Why the wheels fell off at Hartwell

John Cox fires a cast on his first spot.

"... A man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" Although the poet Robert Browning wasn't referring to bass tournaments when he wrote that bit of verse, it's applicable to those who aspire to great things on the Walmart FLW Tour. The quest should be worthy of the goal. For sure, reaching for the stars doesn't guarantee an angler success, and it's especially frustrating when he comes close until the fish or circumstances move the goalposts farther away from him. Consider some of the anglers who made a run at the Lake Hartwell championship, only to fall short in the end. Ramie Colson Jr. eyes up the dock to make the perfect pitch.Ramie Colson Jr. Day 1: 17-10 (5th place) Day 2: 11-02 (6th place) Day 3: 1-01 (14th place) "Mainly I was fishing a creek with a little stained water and some shallow cover in the back end, and I had a great practice in there. I tried to expand it in some other creeks, but it just wasn't the same. The fish bit good in that creek the first day of the tournament, but by the third day it was pretty much a case of it being cleaned out. Because of the lower temperatures that came in, and then the bluebird weather, the fish weren't replenishing in that shallow stuff. Looking back at it now I wish I had backed off into deeper water and tried to relocate them. It seems like the people who really stayed with it and were consistent were fishing in that 15- to 20-foot range. If I had it to do over, I would have tried to find some brush in about 20 feet of water for that third day." Pro Skip Johnson of Goodells, Mich., is in second after day one with five bass for 19 pounds, 4 ounces.Skip Johnson Day 1: 19-04 (2nd place) Day 2: 2-10 (42nd place) "I found a bunch of fish on the first day of practice and stayed off them until the first morning of the tournament. It was sweet; I had my limit by 7:45 on a lipless crankbait, and I must have culled about 20 fish before I decided to save them for the next day. Every one of them was a largemouth. When I left there around 9:30, I turned the key and my GPS shorted out - it wasn't a Lowrance, by the way. So I lost all my waypoints. I fished around the rest of the day and almost didn't make it back to the weigh-in on time because I kept getting lost. I ran up two creeks thinking it was the main lake before I realized I needed to turn around. Hartwell is about 56,000 acres, and most of it looks the same: deep winding creeks and lots of coves. On the second day, all I had going for me was the paper lake map and some Navionics waypoints I had on my iPhone. My best spot wasn't one of them. I literally ran out of fuel trying to find my way back, but I never felt like I was exactly in the right place again." John Cox finished fifth on Lake Hartwell targeting largemouths in shallow water with a lipless crankbait. John Cox Day 1: 18-13 (3rd place) Day 2: 15-11 (2nd place) Day 3: 1-00 (6th place) Day 4: 13-06 (5th place) "The three-hour fog delay on day three threw me off. I was kind of excited about my chances, but when I got to my first spot I didn't get bit for 20 or 30 minutes. Instead of just putting my head down and trying to get five bites on something, I started running from spot to spot and had one small fish to show for it at the weigh-in. On my best days I was slow-reeling a spinnerbait or ripping a Rat-L-Trap off the bottom. There were all these largemouths in the middle of a pocket, and once they left deeper water and moved up into about 8 feet of water, they would get a little crazy and hit anything that went by. I think what happened that third day is that they had moved out because of the cold-water runoff from all the rain that fell the day before. The water temperature was 52 the first day, but then went down to 48. When the water [temperature] went back up to 58 on the last day, the fish went at it again." Local pro Barton Aiken sits in fourth place with a two-day total of 31 pounds, 11 ounces.Barton Aiken Day 1: 16-00 (9th place) Day 2: 15-11 (4th place) Day 3: 0-00 (12th place) "I think I figured out what happened to me on the third day of the tournament. I was throwing jerkbaits like Andy Morgan and some of the others, and between working it in practice and handling fish, my hands got pretty torn up. I'm a dentist and I wear gloves, so my hands are relatively soft anyway. While we were waiting for the fog delay to end on the third day, I sprayed Liquid Bandage on my hands to protect them. Later, I looked at the ingredients and realized that basically as I handled jerkbaits I was putting scent on them, and whatever it was, the bass didn't like it. At different times that third day I watched a 4-pounder and a 3-pounder ease up to within 6 inches of the jerkbait and just turn around and swim off. That's the only thing I can think of. Hartwell is my home lake, and I was fishing main-lake stuff. I might not catch a keeper in January or in August, but no way I'm going to get shut out in March. I had things going my way pretty good. If you need to spray Liquid Bandage on your hands, don't do it when you're fishing a tournament." Barry Wilson settles in sixth place thanks to his 17-9 limit.Barry Wilson Day 1: 17-09 (6th place) Day 2: 7-08 (18th place) Day 3: 3-05 (16th place) "You can go down the list of weights and see that a bunch of guys got busted on that second day, me included. I assume that they were more or less doing the same thing I was, which was fishing shallow for largemouths. My practice was incredible, and the water temperature was exactly right. I was fishing 1 to 2 feet of water with a Strike King Red Eye Shad and had 14 or 15 pounds the first day of practice. I easily could have had 20 pounds the second day of practice, and got another 14 or 15 pounds on my last practice day. I was okay the first day of the tournament because the water was still in the high 50s in the morning and the fish were active. Then it started dropping. On the morning of day two, the water temperature was at about 51 to 52 degrees and then dipped into the 40s where I was. The third day was a washout. From the end of practice to the end of the third day, the water temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. The largemouths were still there and committed, but they locked up and quit biting."

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