I feel like that quintessential author who starts a page, crumbles it up, throws it over his shoulder, sharpens his pencil and then, with tongue out, starts over on a new page. I have written and rewritten the first opening paragraph at least half a dozen times, but I haven’t found a way to articulate how absolutely-freaking-excited I am for the next event; so much so that I’m typing the word “freaking” unapologetically in a published article. Sorry, not sorry, señor editor Kyle!
The Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk is more than just a tournament. It’s more than just a championship. It’s more than just a big payday. For these 55 anglers, there is no single point in a fishing career that has a bigger potential to change their life than this one annual event. And there are no guarantees that you will ever have another shot at it. Winning the Classic doesn’t just keep you going for the next few seasons, but more like the next decade or two of fishing. It has the potential to see you through as far as you want to take it.
The weightiness of all of that will not be lost on this group of elite hammers. Every one of them deserve to be there, and they all have the skills and potential to win.
Between the time of year, weather, the festivities of the Classic and Lake Hartwell itself, there will be plenty of distractions trying to knock these gladiators off their pedestals.
There are primarily two factors that should be at the top of your criteria for picking a team.
- First, there are some anglers that aren’t just hungry for a Classic win, but are quite literally starving for one. Every year, you see several names that tend to find their way to a Top 10. Find the last 10 years of Classic results and see which names find their way in the most. These are typically seasoned anglers who won’t let the glitz and glamour distract them from the task at hand.
- Second, there are several techniques that are sure to be a factor. Hone in on anglers who are proficient with crankbaits, jigs and spinnerbaits. Also, lean towards those who aren’t afraid to keep the dock bite honest. Hartwell bass will almost be in full prespawn mode with a few moving up to spawn.
Let’s dive into some picks.
BUCKET A: COBB
Brandon Cobb. Need I say more? Lest you don’t take my word for it, here is my reasoning. He has dubbed Lake Hartwell his favorite fishery. In four attempts in his professional career, he has two finishes in large-field events in the 30s or better plus a 10th and one victory in a 2019 Elite event. He tends to hammer down in the spawn but doesn’t have to be looking at them to catch them.
Another great pick: Jason Christie
Jason Christie is quickly racking up bridesmaid finishes (or at least close to it). He has three single digit finishes in his seven Classic appearances, one being a third-place finish on Hartwell. He is one word – hungry. Expect him to target the heavy prespawn fish. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to put his strengths to use.
BUCKET B: LESTER
If momentum is going to play at all, how can you ignore Brandon Lester? He kicked his season off with an Opens victory and backed it up with a few more stellar Florida finishes – a 28th and fifth in the first two elite events. He is also one of those anglers that absolutely lives for the Classic and typically shows up strong. Last year’s Ray Roberts Classic was his worst finish, but that one didn’t quite suit his style. He has a 19th and 27th in past Classics on Hartwell, but he also has sixth-place and seventh-place finishes in other Classics. I’m going to take his momentum and combine it with his ability to navigate the Classic. Feels right in my gut.
Another great pick: Stetson Blaylock
Some anglers are just built for certain times of the year. I’m not saying that Stetson Blaylock can’t catch them other times, but it seems like his strongest finishes always happen during the first half of the season. If a red crankbait shows up, you better watch out.
BUCKET C: MARTIN
The one and only Scott Martin has some unfinished business. He is hunting an Elite trophy and a Classic win to finish what his dad, Roland Martin, started. Scott does not have wildly impressive finishes on Hartwell, although he has been there quite a bit when he fished the FLW tour. His strongest finish was 18th in 2016. However, if you consider he had abysmal results on Harris Chain in the past but still made a run for the title this time around, that tells me that you can’t discount him on account of history. He likes deep, clear, rocky lakes like this one. He won on Cumberland as an FLW angler, which is not all that different from Hartwell. Add on his eagerness to win a Classic and you have a dangerous dude.
Another great pick: Matt Herren
You won’t see Matt Herren swooning over the big lights and big stage. His big dream is to win this derby, and fishing docks, one of the techniques he loves, may just be the ticket. He certainly isn’t afraid to get off the bank and fish for them as they are moving in though. His last Classic on Hartwell wasn’t a great event for him, but it was also the coldest Classic in Bassmaster history.
BUCKET D: MULLINS
Red crankbaits will certainly be on the deck for David Mullins. You probably won’t see him fishing docks or backs of pockets unless he can crank ‘em up. He may also burn more gas than anyone else in the field looking for five bites. His demeanor may be cool, calm and collected, but he wants this title. He has back-to-back championship Sundays in the first two 2020 Elite events. That kind of momentum is necessary to make a deep Classic run.
Another great pick: Bryan New
Bryan New is a special breed of angler. The guy just knows how to win. He has several wins in the Bassmaster Opens as a co-angler. He won his first event in the Opens as a boater and then again as an Elite, both in Florida. His first Classic appearance was kind of a bust, but the media attention, off-water events and everything else that comes with the Classic are enough to spin anyone out. He’ll be ready for it this time.
BUCKET E: RIVET
If you’re targeting your first Classic victory, the smart money says to become travel partners with the two-time, back-to-back Classic champion Hank Cherry. That is just what Tyler Rivet did, albeit, it was likely much more simpatico. Rivet may be a Louisiana angler, but this Cajun may just surprise you. In 2019, he finished 18th on Hartwell. If he can shake the Classic jitters, the next piece of advice from Cherry could be how to manage being the king of bass fishing.
Another great pick: KJ Queen
If you want a relatively local guy, pick KJ Queen. He lives just a few hours from Hartwell and put in some hours in pre-practice for this one. He may not call himself a river rat, but his resumé would say otherwise. Most of his best finishes have been fishing shallow water. You may see him run as far up the river as possible to find his fish, and being far away from competitors and spectators is an important piece of the strategy when fishing the Classic.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
I’ve had a great start in Drain the Lake, and I’m hoping to keep that gravy train rolling here. I can’t let up for one second or Hellabass may be ripping on me in his next YouTube video.
Here is the team that hopefully keeps me at the top:
- Stetson Blaylock
- Hank Cherry
- Jason Christie
- Ray Hanselman
- Matt Herren
- Brandon Lester
- Scott Martin
- David Mullins