My Lake Hartwell approach

Alton Jones celebrates his 2008 Bassmaster Classic win on Lake Hartwell.

With the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods returning to the lake where I won in 2008, you can bet I’ve put a lot of thought into it. Especially how I’m going to approach Lake Hartwell next week. For me, it will start with my practice mindset.

We talk a lot about how the Classic requires an all-or-nothing attitude; how there are no points to earn and how you have to fish to win. Well, for me to do that, I have to practice in the techniques that I believe can win. 

If you look at how tournaments are won, there’s a handful of baits that is much smaller than the universe of baits that guys get checks on. So I’ll be spending more time practicing with that selection of lures.

A good example is a swimbait like a YUM Money Minnow or the YUM Pulse. There are many different ways you can rig them, and if you get on that bite, you can win. 

A jig is another good example, and so are your classic powerfishing techniques like a spinnerbait, a big crankbait, even a jerkbait. 

Now, contrast this with dropshots and a shaky heads, which typically do not win tournaments; at least not on Hartwell during the prespawn. Of course, these are both great options, but this is not going to be the top choice for March on this lake.

I’m sure I’ll be overlooking some schools of fish — smaller fish — because I’m not going to be downsizing. To do so at a lake like Hartwell this time of year would mean you’re not fishing for the bite to win.

This is very important because Hartwell is setting up well to for a Classic with tremendous potential. I’ve been monitoring the lake’s conditions and it’s been low for a couple of years, but it’s come up quickly in the past couple of weeks.

As of March 5, it’s 1 1/2 feet low, and it’s possible that we could be fishing in a full lake. I’m guessing there’s going to be a lot of flooded grass or bean bushes that have grown on the bank while the water was down. This gives us something to throw at.

Another key point is that the first half of South Carolina’s winter was extremely cold, but then, just like the rest of the South, it has become warm. The local temperatures have been 50s to 70s every day for the past three weeks.

So, we have a lake with rising water level — approaching full — new shallow water targets, warming temperatures and a mid-March tournament. This is going to determine a lot of what I do in the tournament.

Practice will show me specifically how I need to fish, but for this event, the Lake Hartwell conditions tell me that if I’m fishing to win, I need to be using some sort of power fishing technique. That’s why I mentioned a spinnerbait, a crankbait, a swimbait and a jig — I’ll be giving it a heavy dose of those baits in practice.

That’s not to say I won’t have a dropshot or shaky head rigged up in case I need to catch a key fish at some point. But that’s not going to be the road to victory. 

This is the Bassmaster Classic and that road to victory is the only road that counts.