Sand in the Water

GREENVILLE, S.C. — On the final day of last week's practice for the Bassmaster Classic, which begins today on nearby Lake Hartwell, angler Charley Hartley launched from a ramp new to him. There, he ran into fellow Elite Series anglers and Classic qualifiers Greg Hackney and Stephen Browning.

 He felt at the time that they went out of their way to describe how deep they were jerking a spoon. "As soon as I walked away from that," Hartley said this week, "I thought, 'You know, that means they're catching them in 2 feet of water.'"

 Hartley laughed as he told this story because, after all, it's the week of the Classic, and an angler would be borderline daft to start sporting a truthful streak now.

 Bassmaster Elite Series events hand a $100,000 check to their winners, so no information is always at a premium. ("I get most scared," Hartley said, "when we go to a registration and everyone says it's tough as nails. That next day they bring in the biggest bags you've ever seen.")

 None of these anglers are serious advocates for truth in dock talk. But with a half-million smackers at stake, this is the week of bunkum by the boatload, guff by the gallon, poppycock by the pound. This is the week when the b.s. piles so high, said Classic qualifier Kevin Short, "you need to pull your pants up around your knees."

 "This is a new type of dock talk for me," said Jeff Freeman on the eve of fishing his first Classic. "You know these guys can really blow smoke."

 It can't just be the money. Just what is it about the Classic that brings out the genuine sandbagger in anglers usually content merely to fib?

 "It's not so much that you're sandbagging," angler Chris Lane said, diplomatically. "You just can't give too much away."

 We can assume, then, that sandbagging involves more outright deceit than merely shutting up. A guy like Lane, he'd rather just be quiet, because if you ask him how many fish he's on, how he's catching them, what they're doing, what his ATM code is, he's liable to tell you. "That's one thing that I've learned, I'm not a good liar at all," he said. When he was getting 30 bites a day in practice on the Potomac last year, he admitted it to other anglers.