Greg Hackney saved his best for last at Cayuga Lake on Sunday.
The Gonzales angler and host of Sportsman TV turned in his heaviest bag of the tournament to win the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite Series stop in upstate New York.
His 5-fish, 23-15 bag was the both the tournament’s and the final day’s biggest, and earned him $100,000 and the victory over Todd Faircloth, who finished more than 9 pounds behind.
Even more importantly, the win makes Hackney pretty tough to beat for the Elite Series Angler of the Year title.
“I’ll ride this as long as I can,” Hackney said. “There are not too many times you get to do this. It’s pretty awesome.”
The Cayuga trophy was the fourth for Hackney in his B.A.S.S. career. Coming more than eight years after his only other Elite win in March 2006, the Cayuga victory broke his Bassmaster winner’s drought.
He won an FLW Tour in June, and also owns the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup trophy.
Hackney’s strategy was go after the lake’s bigger bass. The tradeoff was sacrificing quantity for quality, taking the chance that he might not return to the docks with a limit — exactly what happened to him on Day 3. Every day he survived off of just a few bites.
On Sunday, for example, the count was seven or eight, he said.
“You don’t get many bites fishing like that, doesn’t matter what part of the country you do that in,” he said. “I fish like that when there’s deep grass. When you catch them, they’re typically bigger fish on average.”
His primary spot was a grassy ledge that dropped off from 4 to 10 feet, then leveled off into another flat grass ledge, and then to a rocky bottom about 15 feet down.
“The fish were relating to that deep grass edge,” he said.
While he took the majority of his larger fish off his primary spot — the only one with rocks — he had several similar spots along a three- to four-mile stretch, he said.
“I could catch a big one off almost every one of those spots,” he said.
His secret was pitching a heavy skirted bass jig, either a 1-ounce or a 1 1/2-ounce. The heavier lure plummeted deep to the bottom, where the majority of his strikes came.
The jig was his signature Strike King Hack Attack, usually in the blue craw color. He used a Rage Craw trailer in a blue sapphire color to mimic the bluegill in the grass that bass were feeding on.
Only one bass he weighed in over the four days was taken with a different lure, he said. It was a Strike King Shim E Stik that yielded a 5-pounder on the first day, he said.
By Sunday morning about 11 a.m., Hackney had a limit he suspected would be hard to beat, even by himself.
“It got to the point that I felt I couldn’t do any better,” said Hackney. “I almost felt like I was fishing for a fish that didn’t exist.”
That is, a bass bigger than any of the five he had in his livewell.
The semifinal points standings tallied after the Cayuga tournament determined which 50 Elite pros will advance to next month’s season finale, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, Sept. 18-21 on Bays de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich. Those 50 will compete for a piece of the $900,000 purse.
At Escanaba, the plums of the season will be awarded. One is the 2014 Angler of the Year title to the Elite pro who earned the most points over the nine 2014 events. He will take home $100,000 of the $900,000 total payout.
Barring epic career disaster at Escanaba, Hackney has a strong chance to win the AOY crown. Closest to catching him are Aaron Martens, Todd Faircloth, Jacob Powroznik, Keith Combs and Mark Davis, in that order.
Hackney is looking for his first AOY title. The closest he had been before was in his rookie year, 2004, when he was runner-up to AOY Gerald Swindle.
Also at the Michigan event, the Top 29 pros in the points standings will have officially qualified for the Classic, Feb. 20-22, 2015, on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C.
Several more Elite pros below the 29-cut will also make it into the 2015 world championship due to double-qualifiers who won events in 2014.