ANDERSON, S.C. — As preliminary events get underway for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Hartwell to be held March 4-6, talk turns naturally to the 2015 championship here, which everyone remembers as the coldest Classic ever.
Temperatures began to plunge on the official practice day, Wednesday (Feb. 18, 2015), bottoming out at 10 degrees by Friday morning, with wind chill in the single digits. The water temperature dropped from 49 degrees in practice to 41 degrees two days later.
That Classic would have fit nicely into one of Johnny Carson’s old “How Cold Was It?” skits on The Tonight Show. Maybe it would have gone like this:
Carson: “It was brutally cold at the start of the Bassmaster Classic in South Carolina Friday.”
Ed McMahon: “How cold was it?”
Carson: “It was so cold boats were frozen to their trailers…. It was so cold anglers couldn’t open their rod lockers…. It was so cold they had to dip their rods into the water twice on each cast to thaw the ice on their line guides.”
The cold start to competition on that February morning was no laughing matter to the 55 anglers contending for the $300,000 first prize, though.
First, icy conditions at the Green Pond Landing launch site and roads leading to it prompted tournament officials to postpone the start of competition by more than an hour, to 8:30 a.m., and then it took seemingly forever to launch the anglers’ boats.
One of the first rigs to be backed down the ramp failed to launch because the hull was frozen firmly to the trailer bunks. Instead of the boat floating off the trailer, the trailer floated up with the boat. Efforts were made to pry boats off the trailers, but the only tactic that seemed to work was backing a rig quickly into the water and then braking hard.
“You could hear the ice cracking as the boats broke free,” recalled John Crews of Virginia, who will be fishing his third Hartwell Classic this year. “I was afraid it would take a chunk of fiberglass out of my hull. That happened to some of the anglers, I heard, but my Bass Cat was fine.”
One savvy competitor sprayed de-icer on his boat’s storage lockers that morning but neglected his livewells. When he caught his first keeper that morning, he discovered a thick layer of ice had formed inside the wells. To fill the compartments and thaw the pumps, he had to run the boat in reverse to force water up through the intakes.
“Cold weather doesn’t matter to the fish. They gotta eat.”
The freezing weather had a greater impact on the anglers than the bass, he pointed out.
“Half the field was already out of it when they saw how cold it was going to be,” said Powroznik, who runs a duck hunting operation back home and is accustomed to brutal winter weather.
“You’ve got to get that stuff out of your head.” Having the right clothing for Arctic blasts is essential, he added. Powroznik also packed a portable heater in his boat during competition, and he needed it.
The cold didn’t get into John Crews’ head, but it did affect his hands.
“My hands locked up,” related Crews. “I have great cold-weather gear, but my hands don’t function in that real cold weather.”
Crews suffers from Raynaud’s Syndrome, a medical condition brought on by cold weather that causes spasms in the blood vessels of his hands, decreasing blood flow to the fingers and turning them white, then blue. It can also affect a person’s ears, toes and nose.
He was able to handle a spinning rod well enough to catch a 4 1/2-pound bass on a Zoom Super Fluke right off the bat that first day, but couldn’t put enough of the right fish into the boat to finish higher than 33rd.
Powroznik welcomed the cold snap and thought he had the inside lane going into competition.
“I liked my chances — if they would have let us go,” he said. “That 2 1/2-hour delay killed me.” By the time he reached his key spot, the “herring bite” was all but over, and he could muster only four bass weighing 9-2 that day. On subsequent days, which weren’t delayed, he caught limits of approximately 15 and 19 pounds for a total exactly 7 pounds off the winning pace.
“In cold weather like that, a lot of people will struggle to catch the right ones, but six or eight of us might find big schools of fish,” Powroznik explained. Timing was key, however. Blueback herring congregated in drains where the water was slightly warmer, but as the sun rose and the water warmed, they moved out to deeper water, and bass went with them, he noted.
He’s not so optimistic this year, when long-range forecasts call for highs in the upper 60s and 70s.
“In those [warm] conditions, anybody can stumble onto the right bank or the right deal and actually win the Classic,” he said.
Like Powroznik, Matt Herren of Alabama thought he had a good shot at finally hoisting the heavy Classic trophy in 2015.
“I truly thought I had the opportunity to win that tournament,” Herren recalled. “The boat draw got me.” He had identified two spots loaded with good bass, but by the time it was his turn to launch and run to the areas, other pros were already camped on them.
He’s hoping the recent cold weather will set Hartwell up for another deep-water bite, which plays to his strengths.
“Who knows what’s going to happen,” Herren suggested. “They’ve had a lot of rain, and the forecast looking out the next 14 days is looking unusually cold.”
Cold conditions could position big spotted bass on deep points and humps, Herren said. “There are a lot of big, rogue spotted bass living in 30 to 50 feet of water on that lake. I think spotted bass will be a factor.”
He bases his predictions on information from a Facebook page by the group, Weather Nerds of Alabama, which shows South Carolina might be in the grips of unseasonably cold weather when Classic competition begins. Popular weather apps are predicting highs during Classic weekend in the high 60s and low 70s, however.
If he really wants it to be cold, Herren should ask B.A.S.S. officials to invite The Weather Channel meteorologist Reynolds Wolf to cover the ’22 Classic. Cold conditions seem to follow Wolf, who has reported live from two previous Classics — Hartwell in 2015 and Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma, in 2013 — and they were the two coldest Classics to date.
“I think it’s going to be seasonably normal weather,” Crews said. “I expect the fishing to be pretty decent, but it’s not likely the fish will be doing just one thing. You’re going to have to mix it up a bit, and I like that.
“Some of the guys want it to be either cold or hot so they know what the fish are doing. I like it when you have to adjust.” Perhaps the only thing Crews is confident in as he looks ahead to the competition is his new Missile Baits Ned Bomb color, “Sweet Carolina,” which his company will be introducing at the Classic Outdoors Expo. “It was made for Hartwell,” he said. “I think that’s going to be my limit-getter.”
While Herren, Crews and Powroznik all regret they didn’t do as well in the 2015 Classic as they expected to, each is proud to have participated in and survived the most brutally cold world championship in history.
“It was a neat deal,” Powroznik said. “I got to experience something we probably will never see again.”