Bassmaster Classic field includes top names in professional bass fishing
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published March 8, 2018
When Bobby Lane thinks back to the times he's fished the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell, he doesn't bask in the glow of two Top 5 finishes.
Instead, he ponders what might have been.
In his first career Classic in 2008, Lane finished fourth - and he still laments one small, dead fish that he wasn't able to cull that week due to B.A.S.S. rules.
In 2015, he finished second, a little more than 3 pounds from the $300,000 first-place paycheck - and he went home brokenhearted over an opening round that saw him come to the scales one fish short of a five-bass limit.
He said those two events sum up what it will take to win this year's Classic, which is scheduled for March 16-18 on Lake Hartwell with daily takeoffs at 7:30 a.m. ET from Green Pond Landing and Event Center in Anderson, S.C., and weigh-ins at 4:30 p.m. each day at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville.
"There's just no margin for error - not when you're fishing against so many good fishermen," said Lane, a Florida pro who will be making his 11th Classic appearance. "It can break your heart. It was especially hard the last time we were there and I only brought in four fish the first day and then went out and really caught them the last two days.
"You just can't afford that against this kind of field."
This year's list of competitors will include 52 anglers who qualified through the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Bracket, the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors, the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
There are eight AOY winners taking part, including superstars like Greg Hackney of Louisiana, Aaron Martens and Gerald Swindle of Alabama and Brandon Palaniuk of Idaho. There are 11 competitors who have already won at least one Classic trophy, including Michigan legend Kevin VanDam, who shares the B.A.S.S. record with four Classic titles, and California pro Skeet Reese, the 2009 Classic champ who has pocketed more than $3.2 million during his B.A.S.S. career.
Another Classic champion in the field is Casey Ashley - a Donalds, S.C., pro who considers Lake Hartwell his home lake. He edged Lane in frigid conditions the last time the event visited Hartwell in 2015.
Like Lane, he said it'll likely be hard to overcome one bad day against this field.
"There are no season points or anything like that on the line when you're fishing the Classic - and that's what makes it so hard to win," said Ashley, who will be making his ninth Classic appearance. "Nobody's out there looking for a 12- or 13-pound limit. Everybody's swinging for the fences.
"You could always have somebody bring in 24 pounds. If that happens and you get off to a slow start, it's going be hard to make up that kind of ground."
Many of the competitors spent time practicing on Hartwell before it went off-limits Jan. 1. But Ashley elected not to because he expects a much different lake when competition begins.
"During pre-practice, the lake was 10 feet low," he said. "But we usually get a lot of rain this time of year to raise the lake level, and that's what's happened."
As of Tuesday afternoon, the lake was only about 18 inches away from full pool.
"What was working when it was 10 feet down, won't be working when the Classic starts," Ashley said. "When I won the tournament here before, everything played right into my wheelhouse with the deep bite. But it'll be a lot different tournament this time around."
With the lake nearly full and daytime temperatures expected to push into the 60s most days between now and the beginning of the event, Lane said he also expects a much different tournament than the one three years ago.
"I don't think the fish will be spawning," he said. "But the water temperature will be a lot warmer, which means the tournament could play out a lot shallower. It could be a situation where everybody catches them, and it's just a question of who finds the big ones.
"We won't know for sure until we get there."
Anglers will be allowed to practice Friday through Sunday and again on the official practice day, Wednesday.