Greg Hackney fights for solid Bassmaster Classic spot _lowres

Advocate staff photo by GARY KROUSE -- Leaning back and ready to put a lunker Grand Lake o' the Cherokees in the livewell, Gonzales' Greg Hackney, the only Louisiana angler in the Bassmaster Classic field shows off the heaviest bass he caught in the first hours of the 46th-annual Classic. As many as eight anglers reportedly had boated a five-bass limit by the time Hackney caught this giant, but most of the anglers reported have much smaller bass in Friday's first-day limit.

TULSA, Okla. Greg Hackney has been around this bass fishing thing for long enough, and has been successful enough, to know what the opening round of a Bassmaster Classic means.

“You can’t win it on the first day, but you can darned sure lose it,” he said before Friday’s launch into the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, the 44,000-acre impoundment tucked into the northeast corner of Oklahoma.

He didn’t lose it Friday, but readily confessed his seventh-place standing in the 55-angler field didn’t come easy.

“I had three fish pretty early, then it was a struggle,” Hackney said. “It was tough after that, one fish here and one fish there, and I feel blessed to have that stringer of fish.”

Able to cull two of the smaller fish he caught early Friday, the national touring pro angler, the only Louisiana qualifier in the field, bolted from a six-pound catch to a 16-pound, 2-ounce total to give him a shot at his first-ever Classic title.

Jason Christie, the favorite son of most in attendance at the BOK Center weigh-in site — he grew up in nearby Park Hill, Oklahoma — used his knowledge of the lake to his advantage. The young angler leads the field with 20-14 on his five-fish catch, and Alabama’s Greg Vinson is second at 18-1.

Marty Robinson, from South Carolina, is 10th at 14-12 and had the day’s big fish, a solid 7 pounder.

As usual, Christie didn’t reveal much in the post-first-day news conference, only to say, nervously, that he’s running a definite pattern and is using two productive lures.

Most of the comments centered on the muddy water covering most of the lake and the need to find clearer water pushed anglers into close quarters.

And while other anglers said they had to “share” water, Hackney said he only saw local fishermen but none of the other 54 competitors.

“I’m fishing in a place no one else is fishing,” Hackney said choking back a laugh. “Maybe that’s because the fish are so hard to catch. Maybe I’m in the wrong place, but I run away from other boats cause I don’t like to fish behind anybody. That’s not my deal.”

Holding respective third and fourth places are past Classic champions Alton Jones (17-13) and Randy Howell (17-6) and both said they had completely different stories about their days on the water.

Jones, one of the few anglers to say he caught as many as 10 keepers, said he figured out a pattern and said “... it wasn’t a mental grind because I understood what I was doing. The grind out there was you had to grind on the fish to make them bite. It was good, but it wasn’t easy, not easy at all.”

Howell said he didn’t figure out the fish, only that he made cast after cast with a variety of lures to get his five bass.

One of the reasons for the “grind” was changing weather. After five days of hard, constantly shifting winds, the winds laid Friday and anglers, even Hackney, said the bite improved when the wind picked up in late morning.

A bright sky for the last two days also warmed the clearer waters in creeks and feeder rivers to the point where most anglers said they expect a different challenge from bass for Saturday’s second round.

“But that’s the Classic. It’s not like any other event. In a four-day tournament, you can have a bad day and still catch up. Not here. This is a different animal, and I don’t know why,” Hackney said. “To win everything has to go perfect from the start. Maybe with all that’s around this (tournament) is why the (catch) weights are lower in the Classic. We’re on one of the best lakes in the country, and the water is muddy, but the (weather) conditions are much better than any time in the last couple of years.”

Grand Lake was so befuddling that four in the field failed to weigh a fish.

Only the top 25 after Satuday’s second round will advance to Sunday’s finale. The website www.bassmaster.com will carry Saturday’s 4:45 p.m. live weigh-in.