Behind the masses of jigs and various lures in a Georgia-based tackle manufacturing facility, a 19-year old packager named Wil Hardy would find his first job in the outdoors industry.
“It wasn’t glamorous at all, but it allowed and afforded me the time to be on the water,” Hardy said.
Eight years later, his decked out rig — starring his own tackle company Greenfish Tackle — will lap the warning track in Minute Maid Park to the greatest stage in professional bass fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’s Sporting Goods.
“Since I saw the Classic, I’ve dreamed of it.”
Hardy’s dreams would become reality after he ousted a star studded field in the Bassmaster Bass Pro Shops Northern Open #1 on Oneida Lake in July of 2016. Hardy claimed the trophy in his first top ten finish, above Jacob Wheeler and Jamie Hartman, both smallmouth specialist as proven in the first stop of the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series on Cherokee Lake, where Wheeler and Hartman finished first and second.
“Winning solidified his road to the Classic, it showed him he could fish against the best, winning on a foreign body of water. I think this has justified him in what he is doing,” said Jon Hair, co-owner of Greenfish Tackle.
Ironically, the brownfish have worked in Hardy’s favor, notching a Top 12 on smallmouth-factory Lake Champlain later in the Open’s season.
“The win solidified (Greenfish) as well, winning on a product that we produce,” Hair referred to the media attention after Hardy fooled the Onieda Lake smallmouth into biting the Greenfish Creeper Head, an Arkie-style jig head.
Unfortunately, Hardy would stumble on the James River, finishing 98th, with the company’s namesake not wanting to deem any miraculous largemouth, putting him just past the Elite Series cut.
“When you can win on a product that you produce yourself, it definitely adds a level of confidence, but it may take an act of God for me to overcome the James River,” Hardy laughed.
Now his eyes are set back on the greenfish that he grew up watching his childhood angling hero Bill Dance lip on Saturday mornings.
“As early as 4-years old Wil watched Bill Dance every Saturday, and told me ‘Daddy that’s the way I want to make my living’,” Jim Hardy, Wil’s father recalled.
But the journey has not been an overnight success after touring stints in FLW and the Bassmaster Opens, his only two Top 12’s came last season.
“Wil would return back with his head down after a bad tournament and the best advice that anyone ever gave to him was from family friend Guido Hibdon, he said ‘Son don’t ever think those boys are better than you or you are better than them, when it’s your turn it’s your turn’,” the elder Hardy said.
Wil Hardy would continue dreaming, even picking his Classic walkout song nearly three years ago,
“I joked with the guys in the shop I knew what my walkout song would be if I ever made it, I mean I don’t care if I was walking out in a cage fight, I knew what my song was going to be.”
That song will now be played at the home of the Houston Astros this weekend, Saliva’s “Ladies and Gentlemen.”
However, the calm and collected angler would not prefer that tune to be blaring with no fish to show for.
“After winning, you haven’t changed your drive from motivation, it’s still the fear of losing.
“Once I get to fishing, the nerves will fizzle out, then I might freak out if I catch a big one and need a few more, other than that I will treat it like any other tournament,” Hardy said when asked about fishing in his first Bassmaster Classic.
From the back of a warehouse to owning an emerging tackle company, Wil Hardy looks to prove Saliva’s words,
“Ladies and gentlemen good evening, you've seen that seeing is believing.”