It’s buffet season here on the Bassmaster Elite Series. As we approach the third event of the season, it is going to be a pick-your-poison type tournament. The guys who like to fish docks with likely be skipping and flipping jigs and worms. The guys who want to look at bass on beds should have a decent group of fish still ripe for the picking. If some want to focus on prespawn or postspawn on those staging spots throwing crankbaits and jerkbaits, they’ll be able to find those too.
The biggest factor they will run into is determining which technique will be most likely to produce the bigger fish.
Historically with B.A.S.S., we have visited Lake Hartwell the time of year where your fingers are worthless and your breath is frozen the instant it leaves your mouth. However, this time around, it should be much, much warmer.
The last few weeks have been relatively mild weather, and with the warmer nights and longer days, the fish are most certainly on the move. My money is going to be on the sight fisherman. However, chances are, the bed fish will not last the full weekend, so they will need to have other ways to fill their limits if they want to stay on top after the first day or two of sightfishing.
BUCKET A: COBB
Brandon Cobb has about five years under his belt as a tour level pro. He is a self-proclaimed finesse fisherman and is not afraid of clear water. I’m shocked at his low ownership as Hartwell is his home lake. He has two tour-level entries with 36th- and 27th-place finishes in 2014 and 2017 respectively, and those were out of fields twice as big as the current group of Elites. With Hartwell being a clear water lake, you can bet his light-line skills will help him finish high.
ALSO CONSIDERED: LIVESAY
As we learned on the St. John’s River, Lee Livesay is no slouch when it comes to flipping docks with his patent pending world class over-under routine. I know for a fact that he has been down on Lake Fork smashing bedding bass for the last few weeks too. He is a stellar sight fisherman and will certainly bring a few big girls across the stage.
BUCKET B: CORY JOHNSTON
I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to these Canadian anglers. First, don’t ever make fun of the way they spell words or Dave Mercer will come after you. Second, these Johnston brothers can flat out catch ‘em. Cory had a solid eighth-place finish throwing finesse baits like drop shots and shaky heads on Hartwell in 2016. He may excel at flipping the big weight, but he isn’t afraid to bust out the fairy wand and go to work.
ALSO CONSIDERED: WENDLANDT
It was hard to not pick Clark Wendlandt, a sight-fishing legend. In 2016, he was chased down by John Cox and landed in second here. He saw almost every fish he caught. It’s just a little late in the season for the massive waves to be coming in spawning. He may come out firing, but I’ll be surprised if the spawners hold up for him. However, if he can put a back up plan in place, he may get some Hartwell redemption.
BUCKET C: LOWEN
I got to personally watch Bill Lowen meticulously work over a row of docks on Grand Lake a few years ago at the Classic. I’ll tell ya, I have never seen someone pick a dock apart with such intentionality. Everyone in the Elites is a stud, but Lowen has an edge when it comes to putting his bait in places where the fish rarely ever see one. He picked up some great momentum towards the end of the tournament on Lanier by fishing docks for largemouth. My guess is he will be able to find some key bites picking apart the docks here on Hartwell too.
ALSO CONSIDERED: COMBS or CHERRY
Keith Combs and Hank Cherry are both power fisherman, and you probably won’t find them fishing slow. They’ll likely find some of those critical stopping points milking them for all they’re worth, and the one-two punch of a crankbait and jerkbait will likely be on both of their decks.
BUCKET D: GUSTAFSON
If you haven’t noticed yet, most of my picks are FLW guys who have made the jump to the Elites. That is mostly because the FLW tour has been to Hartwell several times during this time of the year, and so they will likely have a shorter learning curve. Gustafson has two recorded finishes here on either end of the spectrum; a fourth-place finish in 2016 and a 148th-place finish in 2014. He found a special area holding better-than-average spotted bass that helped him finish strong. He is a beast on his electronics, so finding those key areas where fish are both coming and going could see him through to Sunday.
ALSO CONSIDERED: KENNEDY
The bass on Hartwell spend most of their year keying in on one specific target: blueback herring. That in mind, one could assume that would translate into a good swimbait fishery … and you’d be right. Steve Kennedy’s resume throwing a big juicy swimbait is among the top in the Elites and if he can find a way to target those bigger bites and get five a day, he could flat out win. The problem is, that’s a feast or famine strategy and at this point in the Fantasy Fishing season, I’m more inclined to play it safe.
BUCKET E: JOCUMSEN
If you follow Carl Jocumsen’s social media channels, it seems like he always has an incredible practice, but come game day, he struggles to execute. That’s why at this point in the season, he finds himself in Bucket E. He is an absolute hammer and can hold his own against the best in the world … if he can keep them buttoned up. If I was a betting man, and I am, he will eventually make that adjustment and when he does, I want to be there with the welcome party. It’s just a matter of time. Fear my heart indeed.
ALSO CONSIDERED: HARTMAN
Even though Jamie Hartman has an awesome resume in clean water, light line events, I’m hesitant to pick him after being burned at Lanier. He was around some decent fish, but he could not capitalize on the bites he was getting causing him to stumble after Day 1. There is a strong possibility of him righting that ship and smashing them at Hartwell. I’d guess the fishing will not be all that different from Lanier, so he might make some adjustments and come back with a vengeance.