When a four-day tournament is won by 6 ounces, over not one, but two other anglers, there are dozens of “what ifs” running through the minds of the top three guys. But Jamie Hartman had a “what if” of a different kind Monday in winning the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite Tournament at Lake Guntersville.
Hartman was in the midst of that 21-pound topwater flurry that occurred right out of the gate Monday morning. A 5-pounder exploded on his bone-colored walking bait (that’s as specific as Hartman would get), and Hartman set the hook.
“Every time I threw in that one little sweet spot, I was getting a hit,” Hartman said. “He hit right where he was supposed to. The whole fish came out of the water. I barely pricked him. The lure came at me about 10 yards. I turned to my (Bassmaster LIVE) cameraman and said, ‘Dang it.’ As I did, I twitched it again, and the 6-pounder creamed it. It wasn’t the same fish.”
That 6-pounder actually weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces and was the big bass of the final day. So what if Hartman had landed the 5-pounder on the initial hook set? Would the 6-7 have bit again on another cast? Or should we consider it a swing-and-a-miss worth $100,000?
No matter how you look at it, Jamie Hartman, the 46-year-old former Newport, N.Y., resident who now calls Russellville, Ark., home, recorded his first Elite Series victory.
You hear the Elite Series pros say this all the time: When it’s your time, it’s your time. It’s as if there’s nothing you can do to derail it when some sort of bass tournament fishing destiny kicks in, and you win on a day when a thousand different things had to go right for you to do so. You know, like a 5-pounder missing your lure and a 6-7 getting it while your head is turned to your cameraman in the back of the boat. When it’s your time, it’s your time.
Don’t, however, equate that with luck. Hartman’s victory came down to him doing just a few more things that worked for him over four days than Chris Zaldain and Matt Arey did in weighing 79-4 – a mere 6 ounces less than Hartman.
“I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about all the little things it comes down to,” Hartman said as he was standing by the trophy after Monday’s weigh-in. “I had a dead fish penalty the other day that cost me 4 ounces.”
Hartman pointed to one thing as his key for success – versatility, keeping those preconceived notions about where the bass should be and what they should be biting at this time of year on Lake Guntersville out of your mind. The ultimate example came that last morning, when cloudy skies and wind told Hartman it was time to throw the topwater bait tied to a rod he hadn’t used since the previous tournament at Lake Fork.
“The absolute key to success was adapting,” he said. “It was all about adapting to conditions. Things changed from practice to the first day and, obviously, the last day. I just had to keep changing. That’s the big thing about this sport. We tend to play to our strengths. Sometimes we push those strengths too far, and we have swings up and down. I try to be well-rounded, so when God throws us weather like (Monday), you’ve got to change.”
Hartman got off to an inauspicious start, weighing 14-13 and finishing in 46th place on Day 1. He jumped to 17th place on Day 2 with a 20-10 bag. He barely made the Day 4 cut with his 20-4 limit on Day 3, edging Seth Feider by 2 ounces for 10th place. Hartman was 7 pounds, 2 ounces out of the lead going into the final day, when his ability to adapt hit high gear.
“That’s what I did every day,” he said. “I had to change every day.”
The following is a comparison of Day 1 and Day 2 at Lake Guntersville:
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Bass weighed 354 358 172 50
Total pounds 1,157-3 1,095-8 547-11 174-3
Ave. wt./bass 3.27 lbs. 3.06 lbs. 3.19 lbs. 3.48 lbs.
Limits caught 67/74 69/74 32/35 10/10
Big bag 22-14 24-12 23-10 23-15
20-lb. bags 14 6 5 2
Big bass 7-0 6-14 6-8 6-7
1st place 22-14 44-0 62-13 79-10
10th place 20-7 37-0 55-11 71-5
35th place 16-10 31-10