It’s that time of year again. The best anglers in the world are coming together to compete for the Super Bowl of bass fishing, The Geico Bassmaster Classic. The Bassmaster Classic is the most prestigious title in bass fishing, and most anglers can only dream of ever hoisting the coveted trophy over their head. This year marks the 50th Classic since the inaugural tournament was held at Lake Mead in 1971, potentially making this year’s event an even more special victory for whoever stands on stage with the most weight come the end of championship Sunday. In anticipation for the tournament, we decided to break down what you need to know about this year’s Classic venue, Lake Hartwell, the potential winning patterns, and our favorite anglers to win.
Lake Hartwell Breakdown
Lake Hartwell has played host to multiple Bassmaster Classics in the past, most recently in 2015. In 2015, the local knowledge of Casey Ashley propelled him to his first ever Classic victory. This tournament was held in mid February, and a swift front brought brutal cold weather to the region, creating very difficult fishing conditions. The cold temperatures kept the majority of the bass suspended offshore, feeding on schools of blueback herring. Ashley used a homemade underspin to catch his limit of these offshore bass each day and ultimately win the tournament. However, you can forget about the 2015 Classic. This year’s event at Hartwell is set to fish entirely different.
The biggest difference in this year’s Classic is it is nearly a month later, taking place in mid-March as opposed to mid-February. Water and air temperatures will be much warmer and a lot of fish will be moving shallow. Unless a surprise major cold or warm front rolls through, it is looking like the majority of bass will be in full-blown prespawn, with some fish being very close to spawning.
Combine the warm water temperatures with Hartwell’s newly formed shoreline grass, and this derby is shaping up to be a shallow water, power fisherman’s dream scenario. If the water level rises a few feet (as it is expected to), a lot of cover that is usually on the bank will be submerged, and bass will be eager to move right up into it. Typical shallow water baits like spinnerbaits, squarebill crankbaits, chatterbaits, and Texas rigs will be thrown abundantly by pros around grass, bushes, and boat docks.
Who Are The Bassmaster Classic Favorites?
Even with the drastic changes in the way the lake is going to fish, you can’t avoid the fact Casey Ashley is the clear favorite to win his second Classic. Ashley may know Lake Hartwell better than any angler in the field, and he is all but guaranteed to adapt to the conditions. He’ll put solid limits in the boat each day of competition.
Ike is a fierce competitor and nothing gets him more fired up than The Bassmaster Classic. He won it back in 2003 and has been on the verge of taking his second title in many Classics since. Ike has also had previous success at Lake Hartwell. In the two previous Classics held at Hartwell, he finished 10th (2008) and 6th (2015). With this year’s Classic setting up to be a shallow water slugfest, don’t be surprised if you see Mike Iaconelli’s name near the top of the leaderboard throughout the event.
There may not be a better shallow water fisherman on planet earth than Jason Christie. Christie is a fish catching machine when he can bust down the bank fishing cover with a spinnerbait or a jig. The conditions at Hartwell appear to be primed for the 2016 Classic runner-up to get over the hump and bring home his first Bassmaster Classic championship.
The Sneaky Bassmaster Classic Pick
Mark Daniels Jr.
Mark Daniels Jr., also known as MDJ, is coming hot off of a very impressive rookie season on the Elite Series. In his first season on tour, MDJ recorded three Top 10 finishes and has proven that he can hang with the best anglers in the world. Coming into his first Classic, it is a guarantee that he will have prepared to the max and will be ready for whatever curveballs Hartwell may throw his way. MDJ is a very versatile angler, and could catch heavy limits of bass on a variety of baits at this year’s Bassmaster Classic. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him chunking and winding his go-to Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap for those key bites.
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