Rammer jammer yellowhamner!

A young Justin Hamner weighing in his catch during his time as a Bassmaster Opens angler.

It was Sept. 22 of the most miserable year of most of our lives, 2020 … the COVID year. And yet somehow, B.A.S.S was getting all of its events in. With the Bassmaster Open heading to Lake Hartwell, there was no way I was missing this one. 

Pairings were announced electronically; there would be no social gathering. I drew a guy I had never heard of. I asked him what kind of a wrap I should look for at the dock. “No wrap,” he told me. How about the boat? “It’s an older model, not very fancy.” No problem, I’ll see you at Green Pond Landing in the morning.

The next morning, I climbed into the boat and introduced myself to 28-year-old Justin Hamner. No jersey, only a couple of graphs on the boat, and an awe shucks attitude. I asked him about the 205 area code. “Northport, Ala.” he said. “Roll Tide?” I asked. His face lit up for the first time, and he nodded, “Oh yeah, Roll Tide!”

He knew I was the host of Bassmaster Radio; after all, it was blasted all over my jacket. I went on to tell him I hosted on ESPN Radio out of the Alabama affiliate in Huntsville and used to host the Gameday Tailgate Show from the Quad, right near Denny Chimes on campus.

“Yeah,” he says. “I know it well.”

“Did you go there?”

“No, worked on the grounds crew.”

The rest of the day was spent talking about the Tide. We discussed how the season would begin in a few days against Missouri, and how it was going to be a strange 10-game schedule. Did we know Alabama would run the table and win another National Championship? No. Did we believe it could happen? Sure, if Mac Jones panned out.

As we got to our first spot, Hamner dropped the trolling motor and began looking at his electronics. I thought I was looking at one of my wife’s ultrasounds. 

“What’s going on up there? Is that that new scoping thing?”

“Yeah, come up and look at this … see the school of bait and the bass below it … watch this!”

Hamner fires a jerkbait into the abyss, begins working it and I see it on the screen. Then I see something shoot out of the school, and I say, “Something is after your bait!”

As I look up, he’s hooked up. I’m stunned at what has just happened. The rest of the day, I watched this story play out over and over again as Hamner builds a nice limit with nothing but a jerkbait and a $16 spinning rod from Walmart. The rod had a sawed-off butt, wrapped in electrical tape to protect his forearm from getting bruised.

Humble beginnings for a humble man who is not afraid to work for whatever he has. That’s when I knew this kid was special, and I told anyone who would listen that I just spent the day on the water with the best jerkbait fisherman I ever saw. I let them know Justin Hamner would be an Elite, and would be one soon.

Did I think he was 3 1/2 years away from winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic? Not quite. But that’s what he’s done.

He’s not cutting anyone else’s lawn anymore. Unless Nick Saban calls. Maybe …