“Man, I’ve got to get back to the Classic. It’s one of the greatest experiences of my life, let alone my career as a bass fisherman,” Jamie Hartman said. “You taste that level of competition, and you’ve got to have a shot at it, time and time again. That’s why I do this.”
If you’ll recall, then hailing from New York, Jamie Hartman’s rookie year on the Bassmaster Elite series in 2017 was one for the ages. He earned five Top 12s, more than any other rookie in the history of the series, and still barely missed earning the Rookie of the Year title to Dustin Connell by mere ounces.
“When you experience success at this level it gets in your blood,” he said. “You’ll do whatever it takes to repeat. And when it gets ripped away from you, there’s not much that can be done to ease the pain. All I worked for was to compete on the top level of professional bass fishing, and then the rug got ripped out from under me.”
Just after the Sabine River Elite in 2018, Hartman had to claim “Medical Hardship” with B.A.S.S. officials. Sciatic nerve issues in his mid and lower back crippled him as he prepared to fish the Upper Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis.
“It was literally the worst pain I’d experienced, and to make it worse it took me out of the Elites for the season,” he said. “I was in a dark place — depressed and worried that my career was over before it even began. But I committed to getting past the pain and getting healthy again. I wasn’t about to let it keep me down.”
So he did. Hartman lost weight and committed to dietary and physical improvements that only he could accomplish. There was no medicine that would make him better.
“I knew it was an uphill battle, but my dream didn’t waver — it was challenging, yes, but I wasn’t quitting,” he continued. “Then fast forward to the first two events of 2019, and I felt like I was still in a slump. Something wasn’t right, and I was super frustrated.”
Hartman holds himself to a high standard, which is why he does so well fishing at this level. He missed both Top 35 cuts to start the 2019 season with a 53rd place at St. Johns River and then a 57 at Lake Lanier — an event that played right into his wheelhouse.
“That break we had during the Classic between Lanier and Hartwell, I did some serious soul searching,” he said. “I knew I was capable, and I knew I wasn’t fishing to my potential. I decided enough was enough. I feel like after I had healed my body from the 2018 injuries, I hadn’t healed my mind. I spent a lot of time just thinking about becoming a better angler.
“I also realized that the old saying: ‘body fuels the mind’ was critical for me to move forward. I hadn’t connected the two in February, but at Hartwell I knew what I had to do — listen to my gut.”
He said there is an absolute connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind. Clearly he put it together posting an eighth-place finish at Hartwell, and a strong 23rd at a tough Winyah Bay.
“I knew if I could pull it together in South Carolina, the rest of the season set up well for me,” he said. “I proved to myself that I still had it, and it’s being proven again to me this week at Lake Fork.”
Hartman made a very strong showing on the second round of competition at the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at Lake Fork by moving into the 10th spot on the Bassmaster Leaderboard. He produced one of the largest bags of the day at 25 pounds, 6 ounces.
“I’m going to be at the Classic next year. Count on it,” he reiterated. “And that starts every morning when I eat right, do some stretches that help make my back and torso stronger. I’m not about to get hurt again due to negligence. I love this sport too much.”
There are many mornings in the pre-dawn darkness when you’ll find Hartman performing a series of back and leg stretches on the front deck of his boat. He keeps his mental and physical state in unison to stay ahead of himself, and his competition.
If we are witnessing the rebirth of Jamie Hartman, now a resident of Russellville, Ark, the entire Elite Series field should be scared.
Hartman is back, and he’s back for blood.