In the Bassmaster Classic, the more things change, the more some anglers wish they would stay the same. Other competitors, however, wish change would come sooner than later. Such is the case this week in South Carolina on Lake Hartwell, where Rapala Pros Seth Feider, Brandon Palaniuk, Gerald Swindle and Patrick Walters will begin competing tomorrow in a field of 55 of the world’s best bass anglers for a $300,000 grand prize and bass-fishing immortality.
Some anglers hope warmer-water, shallow-shoreline tactics will be the best way to catch the 5 biggest bass for three consecutive days in the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.” Others would prefer colder-water, deeper-water tactics to be the best way to catch the bigguns. Feider is among those hoping that forecasts for more warm weather will prove accurate.
“With more warm weather coming, I think the fish are going to rush the bank,” Feider said, after practicing on Hartwell last Friday through Sunday. “It’s setting up to be really good, I think.”
In the pre-spawn period, a warming trend can often make bass easier to catch, but harder to find – more willing to bite, but dispersed in smaller groups across larger areas. Colder conditions, on the other hand, tend to concentrate bass in smaller areas, but make them less apt to bite.
“Water temps I’ve seen have been around the mid-50s – warmer in the backs of creeks, colder out front,” said Feider, who qualified for this year’s Classic by winning the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year race, with 787 points. “And it’s just going to get warmer every day we’re here.”
In a post on his Facebook fan page this week, Feider described his practice experience last Friday through Sunday as “interesting,” and noted that he would likely use yesterday’s final practice period “to figure some stuff out.” After Wednesday’s practice round, Feider told a Bassmaster.com photographer that both baitfish and bass have been pushing shallow all this week. He referenced a gambling play in the casino game of craps to describe his Classic-preparation strategy: “I’ve been practicing for it – betting on the ‘Come’ – and hopefully for them to move up shallow.”
Continued warm weather and warming water temps could make the following Rapala and Rapala Respected Brand baits and rigs the best to throw in the Classic to catch the biggest pre-spawn, Lake Hartwell bass around shallow, shoreline structure and cover, including docks, bushes, laydowns and manually-sunken brush piles – known locally as “canepiles.”
• Rapala® DT® Series and Rapala Shad Rap® crankbaits.
• Rapala® Shadow Rap® and RipStop® jerkbaits fished near transitions from deep water into shallower areas such as flats and creek arms
• Terminator® Pro Series Spinnerbaits
• Texas Rigs comprising VMC® Heavy Duty Worm Hooks and Tungsten Flip’n Weights
• VMC® Tokyo Rigs rigged with soft-plastic creature baits, flipped or pitched
• Terminator® Pro Series Jigs
But a cold front – perhaps even a minor, short-lived one – could potentially deter a large population of big bass from moving shallow to the banks, making the following Rapala and Storm baits and VMC-armed-rigs, fished on Sufix line, effective in deeper, offshore areas, including humps, rocks, islands, points, channel swings and standing timber:
• Drop Shot rigs comprising a VMC® Neko Hook, VMC® Tungsten Tear Drop Weight and soft-plastic finesse worm
• Shadow Rap® Deep and RipStop® Deep jerkbaits fished above suspended spotted bass
• An “underspin” rig comprising a VMC® Spin Jig rigged with a Storm® Largo Shad
• VMC® finesse jigs dressed with soft-plastic finesse worms
Success with the above baits and rigs won’t be limited to just Bassmaster Classic competitors fishing this weekend on Lake Hartwell. Anyone or combination of them could help you fill your boat this spring with big pre-spawn bass on your favorite highland reservoir.
If water temps remain warm on Lake Hartwell – as Feider hopes they will – he predicts that he “won’t get as many bites” on the baits he throws, “but they’ll probably be bigger bites.”
This year’s Classic, the fourth to be held on Lake Hartwell, will be contested tomorrow through Sunday, March 6, with daily takeoffs from Green Pond Landing & Event Center in Anderson, SC, at 7 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins each day at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC, starting at 4:40 p.m. The winning angler will claim a $300,000 prize and the most coveted trophy in all of professional bass fishing, as the 55-angler field competes for a share of a $1 million purse.
Will Water Temps Keep Warming?
Although Rapala’s Classic qualifiers weathered cold and rainy conditions last Friday through Sunday throughout what some Bassmaster veterans refer to jokingly as the Classic’s “official unofficial” practice period, most weather apps call for sunny skies today with a high temp in the low 80s for about a third day in a row — nothing like the weather during the infamous 2015 “Ice Bowl” Classic on Hartwell, when daytime high temps plunged into single digits and bass boats froze to trailers on the launch ramp.
That being said, current forecasts indicate that the first day of competition tomorrow could coincide with the onset of a brief cold front. According to popular weather apps, the afternoon high temp on and around Lake Hartwell Friday will be only in the high 60s – potentially an 11- to 13-degree drop from today’s high of about 80.
Could this indicate the start of the “unseasonably cold weather” predicted by the online group “Weather Nerds of Alabama,” as reported this week by former Bassmaster VP of Publications Dave Precht in an article on Bassmaster.com. If so, beating the bank with Rapala crankbaits might not be the only productive option for Classic competitors. “Cold conditions could position big spotted bass on deep points and humps,” Precht observed.
Water Levels are Up, Creeks are Stained, Feider Says
Before Hartwell went off-limits to Classic competitors on Jan. 1, its water level was about 5 to 6 feet below the normal pool. It’s now nearly back to full pool, so it won’t fish the same as it did for any angler that found and caught lots of big bass in a pre-practice trip last fall or winter. Feider rated Hartwell’s water level as “decent” for the baits and tactics he prefers, noting that it’s “come up a bit recently.” Unfortunately, the rising water didn’t flood any vegetation that he could find.
“There’s no bank grass this year, which is a little bit disappointing,” Feider said.
Anglers fishing Hartwell in the spring will usually find the clearest water on the impoundment’s southern end, near the dam. They’re more likely to find stained water in river and creek arms — perhaps even some muddy water. “The backs of the creeks are stained, the main lake’s clear,” Feider confirmed.