At 56,000 acres, Lake Hartwell is a little bigger than Brandon Gray’s home lake, Buggs Island, aka Kerr Reservoir. And it’s a little bit clearer, and it’s got spotted bass. But there are enough similarities that Gray believes he can feel confident in what he’s doing when he blasts off on Friday morning in the Bassmaster Classic.
Gray, from Bullock, is one of 56 fishermen chasing the $300,000 first-prize money in the three-day tournament on Hartwell, a sprawling reservoir along the Georgia-South Carolina border.
“Buggs Island offers every situation you can get into in the country .. and I’d say what I’ve learned at Buggs Island has helped me here,” he said. “I will be able to do things I’ve got confidence in.”
Now, if he can just conquer Mother Nature as well as the fish. Single-digit temperatures are expected for Friday morning’s 8:30 blast-off, pushed back 90 minutes because of what BASS officials described as “extreme temperatures.”
“Yesterday, I was cold. I could never get warm, But even if I had a heater, I won’t have time to turn it on,” said Gray, the only entrant from North Carolina in the field. “I’m gonna bounce around. I’ve spent all my life on Buggs Island, fishing places I know I can pull up on and make 10 casts and be gone. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
Gray figures a jigging spoon, a shakey head rig and a jig will probably be his three main weapons.
“I’m looking for real sharp breaks in 25 to 35 feet of water,” he said. “I took this lake and made one area of it my lake. I took the Tugaloo River and broke it down, made it my own little Buggs Island. I’m prepared to win it, or lose it, too.”
The entire field of 56 anglers will fish today and Saturday, then only the top 25 will in the standings after Saturday will fish in Sunday’s final round of competition. The total purse is slightly more than $1.5 million, with $300,000 going to the winner.
Boats leave each morning from the Green Pond Landing in Anderson. Daily weigh-ins will be at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, a few miles from the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo at the TD Convention Center. Doors will open at 3 p.m.
The Classic visited Lake Hartwell in 2008, with Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, winning with a three-day weight of 49 pounds, 7 ounces. Anglers believe that weight won’t be enough this year, despite the weather, because of the improvement in the lake’s population of spotted bass over the past seven years.
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., the 2014 BASS Angler of the year, feels like it will take 17 to 18 pounds a day to win.
“If you catch five bass, they’ll be good, quality fish, and you’ll have a decent weight. I think it will take between 50 and 55 pounds,” he said. “It took 49 last time, but conditions have changed.
“The spotted bass population is so good, the size of the fish is so good, the tournament could be won with only spotted bass, but I don’t think it will because the spots and largemouths are mixed together so much.”