Nation: Giddens leads on Hartwell


Marty Gibbons (1st, 17-9)

ANDERSON, S.C. — Marty Giddens was so frustrated with his bad luck after practice fishing on Lake Hartwell that he was almost ready to throw in the towel.
“I would have gone home if I could have found a way,” he said. “I tried everything, but nothing worked.”
Of course, that was a lighthearted comment. The Wiregrass Bassmasters member is a finalist in the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors.
He leads the tournament after the first day of competition with a five-bass limit that weighed 17 pounds, 9 ounces. The catch included the heaviest bass of the day, a 5-1 largemouth.
Giddens was understandably secretive about details of his lures and tactics. Where he lives in central Alabama offers a clue about why he leads the tournament.
The plumbing and home contractor is from Eclectic, a small town located near Lake Martin. That fishery and Lake Hartwell are similar in many ways. 
“It looks and fishes a lot like Hartwell,” he admitted. “I’m trying to make some things that work there do well here.”
Both lakes feature a mixed population of spotted and largemouth bass. Annual flood-control procedures lower both lakes during fall and winter. Spotted bass gang up on shoals and points during fall to feed on schools of baitfish. All those scenarios line up with his skill set.
Giddens only caught seven bass worth bringing to the scales during four days of practice. That dry streak explains his frustration. Today, he enjoyed a flurry of action after catching his three best bass within an hour.
“I kept going back to the same pattern and never gave up,” he explained. “I pulled up on the right spot, and my guess is the fish moved up into shallower water.”
Can he duplicate the effort tomorrow?
“It should work because today it was just a totally different lake than it was in practice,” he said.
Taking second place with 14-3 was Tray Huddleston, a 32-year-old construction worker from Arkansas. He experienced the same bad luck as Giddens during practice, but a key midday adjustment turned things around for him Thursday.
“I was able to quickly capitalize on how I changed by running a lot of water,” said Huddleston, a member of the Natural State Bass Club.
A topwater lure proved key for Huddleston, who hopes to expand on his turnaround Friday. Running more water is the plan.
Oklahoman Matt Pangrac caught 13-6 to take third place. He succeeded at his goal of catching just enough bass to stay in contention for all three days of the tournament.
“I’m running a lot of water, burned a full tank of fuel running from one end to the other of the lake,” said Pangrac, a member of the North Oklahoma City Bassmasters.
“After practice, I decided it would take 12 pounds each day to make the Top 3, and that is my goal.”
Pangrac, fishing his second consecutive Nation Championship, knows well what is on the line at this tournament.
Winning the championship is only one goal. The Top 3 anglers advance to the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Coincidentally, the world championship of bass fishing is also on Lake Hartwell, March 16-18, 2018.
After the first day, the Classic qualifiers would be Giddens, Huddleston and Pangrac.
Lake Hartwell is a lowland reservoir on the border of Georgia and South Carolina. At full pool, the manmade lake spans 56,000 acres with inflows from the Savannah, Tugaloo and Seneca rivers.
Unseasonably warm weather slowed the typical fall migration of the bass from the main lake into the shallower creek arms of the lake. Normally, bass concentrate in schools and feed on baitfish prior to winter. Those factors make bass easier to find and catch. But the balmy fall has made things tougher.
A plumber, U.S. Marine, farmer and nurse anesthetist represent a snapshot of what the contestants do for a living outside of bass fishing. The anglers belong to bass clubs affiliated with the B.A.S.S. Nation. The global program encompasses the United States and nine foreign nations.
Joining anglers from 47 states are those from five continents. Mexico, Japan, Australia, Portugal, Italy, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the province of Ontario and the Republic of South Africa are the foreign nations represented in the championship.
Boater and nonboater anglers from each state or nation qualified for the championship. So did Jeff Thompson, the national champion of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Tour.
On the nonboater side, Mike Powell of Utah took the lead with 14 pounds, 6 ounces.
“Being able to fish deeper water helped me improve on my pattern,” he said. Powell was paired with boater Larry Triplett of Colorado who is currently in 26th.
Green Pond Landing and Event Center is the venue for the morning launch and afternoon weigh-in events. The tournament begins at 7:30 a.m. ET with weigh-ins beginning at 3:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.