As you read this, the contenders in this year’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods will be busy scouring Lake Hartwell. They have hopes of finding the right fish to take the sport’s most prestigious title. Among them are rookies, aspiring pros and seasoned veterans — all anxious about their chances.
To find the right fish, each must go through a meticulous process of eliminating bad water from good. And they’ll have to do so in a very limited amount of time.
Some will start with their strengths, using past experience. Others will rely on information gathered from scouting the lake prior to cut-off. Still others may resort to public forums, fishing reports, etc., to develop their strategies. Whatever their approach, they’ll be giving it everything they have in the most important tournament of the year.
Learning the lake
Boasting some 962 miles of shoreline, Hartwell is big. So the competitors shouldn’t have a problem finding water to themselves.
The lake is fed by inflow from the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers, which join to form the Savanah. Dammed in 1959, Hartwell reached full pool by 1963. Its average depth is 45 feet, which means the competitors will also have a serious water column to consider.
As a recreational lake, Hartwell sees a lot of boat traffic. Much of its shoreline is developed with docks, seawalls and boat ramps — all great manmade structures capable of holding quality fish. There are also plenty of laydowns, stumpfields and rocky shorelines to explore. But perhaps the biggest factor in this event will be the lake’s abundant brushpiles. Hartwell is full of them. And if a competitor discovers those holding the right grade of fish, he could easily be on the fast track to winning the event.
But not so fast!
Remember, this lake is big. So, what might seem like the winning pattern in one part of the lake, may not compete with a different pattern in another. Anglers will be forced to cover water quickly and efficiently, as that will be paramount in developing the true winning game plan
Like other early-season Classics, the outcome may be decided by inclement weather. This winter has been brutal on the Southeast, and any late-arriving cold fronts could force the fish deeper. If that happens, watch for the structure and finesse fishermen to excel. If, on the other hand, we see a warming trend, then you can count on bank-beaters to do well.
There’s also spectator traffic to consider. This year’s event will attract B.A.S.S. fans from across the country — many of whom will bring their boats for a close-up view of the pros in action. Some will even fish. So those pros who manage the added boat traffic, while exploiting their best spots, are likely to stay ahead of the pack.
Then there’s equipment issues to consider. God forbid, any of the contenders experience a mechanical failure. Buy it can and will likely happen … though that played into Jordan Lee’s hands during last year’s event in Houston. Had he not experienced an engine problem, he most likely would have left the winning area.