Tenth place at the 2016 Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa. Two Top 10s already, including a second place finish to kick off the season on the St. Johns River that would have likely been a victory — except for an improbable weekend run by Rick Clunn. Currently first place in Angler of the Year standings…
That’s how things have shaped up for Elite Series Pro Greg Hackney, who’s seemingly managed to put together a string of solid performances all year long.
“I’ve just fished pretty clean,” Hackney said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after arriving back at his home in Gonzales fresh from a sixth place finish on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala. this weekend. “I haven’t really broke any records, I don’t guess. I’ve just had decent finishes at every tournament.
“And I really haven’t been having the best practice — they’ve just been kind of average. It’s just that everything has been pretty solid.”
After a 10th place finish at the Classic in March, Hackney was in position to win the year’s opening event in Florida. But 69-year-old legend Rick Clunn had a tournament for the ages on the St. Johns River, and bested Hackney by 4 pounds.
“It’s funny how you look at a tournament,” he said. “At the first regular season event I was second and I was disappointed. Then we go to South Carolina (Winyah Bay) and I finished 29th, but I wasn’t disappointed because I fished really good — I just never got around any fish.
“That’s kind of how the whole year has been. I’ve found just enough fish to have decent tournaments.”
And yes, the 2014 Bassmaster Angler of the Year is very much aware that he’s currently ranked No. 1 in the 2016 AOY standings — even though the season is not quite halfway done.
“It has to be. Anybody who says they aren’t aware is a liar,” Hackney said with a chuckle. “Angler of the Year is always on everyone’s radar at the beginning of the season. Typically, my first goal is to always make the Classic, but that Angler of the Year deal is always lingering around. But there’s a lot of fishing left. Basically, we’re not at the halfway point yet — we still have five regular season events to go.”
Remaining at or near the top of the AOY standings as the schedule moves forward would guarantee Hackney a spot at next year’s Classic on Houston’s Lake Conroe.
“I don’t want to have to look at the last couple of tournaments of the year and fish to try to make the Classic,” he said. “I would rather be able to try to concentrate on Angler of the Year. Right now, I have a little cushion, and I’m not planning on using that up, but it does help me focus.
“There’s a lot of great fishermen in our bunch that never have the opportunity (for AOY), so it’s an honor just to be setting at No. 1. It’s a feat in itself, regardless of whether I win it or not.”
Hackney, who’s also the host of Sportsman TV, won’t have far to travel for the next Elite stop, slated for Toledo Bend May 12-15.
But at this point, he’s not exactly sure what the winning tactic will be on the reservoir recently named as the No. 1 Best Bass Lake in America by Bassmaster.
“It’s always funny — that’s the reason you can’t have any preconceived notions,” he said. “Because the way the spring had been, it was setting up to be a totally offshore deal to win. We had an early spring, the weather has been really warm and everything is ahead. The last time we were at Toledo almost the same week, the shad were spawning and it was won sight-fishing — most of the big fish were still bedding.
“I don’t see that happening this time. The water temperature is warmer, but now it’s possible it might be won shallow because I looked at the lake level last night and it was 173. Well, 173 at Toledo is extremely high, so it depends on how quick they get the water out. I would think if it’s back to 173, the lake is probably dirty, too.”
The weight it will take to win at Toledo Bend is anyone’s guess, he said.
“Who knows? I thought with the lake dropping and if it was warm, I’d have said a hundred pounds. But the lake flooding like this will probably hurt the weight some, I would think,” Hackney said. “But had the lake kept falling and the fish moved offshore, that’s when they catch big sacks — when they’re bunched up together. You don’t catch big sacks like that four days in a row off the bank.
“They have to be bunched up together to consistently catch 25 pounds a day. So I don’t know — I don’t know what it will be like. The last time we were there I think it took 85 (pounds), and that’s probably a pretty good weight for that time of the year.”
Hackney said the winner will likely be working a pattern consistently targeting and catching larger fish.
“Toledo is one of those lakes where you typically have to target bigger fish to catch bigger fish, because you can go over there and catch a hundred and still have five that weigh 12 pounds,” he said. “Toledo has a huge population of small fish in it. It has great big ones, but it also has a huge population of 1 ½- to 2 ½-pounders.
“With the lake coming back up, the majority of our field will catch them shallow. But that doesn’t mean it will be won that way.”