If you’re around bass tournament anglers any time at all, you will hear the word “decisions.” A tournament winner almost always points to a key decision that led him to victory. Everyone else has a “coulda, woulda, shoulda” decision. You can only tell the good ones from the bad ones in hindsight.
Rarely do you get to witness a key winning decision play out on the water, like photographer/boat driver Ken Golub and I did Sunday afternoon in the final hour of the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake. This is a story about how Jamie Hartman’s winning decision unfolded.
Golub, Bassmaster photographer James Overstreet and I had spent Sunday morning following Day 3 tournament leader Jeff Gustafson. The three of us are longtime friends. We were in Golub’s boat shadowing Greg Hackney when he sealed his Cayuga Lake Elite Series victory with 23 pounds, 15 ounces on Aug. 24, 2014.
Golub is a veteran tournament angler who lives in nearby Pittsford, N.Y. He competed in a tournament on the Potomac River Saturday and made it back to Union Springs, N.Y., in time to chaperone Overstreet and me on Sunday. At noon we brought Overstreet back to Frontenac Park to publish his morning photo gallery of Gustafson, who had gradually climbed his way back into the unofficial tournament lead after a slow start.
Then Golub and I went back out on Cayuga, looking for Hartman, mainly because we knew he’d already sacked 20 pounds that morning, was in close contention for the title and, most importantly of all, was fishing near the weigh-in site. Golub’s Bass Cat was low on fuel.
As soon as we idled close to Hartman, he pulled up the trolling motor, cranked his outboard and told us, “I need one more fish! I’m going south to fish some docks.” The spot where Hartman had daily expanded upon to move from 31st place (16-14) Thursday to 16th place (19-9) Friday to fourth place (22-2) Saturday had seemingly played out after he caught another 20 pounds there Sunday morning. The lake was slick calm.
Hartman didn’t “know” he needed one more bass. The anglers don’t have access to BASSTrakk’s minute-by-minute unofficial scoreboard. But when you start the final day in 4th place – 5 3/4 pounds behind the leader – you can make an educated guess you need one more fish.
Golub started following Hartman south. Then he saw Gustafson, who had mentioned when we left him at noon that he was going to work his way back north. With the low fuel issue, Golub stopped on Gustafson. We stayed on him for an hour. Then at 2:30 Gustafson made a move south. As we watched his boat fade into the distance, here came Hartman, headed back to his sweet spot for the final half-hour before the 3 p.m. check-in time.
As we got close, we could see Hartman’s rod was bent double. Golub had time to snap a few photos as Hartman screamed for joy and held a 4-pounder in the air. Hartman culled a 2 3/4-pounder with the 4-pounder at 2:43 p.m. When the final totals became official, Hartman edged Gustafson by 10 ounces.
“As I was running to the south end, I could see that wind was finally putting a little bit of a ripple on the water,” Hartman explained as he held the championship trophy. “I started to just turn around and go right back to fish the crankbait. But I knew I would be able to tell pretty fast if the dock bite was happening — and it wasn’t.”
Hartman caught most of his fish all week drop-shotting a 4.75-inch Riot Baits Synth Worm in a green pumpkin neon color pattern. But an unnamed shad colored crankbait, which he said is no longer manufactured, was his big bass lure. He took daily big bass honors Saturday with a 6-7 and Sunday with a 6-8. But without that final 4-pounder, caught on the crankbait, those others would have been second-place fish.
No one will ever know the answer to this question: Would Hartman have caught that final 4-pounder if he hadn’t made the run south? Was leaving his four-day sweet spot for half-an-hour Sunday afternoon the key to that final 4-pounder biting?
“Everything happens for a reason,” Hartman said. “If I don’t make that run to the south — if I just stay where I was — maybe I don’t catch that 4-pounder. It worked out just right.”
It was a winning decision.