ANDERSON, S.C. — By catching 14 pounds, 13 ounces of spotted bass Saturday, Tristan McCormick won the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open tournament at Lake Hartwell with a three-day total of 45 pounds, besting California pro Bryant Smith by 9 ounces. The victory brought McCormick’s season full circle in the sweetest kind of way.
The 2021 Bassmaster College Classic Bracket champion, McCormick, started his 2022 season by competing in the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell. His victory Saturday — once again on Hartwell — earned him a second Classic berth, this time for the 2023 event.
“I had a target weight in my head and I didn’t reach it,” McCormick said. “When we pulled in at check-in I asked (B.A.S.S. cameraman) Jake Latendresse, ‘How bad did I get beat?’ and he told me I was leading. I didn’t think there was any way. But God has it all planned out for us. I just go have fun and control what I can control.”
After catching bags of 16-2 and 14-1 the first two days, McCormick entered Championship Saturday with a 3-pound gap between him and Day 2 leader Derek Lehtonen. But his final-day catch of 14-13 proved to be just enough.
McCormick rotated through four main-lake shoals, using his forward-facing sonar to locate and cast to small groups of spotted bass that were roaming and eating blueback herring.
“They were in big wolf packs and I would throw a Sexy Dawg or Caffeine Shad over them and they would destroy it,” he said. “I had several places like that and thought I had the potential to do it. I rolled up on Day 1 and I just kept seeing singles and doubles. I hadn’t tried it all week, so I picked up a drop shot and caught a 4-pounder as my first fish.
“I was like, ‘There you go, you big dummy. You just figured it out.’ And that is what I stuck with the rest of the week.”
He built his drop shot with a Strike King Filler Worm, a bait revealed at ICAST in July, rigged on a 2/0 Owner Cover Shot and a 3/8-ounce 1st Contact Tungsten weight. He also mixed in the Strike King Caffeine Shad and the chrome-colored Strike King Sexy Dawg, both of which produced important bites.
Every fish he weighed was roaming the water column, and the Bethel University graduate found he would only have one opportunity to catch them.
“You have the trolling motor at 100 and when you see one, you have one perfect cast because you are going superfast and they will be under the boat before you know it,” he said. “I got really dialed in on my distance. I told Jake today I felt dialed. I didn’t miss a cast and I was landing it right in front of them. It was amazing.”
It defies conventional wisdom, but the smaller groups were the most productive for McCormick.
“I didn’t want any more than five bass in a group, just because there is so much going on,” he explained. “When you would throw a drop shot in a school of 20 of them, they would just sit there. They wouldn’t move. When you throw between two or three, it was like a fight over it. It makes zero sense, but you could watch it happen (on my graph).”
On the final day, McCormick started close to the ramp and achieved a small limit, but once he moved to his primary area, he found the quality he was looking for. Around midday, McCormick lost what he thought might have been a winning spotted bass, but stayed positive and caught his biggest one of the day not long after, a 3 1/4-pounder. He completed his bag around 1:30 p.m.
“I had four magical shoals and I did circle around every one of them three times apiece today,” he said. “I would throw at 30 and get one to bite. It wasn’t that good of a ratio by any means, but I knew that’s what I needed to do to catch quality fish.”
Following the final Open of the season at Sam Rayburn, McCormick will begin preparation for his second Classic appearance, which will be in his home state of Tennessee.
After earning an Elite Series berth Friday with a third-place finish in the Southern Open points, Smith finished with a three-day total of 44-7 and added a second-place trophy to his impressive season. Smith’s spotted bass prowess is deep, starting with his roots in California. As a National Professional Fishing League pro, he has learned more about the Eastern spotted bass as well and Lake Hartwell has become one of his favorite places.
“I can’t put it into words, and to do it on this lake (is amazing),” Smith said. “This is by far my favorite lake. I love coming here. It suits my style and it has spotted bass, which is my favorite. Having that comfort level here is huge and I think it played a lot in my success.”
For most of the tournament, Smith targeted brushpiles with either a 3/4-ounce or 1/2-ounce green pumpkin homemade football jig. He paired the heavier one with a Strike King Rage Menace and the lighter one with a Baby Rage Craw.
“In practice, I got sick of them following my topwater or following my Caffeine Shad or drop shot,” he said. “So, I tried something kind of silly and the jig seemed kind of silly. It ended up working and it was the only way I could trigger them into biting.”
Smith’s final day got off to a slow start, but once he found a rhythm, the quality spotted bass showed up. He switched between jigs sizes based on how they reacted on his forward-facing graph. If they followed it down fast, he would throw the heavier jig. If they weren’t aggressive, he would throw the lighter one.
Bryan New finished third with 43-4. After landing in 98th with 10-8 on Day 1, he rocketed up the leaderboard with 19-0 Friday and finished Championship Sunday with 13-12. His last two days were centered around a largemouth bite up the Tugaloo River. He targeted brushpiles and docks with several baits, including a Spro Little John Baby MD, a Greenfish Tackle Brandon Cobb All Purpose jig and a Z-Man Evergreen JackHammer.
“Those piles have been there since at least 2020 because I found them practicing for the Open in 2020,” he said. “It is the only structure in the area and there is bait in the area as well. I would say everything I fished was less than 15 feet of water.”
With a 6-8 largemouth he caught on a buzzbait, Shane Lineberger claimed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the tournament award worth $750. Smith added an extra $500 to his winnings for being the highest-finishing Garmin pro. As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, another former Bethel University angler, John Garrett, took home an additional $1,500.
With one event to go in the Opens season, Alabama pro Keith Poche leads the overall points race with 1,321 points. He is followed by Alabama pro David Gaston with 1,282 and Canadian pro Cooper Gallant with 1,262. With Poche and Gallant already qualified for the Elite Series via the Northern and Southern Opens, respectively, and Gaston leading the Central points standings heading into the final event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, that opens the door for several anglers to earn Elite berths in the overall standings. The next three anglers in line for Elite Series berths if that scenario were to play out are Cole Sands with 1,253 points, Logan Parks with 1,215 and John Soukup 1,208.
2022 Bassmaster Southern Open Tournament at Lake Hartwell 10/6-10/8
Lake Hartwell, Anderson SC.
(BOATER) Standings Day 3
Angler Hometown No./lbs-oz Pts Total $$$
1. Tristan McCormick Burns, TN 15 45-00 200 $43,634.00
Day 1: 5 16-02 Day 2: 5 14-01 Day 3: 5 14-13
2. Bryant Smith Roseville, CA 15 44-07 199 $21,694.00
Day 1: 5 14-11 Day 2: 5 14-03 Day 3: 5 15-09
3. Bryan New Saluda, SC 15 43-04 198 $14,960.00
Day 1: 5 10-08 Day 2: 5 19-00 Day 3: 5 13-12
4. Shane Lineberger Lincolnton, NC 15 42-07 197 $13,217.00
Day 1: 5 17-13 Day 2: 5 10-11 Day 3: 5 13-15
5. Paul Marks Cumming, GA 15 42-03 196 $10,846.00
Day 1: 5 15-07 Day 2: 5 13-11 Day 3: 5 13-01
6. John Garrett Union City, TN 15 42-03 195 $9,973.00
Day 1: 5 15-03 Day 2: 5 12-14 Day 3: 5 14-02
7. Derek Lehtonen Woodruff, SC 15 41-09 194 $9,350.00
Day 1: 5 17-13 Day 2: 5 15-05 Day 3: 5 08-07
8. Lucas Murphy West Columbia, MI 15 40-14 193 $8,727.00
Day 1: 5 14-15 Day 2: 5 14-12 Day 3: 5 11-03
9. Matt Pangrac Bixby, OK 15 40-12 192 $6,857.00
Day 1: 5 16-04 Day 2: 5 12-05 Day 3: 5 12-03
10. David Gaston Sylacauga, AL 15 40-05 191 $5,610.00
Day 1: 5 15-05 Day 2: 5 14-14 Day 3: 5 10-02
Shane Lineberger Lincolnton, NC 06-08 $750.00
Day #Limits #Fish Weight
1 170 902 1966-08
2 154 831 1747-08
3 10 50 127-03
334 1783 3841-03