Road To The Classic: Lake Hartwell Outlook

The Author predicts the outcome of the biggest show in bass fishing.

All photos courtesy of B.A.S.S.

I’ve had the privilege to attend the Bassmaster Classic for several years running now. I’ve attended under several capacities, but my favorite times have been to provide coverage and daily updates from the fisherman and the new product releases taking place at the expo during the day.

This year I will be providing tournament coverage and regular updates from the expo, so follow along via North American Fisherman’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Admittedly, I’m a bass-fishing junkie and I love following along with the Elite Series as the season progresses—this begins with the Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. I am a part of numerous Bassmaster Fantasy teams, where as with any fantasy league, I guess the outcome of each event based on who I believe will do the best.

When selecting your fantasy team for each event, the entire field of anglers is divided into 5 groups, or “buckets” as they are referred to. Each angler is placed in his respective bucket based on the point standings, which are earned at each event.

In this case, the Bassmaster Classic signifies the beginning of the season, so angler/bucket positioning is based on last year’s finish. Fifty-six of last year’s best Bassmaster anglers are swinging for the fences on South Carolina’s famed Lake Hartwell.

While we’re at it, North American Fisherman does have a Fantasy Team set up, so if you’d like to join us, feel free!

Visit Our team name is NorthAmericanFisherman and the password to join is: nafish. We’ll be giving away a tackle pack to the winner—please join us!

Here are my picks for this event and the reason behind each choice. I also included who my second option in each bucket was, but the fact remains: Regardless of how the odds look and who is most likely to win, a Dark Horse could come in and win the whole thing, it’s about finding the right fish, getting them to bite and then managing that bite for three full days of fishing. It’s really anybody’s game.

Bucket A

I’ve been going back and forth on this one. I said I’d pick one and mention the runner up, but I have several choices for the first bucket and here’s why.

Returning Champ: Randy Howell won last year’s Bassmaster Classic on his home waters of Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Taking two championships in a row would be a feat for sure. He’s hungry and excels in cold-water conditions. He could certainly pull this off!

Watch Randy’s last day on Guntersville where he locked in his finish:

2014 Angler Of The Year Greg Hackney has the momentum, and in professional competitive bass angling right now, this is a big deal when selecting anglers for a fantasy team. Momentum plays. The Hack Attack has as much potential as anyone.

Aaron Martens managed a 2nd place finish at more Classics than anyone. And, he’s very good at catching giant bass in cold water. While he’s not currently my official selection, I may still slide him in there.

Cliff Pace was the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Champion. He was severely hurt in an accident and wasn’t able to compete in last year’s Classic. Pace is a helluva cold-water angler and could easily pull this off.

My choice—at this point in time—is Todd Faircloth. This guy is about as underrated as they come. He’s a very accomplished cold-water angler, very adept at adapting to rapidly changing conditions and his record clearly indicates he’s no slouch. He’s been very close before, and with 12 previous Classic appearances, he’s due—in a big way.

Bucket B

This was a relatively easy choice, but the B Bucket is full of top-shelf anglers, and literally any of these guys could pull it off. This bracket is likely more heavily stacked than Bucket A, I did go back and forth a bit, but my choice is a solid one.

Chad Morgenthaler won the first Bassmaster Open on Lake Toho early this year, and certainly has uber momentum coming into this event. He could make this happen—no question about it. Morgenthaler would be my second choice in this bracket.

Casey Ashley is my choice here because he won on Lake Hartwell last year during an FLW event. He is also a local boy, born and raised not too far from the Hartwell dam. He cut his teeth on this lake, and stands a great chance at owning his first Bassmaster Classic Title.

Fishing your home waters during a major event—let alone the Classic—can often be the proverbial “kiss of death”. But as Randy Howell and Boyd Duckett, among others, have proven in the past, a win at home can be pure, justifiable fate. With three major wins to his credit, I expect Ashley to do very well at this event.

Bucket C

This bucket wasn’t as cut-and-dried as B, but I think I have it figured out, kinda. There are some very serious anglers in this bracket, and again, it’s truly anyone’s game. With guys like Edwin Evers, Bill Lowen, Mike McClelland and others, I struggled to narrow my choice, but I came down to two.

2003 Bassmaster Classic Champ Mike Iaconelli, is not currently my selection, but that may change in upcoming days as I follow updates as the bite develops during practice. “Ike” is known for swinging for the fences in every event, and he’s won big doing it. Especially last year winning on his home waters, the Delaware River, (which was an amazing finish, by the way).

I’m a huge Ike fan. On a personal level, I really dig his drive and passion, and I love what he does for the sport. I hope he wins! I think he stands a tremendous chance, as he is still riding high from his win last year in Philly. The 2006 Bassmaster Angler Of the Year knows big events, he’s won what there is to win, but another Classic victory would be huge.

Watch Ike win in 2003:

Currently, I have Brett Hite owning the C Bucket. This guy is relatively new on the pro level, and he is hungry. He won last year on Florida’s Lake Seminole under extremely tough conditions. He’s is very versatile and carries a big stick. Watch for the Arizona native to weigh in some serious weights.

Watch Hite stick a giant on Lake Seminole:

Bucket D

Again, any one of these guys has the skills to win this event, but after some thought and looking back at who has done very well this time of year on a body of water like Hartwell, it came down to two choices.

Ott DeFoe is a tremendous angler. He is as good as anyone on the tour right now and has proven to be a contender during tough-winter conditions. With two major titles to his credit, he knows the game. I may regret not running him in this slot. Either way, he is my second choice for the D Bucket.

”Big Fish” Bobby Lane, brother to 2012 Classic Champ Chris Lane, has been to the Big Show 7 times, and has been very close to actually winning more than once. Lane has proven to be a very competitive cold-water angler, and knows how to handle the stress of a major event like this. He’s hungry and he’s due, big time.

Bucket E

The final bucket came down to two anglers for me. I think Andy Young comes in as a major underdog, but he has proven his prowess as a well-rounded angler more than once. I have to confess though, he is my second choice here not only because the Minnesota resident knows cold-water bass, but because he intimately knows my home-town lake, Lake Minnetonka, which is a renowned upper-Midwest bass factory. I’m rooting for a guy who lives near, and loves to fish, where I do.

Andy won the Bassmaster Southern Open on Amistad last year, thus his Classic berth. He may not carry a name like some of the other competitors yet, but he has the chops to fish on this level and could really surprise a lot of people at this event.

My pick for this bracket is Jacob Wheeler. Wheeler is an FLW pro that is one of the hottest and quickly rising young stars in bass fishing. He is as hungry as anybody, and the Indiana native knows cold-water bass. As far as I’m concerned, he is a wildcard that will upset many anglers during Hartwell’s Bassmaster Classic.

The Rapala pro has won the FLW Cup, among other major titles, so while being a younger man, he is no stranger to top-shelf competition. I fully expect Wheeler to perform very well at this event, if not win the whole dang thing. He won last year’s Bassmaster BASSfest on Chickamauga Lake by over 5 pounds. He’s fished against the best in the game, and he’s beaten the best in the game. He belongs at this event and look for him to do very well.

Watch the final weigh in of the Wheeler Whack-Fest on Lake Chickamauga:

Watch for another update early next week as I give my take on the forecasted weather conditions and how it might affect the bite. I will also speculate on what the likely pattern will be. Stay tuned, more Classic action coming straight up!

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