ESCANABA, Mich. —Greg Hackney has claimed a spot among bass fishing’s immortals Monday.
The Gonzales touring pro angler brought in a five smallmouth bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 2 ounces — a stringer that gave him a 35-4 total, a weight that was good enough to hold off challengers for the Bassmaster Elite’s Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title.
Although that two-day total was 24th in the 50-angler AOY Championship field, Hackney’s ability to catch a five-bass limit each day in the weather-shortened tournament was enough to make him the first Louisiana angler to claim the prestigious title and leave this town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the AOY’s $100,000 bonus.
With 100 points going to the tournament winner, Hackney’s 77 points gave him 741 points for the nine Bassmaster Elite Series events. Texas pro Todd Faircloth, who entered the event trailing Hackney by 17 points, finished second in the overall standings with 727 points. AOY Championship winner Jacob Powroznik (47-6) from Port Haywood, Virginia, claimed the tour’s Rookie of the Year title and finished third with 723 points. Defending AOY champ Aaron Martens, second to Hackney in the standings going into the event, finished 29th in the tournament and fourth in the AOY standings.
With Faircloth on the weigh-in stage, Hackney was the last to present his catch. And with Faircloth’s final-day 15-3 catch, and 36-2 total, the 41-year-old Louisiana fisherman was assured of being the latest in the 44-year line of AOY champions.
Hackney choked back tears when B.A.S.S. emcee Dave Mercer asked for Hackney’s initial reaction. Since Thursday’s opening round, when Hackney was in 17th place, the tournament was delayed Friday, Saturday and Sunday because of high winds and pounding waves over Little Bay de Noc off of Lake Michigan that shortened the three-day schedule to two days.
During the last three days, Hackney said he felt like he was a “caged tiger ... I couldn’t be still. ... It never bothered me when I was fishing, but I was nervous being off the water.”
After holding the trophy, Hackney told Mercer, “The worst I felt was when I checked in (after Monday’s final round). I thought my heart was coming out of my chest.
“I know I’m very blessed,” Hackney said between episodes of trying to control his emotions. “My family sacrifices a lot so I can do this. I really don’t know what to say.”
After bring joined on the stage by his wife Julie and sons Drew and Luke, Hackney broke out in his all-too-familiar grin and said, “I needed this.”
Hackney was coming off his first down season in his pro bass fishing career in 2013, a year when he failed to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic for the first time since finishing second in the AOY in his rookie season in 2004. He had qualified for 11 consecutive classics until last year.
He came back strong, and after opening the season with a 38th place finish on Lake Seminole in Georgia, he kept improving his position in the AOY standings until he put distance between him and the rest of the 106 Elite Series anglers with a win in the last Elite Series event held in upstate New York in August. That victory gave him one of the automatic berths for the 2015 Classic for the eight Elite winners. The Classic will be held on Lake Hartwell near Greenville, South Carolina, in February.
“This has been blessed year. I’ve had a blessed career,” Hackney said after hefting the AOY trophy. “I probably have never been emotional about this until now. I just know how much I wanted to have this experience. The men I fish against are my heroes, and they amaze me every day.”
Pierre Part angler Cliff Crochet was assured of his third Classic berth going into the AOY Championship. He finished 44th in the field that was made up of the top 50 anglers in the AOY standings after the year’s first eight events.