Three Louisiana bass fishermen, led by Angler of the Year Greg Hackney of Gonzales, braved winds and temperatures that never climbed about the freezing mark Wednesday for the final practice day before Friday’s start of the 45th Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell near Greenville, South Carolina.

Like Hackney, the other two Louisiana anglers, three-time Classic qualifier Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, and Carhartt Collegiate champion Brett Preuett of the University of Louisiana Monroe, are shooting for the title of Classic Champion and the $300,000 that goes with it.

To do that, all three and the other 53 anglers in the field, will face the coldest-ever Classic conditions. Weather Underground carried a prediction of Thursday’s overnight temperatures down to 5 degrees. Two years ago, on Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees near Tulsa, Oklahoma, Classic competitors opened the three-day tournament on a 19-degree morning.

On a day after South Carolina’s northwestern corner survived freezing rain and snow, Wednesday’s practice day was clear, cold and windy, so windy that windward banks ran red, the color of the dirt and sand that lines the near 88-square mile reservoir that makes up part of the South Carolina-Georgia border.

State work crews salted and sanded the Green Pond Landing launch ramps, and will be tending the launch site Friday and Saturday after overnight below-freezing conditions could make launching hazardous.

Hackney, coming off the water Wednesday, told Advocate videographer Gary Krouse that, despite the conditions, he was catching fish in practice.

“I feel pretty good about what I found,” Hackney said stopping short of divulging the wheres, whens and hows.

Hackney is returning to the Classic field after breaking a streak of 11 straight Classic appearances. His best-ever Classic finish, fifth, came on Hartwell in 2008.

Moments later, when Crochet was safely off the water, he told Krouse that he’d, “put together a pretty good pattern,” that plays to his strength of fishing relatively shallow water with heavy cover. Crochet and his wife of four months, Sara, were the subject of Don Barone’s lead Classic website feature (Bassmaster.com) Wednesday.

Crochet said he believes, from what he’s found, that it will take 15 to 18 pounds each of the three days to take the title. That’s a 45-pound to 54-pound swing that fits right into Alton Jones’ Classic winning stringer of 49 pounds, 7 ounces on Hartwell back in 2008. Alabama touring pro Randy Howell is the defending champion after his win last year on Lake Guntersville northeast of Birmingham, Alabama.

Former Classic champion Chris Lane told Krouse that Hartwell’s surface temperatures were “fishable” during the Friday-through-Sunday practice days, but that the water is cooling off and, because of the extremely low temperatures, will be colder than the 47-degree conditions he found in Wednesday’s last practice day.

Preuett said he went looking for a different pattern Wednesday than what he found in the three previous practice days, but confided that he, “would go back to what I found, back to clearer water than what I was able to find today.”

Launch times are set for 6 a.m. CST and the first flight, led by Hackney, must check in by 2 p.m. Daily weigh-ins should begin by 3:30 p.m. from the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville. After Saturday’s second round, the field will be cut to the top 25 anglers heading into Sunday’s final weigh-in and the drama involving the final six anglers on the stage.

Daily updates and live weigh-ins can be viewed on the Bassmaster website: www.bassmaster.com. The website will also carry Facebook updates at: www.facebook.com/bass, and live video will be streamed in the “Bassmaster Classic Live presented by Lowrance” programs on Bassmaster.com Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m.-noon. Plans also call for ESPN2 to air 12 hours of the Classic on March 7-8.

The Weather Channel is scheduled to broadcast live from the launch Friday and Saturday mornings.

National awards

Ronda Johnson’s dedication to the disabled hunters and her ability to organize hunts to get the handicapped and the disabled into the field earned recognition during last week’s 39th annual National Wild Turkey Federation Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

Johnson, the president of the Minden-based Dorcheat Bayou Gobblers and the Louisiana NWTF board, earned the organization’s national Wheelin’ Volunteer of the Year Award for putting together two hunts and directing outreach programs to help mobility impaired hunters.