Long road to the Hartwell Classic



When B.A.S.S. announced that Lake Hartwell would be the site of the 2022 Bassmaster Classic, I was immediately excited, and that feeling has not diminished one bit. My third Classic will take place in my home state — the site of one of my three professional wins — on a lake where I feel quite comfortable. Despite all of those things working in my favor, I knew that I had to take it slow, and to some extent put it out of my mind for the time being. I still had some tournaments left, and I know that if I don’t take them one at a time I’ll lose focus.

Now that the offseason is here, I have all of next year’s schedule on my mind, but that trip to Hartwell is highlighted just a little bit brighter than the rest. I’ve experienced some success early in my career, but I crave one of the sport’s major titles, and this seems like a prime opportunity to move in that direction.

At the same time, I don’t want to overthink it or put too much pressure on myself. There are a billion scenarios that could unfold and if I try to deal with all of them at once I could get spun out. I’m eager, but I also want to be patient. I think my wife and I will take the camper and the two dogs and head up there for about a week in December to try to leisurely see the whole lake.

The biggest problem for most home-state Classic qualifiers is often the excessive knowledge base they carry with them. They’ll have loads of history that leads them to run old patterns or stay too long on places that aren’t producing. You can use that history as a guide, but if it becomes a crutch that’s when you stop fishing the current conditions. That can bite you during a tournament day.

The other thing that can occasionally hurt locals is having a full team of family members and friends rooting them on. Obviously you want all of the support you can get, and I’m hoping for a big cheering section, but if you can’t manage your time well the whole thing can spin out of control in a hurry. I remember going into my first Classic completely wide-eyed, not really knowing how to manage the days and my obligations. I simply didn’t adjust to how the week set up and didn’t plan ahead of time to maximize my efficiency. By the time we went to Ray Roberts earlier this year I think I’d figured out a few secrets to balance everything out.

While the Ray Roberts finish was much better, I still didn’t adjust properly between the first and second day of competition. That Black Rifle Coffee gets me amped up, and I went burning down the bank at warp speed when I should’ve hunkered down on my key stretches. The Classic is all about finding a happy medium and adjusting when the fish tell you to do so. I’m not as green as I was just a couple of years ago, but I still have to stay focused. 

Ideally it will be a cold winter leading into the Classic. That would keep the fish off the bank and hopefully tilt the playing field a little bit toward me, but I’m going to prepare for everything. Whether it’s high or low, cloudy or sunny, blazing hot or freezing cold, this is the sport’s biggest event and you don’t get a lot of chances to fish it in front of a home-state crowd.