzbait with a Grey Ghost Horny Toad on his deck at all times. It produced two bass the first day and three today. That was his outlier pick. The more conventional option was a ¾ ounce single Colorado spinnerbait. “I’ve never really caught anything on it before, but I knew it worked here,” he said. Indeed, he either did his research or watched footage of Jason Christie in past Classics to get that tackle nugget.

Random Tulsa Area Notables Not Present at the Weigh-In – Leon Russell, Steve Largent, Roy D. Mercer.
So Long, Tulsa – Stay gold, Ponyboy.