Photo by SEIGO SALTO/Bassmaster Greg Hackney of Gonzales wins the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year on Sept. 22 at the Toyota Bassmaster AOY Championship held on Bays de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich.

Greg Hackney smiles a lot, and has lots more to smile about these days. He talks, and has a lot more to talk about these days.

That’s why, a couple of Mondays ago, when this devoted family man from Gonzales was standing on a stage in the far-north town of Escanaba, Michigan, it was strange to find Greg Hackney speechless, and to the point of fighting back tears.

Hackney had just come through nine pro bass tournaments this year, on the road for at least 18 weeks since March, months spent away from home and family, and was standing atop the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s mountain.

Greg Hackney had won Angler of the Year.

Maybe his wife, Julie, knew what was going through his mind in that instant when he knew he’d outdueled 109 other Elite Series touring pro anglers to win the coveted AOY title, but darned few others could.

Hackney’s 41 years old, and for a die-hard bass fisherman whose come through the ranks, and competed against the sport’s big names and toughest anglers for more than 15 years, taking B.A.S.S.’ AOY is more than a dream come true.

Understanding that, we can give him a few minutes on a far-from-home platform, with men he described as his “heroes” in the audience, to let the memories from all those years come flooding back.

The last time Hackney was in thick of the AOY chase was 2004, when he was shoved to second place by Alabama’s Gerald Swindle on the tour’s final day. That was Hackney’s B.A.S.S. national tour rookie year.

Sure he’d won the FLW nationals (B.A.S.S. tour’s rival circuit) in 2009, and that was big money, and earned enough of reputation for his four Bassmaster event wins to get the nickname, “The Hack Attack.”

But Greg Hackney was coming off 2013, his worst year, when he failed to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic — that broke a string of 11 straight Classic appearances — and how could anyone consider otherwise that, for seconds on end, Hackney’s silence at the AOY Championship weigh-in came from a year spent earning his way back into the fold of truly elite bass anglers in our country.

If you want to see the event when Hackney took charge in the AOY race, and qualified him for the 2015 Classic, then tune in to ESPN2 at 1 p.m. Sunday to see him win the Elite Series event on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. He won that one going away.

You look at AOY’s the past 10 years and find Kevin Van Dam, Aaron Martens, Mike Iaconelli, Skeet Reese and Brent Chapman, and know that Greg Hackney’s name is etched on that 45-year-old list, a list that also includes Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Rick Clunn, Gary Klein, Hank Parker, Jimmy Houston and Mark Davis.

Truth is, this couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, friendly, glib, and with a reverence for his sport and the men in it.