BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – When talking with one of the 56 anglers taking part in the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, Feb. 20-22 on Lake Hartwell, you can expect to hear the words “big” and “everything” a lot.
Serving as a border between Georgia and South Carolina, the lake has 56,000 surface acres and 962 miles of shoreline. That makes it one of the Southeast’s largest and most popular fishing destinations.
“It’s a lot bigger than I remember it being when we were there for the Classic that Alton Jones won (in 2008),” said Aaron Martens, who will be making his 16th career Classic appearance. “I don’t think I even saw half of the lake back then. It’s got a lot of acreage, and the amount of fishable water in that acreage is pretty large.”
The size of the lake combined with its diverse structure could make it hard for anglers to form a solid game plan that’s likely to withstand three days of the area’s often-erratic winter weather. The lake has everything from long, sloping points and underwater islands to standing timber, rocky banks, man-made brushpiles and deep underwater channels.
“There’s so much to look at – a little bit of everything, everywhere,” Martens said. “You can catch them shallow to deep. You have to be ready for it all, but that’s what we do. I think the fish will bite. But depending on the weather, it could be hard to present certain techniques to them.”
Along with diverse structure, Hartwell has two species of black bass that could both be helpful to anglers. First, there are the largemouth that have been the staple of most tournaments on Hartwell for decades. Then there’s the spotted bass that have steadily increased in size the past four or five years since making their way downstream from Lake Keowee, where they were introduced more than a decade ago.
Classic competitor Casey Ashley, who lives just 35 minutes from Lake Hartwell in Donalds, S.C., believes spots could play a major role in the outcome of the tournament.
“It could possibly be won off spots,” said Ashley, who won an FLW Tour event on Hartwell in March 2014. “The 3- to 5-pound spots are there, and there are a lot of them. I’ve just now gotten to where I’ll actually target spots. I wouldn’t in the past because for years, you just couldn’t win with spots. That’s just not the case anymore.”
Elite Series pro Stephen Browning of Arkansas, who will be appearing in his 10th Classic, isn’t sure the event can be won with spotted bass. But he believes they could make for an excellent “Plan B” if the largemouth prove too stubborn.
“Personally, with the exception of the Coosa River (in Alabama), I’ve never seen a lake where a guy can win a multiday tournament exclusively on spotted bass,” Browning said. “But mixing five or six of them in with largemouth may help you survive. I feel like if a guy gets to struggling, those will definitely be the fish to turn to.”
Those anglers and the rest of the field will be aiming to do more than survive — they’re gunning for the $300,000 winner’s prize and the almost instant fame and fortune that go with winning.
Weigh-ins will be held daily at the Bon Secours Wellness Center Arena in downtown Greenville, with the winner to be crowned there Sunday afternoon, Feb. 22.
Plenty of activities are available to fishing fans prior to the weigh-ins. For those willing to brave the morning chill, the Green Pond Landing at Anderson, S.C., provides a fan-friendly setting for watching the pros take off each morning. And one of the country’s largest consumer fishing shows, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods, will be open all three competitions days. All three venues are free admission.
The local host for the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro are VisitGreenvileSC, Visit Anderson, Greenville County, Anderson County and the state of South Carolina.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.
The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series presented by Allstate, Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation events, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, Bassmaster High School Series, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro.