Hoping this Hartwell Classic is different

I remember it well. It was February 2008 and I was at Lake Hartwell fishing my first Bassmaster Classic. I’d dreamed of competing in one since I was a little kid. Now my dream was coming true. But things were shaping up a little different than I expected.

To begin with, I was getting overwhelmed by all the excitement and media. It was like I was in a dream. Something was going on all the time, everywhere I turned. There was never a minute of downtime, no chance to collect my thoughts and relax. “Gosh” pretty much sums things up.

To make matters even tougher I’d never fished a lake like Hartwell before, or if I had I couldn’t remember it. This was my second year in the Elite Series. As best I can remember we’d fished a lot of grass type lakes those first two years. Hartwell was like a foreign country to me.

The water was deep, it was clear and it was cold. And, it seemed like every few feet there was a dock, a point, a cut, a drop, an underwater island, rock or sand. You could fish all day and never move more than a quarter of a mile.

I didn’t have the experience that I have now, seven years later. Catching fish in 18-30 feet of water in a lake like that was a mystery — a mystery I didn’t solve that year. In truth, I also struggled with the cold. It bothered me more than I was willing to admit at the time.

My lack of experience showed. I finished 49th with 6.1 pounds of bass in two full days of fishing. That wasn’t a part of the dream I’d had as a kid.      

My brother, Bobby, was there, too. That was another part of the dream and of the excitement. We’re a tight family. I was as excited about his success as I was about my own. This was his first Classic as well. He was catching them. I remember that while I was struggling to catch a limit he was up there near the top. He ultimately finished 4th.

Don’t get me wrong, though. There’s no complaint in what I say. I had a good time and it was a real learning experience. I wasn’t all that down after the Hartwell Classic. I still felt I could be competitive at this level. At the same time, though, I knew I had a lot of work to do.

I’m excited about another shot at this legendary lake. I’ve learned a lot in the past seven years. I respect lakes like Hartwell these days, but I don’t fear them like I did back in 2008. I can fish with a shaky head and a drop shot. That’ll help me a lot, I think. Let’s hope so anyway.

This past December made me feel better. I prefished down there. I was running along when I saw some bass on my Raymarine electronics. I stopped, made a handful of casts and boated more weight than I did during the whole Classic in 2008.

There’s no way to predict the future. I don’t know what’ll happen next month. I do know, however, that I’m a different angler today than I was back in 2008. I hope and pray that helps come the morning of Friday, Feb. 20.

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