GREENVILLE, S.C. — Bryan New left Lake Hartwell after Wednesday’s practice feeling confident. What he saw confirmed what he’d seen in the three-day pre-practice period that ended Sunday.
“I’m still excited about it,” said New, who is from nearby Saluda, S.C. “It’s got the potential to go really well for me. Everybody is going to catch fish. They’re biting better than I’ve ever seen them at Hartwell.”
New and the 54 other anglers have completed all the time they’re going to get on the water before the three-day Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk begins Friday.
New is quick to note that he’s no Brandon Cobb, in noting another Classic competitor with vast knowledge and days of experience on Lake Hartwell. However, he’s been fishing this lake since he was a teenager. When he says the bass are biting better here than he’s ever seen before, it carries some weight.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here in the past,” New said. “It’s an hour-and-a-half from my house. I was probably 14 when I fished here the first time. I’m 32 now, so that’s 18 years. I haven’t fished it a ton during those years, but I’ve fished it more than 95 percent of the anglers in this event.”
As for what he saw specifically Wednesday, New said, “The offshore stuff seemed better today (in comparison to pre-practice). I didn’t go to any of the places I planned to fish in the tournament. But I ran some similar stuff.”
In the three previous Classics at Hartwell, it has taken 49 pounds, 7 ounces (in 2008), 50-1 (in 2015) and 47-1 (in 2018) to win. Twenty-pound, five-bass limits are rare. A total of five have been caught in the previous Classics, and no one has caught multiple 20-pound bags.
“I think it will take 51 pounds to win,” New said. “I really don’t see it taking more than 52.”
That’s just the nature of the lake, which features good populations of both largemouth and spotted bass. No angler has matched the 7-pound mark in taking big bass honors at the previous Classics. A 6-11 took big bass honors in 2015 and 2018. The abundance of bass and the lack of huge fish tends to keep everyone in striking distance on the leaderboard. Four- and five-pounders are difference-makers.
The other factor that keeps everyone in the game here is that you can choose where and how you want to fish. There will be anglers up in the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers and they’ll be scattered all the way to the dam. Hartwell covers 56,000-acres. It was just below the full pool mark of 660 feet above sea level at 4 p.m. Wednesday – 659.64.
“It’s a huge lake, a huge lake,” New said. “There were periods in practice where I’d go six or seven hours without seeing a boat.”
In the Sept. 23-25, 2020, Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Hartwell, Classic competitors Patrick Walters won, Scott Martin was 5th, Jason Christie was 7th and Brandon Cobb was 10th. New finished 44th, but he gained some awareness.
“I realized what I was doing wrong,” he said. “I’ve approached it completely different this time. I was fishing the whole lake and the two rivers. That’s a lot of water. You can win this tournament anywhere on the lake. You’re never out of it. I’ve just kind of hunkered down in one core area. I feel good about it.”