After grinding through more than six months of fishing on both the Bassmaster and FLW pro circuits, Greg Hackney can finally relax a little.
The newly-minted Bassmaster Angler of the Year spent the last couple of days enjoying quality time fishing for smallmouth with his boys, less than 72 hours removed from his dream victory at Bays de Noc near Escanaba, Mich.
“The last couple of days I woke up, and I don’t have anything on my mind,” Hackney said with a chuckle this morning. “It’s awesome to have a clear mind. I didn’t have that the last three or four weeks. I finally just kind of got laid back.
“It’s pretty cool.”
That’s a far cry from the pressure cooker he endured at Escanaba, where fierce winds canceled three days of fishing and made Monday basically a winner-take-all affair between he and Todd Faircloth for Angler of the Year honors. (Watch the video when Hackney weighed-in and won here.)
“I knew it was going to be close. I was an emotional wreck,” he said, as he made his way through Indiana heading home to Gonzales. “I was just so relieved when I won it. I had a lot of pressure on me to win, coming in to it leading.
“It had been killing me all week.”
For the first time in several years, Hackney fished both the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2014, and he enjoyed amazing success on both: He was consistent all year long, he won on Pickwick Lake for the FLW in June, he won on Cayuga Lake for B.A.S.S. in August and then capped it off this week with his first-ever Elite Series Angler of the Year award.
“It’s been about as awesome a year as you can get,” he said. “For me, it validates it. For me to have a professional career as a B.A.S.S. angler, I needed that. But honestly, I feel like I need them both — Angler of the Year and the Classic.
“I’ll fish for the other one now.”
A win at Lake Hartwell in February would truly be history-making, and would put the “Hack-Attack” in rarefied air for the bass fishing record books.
“I can be the first guy to win the FLW Angler of the Year, the FLW championship, the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and the Classic,” he said. “The Classic’s the only one I don’t have.
“It’s a very humbling deal for me. It’s awesome.”
It was a 180-degree turnaround from last season, when he missed out on the Classic for the first time in his career - by a grand total of four points.
“I was pissed off starting the year, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I was very upset having to go to the Classic and not be able to fish it, because that was a new deal for me. But I tell you what, I guess in a way it was was good for me, because I woke up the day after missing the Classic and told myself, ‘You know what? It’s the first time you haven’t made it, and you’re still breathing. The world’s not over. The sun came up.’
“But I was in a pretty rough place over it, without a doubt. But it didn’t really change the way I fished.”
Although life on the road was a grind, including a 6-week stretch of hopping back and forth between both tours, Hackney credits more time on the water with his success this season.
“Without a doubt, me fishing a lot has made a big difference,” he said. “It’s like tying your shoes: The more you do it, you almost do it unconsciously.
“That’s kind of what tournament fishing has been for me. I fish so much that I just get in a groove.”
And he’s already looking forward to fishing his second Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell in Greenville, S.C., where he finished 5th in 2006.
“The lake was good then, but nothing like it is now. In the eight years it’s been since we fished the Classic there, the lake is a lot better now. I think it will take a lot better weight than it did last time," he said. “I think the winning weights will average 3 pounds a day heavier than they did then, which is a lot for five fish.”
He thinks it will probably take 60 pounds to win, depending on what Mother Nature has in store when the anglers hit the water in late February.
“If we get some halfway decent weather conditions, it should be really good,” he said. “When we were there before in the Classic, there were fish caught as deep as 50 feet and then fish caught in 6 inches. It’s that kind of lake.
“It sets up right because the top five guys will be doing five different things — they’ll be doing what they like to do. It could be won shallow or it could be won deep.”
In the meantime, Hackney has a full schedule this fall with Major League Fishing events, filming episodes of Sportsman TV and appearing at an outdoor writer’s conference in Tennessee, where Strike King has requested he bring all three champion’s trophies from this year for a photo shoot he won’t soon forget.
And before the Classic’s waters go off-limits to participating anglers at the end of the year, he plans on squeezing in a scouting trip on Lake Hartwell.
“I’m going to be pretty booked up, so I’m going to try to get everything done by about Thanksgiving so I can get my priorities straight and start deer hunting,” he said. “If we get some warm weather and I don’t want to deer hunt at home, I’m going to leave and head to Hartwell.”