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Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Tournament trail: Hack attacks the Rock, wins first Tour crown

By Tim Tucker
BASSMASTER Magazine, June 2005

Greg Hackney
Somewhat overshadowed by a nail-biter Angler-of-the-Year race, Greg Hackney waxed the competition by more than 7 pounds.
Former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Dion Hibdon brought in the tournament's biggest sack — 23 pounds, 5 ounces — on the first day at the final CITGO Bassmaster Tour stop at Missouri's Table Rock Lake. Brent Chapman and Aaron Martens got all of the attention in the second round with 20-pound-plus bags of their own. Then the ultradramatic Angler-of-the-Year battle between Martens and Marty Stone dominated the final two rounds.

All Greg Hackney did was win his first Tour victory with a decisive 7-pound-plus cushion.

Flying under the radar all week, the talented Louisiana pro proved that consistency will outproduce sizzle every time. With mixed bag limit catches of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass weighing 19-4, 13-8, 14-13 and 10 pounds, Hackney's top total of 57-9 easily outdistanced newly crowned Angler of the Year Martens (50-3).

"Just to be able to win a four day event is important," the second-year Tour pro says. "The guys that have won multiple tournaments, that's what impresses me because it's so hard just to win one.

"You don't know how bad I've wanted to win one of these Tour events," Hackney admits.

It was quite a remarkable performance on an early April week when two cold fronts impacted the four competition days, forcing the sport's brightest minds to adjust and scramble. It was also a coming-of-age display by the 31-year-old angler who is known only for his plodding style with a rubber-skirted jig and flipping stick in hand.

Neither played much of a role in his latest heroics.

Hackney has been the model of consistency since first joining the Bassmaster Open and Tour circuits — earning a check in 27 of 32 tournaments en route to collecting nearly $500,000. But he showed resourcefulness in the Table Rock event that bodes poorly for his competition.

The 2004 CITGO Rookie of the Year and Angler-of-the-Year runner-up had a stout jig bite working in practice that produced an 8-pound-plus bass each day. But his largemouth pattern largely evaporated once the starting horn sounded.

"I had a really good practice. Big ones," he notes. "Probably as big a fish as I've ever caught in practice for a tournament. I felt like the spots and smallmouth I was catching would be bonus fish. I was really targeting the largemouth, but they vanished."

Greg Hackney
Hackney, day 4.
Still, Hackney was able to put together four limits on a week when his closest pursuers struggled to bring 16 keepers to the scales. His 20 best consisted of eight spots, seven smallmouth and five largemouth.

All were living side by side in a pair of creeks located on the lower end of the 43,000-acre reservoir. More specifically, they were relating to rocky ledges on the sides of secondary points that uniformly dropped from 8 to 12 feet in depth. Although there was some timber nearby, it hardly came into play on his best spots.

"My whole area had fish in it," Hackney emphasizes. "I could just about catch one in any part of it.

"They were staging on shallow ledges. They're coming up, getting ready to spawn. They stage on that last ledge right before they spawn. I had to catch the smallmouth up in the 8-foot water and the spots and largemouth came a little bit deeper.

"A big thing in my favor was that I had my areas totally by myself. I don't know what the reason was, but I really like that situation. I don't have to get in a big hurry. I can be real thorough if I want to or I can jump around. It makes fishing a lot easier when you get to fish that way."

Other examples of Hackney's adaptability can be seen in the fact that his trademark jig played a rather insignificant role in his success, as well as his deftly shifting to entirely different lures to adjust to the weather's stranglehold on the resident bass.

In the early rounds, Hackney did the most damage with an old original Storm Wigglewart crankbait in a crawfish pattern. But when the cold front's grip played havoc with his competitors, his switch to a Strike King 3X Finesse worm on light line and a small jighead kept the fish biting under the toughest conditions.

"The first day, I could pinpoint where to cast and I could fish the worm a couple of feet and get a bite. But after the weather changed and got colder, I had to work it all the way back to the boat because they weren't really dialed in on one place."

The crankbait was worked at a fairly brisk pace with an emphasis on banging it into as many rocks as possible during each retrieve. "The main key was to be methodical," Hackney adds. "Each point took me a couple of hours to really milk it. I felt like the fish's strike zone was small, so I'd make three or four casts to the same exact spot."

It was a strategy that worked perfectly and secured one of the hard-charging pro's most important goals — winning a Tour event. "It just really blew my mind to win," he admits. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. But I know when I get in that truck to drive home that it's going to floor me. I know that because that's the way it was when I won an Open. I said, 'Man, this is great. I just won a BASS tournament.' Then I drove five miles down the road and almost had a wreck."

Winning details

Greg Hackney
Missouri Tour Champion
Table Rock Lake

LURES: Green-and-orange 1/2-ounce Strike King Bitsy Bug jig; watermelon-colored Strike King 3X Finesse worm; old, original Storm Wigglewart crankbait in a crawfish pattern.

TACKLE: Finesse worm: 1/16- or 1/8-ounce ball-shaped jighead, tied to 8-pound-test Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon and fished on a 6-6 medium action G.Loomis GLX spinning rod and Shimano Stradic 4000 reel; jig: 7-1 medium-heavy G.Loomis GLX rod, Curado casting reel, 12-pound-test Vanish; crankbait: 12-pound-test Vanish Transition fluorocarbon worked with a 7-foot medium-heavy CBR cranking rod and Curado reel.

TECHNIQUE: Targeted a pair of large lower-lake creeks where he concentrated on the sides of secondary points. Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass were relating to rocky ledges that dropped from 8 to 12 feet. Finesse worm was worked methodically, while crankbait was retrieved fairly fast and careened off rocks. Multiple casts to each spot.

Purolator Big Bass

Aaron Martens
Martens with the Purolator Big Bass.
Aaron Martens, 9-00

"I was fishing a nothing spot. It was a point in the back of a creek. On the side of the point there is a flat with a hidden channel. There is a big brushpile on the top of that break. The fish was in about 8 or 9 feet. I was making a lot of casts and walking the Wigglewart real slow."

Tournament summary

  • Day 1: A voice from the past — 1997 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion DION HIBDON — is heard from for the first time this Tour season when the Missouri pro opens with a bang (23 pounds, 5 ounces). Although he would catch only a single bass the following day, it was enough to get him into the Top 12 semifinals.

  • Day 2: Kevin VanDam surges into the lead with 17-5, but his heroics are overshadowed by the CITGO Bassmaster Angler-of-the-Year death match that is shaping up between leader MARTY STONE and surprise contender Aaron Martens. Stone finishes one spot outside the Top 12 cut and will have to watch as Martens (who jumps from 24th to second with a limit weighing 21-15) lives to fish another day.

  • Day 3: The second cold front in four days plays havoc with the pattern of the semifinalists, except for Hackney (14-13), who delegates VanDam to second place. Although MARTENS struggles (two bass weighing 3-15), he grabs the sixth and last spot for the finals. That means another agonizing day for Stone.

  • Day 4: It is a day of intriguing developments. First, Table Rock skunks VanDam — creating an audible gasp among the sizeable weigh-in crowd. Then Martens' catch puts Stone out of his misery and secures the coveted Angler-of-the-Year award. Finally, HACKNEY puts the finishing touches on the most consistent weeklong performance with his fourth consecutive limit (10 pounds) of the tournament to win his first Tour event and claim the $100,000 top prize.

    Runners-up

    2. AARON MARTENS

    Like winner Greg Hackney, runner-up Aaron Martens reached back into the past to catch most of his 50 pounds, 3 ounces. An old, original Storm Wigglewart paved the way to catches of 11-10, 21-15 and 3-15 (including a 9-pound largemouth that took Purolator Big Bass honors). He fished it on 8-pound Sunline fluorocarbon line and a 7-foot medium action Megabass Tomahawk rod.

    But when the second cold front of the tournament rendered the "orangish-brown" crankbait ineffective, the California kid switched to a 4 1/2-inch Roboworm in a color pattern named Aaron's Magic (watermelon-blue-brown) on a 1/16-ounce jighead to catch the final-round largest weight (12-11) and save him Angler-of-the-Year hopes.

    Martens' milk run consisted of about 10 stops in select creeks in the James River arm, where he targeted areas with a combination of slightly off-colored water, timber and a transition from rock to gravel. "I was working (the crankbait) like a jig, working it real slow," he says. "I caught them walking it. A lot of people were throwing a Wigglewart, but they were probably working it too fast. I was making real long casts. Longer the better. Most of the strikes I got were when I let the handle go or just dropped the rod, and the bait almost suspends in the rocks."

    3. BRENT CHAPMAN

    It was a remarkable second round that largely enabled Brent Chapman to finish third with 47-14. On that day, the Kansas pro used a purple/chartreuse 4 1/2-inch Suspending Rattlin' Rogue jerkbait to pick off 22-5 (including three 5-pounds-plus largemouth). These big bass came off isolated, single trees located on points in 15 feet of water. "I just wish I had had more time to have done it when they were really biting," he notes. "I would have had a lot better day."

    The rest of Chapman's catch came on a green-crawfish original Wigglewart tied to 12-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon line.