Classic anglers dealing with ‘confused’ bass

GREENVILLE, S.C. — There are a couple of reasons why Tennessee pro Ott DeFoe didn’t pre-fish for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

For one thing, he knows himself too well.

When he visits a lake, he knows he doesn’t have the willpower to just ride around and look. He wants to fish — and he didn’t want to risk finding something good and messing it up months before the tournament started.

More than that, he knew big changes were in store for the lake.

“I knew Lake Hartwell was going to look a lot different by this week than it did back in the fall and the winter,” DeFoe said. “I just didn’t see any point in pre-practicing.”

The annual Super Bowl of Bass Fishing is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with takeoffs at 7:30 a.m. ET each day from Green Pond Landing and Event Center in Anderson, S.C., and daily weigh-ins scheduled for 3:15 p.m. at the Bon Secours Wellness Center in downtown Greenville. A first-place prize of $300,000 is at stake.

As DeFoe expected, the 56,000-acre face of Lake Hartwell has changed drastically since the fall. After dropping to almost 10 feet below full pool, the lake is nearly full now — and anglers who fished it during the lower pool say it’s a completely different animal today than it was then.

“It was 7 feet low in October when we were here for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship,” said Luke Gritter, a Michigan angler who made the Classic by finishing second in the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors. “It’s a different lake now. The fish were on a herring bite then and schooling, and it’s too cold for that now.”

Caleb Sumrall, the Louisiana angler who edged Gritter for the B.A.S.S. Nation title on Hartwell in October, agreed.

“Right now, you’ve got a little bit of everything going on,” Sumrall said. “You can’t find a real pattern. The fish aren’t bunched up. It’s just one here and there.”

The lake went off-limits to competitors on Jan. 1 and only became available again last week, March 9-12. The anglers will get another official practice day Wednesday.

DeFoe said it’s hard to know what the fish will be doing when the fish don’t even seem to know themselves.

“The fish, in my opinion, are confused,” he said. “It got so warm, so quick — and it wasn’t like it was for just a day. They had a week of extremely warm weather here.

“Guys at home fishing Douglas and Cherokee were fishing 60-degree water, which shouldn’t ever happen in February. I’m sure it got that way here, too.”

DeFoe says that likely moved some fish into some shallower prespawn and spawning areas. But another blast of cold weather changed all of that.

“All of a sudden, now the bottom has fallen back out of it, and it’s more like it should be for this time of year,” he said. “But I think the fish, when it was warm, they just got so far along that it’s kind of made them act weird.

“They’re not where they should be.”

That strange setup, DeFoe said, may favor local anglers who know the lake well and understand how fish behave here during seasonal oddities.

“The guy who has lived here and knows all of the quirks of it could definitely have an advantage,” he said. “You want to say it’s anybody’s tournament. But really, when a place is not fishing good, that’s when you’ve got a local advantage.”

Several anglers in the 52-man field have won major events on Lake Hartwell in the past, including Donalds, S.C., pro Casey Ashley, who won the 2015 Classic on Hartwell and Lorena, Texas, angler Alton Jones, who won the 2008 Classic on the lake.

Ashley has also won an FLW Tour event on Hartwell — as have California pro Brent Ehrler and Florida pro John Cox.

For more information and a full list of events taking place at the Classic, visit