It’s already started — folks talking about my hometown advantage for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell. There’s no question, I do have a lot of experience on that lake, but you know, it’s really not that straightforward.
It doesn't matter what you’re defending or what you’re expected to do, with a tournament of any kind, you expect to do good on a body of water that’s close to you because you’ve spent a lot of time on it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you expect to win every tournament at home, but you just have the opportunity to practice more.
Of course, that can go one of two ways: It can help you a lot, and it can hurt you just as much. You can get out there and get going on something and expect to win that way, but you don’t change up — that’s how you get beat. You have to go in open-minded.
That’s one of the drawbacks of local knowledge — trying to fish history. You learn to avoid that and to fish with more discipline on tour, but when you’re on your home waters, it is hard to shut off that mental stream.
What you have to do is realize what’s at stake and fish for now — this day, this moment, this time — not what happened 20 years ago. Fishing history for the sake of doing so can hurt guys, but, when you do figure something out, you automatically know 40 spots just like that to go check.
If you get bit on half of those spots, you don’t even have to fish the rest of them. You can just say, “I’m going to fish those in the tournament.” You can manage your practice time a lot more wisely than if you didn’t have all this knowledge. You’re already far ahead of the field.
That’s why I’ve been pre-practicing a lot on Hartwell — to visit as many areas as I can and check out their current condition. See our lakes in South Carolina aren’t like, say, the TVA lakes. In those lake, the fish are more spot-oriented; they’re going to be here and they’re going to be there. This creek is good, and if they’re in here, this spot is where they’re going to be.
Lake Hartwell is not that way because the lakes fluctuate so much. During the first Classic we had there, the lake was 17-feet down. In the next Classic it was about normal pool. Right now, it’s about 8- to 10-feet down.
It’s like that every year — it’s always changing and the water level dictates what areas fish use. They may use this creek when the water’s down 10 feet, but you may never catch them there again until the water is 10-feet-low again.
So, one of the advantages of living here is knowing how the fish react to these fluctuations. And this, of course, teaches you to be open minded. Just because you’ve never caught a fish over here in this pocket doesn’t mean you’re not going to catch them here today with the water being at a certain level.
That being said, pre-practicing three months in advance can be the hardest thing you could ever possibly do. Any fisherman wants to catch fish, but practicing for March in December is tough because you can’t fish out there where those fish are because that’s not where they’re going to be.
Having the discipline to make yourself fish like it’s springtime and adjust based on the current water level. I’m kind of relearning the lake and trying to find stuff that the fish should be on in March.
I’ll go down through an area with my Lowrance electronics and mark a brush pile or mark a stump row, a rock vein a culvert or a little turn that doesn’t appear on the map. That way, when I come back and I do figure out something, I’ve already found tons of places that I can go check. I won’t have to ride around and go find them during the official practice.
I’ll be honest with you, what I’m doing right now is pretty boring. I’d like to catch a fish, but I’m really not expecting to catch a lot. If you’re going to pre-practice this far in advance, that’s what it takes.