New York angler adjusts to southern conditions to take the lead at Toledo Bend
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published April 7, 2017
Where Jamie Hartman comes from, the largemouth bass spawn only lasts about two weeks.
So, when the New York resident pre-fished Toledo Bend Reservoir back in February and saw lots of bass already on the beds, he just assumed the spawn would be long done by the time he returned for this week's Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend presented by Econo Lodge.
He was wrong, but he wasn't too stubborn to admit it.
After starting the week in deeper water, Hartman adjusted and has put together a two-day total of 39 pounds, 1 ounce to lead the event. While much of the 110-angler field struggled during post-front conditions Friday, Hartman caught a five-bass limit that weighed 15-12.
"I had a terrible, terrible practice this week," Hartman said. "I'm not familiar with these southern waters, where the spawn just lasts for months, obviously.
"I pre-fished here for 2 1/2 weeks in February and saw two big waves of fish go in and out. I spent all of that time graphing deeper spots where I thought postspawn fish would be, and it just hasn't happened yet."
When Hartman realized this week that the fish weren't positioned as he expected, he said he started gradually moving shallower until he found the transition areas that are holding prespawn bass.
He caught an impressive five-bass limit that weighed 23-5 during Thursday's opening round and then survived Friday's downturn well.
"All I could catch on those places I graphed were small fish," Hartman said. "I moved in and started catching bigger ones. I don't think I've caught a fish that has spawned since the tournament started. Every one I've caught has been big and fat."
Hartman said he caught about 10 keepers Friday - and that was enough to put the Elite Series rookie on top of a leaderboard that includes veterans like James Elam (second, 38-8), Todd Faircloth (third, 37-14), Brett Hite (fourth, 37-13) and Casey Ashley (fifth, 36-12).
Elam also came to Toledo Bend expecting to catch postspawn bass after catching so many postspawn fish on Lake Conroe during the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods two weeks ago.
Unlike Hartman, he said he's been able to stick with his strategy. But the bites have been few and far between.
"Size-wise, I caught some good fish today, but I didn't get a whole bunch of bites," said Elam, who weighed in 22-10 Friday. "Yesterday, I had a lot of fish that would bite the bait and miss it. But late in the day, I found a bait they would eat.
"Today, I had three 5-pounders, and I just caught those randomly. They were the only good fish I caught from those areas."
Faircloth, who caught 20-2 Thursday, saw his weight dip slightly to 17-12 Friday. But he said he still caught fish on three baits, fishing three distinct types of cover.
"I'm fishing shallow, deep and in between - and catching fish in all of those places," he said. "I think that really tells you just how good this lake is. When you can do that consistently, it's a real testimony to the fishery."
After catching 24-11 Thursday - good enough for second place on Day 1 - Hite saw his weight cut nearly in half during Friday's harsh post-front conditions. He brought only 13-2 to the scales Friday, but fell just two spots to fourth.
"I caught just as many fish today," Hite said. "I executed on every fish that bit, but I never had one of those big bites that you need here."
Hite said he expected the day to be tougher, judging by the weather forecast.
"The second day after a front is usually the toughest one," Hite said. "It should get better as the week goes along, but the boat traffic will also increase as we get into the weekend."
Texas angler Kelly Jordon weighed in the biggest bass of the day, a 7-13 largemouth, but Jason Christie's 9-10 largemouth from Thursday has him in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week.
The tournament will continue Saturday, with the Top 51 remaining anglers taking off from Cypress Bend Park at 6:45 a.m. CT. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m., with only the Top 12 anglers advancing to Championship Sunday for a chance to win a $100,000 first-place prize.