Million-Dollar Man

At only 33 years of age, Louisiana’s Greg Hackney has already made a vault full of money fishing professional bass tournaments.

Many outdoorsmen believe Greg Hackney of Gonzalez, one of the hottest young bass fisherman on the professional bass-fishing circuit, jumped full blown onto the professional bass-fishing circuit and consider him the next great bass phenom. However, Mark Davis, one of the veterans of professional bass fishing from Mount Ida, Ark., says he’s known for years Hackney would be something special.

“I’ve been watching Greg for a long time, and what most people don’t realize is that Greg’s been fishing and winning bass tournaments on local and regional levels for years,” he said. “He’s not really a newcomer to tournament bass fishing. He’s just a newcomer to the B.A.S.S. Elite Series.

“Greg’s a solid fisherman with plenty of experience, a lot of talent and a God-given gift to catch bass.”

But how did a 33-year-old earn $1 million in tournament bass fishing in five years? Louisiana Sportsman sat down with Hackney to learn the secrets of his success. We also wanted to know where and how to catch bass now in Louisiana from a man who has proven he knows how to do it.

From dream to vocation

“Since I can’t remember a time when I didn’t bass fish, I must have started right after I learned to walk,” Hackney recalls.

An Arkansas native, Hackney moved to Louisiana a decade ago and then to Gonzalez 4 years ago with his wife, Julie, a native of New Orleans.

“My father, Roger, and I’d fished all up and down the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers for as far back as I can remember,” Hackney explains. “I fished my first bass tournament when I was 11.

“When I was 26, I started fishing outside the state of Louisiana, although I’d fished bass tournaments almost every weekend since my 11th birthday.

“One of the keys to my success is the thousands of hours I’ve spent on the water under all kinds of weather and water conditions, competing to catch bass. I’ve always been totally eaten-up with the idea of being a tournament bass fisherman, and all my life I’ve dreamed of earning a living catching bass.”

Hackney’s star began to rise in 1999, when at age 25, he won the Red Man Tournament Trail Regional on Sam Rayburn Lake. He had just married Julie in May, and won the tournament in October that year. Hackney made a clean sweep in the tournament by not only winning the event but also cashing the big-fish check. This win produced $10,000 in cash, a brand new fully rigged Ranger bass boat and a new Chevrolet pick-up truck.

Hackney’s next big tournament win came from a buddy event he fished with his favorite fishing partner, his dad.

“In 2000, my dad and I were fishing the OMC Circuit,” Hackney said. “We competed first on the local trail, made the top 30, went on to the regionals, made the top 30 there and then qualified for the nationals.

“We won that tournament and split first prize, which was $100,000. I really needed that tournament win to help pay off just-getting-married bills and my first year of tournament-fishing expenses.”

Since then, Hackney’s wins have kept on coming. Bassfan.com, a national Internet ranking organization, reports that in the last five years, Hackney has earned more than $1 million in tournament wins, which doesn’t include money he’s received from sponsors and bonus money he wins when he does well in a tournament using different products.

During the last 5 years, Hackney has won a B.A.S.S. Open tournament that paid $50,000 plus a boat and a motor, two B.A.S.S. tour events, each paying $100,000 or more, the B.A.S.S. Open Champion title in both the central and the southern divisions, the EverStart Eastern Division Champion title, the title of FLW Angler of the Year, which paid $65,000, and the Ranger Cup award and prize money, totaling $150,000. In 2005, he earned more than $450,000, and so far in 2006, he’s earned more than $250,000.

“I’m living my dream, and I’ve been totally blessed by being able to make a living doing what I love to do,” he said.

Hackney said the key to his success is the knowledge he’s gained from spending so much time outdoors.

“I can’t really explain it, but I’ve always been good at outdoor sports, including hunting, fishing and trapping,” he said. “I’ve always known that the outdoors is where I’m supposed to be.

“The other thing I’ve had going for me is my family has supported me 200 percent. My father always has wanted me to be a professional bass fisherman.

“When I was 17 and 18 years old, I was fishing bass tournaments almost every weekend, and my dad always was behind me in my fishing.

“Even though he owned his own logging company for the last 40 years, he never tried to influence me to take over his company. Instead, he let me find my own way.

“When he saw that I had a serious interest in bass fishing, he encouraged me to follow my dreams. After I graduated from college, I went to work for my dad. But he always let me take off to participate in tournaments and encouraged me to be the best bass fisherman I could be, which really helped me.

“I certainly needed a job, and I didn’t have any sponsors at the time. Working for my dad allowed me to earn money to support my family and my fishing habit. I believe the Good Lord blessed me with a talent for this sport.”

Catching bass now

Hackney names these places as his favorite spots to catch January bass in Louisiana:

Venice.

“I like to fish the Venice area because there’s plenty of vegetation and diverse habitat there,” he said. “If I can pick any type of cover I like to fish, I’ll choose big vegetation, and Venice has plenty of it. I like to fish the edges and through the vegetation.

“My favorite tactic to use at this time of year is flipping grass mats. I also like to fish where the roseau cane has fallen over in the water and undercuts in the bank.

“What I really enjoy about fishing the Venice area is you can catch a 6-pound largemouth on one flip and a 6-pound redfish on the next flip. Venice is the only place in the nation where you’ve got great saltwater and freshwater fishing at the same place.

“One of my favorite things to flip is a 1 1/2-ounce Tru-Tungsten slip sinker with a 4-inch Strike King tube in black/red flake. There’s plenty of crawfish and crabs in this region. I like to fish a dark-colored tube under those grass mats to resemble a crawfish or a crab. I’ll be flipping this tube on 65- or 80-pound-test braided line to slow down the fall of the tube.”

Because cold fronts will hit from now until February, Hackney said the bass will bite slower-moving baits, so he uses heavy line. He’ll flip the tube on a 7-foot, 11-inch Quantum PT Greg Hackney Signature Series rod with a Quantum Accurist PT 6.2:1 gear ratio.

Atchafalaya Basin.

“Normally, this time of year is when grass in that section of the state begins to die-off, and the bass start holding on stumps and trees,” he said. “I like to fish the dead-end canals with a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Strike King jig in either black/blue or blue.”

To the back of his jig, Hackney attaches a Denny Brauer 3X Chunk. He uses two techniques to fish wood cover at this time of year, depending on the weather.

“On bright, sunny days, I’ll swim the jig, but if the weather’s cold, I’ll fish the jig slowly on the bottom,” he said.

Hackney primarily fishes in water 3 feet deep or less. He’ll fish with 50- or 60-pound-test braided line and the 7-1/2-foot rod with a 6.2:1 Quantum reel. Most of the time, he’ll pitch to the stumps rather than flip to them.

“If I decide the bass are holding on the bottom, I’ll pitch the jig past the stump,” he explained. “Then I’ll drag the bait on the bottom up to the stump and then past the stump since most of those stumps and trees will be sitting on a ledge.

“As the jig crawls along the bottom, gets by the stump or passes the stump, it will usually drop off that ledge.”

When Louisiana has Indian summer days during the winter months, Hackney swims the jig around stumps and trees.

Bayou Black.

“There’s plenty of grass in the canals in this area, and I’ll be fishing this region with a Strike King Diamond Shad or a Strike King Wild Shiner,” Hackney said. “Most of these canals will have either coontail or milfoil, and I’ll be fishing the edges of the grass.”

On warmer days, he’ll fish the 1/2-ounce Diamond Shad, a lipless crankbait, down the edges of the grass with a medium retrieve, trying to hit the grass and then ripping the Diamond Shad out of the grass to give the bait a stop-and-go type action. He prefers a Diamond Shad in crawfish red, orange or gold.

On colder days, he’ll fish the Wild Thang, a jerkbait made by Strike King.

“If the bass are short-striking my lipless crankbait, I’ll fish the Wild Shiner jerkbait because it’ll stay in the strike zone longer than the Diamond Shad,” he said. “If the weather’s cold, I may use the jerkbait. Once I determine what the bass are relating to, like a small point, a run-out, a bend or some other type of structure, then I’ll concentrate on that area with the jerkbait and keep it in one place to agitate the bass into biting.”

Hackney believes dead-end canals warm-up quicker than the main canals. At this time of year, that’s where bass tend to hold, especially if a cold rain has fallen and caused a lot of current.

“Remember, cold water in Louisiana is 50-53 degrees,” Hackney said. “When I’m fishing Lake Guntersville in Alabama, those bass will hit a lipless crankbait being retrieved as fast as you can retrieve it in 44-degree water because they’re more accustomed to colder water than the bass in Louisiana.

“I’ve seen water temperatures in January be 55 degrees in the morning and reach 60 degrees by the afternoon, which explains why we’ll often see bass starting to spawn in February in South Louisiana, especially in the marshes and dead-end canals. If South Louisiana gets a warm week in February, we may see water temperatures in the 70s. Our water temperature heats up so quickly because even during the winter months the water never gets really cold.”

When Hackney’s fishing the Wild Shiner, he likes gold/black back, the bleeding color and chrome/black back. On overcast days, he prefers to fish the gold/black back, and on bright days, he likes the silver/black back. On warm days, he’ll fish the Wild Shiner deeper than he will on cold days.

“At this time of year, I don’t use a suspending Wild Shiner, but rather the floater Wild Shiner,” he said. “I fish it on 20-pound-test fluorocarbon line, which helps keep the bait down so it doesn’t float up as quickly. I fish it with a steady, slow retrieve. I jerk the crankbait just enough to keep it under the surface of the water and then allow it to pop back up.”

Northeast Louisiana oxbows.

“I lived in Oak Ridge before we moved to Gonzalez, and all those oxbows up there have plenty of bass in them,” Hackney said. “They fish like the oxbows I’ve fished in South Arkansas, where I grew up.

“Most of the bayous in Louisiana have oxbows loaded with 4- to 6-pound largemouth.

“I like the Strike King Series 1 crankbait to fish these oxbows because it has a real tight wobble, and in cold water, I like a tight crankbait.

“In the spring and summer, I’ll fish these same lakes with a Series 4 crankbait. But in cold weather, you’ll catch more bass with a smaller crankbait like the Strike King Series 1.

“The bass in these oxbows seem to always relate to the cypress trees. They’ll be holding in the cypress knees or right up against the trees. Sometimes they won’t be holding right on the tree, but they will be related to the tree because that’s the only cover in these oxbows.

“If I find floating grass, I’ll punch through that grass flipping a tube. Remember, in the wintertime, the water temperature in that part of the state will usually be 15 degrees colder than in the southern half of the state. I’ll be using a 1/4-ounce Strike King jig with a 3-inch Denny Brauer Chunk, so I can slow down the fall of the jig. I’ll also be fishing a spinnerbait.”

If Hackney’s fishing a crankbait, he likes either the orange, the red, the fire tiger or the pearl-splatter color. Because most of these oxbows will have off-colored water during the winter months, Hackney prefers to fish the darker-colored crankbaits. If the crankbait’s not working, he fishes the Strike King Premier Pro-Model spinnerbait with a single-spin colorado blade.

“On the 1/4-ounce spinnerbait, I like a No. 4 Colorado blade,” he said. If I’m using a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait, I’ll fish with a No. 6 Colorado blade. I always like to fish nickel-colored blades in this region with a white or a fire-tiger skirt, depending on water color.”

Hackney fishes Strike King’s Redfish Magic, a spinnerbait with a grub body, during January and February in these muddy lakes. The Redfish Magic puts off twice as many vibrations as the spinnerbait, and in dark water, you need all the vibrations you can get to catch bass.

Mississippi River oxbows.

“These oxbows are within a one-hour drive of my house,” Hackney explained. “The real secret to catching bass on these oxbows is fishing mud banks with no cover. The bass will move onto these mud flats and lay in that shallow mud because it heats up quicker than the water.”

This section of the Mississippi River has bluff banks and shallow mud flats. On sunny afternoons, when the water’s not really muddy, Hackney catches most of his bass on the mud-flat side of the lake.

“When the river comes up, I don’t fish it in the wintertime,” he said. “However, if the water’s been stable, and it’s not muddy, you can really have some good days fishing the river.”

His lures of choice on these flats include the Diamond Shad and the spinnerbait. Hackney believes most bass fishermen don’t fish these mud flats because they think that no cover on a bank equals no bass holding there. They don’t realize that bass travel to the mud flats strictly to find warmer water, where they can concentrate in the winter months.

“I’ve caught fish on these mud flats that have mud on their bellies from laying on that warm mud,” Hackney said.

Also, often springs will run into the river near these flats with that spring water warmer than the river’s water.

On cold days, Hackney will crawl the spinnerbait along the muddy bottom, and on warmer days, he’ll swim the Diamond Shad just under the surface.

“Although I only catch five to 10 bass if the weather’s really cold, and I’m fishing these mud flats, those bass will usually weigh from 3 to 7 pounds each,” Hackney said. “I rarely catch any small bass at that time of year in this area.”

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