The so-called “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” the Bassmaster Classic, returned to South Carolina’s sprawling Lake Hartwell for three days in early March. In addition to various regular season events on the big lake, B.A.S.S. has been there for three prior Classics – 2008, 2015 and 2018 – so while the field of play was no mystery to the vast majority of the field, it always seems to present certain challenges. Six Mossy Oak Fishing competitors qualified for this prestigious event and for the opportunity to earn angling perpetuity. They were:
- Drew Benton of Georgia, who won a tough Elite Series event on Lake Travis in Texas in 2018.
- Brandon Cobb of South Carolina, fishing his 3rd Classic. Cobb won two Elite events in 2019, including one at Hartwell.
- Greg Hackney, a former FLW Angler of the Year winner, Forrest Wood Cup Champion and Bassmaster Angler of the Year. If he were to win a Classic, he’d be the only angler eligible to still win all four titles.
- Brandon Lester of Tennessee, fishing his seventh Classic. He won a Bassmaster Open on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain earlier this year and followed it up with a 5th place finish at the Harris Chain a few weeks later.
- Brandon Palaniuk of Idaho, a two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year, fishing his 11th Classic. One of his six B.A.S.S. wins came in South Carolina, at Santee Cooper in 2020.
- Gerald Swindle of Alabama, one of the senior statesmen of the tour, and a two-time Angler of the Year, fishing his 19th Classic. He’s finished in the money in over two-thirds of the B.A.S.S. events in which he’s competed.
Mossy Oak Fishing Lake Breakdown
- Host City: Greenville, South Carolina
- Launch Site: Green Pond Landing
- Lake Description: At full pool, Lake Hartwell is approximately 56,000 acres and its major tributaries include the Seneca River, Savannah River and Tugaloo River, as well as large creeks like Six and Twenty. It is heavily-developed, with many bridges and thousands of boat docks. In addition to traditional brush piles, local anglers put out piles of “cane” (i.e., bamboo) to attract bait and bass.
- Bass Species Present: The introduction of spotted bass changed the dynamic of this fishery. Now anglers can go deep or shallow nearly year round, trying to find prolific schools of “spots” chasing pelagic bait, or largemouths facing the bank. Sometimes the two intermingle.
- Forage Species: More even than the spotted bass themselves, what really changed Hartwell’s character was the introduction of blueback herring. These nomadic baitfish are now present in many southeastern fisheries. They fatten the bass up, but they also change their behavior, from residential to roaming. Several competitors said that even when the bass go to the bank to spawn, they don’t dawdle. Instead, they head back out to chow down as soon as possible.
- Weather for the Classic: The temperature got up past 70 degrees each day of the 2022 Classic, with a mix of sun and clouds, and a little bit of mist on Day Two. That pattern stands in start contrast to the prior Hartwell Classics, especially 2015. That year, there were single digit temperatures
- Water Temperatures: Most of the lake was 57-59 degrees, and despite a warming trend there was not a massive rise in those numbers or a large push of bass to the bank. Sixty degrees is often considered the magic temperature for spawning.
How to Fish Lake Hartwell in March
The great thing about Lake Hartwell is that it’s filled with bass from top to bottom, which generally spread the 55 anglers out. The leaders and hometown favorites were often followed by respectful flotillas of spectators hoping to find magic spots or watch their heroes in action. What they saw was a true mix of old school and new school. For the former, wacky worms around docks are a longstanding producer nearly year round, and they were critical for many competitors. So were a variety of crankbaits and small swimbaits. The winner generally employed a 5/8 ounce jig on the shallowest part of docks, a technique as old as bass fishing itself. The “new” component was forward-facing sonar. All three major brands – Garmin, Humminbird and Lowrance – offer it and it enables the pros not only to focus in on the massive amounts of bait, but also to “hunt” for particular bass. They used dropshots, shakey heads, small swimbaits and underspins in natural baitfish colors to make those fish bite. The variety of options made it one of the fishiest Classics in memory. While there were only two limits over 20 pounds brought to the arena scales, on Day One, for example 52 of the 55 anglers sacked limits.
Top Mossy Oak Performer
Brandon Cobb, a local and a past Lake Hartwell winner, earned an extra $2,500 for catching the big bass of the tournament on Day Two, a pot-bellied 6 pound 12 ounce largemouth. Gerald Swindle was the highest placing Mossy Oak angler.
Top Lures at Lake Hartwell
If you’re headed to Lake Hartwell in early March, be sure to bring the following:
- Skipping jig
- Wacky worm (with or without a nail weight)
- Finesse swimbaits
- Shallow-running crankbaits
While they didn’t factor in the final outcome, several competitors were sure that a big glide bait or soft plastic swimbait would produce numbers of bigger-than-average bass. This is a sleeper technique that requires commitment but can produce huge dividends.
As the months progresses, look to the banks as massive numbers of bass should hit the beds. Compact soft plastics excel in this situation – white if you have trouble seeing the fish, or more natural greens if the fish are spooky.
The Blueback Factor
Prior to the tournament several competitors noted that the blueback herring would provide the key to the tournament, and numerous top finishers were informed by their presence, but ultimately the top two anglers did not rely on them for their catches. Winner Jason Christie skipped docks with a jig, and second place finisher Kyle Welcher made note of the fact that the less transient threadfin shad were what his targeted fish were keying on.
What They’ve Been Wearing
With the completion of the Bassmaster Classic and two regular season Elite Series tournaments, we’re three events deep into the year – not including other tours and so-called “Triple A” tournaments like the Bassmaster Open won by Mossy Oak pro Brandon Lester. We’ve watched the live coverage on the water, as well as every minute of every weigh-in, and here are the Mossy Oak Fishing items that we’ve seen repeatedly in the rotation:
St. Johns River: Despite its reputation as the Sunshine State, early season Florida tournaments always seem to offer at least a couple of days of frigid weather. We saw many of the competitors tightening the strings on their Mossy Oak Fishing Elements Logo Hoodies before making long runs to the various pools, sloughs and river bars away from the town of Palatka.
Harris Chain of Lakes: In this event there were still plenty of bass offshore, but anglers dreaming of a spawning slugfest searched the far corners of the Harris Chain’s multiple lakes looking for big bedding bass that they’d have to themselves. With several over 10 pounds weighed in, this proved to be a viable tactic. When sight fishing, anglers want to minimize movement and blend in with the sky. That’s why you might have seen so many of them in Mossy Oak Elements Long Sleeve Tech Tees, which protected them from the Florida sun without alarming their prey.
Lake Hartwell: Anglers like to dress up for the media days and social events surrounding the Bassmaster Classic, so when they slip off their tournament jerseys, on goes the most comfortable collared shirt they own – that could be the Mossy Oak Fishing Inshore Shirt or the Offshore Shirt – many of them bring at least one of each so they’ll always look great in photos and when dealing with sponsors and fans.