Last weekend tournament angler and guide Brad Fowler fished the ABA National Championship on Lake Hartwell and finished in fourth place in the roughly 300-boat field. Most people would have been thrilled. However, when we spoke I could tell that – instead of being satisfied at having won several thousand dollars and come out so close to the top – he was thinking about the ones that had gotten away. I asked Brad what was next and he said he was still considering whether to fish the first annual Mr. Lake Hartwell tournament on Halloween which was being put on by Lake Hartwell Fishing and Marine and run by Palmetto Boats. After putting in so much work for the ABA event to finish fourth Brad wasn’t sure about the winner-take-all format of the Mr. Lake Hartwell event, where instead of a handsome payday fourth, third, or second would have paid $0.00.
On Wednesday, the last day when sign-up was open, Brad decided that he did want to fish, and what a decision it turned out to be! In addition to the “Mr. Lake Hartwell” title Brad took home $5,800.00 Saturday, and he did it by laying a smack-down on the fish and the approximately 50-boat field. Brad finished with 19.18 pounds, a monstrous fall bag on Hartwell that was more than 5 and a half pounds bigger than the next biggest sack! The margin of victory was especially impressive considering the quality of the local competition, and the overall weight was a shock considering that just over eleven pounds a day won the tournament a week before. This evening I caught up with Brad to hear how he did it.
While the bite was clearly a little better Saturday than last week for the ABA, as proven by the presence of several 12- and 13-pound bags where last week there had been almost none, Brad said that he had missed some good fish over the 3-day event – but Saturday they stayed on. “I probably had similar bites to last week,” Brad said, “but last week I had no luck. This week I did. … It was just one of those days, you don’t get them too often.”
Brad got a couple of good bites first thing, one of them a deep drop shot fish (a 4-pound spot) and another one a buzzbait fish. Ironically, that one came on the exact same cast to the same log where another(?) good one had blown up on a buzzbait several times last week but never eaten it. After having those two good ones he finished out a decent limit drop-shotting around brush piles in 25-35 feet of water, and then he went shallower looking for some more big bites. Fishing a jig and a buzzbait he culled everything that had come on the drop shot except for the 4-pound spot, with a couple of fish coming in the backs of creeks and a couple off short pockets right off the main lake. Strangely enough another 4-pounder came off the same log. Brad’s big fish, a 5 ½ pound largemouth, came off a jig.
Brad caught four 4-pound plus fish in one day Saturday, while last week he could not break 2 ½ pounds over three days. Any one of those would have made a huge difference last week. While more big fish ended up in Brad’s boat Saturday, he still wouldn’t characterize the overall bite as even decent. He said that he had to fish really, really hard to get three good shallow bites and felt very fortunate to capitalize on all of them. The quality of fish had gone up somewhat on the drop shot, but fishing that rig alone Brad thought he would have only been on pace for 12 or 13 pounds – as opposed to 10 last week. Brad did see some schooling fish but didn’t catch any of them. Overall, it was a great day despite still-tough conditions.
Brad understands that while the tournament will definitely be back, the specific future for the Mr. Lake Hartwell event is up in the air. It will at least be an annual tradition, and there may be a spring and a fall event. Brad speculates that the tournament will double in size next time around. What is certain, however, is that for right now Brad Fowler is “Mr. Lake Hartwell.”
Congratulations to Brad, and my thanks to him for sharing information about he caught them with us.