Charlie Hartley, a former competitor on the Bassmaster Elite Series, earned his first B.A.S.S. victory by enduring hot weather all week in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open at the James River.
The Grove, City, Ohio, angler clinched the pro division title by catching a 13-pound, 11-ounce limit during Saturday’s final round to finish with a three-day total of 41-13. Hartley received the top prize of a $45,000 Skeeter ZX200/Yamaha VF200LA rig and $6,699 in cash and qualified for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro contingent upon him fishing the Northern Open finale at Lake Champlain in September.
Hartley said his final day went “very slow and tedious.” He recalled going an hour and a half without caching a fish, and his first keeper was only about 12 1/8 inches. The day got better — slowly. “There never was a flurry, or I was never thinking the day was going good,” he said. “I was actually frustrated.” With upgrades throughout the day, he eventually looked in his livewell and realized he had a good bag for as slow as the fishing had been.
His key lure for the week was a 7-inch ribbontail worm in a June bug color that he Texas-rigged with a 3/16-ounce weight pegged to a 4/0 Owner hook. Hartley targeted pilings, barges, concrete cover and cypress trees. “I fished 100 percent hard cover the whole tournament,” he said. Hartley caught all of his fish from 1 to 5 feet deep despite fishing in 90-degree weather every day.
Lure presentation was also crucial in the current. Hartley would pitch his worm behind the cover and let the current drift the worm back toward the front of the cover. Strikes would usually occur as the worm drifted to the front of his target. “It was really important to have that light weight so that the bait came by the fish the way they are used to seeing it flowing in the current,” he said.
Twenty-three-year-old Cody Pike of Powhatan, Va., finished as the pro division runner-up with 39-6. “I just started out running the low water, and I had one deep hole in a creek that had a bunch of wood, and the fish would just go to the shade there,” he said. He caught his limit each day in the hole using aringworm and a medium-depth diving crankbait.
The other Top 5 finishers in the pro division were David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., with 39-5, Matthew Sphar of North Java, N.Y with 39-4 and Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho in fifth with 39-1.
High school senior Cody Bertrand of Dyer, Ind., and Francis Martin of North Chesterfield, Va., both finished with 24-8 in the co-angler division, but Bertrand won the division on a tie-breaker by having the heaviest single-day limit of 10-10. He earned the grand prize of a $30,000 Triton 179TrX/Mercury 115ELPT rig.
The Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $750 on the pro side went to Schoolcraft, Mich., angler Kendall Ulsh, who weighed in a 9-12 largemouth the first day. Earning the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award on the co-angler side was Bertrand with a 7-15 largemouth.
George Yund of Glenmont, N.Y., received the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on Day 2. Francis Martin of North Chesterfield, Va., won the Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250 for finishing as the top co-angler on Day 2.