TULSA, Okla. — Wednesday was the final practice day for Greg Hackney and the other 54 qualifiers for the 46th Bassmaster Classic.
And the 13-time Classic qualifier, among the most decorated bass fishermen in the country, continued to scratch his head over the conditions on the 44,000-area impoundment in northeast Oklahoma, a stretch of reservoir named Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees.
Hackney’s been here before, and finished 13th in the 2013 Classic with a three-day catch ounces shy of 40 pounds. Mother Nature put a blanket of snow across Oklahoma three years ago. Anglers launched on a 19-degree opening morning. Water temperatures hovered around 36, and Mississippi’s Cliff Pace took his first Classic title with a near 55-pound three-day total.
It’s much different this time, and that’s what has left Hackney wondering the hows and whys of what it’ll take to get him in first Classic win. He’s already earned Angler of the Year titles on the B.A.S.S. Elite series and the FLW national circuit, and took home $1.5 million for the win in the Forrest L. Wood Cup, the FLW’s end-of-the-year championship. He’s Louisiana’s lone qualifier.
“We’re fishing at a time of the year when 90 percent of the lake is muddy, and that’s exactly what you don’t want,” Hackney said after casting a crankbait in a cove along the reservoir’s west side.
“The water is warmer than the last time we were here. It’s 44-45 degrees, but the fish are really hard to catch,” he said. “Muddy water is good when it’s warm, but definitely your enemy when it’s cold.”
An explanation is needed: Remember back at Christmas time when the southwest was inundated by up to 12 inches of rain over two days.
Mark Boggs of Beggs, Oklahoma, the guy who’s piloting media folks around Grand Lake, said the reservoir filled so fast that it began flowing bulkheads. Water released from this lake, and others in the area, flooded down-river acreage and sent homeowners fleeing from floodwaters.
“It was terrible. Water was everywhere, and the lake hasn’t been right since,” Boggs said.
Boggs also explained that officials in the area closed Grand Lake to all bass tournament competition since November to get the lake ready for the 55 Classic anglers.
It hasn’t worked.
“When we were here before (2013), the water was clear, but the deal was the lake was normal and the fish bit good. For some reason fish bite better when it’s clear here,” Hackney said. “Now the biggest issue is that 90 percent of the lake has than a foot of visibility, and that’s weird because the lake is at winter drawdown, and why it’s muddy now no one has any idea,” he said. “What’s really misleading this week is that we’ve had a couple of really warm days, but the water has only warmed up a degree and a half. That’s not normal.”
But, in Hackney’s mind, that’s normal, too.
“There’s always something when have a Classic in the wintertime,” Hackney said. “You just learn to deal with it and now we’re dealing with cold, muddy water. We have nice weather for fishing, but it’s not good for the fish Strange deal typically come with the Bassmaster Classic. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Classic when it wasn’t a strange deal.”
Like other veterans in the field, Hackney has found less dirty water in the northern end of the lake and in the feeder rivers and creeks, and that’s where the moaning and groaning stopped.
“I think the weights will be good. We just won’t catch as many fish (as in 2013), but the quality of the fish is good,” he said. “The way the lake is setting up, it’ll be a big deal to catch five fish (daily limit) each day. My goal is to catch 15 pounds the first day.
“The one thing to remember is that these guys are the best bass fishermen on the planet and we’re fishing one of the best lakes on the planet,” Hackney said. “Someone’s going to figure this lake out.”
A video of Hackney’s time on the water and an interview is posted on The Advocate’s website: www.theadvocate.com, as well as daily videos from Thursday’s media day and all three Classic days.
Advocate Sports will have Classic features and results running Friday through Monday.
More than Hackney
National High School Bass champions Alex Heintze and Justin Watts from the Livingston Parish Bassmasters, earned a spot in Saturday’s High School Classic tournament and will be joined by Cade Fortenberry and Braden Blanchard from Ascension Anglers in the 11-team high school field competing for a five-bass catch on Lake Hudson near Locust Grove, Oklahoma south of Tulsa. Foretenberry and Blanchard earned an at-large invitation after their top five finish at nationals.
The teenagers will weigh their catches on the Bassmaster Classic stage at the BOK Center prior to the Classic anglers showing up with the second-day catches that will determine the top 25 advancing to Sunday’s final round.