First let's get one thing straight: Anyone in the Classic can win it. And not just because KVD's not in it this year. What I mean is, you don't get to the Classic – from whatever level – without being a stick. As Yoda said, "No luck, skill." Or something like that.
But the Classic won't be won any ol' way – umbrella rigs, for instance. Or topwaters. Ain't gonna happen. To get some intel on how it can be won, I chased down a guy who would absolutely know: Brent Ehrler.
If you somehow don't recognize that name, Brent's a western dude who tore up the FLW Tour and this year is jumping into the Elite Series. He's not fishing this Classic, but if he were, he'd be one of the favorites to win – because he won a FLW Tour event on Hartwell in March 2012, and the year before (same month) finished second.
So he for sure knows how to win on Hartwell this time of year, and here's what he says about how he'd fish this Classic.
Location, location, location – sorta
"I'd be in the main body of the lake," he says. "I wouldn't be up any of the creeks except maybe the big one by the dam."
For him, "main lake" doesn't mean humps. He's talking "something along the lines of road beds, point-related, ditch-related, deeper structure – standing timber."
Hartwell's trees have been key for many folks, including 2008 Hartwell Classic winner Alton Jones. Brent explains that the shallower timber was cut out when the lake was being filled, but the deeper timber is still there. "So what happens is the fish will get on the edges of timber and use it like a grass edge or grassline.
"They get in that depth right where that timber ends, and use that as their edge. On the main lake, stuff like points, rockpiles and drops seem to hold groups of fish better."
He adds that small ditches running from a flat into a creek channel also can be fished as "points" – both sides – "almost like Tennessee River fishing."
Main lake fish are bigger
As it happens, Alton won his Classic fishing timber edges exactly like Brent describes, but in a creek rather than the main lake points and coves Brent fished when he won tournaments. Brent likes those main lake fish because he believes they're bigger.
"Those fish on that main body are eating [blueback] herring," he says. "Those big largemouth – 5- to 6-pound largemouth, fish you can win a tournament on – I believe are nomads. They're out there swimming and don't ever stop swimming."
I gotta add this: Brent told a story about finding such a huge school of 4- to 6-pound largies in the tournament he won that they blacked out his screen from 25 to 40 feet under the boat!
"Those fish are literally just swimming and following the herring. Right now, in the middle of winter, I think they're out there like stripers, just following bait. And if you can meet up with them, you can get big in a hurry."
What BassGold says
The patterning app BassGold.com has predicted – using past winning pattern info – the winning patterns and weights for every Classic since 2012. Here's what it says about Hartwell (an upland reservoir) for this time of year, plus some comments from Brent.
- Worm/Senko = 24 percent of first-fifth finishes
- Crankbait = 19 percent
- Jigs = 17 percent
- Most wins = Worm/Senko and Jig
> Brent: "I'd be fishing a jig and a dropshot. [Dropshot is ranked 5th in BassGold for Hartwell in winter.] You want it close, but not necessarily in the middle of the timber. You're fishing that edge."
- Shoreline and Offshore = each 17 percent of wins, but shoreline has way more first-fifth finishes at 39 percent vs 23 percent for offshore.
- No wins on any other locations this time of year.
> Brent: "There's plenty good fish shallow. The year I won I caught them deep, but every day of the tournament I weighed a 4-pounder skipping docks. I just think it's difficult to catch a limit that size just fishing shallow. I don't think you can [win] running docks."
- 39 percent wood/brush, always the case for upland reservoirs.
- 24 percent ledge/drop/ditch.
- Equal wins for both (12 percent each).
> As Brent and Alton Jones proved – as well as Cliff Pace in the last upland reservoir Classic – wood is the deal.