When I think of Kevin VanDam, the image that immediately comes to mind is his calves, all sinewy fast-twitch muscle. He makes more and longer casts than just about anyone else on tour, so you might think the power comes from his arms, but it doesn’t. Like a great power pitcher, both longevity and explosive strength reside in his legs.
When I think of Mike Iaconelli, the image that strikes me first is of his arm bent at the elbow into a right angle, hand balled up into a fist, the clench of a coiled snake ready to strike or devouring its prey. Most recently we saw this view at the Delaware River, as he cocked his arm for a fist bump after a 3-pounder on Day 4, and then again on the weigh-in stage, pumping his arm and playing to his fans.
But when I imagine Greg Hackney on the water, arms and legs don’t enter the equation. The eyes have it.
Watch him sometime and you’ll surely see it, too. Hackney’s most enduring features, particularly when times are good, are his eyes. I’m sure when times are bad, his gaze could melt glaciers, but when he’s catching fish and kicking butt, they are blindingly piercing.
Think back to his Elite Series win on Rayburn in 2006, or even further back to 2004, when he famously said, “Godzilla ain’t got nothin’ on me!” If you picture the scene in your mind’s eye, you’ll see his peepers just about bulging out of his head. It’s like he’s in a fugue state, outside of himself, and the eyes even seem to operate independently of one another. It gives him the appearance of being out of control, but if you know anything about the methodical way that he fishes, it’s evident that control is one of his hallmarks.
Before I go any further, I need to apologize to Hackney for something he’s not even aware of: On multiple occasions I have written that Edwin Evers and Todd Faircloth are “the best two anglers never to have won the Bassmaster Classic or the AOY title.” Not sure why Hack slipped my mind, but he did – and an examination of the record shows that he clearly deserved to be lumped in with those two other great anglers.
I can’t really explain why I didn’t group him with those other two stars. After all, his achievements as a professional bass angler are substantial. Heading into this year, he had three B.A.S.S. wins – the 2002 Central Open on Lake Ouachita, the 2005 Tour event on Table Rock, and the 2006 Elite Series event on Sam Rayburn. He also had two FLW tour-level wins – the 2008 FLW Series Fish-Off on Falcon and the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup on Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers. This year he added an FLW Tour win on Pickwick and, of course, the recent Elite Series win on Cayuga. Seven victories on seven distinct bodies of water. He’s won in a slugfest (Falcon) and in a low-weight event (Pittsburgh). He’s won north, south and in the middle, on rivers, highland reservoirs and lowland impoundments. What can’t he do?
In winning the Forrest Wood Cup, he beat an incredibly stout field, but the only remaining holes in his resume are his failure to win either of the major B.A.S.S. titles. If anything, I think that Hackney’s otherwise superlative record has been hurt by the fact that he’s been willing to take so many risks and fail gloriously on the biggest stage. He’s fished four Classics in Louisiana – two each on the Louisiana Delta and the Red River – and each time he’s rightfully been hailed as a pre-tournament favorite, but he hasn’t finished better than 20th in any of them.
Therein lies the rub. I kind of forget about Hackney because he’s not flashy (nor are Evers or Faircloth, for that matter), but every time I expect him to win on the biggest stage, for some reason he fails to do so. On the flipside, just when I start to think that he can’t get the job done, he crushes the field en route to another win. I’ll admit that it’s patently unfair, because he’s won so many times and in so many different ways, but until the AOY and/or Classic trophies are on the mantle, we’re all going to have that slightest sliver of doubt – not whether he’s a star, because he’s clearly already established that, but rather whether he’s a top-five-in-the-world kind of guy.
With one event left to go, Hackney is 15 points up on Aaron Martens and 17 up on Todd Faircloth. Obviously, anything can happen when you haven’t clinched something headed into the final event, as Edwin Evers learned all too vividly last year, but the title is Hack’s to take. My initial inclination would be to assume that because Escanaba isn’t a shallow water river or a deep grass lake, he’s not going to excel, but the evidence indicates otherwise. In Elite Series competition, he’s finished 5th and 12th on Erie, 19th on St. Clair, 25th in Green Bay, and 21st and 54th on Champlain. It appears that this product of Arkansas and Louisiana is a stick on big northern waters as well as the little ones like Cayuga. If he holds on to claim the AOY title, it will amount to a vanquishing of one of the few remaining impediments to him being considered among the sport’s pantheon of greats. Right now Hackney is staring Godzilla in the face, and it’s safe to say that his eyes are laser-focused on the next major hurdle. Chances like this don’t come around every year, even for the great ones, so he’d better not blink.