Forward-facing sonar and Classic hardships

It’s been a few weeks since the 2024 Bassmaster Classic at Tulsa, and as I reflect upon it, two things come to mind – the role of forward-facing sonar (FFS) and the remarkable life story of Justin Hamner’s journey prior to becoming our new champion.

It was a great Classic, but honestly, I can’t think of one that wasn’t great. They’re all great in a special way.

Surprisingly, the hotly debated FFS was minimized somewhat at Grand Lake as several anglers known for their skills with the new technology either didn’t do well or limited its use.

That’s pretty amazing when you consider the equipment dominated the first two Elite tournaments. It was equally amazing when we saw Taku Ito fishing the bank and Kyoya Fujita throwing a spinnerbait instead of a finesse lure.

Granted, the fish were moving shallow and that somewhat diminished the offshore deep bite. Also, anglers said there were so many different species suspended and around cover that it was difficult to distinguish the bass.

Hamner fished shallow, and he used his FFS effectively. He would fish around those schools over shallow brushpiles and make multiple casts to get one to react and indicate it was a bass. That was a brilliant strategy.

Win aside, I was most impressed with his road to becoming a pro angler. He didn’t fish on daddy’s money or have a highly profitable business. He didn’t come up through the college ranks; he did it the blue collar way.

I knew him but not as well as I thought. When I heard him say “Roll Tide” and knew he was a big Alabama fan, I assumed he came from the university fishing team and learned his skills through the college program.

I soon learned that he actually mowed lawns at Alabama and struggled to make ends meet while trying to pursue his lifelong dream of fishing in a Classic.

He told the story of fishing an Open tournament and having his wife and child with him. When he didn’t make a check, he had very little money to get home on.

“I had just enough to put gas in the vehicle and had to dig change out of my vehicle seat to buy a hamburger for us to share,” he said.

He’s not the first to make sacrifices to get to the top. More often than not, that is the case of most of those who hoist that big trophy overhead.

Four-time Classic champ Rick Clunn, who will fish his 500th B.A.S.S. event this season, had similar financial difficulties when he began. In fact, he had to sell his deer rifle to have enough money to drive to his first Classic!

Hamner’s rise to success is attributable to his determination and strong family backing. The emotion he showed on the weigh-in stage and in press interviews with his family around him were proof of that.

I loved seeing him hoist that trophy over his head and share his fulfilled dream with anglers who hope to follow in his footsteps. I’m so proud to see him come from nothing to win, and I loved how he appreciated the moment.

He’ll be a great champion and will represent our sport well.