Defending the Classic Crown

Tournament Tips
Randy Howell Classic

GREENVILLE, S.C. – I never make resolutions for New Year’s – I prefer to set goals instead. Looking back at this same time last year, my number one competitive goal was to win the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

“Check” on that one.

My biggest competitive goal as I head into this season is a big one: to be a back-to-back Classic winner. To accomplish that goal, I also have “sub-goals” jotted down in my iPhone notes, and the first sub-goal is “Work hard in practice in preparation for the Bassmaster Classic.”

So far, so good on that one.

I just got back from a week of scouting for the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, and I’m pretty encouraged by what I found there.

Deciphering Lake Hartwell

Randy with a 5-pounder caught on Lake Hartwell
Randy with a 5-pounder caught on Lake Hartwell.

Right out of the gate, I have some work to do. I had not fished Lake Hartwell before scouting it before New Year’s Day. The Classic was held there in 2008, but I didn’t qualify for that Classic, so I was pretty anxious to get on the water and start to break the fishery down a little.

My first impression of Hartwell is that I didn’t realize how big it was. I looked at maps and knew that it had around 900 miles of shoreline, but once I got there and started scouting, I realized that Hartwell might be one of the most productive top-to-bottom fisheries I’ve seen. Typically, you can look at an extensive reservoir and eliminate lots of water that won’t be productive.

Not Hartwell.

It’s a lot like Lake Guntersville in that it has so much fishable, productive water with a lot of fish in all of it, from one end of the lake to the other. That makes the Classic anybody’s ballgame because several different patterns could play significant roles in winning that event.

Having a mixed bag of tricks and being versatile will be a big deal. Anglers who can fish multiple techniques well will show out well at this Classic. There are some fisheries where you have to stick with the jig or the swimbait and grind on them for four days straight. However, it will take fishing three of four different techniques to win at Hartwell.

The Champ's Choices: Top Four Baits

I probably only fished for four or five hours while scouting Hartwell. I spent most of my time driving around and becoming familiar with the lake's layout. What I found leads me to believe that the following Team Livingston baits are going to be significant parts of my game plan come the Classic:

Randy with a fish from the Classic
Randy with a fish from the Classic

Howeller DMC: This bait helped me win the 2014 Classic. It is going to be a HUGE part of my plan this year. The little I fished during scouting, I caught big fish on the Howeller DMC. Hartwell sets up well for that 6- to 10-foot zone in February, which is perfect for the Howeller, and I caught a 5-plus-pounder on literally my second cast on the second point I stopped at during the scouting trip.

I will have some custom paint jobs that mimic the look of the blueback herring in the reservoir. The Howeller is going to be a go-to bait.

School Master: I’m excited about this bait in general – I’ve been fishing a homemade version of it for a while – but the School Master with EBS MultiTouch Technology™ could be a good option at Hartwell. It’s a slow-falling bait that you can let fall into those schools of fish suspended over deep trees and a bait where the MultiTouch™ sound technology will shine. If that pattern and depth are firing during the Classic, the School Master’s slow-fall action and multiple-sound options could be big players.

Howeller DMC SQ: If it warms up the week of the Classic and the fish go shallow, the Howeller DMC SQ could be a big one. That bait vibrates hard. It darts and digs well and has excellent, erratic action. That bait will probably be my go-to for beating the banks, and I’ll likely throw it in Guntersville Craw. Hartwell has a lot of red clay and crawfish, and the Guntersville Craw color family seems to be a favorite in February and March for local anglers.

Deep Impact 12: The significant difference people will see in this Classic versus the 2008 Classic held on Hartwell is the spotted bass's role in the tournament. Hartwell’s spotted bass have done well in recent years, and you’ll have to catch them to be competitive. From what I saw during my scouting, Hartwell’s spotted bass like the Deep Impact 12.

This bait isn’t erratic and fast like the Howeller SQ: it has a smooth action and a subtle, tight wobble. The action makes it a good cold-water bait, but if fish are keying on that 10- to 15-foot depth, the Deep Impact’s EBS MultiTouch™ sound attraction range will make a huge difference.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Hartwell during Classic week and getting dialed in during our official practice days. I’ve accomplished one of my sub-goals in preparing well for the Classic. I am ready to take the next step in accomplishing my big goal next season - to raise the Classic trophy again!

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