Top-level B.A.S.S. competition returns to Lake Hartwell for the first time since the 2018 Bassmaster Classic, and while Jordan Lee won’t be there for a delayed defense of his crown, there are plenty of anglers who will be happy to step into that void.
Indeed, while some of the pros who competed in the 2018, 2015 and even the 2008 Classics on the big Palmetto State reservoir will return, there are lots of new faces, too. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been there before. The local Chambers of Commerce have been aggressive in attracting a wide range of tournaments to their backyard, and the consistently good results mean that few if any pros complain about going there.
It’s a lake with a range of water colors, both largemouths and spots, and a wide variety of cover including docks and shoreline grass. The X-Factor, of course, is the blueback herring, who may not play a huge role as the fish are focused on moving up to spawn, but even then they invariably manage to throw a wrench into the works.
When making your picks look for anglers who’ve fished here – or on similar waters – in the past, and have managed to establish some level of consistency.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: COBB
My Pick: Brandon Cobb lives less than 50 miles away in Greenwood, and while the 29 year-old may look even younger, he has a wealth of experience on blueback lakes in general and Hartwell in particular. He’s fished a couple of FLW Tour events on Hartwell, finishing 27th in 2016 and 36th in 2014. His performance so far in his rookie Elite Series campaign has been solid, with 20th and 14th place finishes landing him in seventh place in the AOY race as the tour hits his home state.
My Backup: Another semi-local is Georgia pro Micah Frazier, who is just a year or so older than Cobb, but likewise has a lot of experience on Hartwell. In addition to finishing 14th in the 2018 Classic, he finished second in a 2012 FLW Tour event here. He hasn’t started off quite as well as Cobb, but he’s 15th in the AOY race, which puts him in line for another championship bid next March. And it’s killing me not to pick Clifford Pirch, who finished 13th in two Classic attempts here, and did almost as well with FLW in 2012 (19th).
BUCKET B: AREY
My Pick: For me this one was a toss-up, with Matt Arey’s ability to close the deal (three FLW Tour wins, two as a pro) putting him over the top. On top of that, his FLW record at Hartwell is solid, with 11th-, 23rd- and 35th-place finishes. He stumbled a little on the spotted bass at Lanier, but is still in solid position to qualify for his first Classic after 11 Forrest Wood Cups (eight from the front of the boat).
My Backup: Todd Auten has tons of experience here, including several top FLW finishes, and when last we saw him he was notching a fifth-place tally at Lanier. You can’t go wrong with Stetson Blaylock, either, who has four money finishes here with FLW, including a ninth-place result in 2011.
BUCKET C: CHERRY
My Pick: This is a gut-level deal, and while Hank Cherry’s lone B.A.S.S. event on Hartwell, the 2018 Classic, produced only a 33rd place finish, this is a time of year and a place where he should shine. Put a jerkbait rod in his hand, let him cover water, and he could easily break through with his first Top 12 since Sam Rayburn in 2017.
My Backup: For the same reasons, look for Kelley Jaye to do well. He’s never fished a B.A.S.S. event on Hartwell, but has some experience through FLW. After a Sunday performance at the St. Johns, he slipped a little at Lanier. The spots owe him one, and he might let them ride around with a kicker largemouth or two.
BUCKET D: GUSTAFSON
My Pick: Jeff Gustafson’s two mediocre finishes to start his Bassmaster career do not accurately demonstrate what he’s capable of achieving – he’s going to break out sooner or later, and I’m betting on the former. The fact that he finished fourth here in an FLW Tour event in 2016 just seals that deal. It wasn’t as kind to him in 2014 (148th), but I’m betting that was the exception and the later tournament was more illustrative of what he’ll do this time around.
My Backup: Jason Williamson may be a home state angler, but he doesn’t really live close to Hartwell. In his one Classic here, he finished essentially in the middle of the pack. Nevertheless, he’s a proven closer with something to prove. If he’s going to get his season back on track, these next two would be a good opportunity to show what he’s made of while some of the less experienced anglers still work to get their footing.
BUCKET E: JOCUMSEN
My Pick: Carl Jocumsen is an enigma of an angler one who came to the bass game relatively late, but has managed to show intense flashes of brilliance. He’s notched top twelves at diverse fisheries including Table Rock, Champlain, the James River, Guntersville and Amistad, but also struggles with some occasional stinkers. While he hasn’t fished a B.A.S.S. event on Hartwell before, the fishing nomad is well-equipped to consider the moment and make the most of it.
My Backup: Jamie Hartman shot out of the Elite gate like a cannon in 2017, then struggled through injuries and some less-than-stellar finishes thereafter. Admittedly, it was a tough opening act to follow, and he had some good performances last year, including an eighth-place finish at Lake Travis, but now it’s time to get back to the Classic. His last (and only) one was at Hartwell in 2018, where he finished 30th.