JASPER, Texas When he arrived in east Texas to practice for the Lone Star Shootout presented by Triton Boats, Greg Hackney had a sneaking suspicion he would fare well in the second CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series tournament of the year.
He was fresh off a top-five finish at the season-opening event on south Texas' Lake Amistad and was finding quality fish a few days later here on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. When he seized the first-day, it looked like the Louisiana pro's hunch might prove true.
But on the second day of the tournament, Hackney lost a 5-pounder and a 4-pounder and fell to third place overall. Knowing that every ounce counts, Hackney was worried those errors might cost him the tournament.
He was wrong.
Hackney rallied to regain the lead Saturday and with a 20-pound, 8-ounce sack on Sunday, he held on to claim the Lone Star Shootout title. He earned $100,000 for the victory, his third on the BASS circuit.
Hackney finished the four-day event with 20 bass that totaled 79 pounds, 10 ounces. Dean Rojas, who stayed in second on the leaderboard for much of the event, was runner-up with a 75-13 total. Kevin VanDam placed a distant third with 68 pounds, 1 ounce.
Of the 20 fish Hackney landed, 19 were caught on Strike King Zero plastics. He targeted shallow water near willow and cypress trees in areas that had a mix of vegetation. He worked methodically in his areas to land his lunkers.
Hackney's final day didn't go off without a hitch, however. He said there were hundreds of recreational boats on the popular reservoir and that a fleet of 40 boats followed his every move. But early in the morning, when he had yet to land a limit, many of the boats moved on.
That worked to his advantage, Hackney said.
"There were tons of boats everywhere today," he said. "But they left and, when they did, I proceeded to whack them. What happened is the fish got settled. It's only a few feet deep where I was and (the boats) were running around."
Hackney landed most of his keepers between noon and 1. His biggest fish of the day weighed 6 pounds, 3 ounces.
But when in took him until 11 a.m. to land a limit, he began to fret that Rojas or VanDam might sneak past him for the victory.
"I was getting worried," he said. "I had missed a couple opportunities for some 3- to 5-pounders. I broke one off. It was my fault because I really jerked the rod hard."
But things on the water have gone Hackney's way in the past few years and they did again Sunday. He said it's a combination of factors that have made him successful in his lifelong passion.
"It's just a mental thing, probably," he said of his success. "I've been doing this my whole life, but over the past four years I've just got a lot of confidence in my fishing ability. And I really love what I do. I get up every morning and say I'm blessed."
Rojas climbed into the lead with only Hackney left to weigh in. Though he had a 19-pound, 6-ounce bag Sunday, he felt that it wasn't going to be enough to overcome Hackney.
"I didn't think I had that much," Rojas said. "I was surprised it was 19 pounds. To catch 19 pounds on the last day of a tournament is hard, you know. I just got beat today."
VanDam temporarily held the lead after he weighed in a 15-pound, 3-ounce bag Sunday, but he was quickly replaced by Rojas.
Bill Lowen, a tour rookie, finished fourth with a 64-13 total over the four days. Mark Tyler was fifth with 64-3, John Crews sixth with 64-3 and Stephen Browning seventh with 63-1.
Takahiro Omori, Tim Horton, Denny Brauer, Kelly Jordon and John Murray rounded out Elite 12 competing on the final day at Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
"I'm really happy to be going home," Hackney said. "But I'm so proud of that trophy right there. I really wanted it so much."