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How the Hack Attacks

Updated: March 1, 2007, 1:34 AM ET
By Steve Price | BASSMASTER Magazine, March 2007
He's not flashy, he's not outspoken, and when really cornered to answer how he catches so many bass, 33-year-old Greg Hackney freely admits he can't explain it.

He talks about "dialing in" a pattern with just a single bass, but he can tell if fish are present just by looking at an area. He's a self-admitted power fisherman who prefers jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits, but he really enjoys fishing slower than molasses flows in winter. He frequently finds concentrations of bass in tournament practice but may spend all the competition days running new water.

Still, in just six years of professional tournament competition he has rocketed to the highest levels of the sport and his nickname, the "Hack Attack," is instantly recognized by millions of bass fishermen worldwide. Among his accomplishments: In 2004, he finished as the runner-up in both the BASS and FLW Angler-of-the-Year races; in 2006 he opened the Bassmaster Elite Series with a fourth place finish at Amistad and a win the following week at Sam Rayburn; and since 2001 he's banked more than $1 million in tournament winnings.

In short, this Louisiana pro is a refreshing study in contrasts. He doesn't break the established rules about finding and catching bass. The rules are so ingrained into his psyche now he never thinks about them. At least 80 percent of his competitive fishing today is purely mental, he feels, which makes a true "Hack Attack" that much more remarkable because of its simplicity.

"I always have a mindset about how a lake should fish before I get there," Hackney begins.

"If I can look at a map, that's great, but if I can't, I don't worry about that too much because I'm going to look for something that suits my style of fishing and fits the conditions at the time."

That first look is for somewhere he can go power fishing. Hackney's favorite technique is flipping a jig, but if he runs out of flipping targets in a cove, he doesn't leave that cove the way others might. If he's confident bass live there, he'll throw a crankbait, a spinnerbait or whatever it takes to find and catch them.

Part of this power-fishing approach is purely a tournament-based philosophy. He says he's more efficient as a power fisherman, but he also believes big lures mean bigger bass, even though it often cuts down on the number of strikes he gets.

A lot of times when he launches on the first practice morning, Hackney honestly does not know exactly what he's looking for. Basically, he tries to confirm his pre-fishing study. He'll run the shoreline and explore points and coves for miles before he ever picks up a rod, but when he does begin fishing, he may end up using 10 different lures before he ever changes locations.

This is where his study of what bass should be doing plays such a major role in his approach. The key, Hackney believes, is being able to quickly analyze what you see and fine-tune it as conditions dictate.

"I had never been to Lake Amistad," he explains as an example, "but I felt the dominant pattern would be sight fishing for spawning bass.

"I had also read that the most recent tournament there before the Bassmaster Elite had been won on the Mexican side, so on the first morning I headed straight for the Mexican side, but I never found any flats. What I did find was 57-degree water and a lot of prespawn bass, so I immediately changed my approach.

"On the second practice day I stayed on the Texas side of Amistad and found a big flat with ditches the bass would use to move shallow. I tied on a lipless crankbait and started moving down one of the ditches, and on my second cast I caught a 7-pounder, and another followed it. That's all it took. I pulled up the trolling motor and ran to another cove and found exactly the same pattern. In fact, I caught a 5-pounder there on my first cast."

In Hackney's words, he was then "dialed in," and later, in the tournament itself, as water continually warmed he added a jig pattern for other prespawners suspending in trees. In four days, he boated more than 98 pounds of fish with an approach as simple as that on a lake he'd never seen before.

"There are a lot of things you can look for as you learn what conditions may be," says Hackney, "including water temperature, water clarity and the overall season of the year. I really think it's important in your basic organizational plan to have some idea ahead of time about what might be going on.

"If nothing else, just having a starting point like this will be a confidence builder. When you have this basic idea, you can then start planning how and maybe where to fish your favorite lures. Most of us have favorite lures, and whenever we use them we just naturally feel more confident that we're going to catch fish.

"Today, this mental aspect forms about 80 percent of my fishing," Hackney adds. "When I pull into a cove or point, and I decide to fish it because I believe bass live there, I honestly don't know what lure they're going to hit or how they want it presented. Nobody does. I do have the confidence that I can figure it out, however, even if it takes a couple of days."

The aspect of this kind of patience can't be overstated, according to the Louisiana pro. In his words, patience isn't just about throwing different lures until he gets a bite; it's also about fine-tuning to get the best results possible. On one day at Amistad, for instance, he caught a 10-pounder, but after working the area more thoroughly he found a mother lode of bass further back on a ditch point and caught 11 weighing over 6 pounds.

Even though he's been bass fishing since about age 6 and competed in his first tournament at age 11 (he didn't win), the confidence hasn't always been there. In fact, in his early professional events just five years ago, Hackney admits he was intimidated, nervous, scared and far from confident, even though he knew his mechanical fishing skills were as good as anyone's in the sport.

"The turning point for my confidence came in an FLW tournament on Lake Ouachita in 2002, when I led the first day of competition," Hackney recalls. "I was getting very little practice time because of my schedule of fishing both circuits, but that day I realized I could still catch fish even though I didn't have them 'dialed in,' and my confidence went through the roof.

"A lot of other anglers have told me they've had a similar experience. You don't have to win a tournament to really set your career in motion," he continues. "This is the part of fishing I can't explain. All I can tell you is that at this level of competition you absolutely have to have this confidence, to positively feel like you're going to catch bass wherever you go."

Still another aspect of the "Hack Attack" approach — and Hackney thinks this is also a critical part of the puzzle — is that he firmly believes a bass is a bass is a bass, no matter where it lives. Its habits and requirements are the same everywhere. The fish don't change; only the fishing conditions change. Amistad reminded him of Table Rock Lake (site of his first Bassmaster Tour victory in 2005) where the fish also suspend in flooded timber. Sam Rayburn is a lot like the White River oxbows he fished as a youngster growing up in Arkansas.

"If you were to describe the way I fish," Hackney summarizes, "it's not about crankbaits and rocks or always starting in the back of the largest tributary creek and fishing all the way out. I really try to stay simple, so to me there are only a couple of key elements, and they really don't change.

"I have an idea of what should be happening before I start practice, so I have some kind of starting point. This eliminates the lost feeling you have when you look over 100,000 acres of water.

"Next, I have a set of confidence lures I want to use, so I try to find places where I can use them, conditions permitting. The key here is to remain flexible and stay versatile in case you can't use them as much as you'd like because that can blow your confidence.

"Finally, you have to believe you will get the fish dialed in. This comes from years of fishing experience.

That's why I can look at water and decide immediately if bass live there.

"But on top of all this, I can honestly say I still learn something new at every tournament. I do a lot of experimenting, and it doesn't always work, but when it does, it just adds to the experience and the confidence."

"You have to believe you will get the fish dialed in."

A LIFETIME OF BASS FISHING AT 33

Six years of professional tournament competition comprise only a small part of the overall fishing experience that Greg Hackney draws from each time he's on the water.

He's 33, but he's been fishing for 30 of those years, and he has memories of bass fishing at age 6. When he was 7, his father bought him an Ambassadeur levelwind reel, and at age 8 he was spending summers with his grandparents who let him fish from a boat by himself all day long. He'd go home on weekends and fish those days with his father. He was fishing seven days a week for weeks at a time.

This was near the White River National Wildlife Refuge, which presented a variety of water and cover conditions. To this day, Hackney relates some part of virtually every tournament lake he fishes to those early experiences.

In 1984 he watched Rick Clunn win the Bassmaster Classic on the Arkansas River and decided then and there to become a professional bass fisherman and compete in the Classic. Even today he remains in awe of Clunn's accomplishments in competition.

Hackney fished the BASS Federation for several years, competing as high as the Division level on four occasions but never making it to the Nationals where he might have a chance to qualify for the Classic. He had to become a full-time pro to do that, and he made his first Classic appearance in 2003. He's qualified for every Classic since.

In addition to his BASS wins at Table Rock and Sam Rayburn, he has 21 additional Top 10 finishes.

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