Hackney: Before the first cast

For three days, strong wind, unsafe waves, and subsequent canceled competition days have placed Greg Hackney’s dreams on hold here on the northern shores of Lake Michigan. Finally, Hackney and his fellow Bassmaster Elites are back on Lake Michigan for the last day of the 2014 season to decide whether he’ll indeed get to capture pro bass angling’s most coveted and respected title – the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

As Hackney stood on the front deck of his boat waiting in the darkness of pre-dawn inside the harbor at Escanaba’s Ludington Park, a bevvy of thoughts ran through his mind on a gorgeous but finger-nipping 37 degree morning as the sun began to rise on the biggest day of his professional angling career.

Think like a smallmouth: “There was ice on my boat cover this morning,” says Hackney. “If it were largemouth, you’d probably want to fish extremely slow on a real cold post-front day like this, but smallmouth tend to get more aggressive as the water temperatures cool, it should fire ‘em up today.”

No time for finesse: It’s common to see spinning tackle dominate smallmouth tournaments, but Hackney had six Quantum EXO baitcasters on the front deck, versus only two Quantum spinning reels. “You hook a big smallmouth on spinning tackle and you’re in for a long fight, and that’s just more of a chance for them to get off your hook.”

First lure: When asked what lure he’d make his first cast with, Hackney said it would be a Strike King spinnerbait.

With a little help from my friends: Speaking of Strike King, moments before blast-off, his Strike King teammates James Niggemeyer and Keith Combs each parked their boats alongside Hackney’s to offer some lead tube weights that Hackney feared he was in short supply of.

Feels like he heeds a big limit: “I really feel like I have to go out and catch a big sack, like 20-pounds or more, to assure myself a chance of wrapping this thing up.”

Enough warm clothes: Hackney is a strong family man, and he’s been fortunate to have wife Julie and two of their four children here this week. They met him on the dock in the dark cold air this morning. “Do y’all have enough warm clothes on?” he asked with a loving grin.

Only one way to know: “The three day delay in this tournament has given these fish a chance to rest, but also to reposition. So the only way to know for sure what they’ve done the past three days is to go fishing for them today.”

A special unexpected phone call: “I’ve got so many clothes on that I never heard my phone ring, but I saw later that I had missed a call from KVD at like 5:30 this morning,” said Hackney. “So I called him back and asked, ‘what do I owe this honor to?’ and he told me he just wanted to wish me good luck. He’s definitely a class act.”