Fantasy Fishing: Anybody’s game at Hartwell

To be perfectly honest, I find this year’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods to be a very challenging tournament to navigate. For Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players, there are some household names that are absolutely worth selecting, but also consider some lesser-known anglers who will certainly do well.

The fact remains: Somebody is going to win, and somebody is going to lose. I’m hoping to place five anglers in the top 20, or better. And I think I’ve got the winning combination.

When comparing timeframe at this year’s Classic to the previous two Classics held on Hartwell (2008 and 2015), and considering the varying phases of the prespawn the bass are likely to be in, selecting a clear favorite to win, or do well, is proving to be a difficult task.

In looking at the entire Classic roster, I would not be surprised at any one of the top 30 to 35 anglers winning the whole thing. So many variables and likely patterns must be considered, and those facts alone make it anyone’s game.

Mark my words: This will be one of the most competitive Classics in history.

My goal is to select anglers who carry both likely chances at doing well and winning based on experience with Hartwell and the Classic arena. I’ll also offer a few secondary anglers selections that bring more to the table than what might be considered when looking at the stacked field of household names.

Let’s get to it.


A-A-Ron is an absolute steal at 7.5-percent ownership. In fact, I’m actually shocked he’s not dominating this bucket more than he is. But, with the other names in the mix, maybe it’s not that much of a surprise. This event totally sets up to play to Martens’ strengths. And let’s be honest the man is due for a Classic title. I believe this tournament could be where he etches his name into the bass-fishing history books. I really do believe it.

Darkhorse: It’s easy to pick Brent Ehrler, Jason Christie, Mike Iaconelli and Casey Ashley, but Bobby Lane is going to be a factor in this event. He’s already won an Open this year in his home state of Florida, and he has two Top 10s at the previous Hartwell Classics. Plus, like Martens, he’s due for a world championship. I’d be confident in picking both men.


This man has done it all, except win the Classic. He’s one of the best bass fishermen on the planet, and he’s typically a contender in every event he fishes. Plus he wants it badly. With rising water levels and increasing temps, you can bet that flipping jigs or pulling crankbaits will play, both of which are right in Hackney’s wheelhouse.

Darkhorse: Two names here stand out above the rest to me, and they’ve been totally overlooked by my Pundit compadres. Gerald Swindle is going to crack the big one. I know it. And with rising water levels, and a Lake Hartwell later in March sets up well for the Alabama veteran. This could be G’s year. But if you want a highly undervalued angler who will handle the pressure of the big lights, Seth Feider will show up and handle the clear-water spots as well. The ONLY reason I’m picking Hackney over Feider is the number of times at the Big Dance. Feider will be a factor, count on it.


I’ve picked James Elam a handful of times and it’s paid off for me. Am I picking out of loyalty? Or consistency at the scales? Elam rarely bombs, and as the young angler has proven, he can hang with the big dogs. He finished fourth last year at Conroe, where one more big fish might have had him hoisting the trophy over Jordan Lee.

Darkhorse: Can’t overlook Randy Howell or Todd Faircloth in Bucket C. Faircloth is another angler who just has it coming. The only reason I’d go with Faircloth over Howell is we all know the Texas pro will win the Classic at some point in his career, and I think he’s over due.


He’s quiet, consistent and an absolute stud when it comes to clear-water finicky bass. Being one of the nicest guys on tour doesn’t win tournaments for you, but one’s prowess on the water does. And Pirch is a predator. He’s competed in four Classics, and finished 13th the last time we visited Lake Hartwell. Plus, he’s a total bargain at only 2.6-percent ownership.

Darkhorse: I’d make a secondary selection based on ownership in this bucket. There are a lot of real hammers to choose from, but my gut tells me it could be the kind of tournament where Brandon Lester makes a lot of waves. He finished 19th at the previous Hartwell Classic. These two cats will be a factor this year, mark my words. If neither Pirch or Lester suit you, Josh Bertrand and Mark Daniels Jr. would be safe bets as well.


I’m going with one of the obvious selections here. Jamie Hartman has proven many times over he belongs at this level. I think the Classic will wow him, but probably not affect his decision making on the water. I know he’ll finish higher than where he’s positioned now in Bucket E. He’s a safe bet.

Darkhorse: Rick Morris has been here many times before, and he knows the pressure that comes with fishing in the Classic. I think he’s the kind of angler who will surprise people with his return to the Elite Series.