Greg Hackney: the mental game

Toyota pro Greg Hackney has been making waves on the Bassmaster tour since his arrival in 2002, his first full season in the Central Opens. In that first full season, Greg qualified for the Classic, where he finished 31st. Since then, he's never looked back, and his "go for the win" style and near-heroic come-from-behind finishes have lent themselves to the ongoing legend of "The Hack Attack."

By the mid-point in the Bassmaster Elite Series season, Hackney's ever-strong mental game began to falter. The result, by most standards, wasn't all that bad. However, to Hackney the finishes (including two below 50th place) were symptomatic of a loss of focus. "I've always fished with a lot of confidence, ever since I was a little kid I've always been able to catch them," he said.

"I can't look back and put my finger on any one thing that caused it, but mentally I wasn't as focused as I normally would have been."

While his finishes weren't within striking distance to win, Hackney was still cashing checks. By the time the Series made its swing through New York at Oneida and Champlain, the shifting mental game Hackney was experiencing put him out of the money and also caused his Angler of the Year chances to tumble. "You know, I really can't be too disappointed with how I fished or where I finished," he said.

"I was still drawing checks even while I was in a mental slump. You have to realize that I'm the type of guy that's not happy unless I'm in a position to win on the final day. At Oneida and Champlain in particular, I was never in it — even though I was just four places out of making the (top 50) cut at Champlain."

It's that mentality, perhaps more than any other, that have led to his iconic status within professional fishing. Hackney believes — each time he's backed into the water — that it's his tournament to lose. He's certainly not afraid to take a chance or two in pursuit of victory. "Out here, you have to be willing to gamble at times if you're going to win," he said. "If I feel like I have a shot at the win or to move up in the standings, I'm not afraid to swing for the fences."

With four top 12 finishes on the season, along with a win at Sam Rayburn, it's clear that Hackney's gambling ways paid off; however, the two events in New York (where he finished below the top 50 cut in both) where completely uncharacteristic. "I just got down mentally towards the middle of the season," he explained. "I had some things at Oneida that were out of my control, and almost made the (top 50 cut) at Champlain.

"I don't know if mentally I was prepared for the grind that this season would have. If you look at where I started to struggle, that's normally around the time where I would be home. So, you might say that mentally I was somewhere else during those two events — just not focused on fishing."

The 65th-place finish at Oneida signaled the low point in an otherwise remarkable season for Hackney. It also seemingly derailed his chances for an Angler of the Year title. With only the final event at Table Rock remaining, Hackney sits in seventh place in the point's race. "I don't usually mind being down in points — I seem to fish better from behind," he said.

"Being down is one thing, but being out of it mathematically hurts. In order for me to win Angler of the Year, at least five guys in front of me would have to blank … and I don't see that happening ."

Even if he can't win AOY he certainly can root for an alternate choice who, not surprisingly, would be Toyota teammate Mike Iaconelli. "Just look at the season he's had," Hackney said. "He has worked so hard and fished so well this year. I don't believe anyone works as hard as he does and winning Angler of the Year would be justification for everything he's done."

Another high note to Hackney's season has been being a part of one of the winningest teams in professional bass fishing history. Together, the team has combined for over $1,000,000 in winnings, three wins, and over 20 Top 12 cuts during the 2006 Elite Series season. "Being a part of this Toyota group is just awesome," Hackney exclaimed. "Everyone has had a great year. It's just been amazing."

A strong mental game is, without question, an angler's greatest asset on the water according to Hackney. Ending a season of highs and lows at Table Rock will allow him to look back at his mistakes and correct them for '07. "If a man keeps a strong mental game, he's going to be tough to beat," Greg explained. "While I can't say for sure what the exact source of my mental lapse was, I know that I can fix it … in fact, I have already corrected a lot of it."

The results seem to speak for themselves: after the swing through New York, Hackney has finished no worse than 13th in the three events (two Majors and one Elite) that he's fished since leaving.

Regardless of the points standings after Table Rock, Greg will be the first to admit that while playing it safe and catching a limit everyday of the tournament makes sense if you want to make the top 50. To him, however, playing it save doesn't jive … you have to be willing to gamble if you're going to win. "I fish every tournament to win it," he said. "You have to have the kind of mentality with this level of competition, if you don't you will never put yourself in a position to win."