Back issues again put Hartman out on medical hardship

With his back problems back, Jamie Hartman is back on the DL.

The 51-year-old originally from Newport, N.Y., was granted a medical hardship for the 2024 Elite season after his sciatica returned. Hartman, who is under doctor’s care, said he didn’t feel he could continue, but he hopes to be back in 2025.

“I will be out for the rest of this season,” he said. “It’s the back deal again. It’s been going on for the last three tournaments. The last one was really bad at Murray — I almost did not make it through.”

Hartman is undergoing physical therapy and is working to line up steroid shots. He had hoped to heal during the month off between the May 9-12 Lake Murray event and this week’s tournament on Wheeler Lake.

“It’s getting a little better than it was — I can walk around,” he said. “I’ve still got that sensitive twinge inside my leg every step. If I competitive fish, I just feel it’s just going to reverse and then I’d be in big trouble.”

Applying for a medical hardship at this point in the season was his smartest move, Hartman said. He stands 63rd in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and risked falling out of Elite requalification.

“I’m guaranteed to come back next year. If I drop 11 points to 70th, I’m not guaranteed to come back next year. At this point, I can’t take the chance. So to give me another shot at it, to come back next year, I have to do this now.”

It’s the second hardship Hartman has taken. He missed the final four events in his sophomore season of 2018 with debilitating pain from a herniated disc.

In 2017, Hartman famously put all his belongings in storage to take on the Elites. He vied for titles in two of his first three events and went on to finish the season 13th in AOY, two points from taking Bassmaster Rookie of the Year.

In the first five events of 2018, Hartman made three Top 50 cuts, including an eighth at Lake Travis, when his back issues arose, forcing him to apply for a medical hardship. Exercise and dietary changes helped him return in 2019, when he won Elite tournaments on Lake Guntersville and Cayuga Lake.

In 2020, Hartman finished 24th in AOY to qualify for his third Classic. He’s since finished outside Classic contention in the AOY standings at 72nd in 2021, 50th in 2022 and 65th last season.

This season, Hartman started well with a 39th at Toledo Bend then narrowly missed the Top 50 cut at Lake Fork. His back began flaring up during his 78th-place finish at the Harris Chain, but he worked through it to make the cut at the St. Johns River.

“I had this crazy knot in my back inside my shoulder blade down in Florida,” he said. “It was knotted so bad it was sticking up through my shirt.”

Hartman went to Murray to give it a shot.

“Even in practice, it was bad,” he said. “I took it really easy. I stayed close, a couple miles from the ramp, and tried to get through it. I was hoping this last month off I would get care and rest, and it’s not happening.”

Hartman alerted tournament director Lisa Talmadge about his condition, and even asked what’s the earliest the scales could open if he had to come in early.

“I was really pushing it,” Hartman said. “She said just give her a 45-minute heads up. ‘You can call at 9 and I’ll open the scales for you.’ I took it easy. Fished easy and sat on that chair. I ending up catching a decent limit and moved up a little bit (62nd). It got really bad right after that.”

Physical therapy has eased his condition but insurance issues have delayed receiving steroids. He has an orientation with the doctor set for the first day of the Wheeler tournament.

The 2024 Elite Series began with 103 competitors but is now at 100. Along with Hartman, Clent Davis took a medical hardship for shoulder surgery and Derek Hudnall announced his retirement last week.