Charlie Hartley's Bass Wars

For Charlie Hartley's 2009 blog, click here.

2008 Blog Entries: Dec. 30 | Dec. 5 | Dec. 1 | Nov. 24 | Nov. 12 | Nov. 7 | Oct. 31 | Oct. 24 | Oct. 10 | Oct. 2 | Sept. 26 | Sept. 18 | Sept. 10 | Aug. 28 | Aug. 11 | July 31 | July 25 | July 17 | July 10 | June 28 | June 18 | June 12 | May 21 | May 13 | May 8 | April 30 | April 23 | April 14 | April 8 | April 3 | March 26 | March 17 | March 11 | March 3 | February 24 | February 23 | February 22 | February 21 | February 20 | February 15 | February 13 | February 8 | February 5 | February 1 |January 25 | January 18 | January 11 | January 4

December 30, 2008

It's New Year's week. I'm in Florida enjoying some time with my in-laws and doing a little fishing.

I caught so many bass from the ponds in their retirement community that I started feeling guilty about it. In fact, I felt so bad I bought three dozen shiners yesterday and turned them loose in one of the ponds so the bass had something to eat besides plastic.

And, I think I created a monster over Christmas. I bought Tracey a bicycle for her Christmas gift. She's riding it everywhere down here. I'm afraid the novelty isn't going to wear off. I may have to carry it on my truck to the Elite events next year. We'll look like a bunch of yuppies going down the road with our boat and bicycles in tow.

And speaking of carrying it around with us to the Elites in 2009, I need some help. Should I put it flat against the tailgate, on top with one of those carriers that make it stand on its tires pointing forward, or maybe strapped to the front bumper? Any ideas will be appreciated.

I am glad she likes it, though. It's always nice to give someone a gift you know they truly like — and I know that she likes it because she's on it all the time — especially when you love that person. It'll give her something to do while I'm out fishing this year. Maybe I won't feel so bad knowing she's having a good time, too.

On a more serious note, the Classic is right around the corner, and it's killing me. I've watched them and read about them for years. It never bothered me before. You know, I'm a fan and I followed it like everybody else, as a spectator.

Of course, I always dreamed about competing in one but never really was able to imagine what it would be like to launch my boat in one, much less in competition for the win. I had no frame of reference. But last year changed that.

I now have a frame of reference. I don't have to imagine. I know. Last year gave me the hunger and the desire. I want to fish another one ... more than one as a matter of fact. It was the achievement of my professional life.

I thought it — the feeling — might pass, but I think it's getting worse. I'm going to try harder this year and see if I can qualify for the 2010 Classic.

2010 could be my toughest year, though. With the economy the way it is, I'll have to spend more time at Signcom than ever before. I can't neglect it. I'm going to have to really buckle down and make every minute count.

And speaking of every minute, I'd better get going. I have to return to Columbus on Saturday, so I need to get back to my bass. The topwater bite is hot!

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December 5, 2008
Tracey and I had a good Thanksgiving, and now we're looking forward to Christmas. We were talking about the holidays the other day and she mentioned a couple of new movies that'll be released over Christmas. They're supposed to be real good, big name actors and actresses and all that.

When she said that I thought it was strange that someone would go to a movie on Christmas Day. That doesn't make much sense to me. There are better things to do with your friends and family than watch a movie.

But then I thought about my own Christmas schedule. I usually go fishing, especially if I'm somewhere that's warm. Maybe the people in the movie theatres around the country think I'm strange for going fishing. (Actually, I'm sure they do, even though I've never talked to one.)

I remember one time, years ago, I was practicing on Christmas morning for a BASS event on Lake Murray. I was fishing Christmas trees in front of docks along the shore. It was a reliable winter pattern on the lake.

As I moved from dock to dock, I looked up and saw a big house in front of me with the drapes open. The kids were running around the room in front of their Christmas tree tearing open their presents. They were having as much fun inside around a tree as I was having outside around a tree.

How strange, I thought. I was using last year's tree for my enjoyment, and they were using this year's tree for theirs. I didn't care much about their tree inside, and they didn't care much about my tree outside. Yet, we were both having a good time.

I guess we all celebrate holidays in our own ways. Whatever we do may seem strange to other people but it seems perfectly reasonable to us. I think that's good. We're all lucky to live in a country where we can look crazy to our neighbors and the government can't do much about it.

We'll be going to Florida in a few days as soon as I resolve some business issues that came up unexpectedly. Christmas down there is different than in Ohio. A palm tree with lights is something you don't see much of in Ohio. We light traditional trees.

And nobody down there wishes for a white Christmas. That would be their worst nightmare. Can you imagine Orlando under six inches of snow? That'd be a hoot!

Until next week stay safe and catch some fish.

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December 1, 2008
A Time to Give Thanks

Tracey and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had our share of good food and good company. We enjoyed it all.

But there's more to this holiday than that — a lot more. It's an opportunity to look back and say thanks for some of the things in our lives. It is, after all, "thanks giving." In that spirit I want to say thanks for some of the things in my life.

My wife Tracey

I didn't realize how incomplete my life was before I met Tracey. On the surface it seemed fine; I had a thriving business and a solid professional fishing career. But once I met her I realized it needed something else, something that gave my life meaning beyond myself. She was that something else. I give thanks for Tracey.

My passion for fishing

Obviously, I'm consumed by it. There isn't a day that I get out of bed that I don't want to head towards my favorite lake or river. That's a good way to live. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to go to work every morning, hating my job and waiting for the day to end so I can go somewhere else and be less miserable. I give thanks for my love of fishing.

My country

But what would my passion matter if I lived in a country where I couldn't do pretty much as I please and earn a living at it? Think for a minute about what I do as a professional bass angler: I catch fish so that I can turn them loose. And I earn money for doing it! How cool is that? I give thanks for the freedom — political and economic — we enjoy in the United States of America.

My health

Despite the fact that I'm getting older and occasionally suffer a few aches and pains, I still enjoy excellent health. Without it I couldn't do what I'm doing. Fishing six days a week for months at a time isn't as easy as it sounds. I give thanks for my good health.

My blog readers

I'm dead serious about this. My blog — Charlie Hartley's Bass Wars — along with my readers are two of the neatest things that have happened to me in this business. Everywhere I go guys ask me about it. I give thanks for my blog and most especially for my readers.

My return to the Elite Series

Over the past three years, the Elite Series has become the center of my professional life. 2008 was a tough year. I wasn't at all sure I would be eligible to compete against the best in 2009. My return is a gift I cherish. I give thanks that I didn't pay the ultimate price for a bad season.

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November 24, 2008
Last week I said we'd talk about next year and what I plan to do differently. Well, this is next week, isn't it?

Before we talk about a solution, however, we need to define the problem. My physical skills are solid and my tackle and equipment are the best in the business. I truly have everything I need to compete. In fact, I have too much of one thing — the love of bass fishing.

It's not at all complicated when you think about it. I just like to catch fish too much. That hurts me ... bad. You see, catching bass all day and weighing in a small limit doesn't get it at the Elite Series level. A guy has to do better than that if he expects to survive.

Doing better means fewer bites and bigger bass. I need to return to my roots. I was once known for catching hogs here in Ohio. That was my reputation around the docks. Somehow I got off track and started chasing numbers. That's going to stop.

That's not as easy as it sounds, however. When things get tough we all tend to revert to what's worked for us in the past. But I've got to remember that the past is the past. What worked 10 or 15 years ago doesn't work anymore.

Beating the banks and fishing visible cover with a flipping stick for a limit was once a strategy for victory. Now it's a strategy for defeat. Any good recreational angler — much less a pro — can do that. It's a matter of recognizing reality, then changing my mindset.

That all begins with practice. I intend to concentrate more on the location and size and less on the bite. That may sound strange to some of you but that's the way to win in this business. Finding great bank places and figuring out the bite is what I've been doing. And what I've been doing hasn't worked.

So here's the deal for next year: I'm going to spend my practice time looking for places no one else knows about. If they can be found with a map or seen with the naked eye, I'm no longer interested. The idea is to wear out my electronics, test the warranty. If I can see it, I'm not going to fish it — bedding bass being the obvious exception.

I will no longer think about how many bass I caught, only about how much they weighed. Catching two six-pounders in one day from an offbeat location is better than catching 100 two-pounders. I can't ever forget that.

Like I said, that's hard for me. I love to fish. But that's not the point. My mind has to take over my heart. That's the way it has to be, the way it's going to be. There's no doubt it'll be tough. But it's also tough to wait for the phone to ring to see if you're invited back.

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November 12, 2008
I'm back home working in a suit and tie. I almost don't want to say that. It destroys the image of a man living his dream, but the truth is the truth. I can't neglect my business no matter how much I love to fish.

In between making signs I've had a couple of exciting things happen recently, though.

First, I'm going to be at Dixie Marine in Fairfield, Ohio, next Monday evening, the 17th. I'll be doing a presentation on my Classic experience. That should be interesting. Many of their customers are serious tournament anglers, so the questions are likely to be tough. But, like I said, it'll be interesting. I'm looking forward to it.

Fishing a Classic is every tournament angler's dream. I've fished with most of the guys there and want them to appreciate what it really means to participate in the most prestigious bass fishing tournament in the world. I hope I can find the right words so they truly understand what it's like and what it meant to me.

And, the Ohio State University Fishing Club wants me to attend one of their meetings and make a short presentation on professional angling as a career. I'm really looking forward to that. Those young men and women are the future of our sport. I hope I can make a difference when I talk to them — inspire them and make them appreciate professional bass fishing as a career.

But, most important of all, I've been working on my new and improved approach to tournament angling for next year.

After considerable thought I think I need to redo my whole approach to catching bass in a tournament setting. Next year will see a new Charlie on the water with a new attitude. I'm going to start fishing the way I did when I first started competing in bass tournaments here in Ohio.

I'll give you the details — I'm still working on some of them — next week. It's going to be tough but I'm going to do it. I have no other choice. Finishing in the middle of the pack just doesn't get it, not anymore. I was scared to death all summer and fall that I wasn't coming back to the Elites. I don't want to feel that way again, not if I can help it.

And finally, Tracey and I have had a change of plans. She wants to stay here in Columbus for Thanksgiving with our brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. So, that's what I want to do.

After that I'm going to fish an open tournament on Lake Cumberland and then head to Florida for the rest of the winter.

Until next week....

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November 7, 2008
As I said last time, I'm back with the Bassmaster Elite Series! It's really hard to describe what it all means to me. I've fished professionally all of my adult life. Bass fishing's not what I do, it's who I am. I can't imagine anything else.

There are a lot of other circuits around. And, to be truthful, they treat the anglers well and pay good money — some of them anyway. Fishing them is not the end of the world. It's a privilege that I appreciate.

But, regardless of all that, they aren't BASS, and they aren't the Elite Series. Being one of the best bass anglers in our nation gives me — and I suspect every other Elite Series angler — a sense of pride and respect that can't be replaced by anything else. That's just the way it is. And that's probably the way it'll always be. BASS is BASS, there is no other.

Anyway, it really hurt when I made such a good showing at last year's Classic and then had such a tough season. There's no point in trying to cover that up or to sweep it under the rug. It hurt. I mean, it's one thing not to qualify for the 2009 Classic but to not get back to the Elites is much worse.

All that said, I'm back now, and if I can I'm going to take full advantage of the opportunity. I wish I could say I knew what went wrong this year, but I can't. If I could, I'd fix it and go forward. But I can't.

Yes, I lost several good fish and had some mechanical problems. Those things happen to all of us, however. They're not reasons; they're excuses. I don't make excuses, not to anyone and certainly not to myself.

The 2009 season will be devoted to practicing as hard as I possibly can and catching as many fish as I possibly can during competition. An opportunity like this — getting back in after such a poor season — doesn't come along very often. I intend to take advantage of it. I can't guarantee success, but I can guarantee my best efforts.

I also want to publicly tell Tracey how much I appreciate her love and support last year. It was tough — in some ways tougher on her than on me. She never complained or criticized. She was always at my side supporting my efforts. That means the world to me. I intend to repay that loyalty by fishing as hard as I possibly can every minute of every hour of every day.

I have to go now. If I'm going to catch fish in 2009 I need to get my tackle ready. The Lake Amistad event will be here before we know it.

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October 31, 2008
As I write this, Tracey and I are getting ready for the winter. We usually go to Florida around Thanksgiving and stay until after the first of the year. We love it, absolutely love it. Her parents live there and we stay with them.

They're really nice. I'm lucky in that regard. They treat me like one of the family. I don't think they know what a son-in-law is — at least if they do they don't show it. They come and go as they please and we do the same. It's like having our own home.

And there's nothing like a home-cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. You know, family members together having a good time, eating good food, and forgetting all the pressures and troubles of the modern world.

That's good for everyone. That's one thing there should be more of in this world — family time. Tracey and I each make time for the other. Both of us understand the importance of that. We take our relationship seriously.

I fish a lot while I'm there, too. I especially like the local tournaments. That keeps me tuned for major competition, when the time for that rolls around. Local tournaments in Florida are tough. They're not like some local events. If you're not on your game, you're done. It's that simple.

Sometimes I fish the ponds in the retirement community where Tracey's parents live. They're full of big bass, and the guys living around them don't really know how to catch them. The bass haven't been educated. That's my kind of bass fishing — plenty of big, dumb, unpressured fish. I catch a lot of those kind.

This year my plans may have to change, however. I might have to come home early. This economy is really taking a toll on everyone and every business. My sign business is no exception. I may have to return to Columbus and work with Signcom hands-on. This is not the time for any of us to neglect our economic interests. If we do, we'll be sorry.

I don't really want to leave Florida, but we all have to live in the real world. We're all going to have to do some things we don't want to do. That's the way it is right now, and I have to deal with it. As I've said before, my heart is with the Elites, but my wallet is with Signcom.

And, speaking of the Elites, I'm back! I'll post what it all means and how I plan to take advantage of this opportunity next week.

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October 24, 2008
Things are going along pretty much like normal. I'm back in Columbus working at Signcom and getting ready for another tournament.

I took a break to work on this blog. I've been driving around town trying to match colors for a sign. This is all bid work, so if I get it right the first time I'll make a little money. If I have to paint it three or four times to get it right, it comes out of my pocket.

My next tournament is on Table Rock. It doesn't really fit my strengths as an angler, but if you're a professional you fish where the tournaments are. You can't pick your venues. It would be nice if you could, but you can't.

Those are things I get a lot of questions about — fishing different venues and strengths and weaknesses. I like the term strength but not weakness. Weakness seems like you're saying you can't do something. I never say that. I'm better at some things than others, but nothing's a weakness. That's negative thinking. I don't want to think negative.

I've tried to tell guys what it's like to fish different venues. But it's a difficult concept to grasp. As a professional, you just learn to deal with it. You have no choice — deal with it or go home.

Some lakes fish one way, others another way. You get used to fishing different waters from one week to the next. It's a part of being a professional. Some lakes have weeds but others don't, some are deep but some are shallow. Either way there are bass in them and you have to catch your fair share.

On the tour you'll fish clear and muddy waters, against the shore and away from it, on top and on the bottom as well as in good weather and bad. If you can't do that — or don't want to — you won't last very long. This is a competitive sport. You produce or you don't.

It's the same with strengths and weaknesses. Any of us on the Elite Series can fish with almost anything. I don't mean that in a bragging way, it's just a fact. We may be better with spinnerbaits, jigs or topwater plugs but that doesn't mean we can't fish with the others.

Deep crankbaiting isn't my favorite way to catch bass, but I can do it if necessary. Do you think Kevin VanDam's only good with a spinnerbait or that Denny Brauer's only good with a jig or that Zell Rowland's only good with a popper? If you do, it's only because you've never fished against one of them.

Anyway, I'm psyched now. I'm going down there this weekend and work on a couple of my least favorite ways to catch bass.

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October 10, 2008
Last week I was reminded of how much I love this business and why I'm in it. It was one of those experiences that remind you how lucky you are to be a professional bass angler.

In last week's blog I mentioned I was fishing a charity tournament in Traverse City, Mich. I was "bought" by a father and son team. Basically, they paid money — which went to charity — to fish with me. That's humbling in and of itself. But what happened later was even more humbling.

The young man wanted to catch smallmouths and was something of a novice. I had the opportunity to teach him basic bass fishing techniques as well as how to rig and fish with a drop shot. He was a willing student; I was a willing teacher. We had a great time.

After awhile we went to the front of my boat and I showed him how a depthfinder worked and how it helped me catch bass. We mapped the bottom structure of the lake and eventually located a few smallmouth bass.

With the depthfinder he was able to watch his drop shot rig slide through the water, down to the fish. He watched them bite his bait and start to swim off. With that knowledge he set the hook and landed a couple of them.

What an experience! He had a ball and so did I. It was truly a day to remember. The look of awe and amazement on his face said more than I ever can in this blog. I'll never forget it.

Later that afternoon, after the weigh-in, I overheard his father talking to some of the other anglers about their day on the water. He was telling them how much fun they had and what a wonderful time his boy had out there. And then he told them how much it meant to them that a professional angler would take that much time with a kid to show him the ropes.

I'm telling you, it almost brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful thing — to help a kid learn to fish and make friends for life. I don't know if that young man will continue to fish or where his life will take him. I do know, however, that he'll always love and respect fishing.

As I work on this I'm getting a couple of cheeseburgers at McDonalds and practicing on the Potomac River for another tournament. There's a good topwater bite going. Tell me, does it get any better than this?

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October 2, 2008
Gotta Wake Up to Follow That Dream
I received one or two negative comments about my blog last week. You'll recall I talked about the financial reality of turning full-time professional as a bass angler. It was not meant to be negative; it was meant to be realistic.

Let me make something clear: I have never — not once in 30 years — tried to discourage anyone from turning professional and following their dream. I followed mine and wouldn't expect any less from anyone else.

But there are financial consequences to the decisions we make. We don't buy a boat or a house without asking how much it costs and determining whether or not we can afford it. Why would we do anything less with our careers? Would we take a job without knowing how much we were going to be paid and when?

I guess the best way to put it is that the rewards I seek as a professional bass angler are not financial. They are self satisfaction, looking forward to every day on the job and a general happiness with my life. I have attained them.

If you can say the same thing, you're a lucky man or woman. And if financial rewards follow you're even luckier. But, don't think money is a guarantee as a professional angler. It isn't. Some guys do make millions, most don't.

Hopefully, we're on the same page about that. Now, let's talk about how good you really have to be to make it in this business.

I have experienced a lot of success with the Ohio BASS Federation Nation and have led the points race in a number of large regional and national circuits. I've also won several big tournaments. My career spans 30 years at every level of the sport on hundreds of bodies of water.

I'd like to think I can fish.

Now let's look at my career. By professional standards it's been pretty mediocre. I've only fished one Bassmaster Classic and have generally been in the 60s and 70s in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year standings — both before and after the creation of the Elite Series.

Consider that I spend at least 250 days a year on the water and have done so for the last 10 years. In fact, as I'm writing this I'm fishing a charity event out of Traverse City, Mich., called "Fish with the Pros." Local men and women pay to fish with professional bass anglers. The money goes to Lifeline Youth & Family Services.

It's 42 degrees and raining. I love it! If I could pick anywhere in the world to be this morning, it would be here trying to figure out the bass. Is that sick?

Anyway, the point is I have a lot of experience, I've had a fair amount of success and I still struggle. I'm hoping for an invitation to fish in the Elite Series in 2009. Note that I said "hoping," not "expecting."

So, when you analyze your skills realize that there are thousands of club champions and hundreds of anglers who have won big charity tournaments. Lots of guys can catch bass. That's not the test. The test is skill coupled with fanatical perseverance, a single-minded purpose, a love of the sport and the marketing ability to make it all work financially.

Skill is the place to start. But it's only that — a place to start. You have to be willing to dedicate every waking moment to bass fishing if you expect to make it. Good is not good enough.

Once again, I'm not telling anyone not to follow their dream. I did and have never regretted it. I am saying, however, if you're going to turn pro you better be a good bass fisherman, work hard at it, spend every day on the water, manage your finances, work for your sponsors and talk to the press even when you don't feel like it.

Do anything less and we'll eat your lunch.

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September 26, 2008
Tough Love for Tournament Pros
This week I said I was going to talk money as a professional angler. I'm going to keep that promise. But before I do I want to warn everyone — this is tough talk. I love professional bass fishing. It's my life. That doesn't change the cold, hard facts, however.

If you expect to fish professionally you'd better spend some time getting ready. Get a good, high paying job — one that lets you take a lot of time off with pay — and save every penny you can because life is going to be tough financially.

Let's talk about the Opens as a path into the Elites. That's what everyone seems to want to do.

Fishing one set of Opens will require that you take at least six weeks off work. That's a minimum; nine would be more realistic. If you fish all three divisions next year it'll be three times that amount.

A good guess is that it will cost you $15,000 to $20,000 per circuit, depending upon where you live. That's only if you share a room, eat inexpensive food and get by with a minimum of tackle and equipment. Live high on the hog, and it'll cost you more.

And, don't kid yourself about sponsor help. At most you'll get free tackle or maybe a discount. Cash payments are few and far between. I'd estimate — and I've fished them a long time so I know — that no more than 10 percent of the anglers fishing the Opens are getting cash.

On top of that, if you expect to gain enough experience to win at that level you'll need to fish dozens of other tournaments. You learn something at every one of them. Add another $15 to $20,000 per year for that.

In short, don't even think about turning professional unless you have $20 to $30,000 in the bank, more if you have a wife and family to support.

Where does all this money go, you ask? Well, you'll need a good, reliable tow vehicle, a decent boat, tackle, someplace to stay and something to eat. That doesn't include emergency repairs, illness and the resulting medical bills, clothing and possibly family obligations. And, lest we forget, gas is around $4 a gallon as this is being written. Your tow vehicle probably gets lousy mileage.

If you think you can pay all that from winnings consider these facts: A good Elite Series angler — and they make a lot more than any other group — might join the million dollar club after 15 or 20 years, usually closer to 20. That's about $50,000 per year. How much do you think you can earn at a lower level of competition?

I can tell you that Tracey and I, along with many other competitors and their wives, have invited more than one angler to dinner because they were hungry, let them borrow our shower or run an extension cord out of our motel room to their truck or camper.

Now, if you make the Elites life will get better. Most of us are earning some cash money from sponsors. The purses are bigger, too, so we have a chance of making a big check. But, again, don't kid yourself. There's still a handful of Elites living in their trucks and eating peanut butter. Most of the rest are trying to earn a decent living.

I'm often asked what it's like to earn a living as a professional angler. My answer to them is I don't know because I've never done it. As I've said before, my heart is with the Elites, but my wallet is in Columbus, Ohio, on my desk at Signcom.

I love this business and wouldn't live any other way. But I also live in the real world. Next week we'll talk about how good you really need to be to turn pro.

September 18, 2008
Last week we talked about sponsors. This week we'll talk about the realities of living the life of a professional angler.

I get up everyday at 3 a.m. and work on my laptop computer to run Signcom from the road. I go to bed at dark almost every night. Sound bad? Not really, I consider that a blessing. Thank goodness I have a successful business. I'd be in bad shape without it.

Travel can be an issue, too. I frequently drive 12 to14 hours a day for two or three days in a row. Not bad, you say? After all I'm going fishing, right? Well, look at it this way: Prefish on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then compete on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Drive all night Sunday and repeat that schedule again for another week.

And what about your family? Tracey and I don't have kids. She can travel with me or stay at home. It's no big deal either way. The guys with families are in a very different position. Do you bring the family along so everyone can spend time together or do you leave them at home so they can live a relatively normal life — same friends, same house, same bed every night?

Neither choice is good. Having them with you is nice, but it's also a distraction. Instead of fishing and concentrating on your performance you spend time with them. That's good for the family but hard on your career. But if they stay home, they miss you and you miss them.

It's tough either way. Being a success as a professional bass angler and a failure as a husband and father isn't much of an epitaph. Neither is the alternative.

Those are only a few of the things that you must deal with as a professional bass angler. But talking about them is one thing; living them is another. Maybe the best way to drive the point home is to relate my story of the last few days.

Hurricane Ike hit Ohio pretty hard this last Sunday. In Cincinnati there were 700,000 people without power. In Columbus, where I live, the figure was closer to a million. Power isn't expected to be restored for several days.

I'm on the road. Tracey is at home by herself. She had to get a generator, hook it up and get it started, not to mention dealing with the damage. And remember, the power outage is widespread. It isn't like she can get help from friends or relatives. They're in as bad shape as she is.

All I can do is offer support over the phone and try to help with verbal instructions. How do you think I feel as a husband? How do you think she feels? It's a mess. But that's the reality of living the life of a professional angler.

And our situation is not nearly as bad as it could be. We have the money to pay our bills, buy generators, fuel and pay for repairs. She can eat in restaurants for a week or stay in a decent and safe motel if necessary.

What if there wasn't enough money to do those things? What would her world be like if she had to wait for me to mail her a check from this week's tournament before she could do any of those things? What if the big one got away and there wasn't a check?

Now, I'm not saying it's all bad. It isn't. It's the life I chose, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love it. But there's a price to be paid, and it's high. That's especially true if you don't go into it with your eyes open and with plenty of emotional and financial planning.

Do you have the money to fish for a couple of years without very many checks? Will your wife and kids accept you being gone for long periods of time? (Or, to put it bluntly, will they be there when you get back?) This life is not all fun and games on the water. Sometimes it's just plain old-fashioned hard work.

Next time we'll talk about the facts of life — money, not sex.

September 10, 2008
I was thinking the other day — in response to several questions from anglers — about our sport and how it really works. Over the past 20 years I've fished with thousands of anglers. They ask lots of questions but most of them want to know how to be a pro, how to earn their living as a professional bass angler.

That's a complicated question that requires a complicated answer. But let me say right up front that I don't know how to earn a living as a professional bass angler. I earn my living as a businessman. My heart is with the Bassmaster Elite Series; my wallet is in Columbus, Ohio, at Signcom's offices.

With that in mind, let's spend the next few weeks talking about this sport and some of the factors that make for success or failure. (I define success as a complete package — family, fish and finances. There's a lot more to it than winning tournaments.)

Probably the most common question from recreational or aspiring professional anglers is how to develop sponsors. I think too many of them worry about their tournament records and not enough about their image and their conduct. It's true, you have to catch bass, win a few tournaments and fish in the top circuits to get the really good sponsorships.

But not everyone is a Kevin VanDam, and you don't have to be to get help on the trail with product and expenses. I'm living proof of that.

How you present yourself and how you present a sponsor's product is just as important as the weight of your fish at the end of the day. Your conduct before, during and after every tournament is critical.

Don't blame other anglers or other things when you don't catch fish. We all deal with other anglers on our spots, bad weather, mechanical breakdowns and the like. That's a part of being a professional. Crying about them doesn't look professional. It makes you look like what you are — a crybaby. If you didn't catch fish say so, be a man about it.

And always talk to the media no matter how big or small the publication. Return their calls and pose for photos even when you don't feel like it. You don't see Elite guys hiding after a bad day. They sit in their boat or on the ramp and talk. That's what they're paid to do and they do it.

Talk about your sponsor's products and why they work. Explain how to make them work better. Give away a trick or two. It won't hurt your fishing, and it might make you some money. And never — not ever for any reason — criticize a product in public. If you have a problem with something, tell the company privately, not the public on TV.

Shave, wear a clean shirt, watch your language, and always make time for the fans. I don't know an angler fishing the Elites that doesn't stop for a photo with a kid, doesn't make time to sign a hat or shirt or doesn't offer a few words of encouragement.

Don't ever kid yourself about this business — and never forget that it is a business. Sponsors have hundreds of anglers — all club champions — wanting to be on their pro staffs. They have the pick of the litter. They don't have to put up with much and they don't.

Next time we'll talk about the lifestyle and whether it's right for you and your family.

August 28, 2008
I fished a tournament last week and finished in the Top 10. I'm happy with that, but I still wish I'd win one. It'll come, though. It's only a matter of time.

The event was in the Thousand Islands area of New York. It's on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. This place has it all, beauty and bass. If you're looking for a quick fishing trip this fall, I highly recommend it.

The islands — there are actually 1,793 of them — are big rocky places with old mansions and castles built on them. I'm telling you, I've fished all over North America, and there's nothing on the water that's any prettier. It'll take your breath away.

The best part of it, however, is the fishing. It's some of the best in this country. You can catch a limit of smallmouths and another limit of largemouths in the same day, almost every day, from either the lake or the river.

I think that's because they're eating gobies. They're everywhere, and the bass really like them. And they're big. I caught several that were as big as my tennis shoe. I'm not kidding — as big as my tennis shoe!

Anyway, you can catch the smallmouths all day long with a drop shot rig and a Berkley Gulp bait of some sort or a Venom Goby. Go out on Lake Ontario and look for a reef or a shelf of some sort. There are thousands of them .This week the ones in 18-40 feet of water produced best. That'll change as fall arrives, however.

Once you find the reef follow it along until you encounter a break, drop or hole. It doesn't take much, just a few inches will do. Lower you rig down and hang on. It's really that simple. That's what I did all week. I had a limit every day with at least one 5-pounder in my sack.

Largemouths can be caught using traditional techniques. Search out shallow grass or other cover around the islands or along the shoreline and flip or pitch. The best baits are worms — a lot of the guys rig them wacky style — and Senko style plastics or jigs.

Don't worry about a place to stay. There are plenty of them and they range from $20 a night to several hundred. (I'd recommend somewhere in the middle.)

A word of warning: Like all the Great Lakes, Ontario can get nasty in the wind. Don't venture out unless you're an expert and even then weigh the risks. There's no reason to get stupid, especially with the St. Lawrence River nearby. It's protected from the wind. Fish it like any river; pick traditional spots and use traditional baits. You'll catch plenty.

If you go at this time of year take along lots of clothes. It was 38 degrees one morning last week when I launched. By the end of the week it was in the high 80s by late afternoon.

Give it a try if you can!

August 11, 2008
The season's over, and my fate is still up for grabs. It'll be awhile before I know if I'm coming back to the Elite Series next year or if I have to fish my way back. As of today, I'm 97th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Standings. That's not good.

If it's the latter — and that's what it looks like at this point — I intend to fish all the tournaments in all three divisions of the Opens. Regardless of how it turns out, you haven't heard the last from me. I'm a professional. I'll be back.

As you know by now, Erie was a disaster for me. If it could go wrong it did. The morning of the second day started with me stepping on my glasses. I had trouble all day not being able to see.

And I did something I've never done before. I broke off my own fish — myself. That's right, all by myself without any help from the fish. How is that possible, you ask? Well, here goes....

I drifted off a ledge and saw a bunch of big smallmouths below the boat. I lowered my drop shot down and a big, healthy 5-pounder bit. I set the hook and she came up to the surface. After blowing water in my face she headed back down. This is what big smallies do. It's what they're about. I've handled the situation a thousand times over the years. I always do the same thing.

I test my drag by pulling a little line off the spool as they're going down. That way I know it's working properly. Well, I pulled my line and somehow broke it. I have no idea how. It just broke as I pulled it off the spool. Of course, it slipped through my fingers and the fish swam away.

I mean if you saw it on film it would have looked like I did it on purpose. The animal rights people would have been proud of me for turning her loose. It was, beyond any doubt whatsoever, one of the dumbest things I've ever done fishing. I still can hardly believe it.

But, the Oneida tournament was better for me. I found good fish on Friday, moved up in the standings and made the Top 50 cut. I made a check.

I was so excited I celebrated by buying a set of Bass Pro Shops 100 MPH Gore-Tex Rainwear. It isn't cheap but they're the best and worth every penny. I hope I never have to use it.

I'm going to fish a tournament next week and then get ready for one of the Opens. Hopefully, my Oneida performance will carry over and I'll end the season on a positive note.

After that, I'll have to spend some time in the office making signs and hoping BASS calls and wants my entry fees for the 2009 Elite Series.

July 31, 2008
I've been getting the boat and tackle ready for the Empire Chase. Like I said last time, it's probably one of the most important tournaments I'll ever fish. I feel confident right now. I pride myself on being positive. This is no exception.

I plan on running around, looking for — and finding — big schools of big smallmouths and then catching them on tubes, drop shot rigs and maybe spoons. I like to fish for smallies that way so hopefully this will be a good one for me.

I love Lake Erie, but it can be tough. We spent most of Saturday and Sunday getting the boats ready for the rough conditions out there. One example is our props. Most of us run three blade props because we want speed. Not here, though.

Here we put on four or five blade props so we can get enough bite to run up and down the waves if they get big. Just before I started this blog, Kevin Wirth borrowed some of my tools so he could change his. We're competitors, but not enemies. We always try to help each other out whenever possible.

And we all have to carry extra bilge pumps, too. We get so much water in the boats that one or two won't get the job done. It's best to run three and have a spare to boot.

I even went out and bought some drift socks. Once you learn how to use them, they work pretty well. It's a matter of learning how to control the water flow through them. They aren't precise but when it's all you have you make do. Trolling motors — even those with long shafts — aren't much good in 6-8 foot waves. You can't troll air.

For guys like me, all this rough water can be a personal problem, too. I get sea sick, you know. I mean really sick — violently ill. It's not too bad when I'm standing and fishing, but it's a killer when I'm looking down. Retying a bait can put me under.

Tracey fixed me some oatmeal cookies and gingerbread she says will help. She heard somewhere that oatmeal prevents motion sickness, and so does ginger. Anyway, I've got plenty in case I have to retie several times during the day. I don't want to be rude or offensive, but it's not too nice to get sick in a boat full of water sloshing around — if you know what I mean.

In short, no excuses! My boat's ready, my head's ready, and I've got plenty of oatmeal cookies and gingerbread to last all four days. I'll let you know next week how it went.

July 25, 2008
Last week was a week of motor problems. My lower unit went out, and I've spent the last few days getting it replaced so I'd be ready for the final two Elite tournaments of this season. They're arguably the most important of my career. If I blow them, I'm done for next year as a Bassmaster Elite Series angler.

I was talking to Denny (Brauer) the other day. He said I need a couple of Top 20 finishes to make sure I come back next year. I think he's right — but maybe a little less than that will get it done. I won't know for sure until the season's over.

Denny's one of my best friends on the tour. We actually got to be friends because of our wives. Tracey and Shirley started going places together during the tournaments — weigh-ins, grocery shopping and things like that. So, naturally Denny and I started to spend time together.

That's quite an experience. He was fishing, and winning, when I was a kid just getting started in this business. It's crazy to think that now we're friends and actually hang out together. He's a heck of a nice guy, especially when it comes to his fans. I've learned a lot from him, and not just about fishing either.

Lots of times we'll be in a restaurant and guys will come up to say hi and get his autograph. He always accommodates them, no matter how tired or how busy he may be. I really admire him for that. It says something about what's inside him.

I always laugh to myself when the guys are getting his autograph. After they get his they usually ask for mine. I know they're just being polite. I certainly don't have his reputation or stature as an angler. Still, it's nice of them to ask. I don't care who you are, or your station in life, it's nice to be complimented. It makes you feel good.

And, speaking of being noticed, I was fishing a local tournament here in Columbus last Tuesday night and the Walnut Springs Middle School Fishing Club came by for autographs, photos and fishing tips. They call themselves the "Hartley Hawgs." What a hoot. I mean, how cool is that — to have a fishing club named after you?

Tracy and I are heading towards Erie for the New York event. Competitors can't fish tournament waters until Monday, but we can fish surrounding waters. Tracey's going to help me practice and catch some smallmouths. It'll be a lot of fun. We haven't fished together for quite some time. We're both looking forward to it.

I don't want to sound too negative about my season, though. Sure, I'm disappointed. I wanted to do better. But, hey, it could be worse. I remember a time when nobody cared if I wasn't catching fish, and they didn't ask me why.

July 17, 2008
I'm up on Lake Champlain this week fishing a tournament. I want to use the opportunity to get ready for the last two Elites. Champlain is a good place for that because it has a lot of what we'll see at the Lake Erie/Niagara River event and also at Oneida Lake.

The other thing is that Champlain has been good to me over the years. It's a good place to catch a few fish and build my confidence for what lies ahead. Fishing a lake isn't much different than a lot of other sports. Some venues fit your style better than others.

Professional fishing is similar to professional golf in that respect. If you have a strong long game then a long course will be to your benefit. It'll make you look good. If your best game is inside 100 yards, a short, hilly course might be your favorite place to play.

Champlain is that way for me. To begin with, it's full of smallmouths. I love to catch them — and I seem to understand them better than largemouths or spots — so that gets everything off to a good start. The water's gin clear here, too. That also helps. I like clear water so I feel confident fishing it.

Another thing is the wind. These big Northern lakes have a lot of high, nasty wind storms. I'm not afraid of wind. But some anglers are, and that can cause them problems. They won't — or can't — run to their best spots. And even if they do manage to get to their spots, they can't fish them. They don't know how to handle it. I don't really mind it at all so that's an advantage.

Anyway, that's why I like Champlain and the other Northern bass lakes. They suit my style of angling. To tell you the truth, it'd be OK with me if every tournament were held up here.

Yesterday was a good day. I caught lots of smallmouths. I'm not going to tell you they were big enough to win this event but they sure were aggressive. If my bite holds, I think I can catch several good ones every day. A good one here is just short of 4 pounds. Seventeen pounds a day should be competitive.

In the distant past, smallies were the way to win on Champlain. But the last couple of years have seen largemouths claim center stage. It'll be interesting to see how this tournament shakes out. It might tell us how the last two Elites will shake out. Like I said, the waters are similar.

While we're talking about smallies, there's a trick to fishing them I'd like to share with everyone. They school by size. Most of the brown bass you catch from one spot will be the same size. If you move to another spot, you'll start catching ones that look just like the ones you left.

But here's the thing: They aren't the same. They look the same but they aren't. There will usually be a 2-, 3- or 4-ounce difference in them — in every fish in most cases. At first that may not sound like much but if you multiply 4 ounces by 5 bass you get more than a pound difference in the weight of your bag. That's huge.

So, always catch a few bass in practice and weigh them. I know a lot of guys will tell you not to catch your practice bass but this is an exception. Don't depend on your eye to tell you how much they weigh. If you do that, you'll regret it.

Well, it's time to go. I need to get this tournament behind me then head home, get some work done and catch up on my sleep. After that, it's off to Buffalo, N.Y., for the Empire Chase.

July 10, 2008
I had a wild 4th of July weekend. My initial plan was to prefish Oneida Lake on the 3rd and the 4th and then come home as soon as it went off-limits. Things didn't work out that way.

When I returned to the ramp Thursday evening — the 3rd — I noticed a hub was broken on my trailer. The wheel and tire were sitting cockeyed, almost ready to fall off. Great, I thought. Just what I need over a holiday weekend.

To make matters worse I couldn't break the lugs loose to remove the wheel so I could at least drag it to a nearby repair facility or another ramp. My trailer is a dual axel. If I could have gotten the wheel off I could have dragged the rig somewhere on three wheels and tires. Of course, "if" a frog had wings ….

Anyway, I called AAA and they sent a guy out Friday — the morning of the 4th — to help me. He struggled, grunted and groaned and finally got the lugs off. I was able to remove the wheel. And, he didn't rip me off on the price. That was a relief. I thought for sure that would happen.

I finally launched around noon and was trying to fish a flat — the recreational traffic was horrible — when I saw a pleasure boat loaded with a whole family approaching at full throttle. They were headed directly towards a shallow, underwater rocky spot that was sure to destroy their lower unit and maybe their boat.

I couldn't get their attention. There was nothing I could do. They hit it at full speed; all heck broke loose, and they were stranded. I went over to them and eventually took the father to the marina from which he had launched that morning. The day was ruined. I was stuck for the weekend. But, all was not lost. I had a trailer with three wheels.

Not fishing is not an option in my world, so I headed to nearby Onondaga Lake. When I arrived at the ramp on Sunday morning, the New York BASS Chapter Federation Jr. World Championship Qualifier Tournament finals were just getting started. The event was being run by the Good Ole Boys Bass Club of Central New York State.

Several of their members saw me in the parking lot and offered to help with my trailer problems. They also asked if I would MC their weigh-in later that afternoon. Of course, I agreed. In just a matter of minutes I was talking and helping to get everything organized for their tournament while they were arranging for a tow truck, mechanic and repair shop.

What a great time we had! Those kids are really enthused about bass fishing. I was able to help them have a successful championship and they were able to help me get my trailer repaired. I even got to fish in the afternoon with a couple of the kids who didn't make the cut for the final day. We had a ball and caught a lot of bass, too.

All's well that end's well was certainly true in this case. Next week I'm off to practice for the Empire Chase on Lake Erie/Niagara River. Our tournament will be headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y.

June 28, 2008
I've been practicing hard for our Old Hickory event. Things have been going fairly well this week. But, of course, we won't know for sure until the tournament's off and running.

I've spent some time this week thinking about interesting things that have happened to me since the Elite Series was started three years ago. You know, funny stories or things that help encourage me as I face the biggest challenge of my fishing career.

The first one that comes to mind happened in the first Elite Series event ever on Lake Amistad in 2006. On the first day I caught about 17 pounds. I knew that wasn't great, but I wasn't prepared for reality at the weigh-in — 70th place. That was a real eye-opener.

On Day 2 I knew I had to do better, a lot better. But, as things happen I only had around 9 pounds in the boat as of 1:00 p.m. I knew that was going to be a disaster — a professional embarrassment type of disaster. So, I decided to run way across the lake and fish one spot I thought might hold a good bass or two.

It was a long run and we (my non-boater and I) only had a few minutes to fish after we arrived at my spot. No problem, I had three or four really good fish in the livewell in a matter of 10 minutes. My weight was increasing and, even though I knew I was still in trouble, I could at least avoid a complete train wreck.

Unfortunately — or so I thought at the time — as I was preparing to leave, I hung my bait in a shoreline bush. When I moved in to retrieve it, a big female moved off her bed out into the lake. I quietly eased the boat back thinking she would return to her bed.

I was wrong. She stayed under my boat, suspended in the shade. When I moved she moved. The clock was ticking and I needed to catch her.

Finally, mostly out of desperation, I lowered my Senko into the water directly under the boat. As the Senko disappeared I felt that wonderful tick-tick-tick. I set the hook and the battle was on. I won that contest. She ended up in my livewell. Shortly thereafter I hauled 28 pounds of bass, including my 10-pound, 1-ounce monster, to the scales.

I didn't make the cut that afternoon. In fact, I didn't even win big bass honors. I did, however, learn a couple of valuable lessons. Never give up hope. Things can turn around quickly in bass fishing. And, never be afraid to try something different if what you're doing isn't working.

June 18, 2008
It's time to be blunt. I'm in trouble, serious trouble. I may not be back next year.

After my first — and largely successful — Classic appearance in February, I've had eight of the worst tournament performances of my professional career. Or, at least if I have ever had a string of eight this bad I don't remember them. And don't want to, either.

I currently rank 98th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. I need to move up almost 20 places to get back here next year — not to make the Classic, mind you, just to get back to the Elite Series.

This is the time for action, not complaining or lamenting about my supposed bad luck. This is my own fault. There's nobody to blame except Charlie. I did it to myself. I'm the one who didn't catch big enough bass.

Still, it's not easy to accept. I honestly can't imagine what I'll do if I can't run around the country and fish with these guys. I mean they're my kind of people. They have the same screw loose that I do. We understand each other.

Now don't get me wrong. I'll get back — somehow — if that's what it comes to, but I don't want it to go that way. I mean this is my whole life. It's what I live for. It's what I am. I earned my way here through a lot of hard work, and I intend to stay if at all possible.

Anyway, I'm not complaining. I'm stating a fact. I've got to have a strong run — three really strong, high finishes — to get back, or even have a slim chance of getting back. I have no other option.

Here's the plan:

First, I'm going to concentrate on offshore structure in the Old Hickory Lake event. Going to the bank and catching two-pound bass won't get me anything. It's do or die. My whole practice will be devoted to finding big bass offshore. If that doesn't work, I may as well blank. A small limit won't help at this point.

Then, when we swing north, I'm going to follow my usual Yankee sissy style of fishing. I've done pretty well on Oneida and Erie, so I'm hopeful. I'll fish the way I have in the past only harder and with more grit. I'm going to cast more, concentrate more and set the hook harder than I ever have.

But, here's the thing. It's not going to be easy. These guys fishing the Elite Series are really good. They're good at finding bass and they're good at catching them. I'll give you an example.

At Kentucky Lake I found a ledge with several good spots on it. I marked each one with my GPS and felt I had a few places I could catch some fish. Thursday morning arrived, and I ran to one of my spots. No one was on it so I started fishing.

After awhile I looked up and there was a boat on every — and I do mean every — spot I had marked on that ledge. There wasn't one spot that was open. Fishing against that kind of competition is darn tough.

I mean, it's frustrating and rewarding at the same time. On the one hand you know that you're fishing against the best bass anglers in the world. I'm proud to be a part of that. But, on the other hand, you know they're beating your brains out. I'm not proud of that.

No matter, however, I'll give it my best during the last three events. I like being an Elite Series angler.

June 12, 2008
It's Wednesday evening, and I'm getting ready to fish the Kentucky Lake tournament in the morning. All I can do at this point is hope for the best and focus on what's positive in my life.

And, the most positive aspect of my life — bar none — is my relationship with Tracey. Notice I didn't say marriage. I said relationship. It's the relationship that matters, not the marriage. Marriage is a legal concept; a relationship comes from the heart.

We met in Columbus, Ohio, when I was working for Signcom and she was working for a canvas awning company. We sometimes used them (the canvas company) in restaurants and shopping centers.

Anyway, we met over the phone and developed a phone relationship before we ever met in person. Over time I realized we were spending a lot of time talking about things that had nothing to do with business. Finally, I got up my nerve and asked her to dinner. She accepted and we had our first date at Max & Erma's on April 9, 1996.

We hit it off right away. Our engagement was in June that year and we married on August 30, 1996.

After our marriage she continued to work for the canvas company for about a year but finally quit to travel with me as I fished BASS tournaments around the country. She said she didn't marry me to stay home while I traveled with my best friend. She said she was my best friend.

I pretended to let her travel with me because she wanted to do it but the truth is I was thrilled. I missed her when I was on the road and wanted her with me as bad as she wanted to be with me. When she said she was my best friend she was right.

Well, the rest is history, as they say. She's traveled with me to every tournament since 1998 — hasn't missed a one — and I'm as happy about that as she is. I really look forward to seeing her every evening when I come off the water.

Marrying her is the best decision I ever made, and I've made a couple of good ones. First, I took a big step and bought Signcom. That was great. It enabled me to fish full-time. Second, I decided to follow my dream and fish professionally. That one was even better than great.

But, the one that matters more than the other two combined was marrying Tracey. She's there for me during good times and bad. I can always depend on her for support and positive, constructive advice. She gives me a kiss when I need it and a kick in the butt when I need that.

It's been a sweet deal. It really has.

May 21, 2008
Well, you know the story. I didn't do well on Lake Murray. It's starting to sound like a broken record, isn't it?

The details don't really matter, but here they are anyway. I was catching fish up in the river on a pattern that was similar to Fred Roumbanis' but I wasn't getting any size. I thought if I went back to the main lake points I might do better. I didn't.

So, I tried skipping docks. I did get some bites doing that but not enough to matter in the end. I just didn't catch fish. I lost several good ones on Thursday but in the end that doesn't matter either. Everyone has fish get off. It's part of the game. My performance sucked. I'm not going to sit here and try to put lipstick on a pig — it sucked.

Anyway, after I missed the cut, I came home to rest and recuperate and get some work done at Signcom. Maybe this break before the Southern Challenge on Wheeler, June 5-8, will turn things around. Maybe the last five tournaments will be different.

On a brighter note, I fished a small, local tournament last night on O'Shaughnessy Reservoir here in Columbus with my nephew, Damon Bushman. He's 13-years-old and doesn't get to fish much so I partnered with him this evening.

He got out of school one period early to get ready. I don't know if that's good or not. I suppose he would have a different opinion about it than his teachers. It won't hurt him — didn't hurt me. Ha! (I wonder if they're reading this and what they think about leaving school early to go fishing. I suppose it depends on whether they fish or not!)

Damon caught his first tournament keeper bass tonight with about 20 minutes to go. We weighed in a limit but were one fish short of a check. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

I love seeing kids learn about our sport and develop an appreciation for the outdoors. Damon will remember this evening for the rest of his life and smile every time he does. These are the memories a guy carries with him all his life.

And, it was great to see some of the old guys I used to fish with years ago. We all fished the local circuit here in Columbus before I turned pro. Some of us go back 30 years. They're all supportive of my career even though it's not going the way I'd like right now.

You know though, when I stop and think about it, despite my miserable performance so far in the 2008 Elite Series events I still can't say I'm having a terrible year. After all, 2008 is the year I fished my first Bassmaster Classic. How can that be terrible?

May 13, 2008
I'm practicing for the Lake Murray event today. Yesterday was Mother's Day, and I couldn't help thinking about my own mother, her passing and a great BASS story. That's what I want to talk about this week. It's important and a story that needs to be told.

Mom died a couple of years ago after a long bout with cancer. We were close. Mother's Day is always tough for me. I get down and have a difficult time of it. But, I couldn't help smiling when I thought about how I managed to fish a tournament and attend her funeral in the same day. She would have smiled, too.

Mom had been sick for a long time, and I was with her until very near the end. She was my biggest fan and always a supporter — both when I caught fish and when I didn't. She insisted that I keep fishing despite her illness. "It's what you do," she would say.

Anyway, I left her in the hospital to fish a BASS event on Lake Guntersville. Shortly after arriving at the tournament site I received a call saying she had passed. The visitation and funeral were in Columbus, Ohio, on the evening of the first day of the tournament.

I managed to get a last minute flight home so I could attend her visitation and funeral but didn't think I could fish Day 1 because I wouldn't be able to weigh in my fish. My flight was at 2:00 p.m. I'd need to leave the ramp by 10:00 a.m. That didn't seem possible.

Trip Weldon, BASS Tournament Director, heard about my plight. He called and said he'd bring scales to the ramp at 10:00 a.m. the next day so I could fish a few hours, weigh my fish and still make my flight.

I caught two fish that morning and weighed them at the ramp. Without those bass I wouldn't have qualified for the Elite Series the next year.

Thank you, Trip ... and Mom.

May 8, 2008
Things have been tough the last few weeks. The fish are winning the battles. They will not, however, win the war.

I'm getting ready to fish the Southern Open on the Santee Cooper complex and have been thinking about the past, my life and career. Santee Cooper is where I caught my first 10-pound bass and my biggest bass — an 11-pound, 11-ounce giant.

Anyway, I thought now might be a good time to share some things about myself and my world with you.

I caught my first bass when I was less than 3 years old. I was fishing with my mother — trolling for perch on Grand Lake St. Mary's in Ohio — when it bit my night crawler. The bass was hooked and so was I.

My first tournament was a father-son deal with my dad. I was about 5-years-old. We fished Hoover Reservoir near Columbus, Ohio, where we lived. I honestly don't remember how we did but I do remember it was a lot of fun, and I had a great time fishing with my dad that day.

That's interesting as I think about it. I don't remember how we did, but I remember having a good time. That's a lesson for us all. Fishing trips or tournaments with loved ones aren't about catching fish. That's the least important part of them when you stop and think about it.

Several years after that I knew I wanted to fish bass tournaments on a more serious level. I was about 12-years-old at the time. I saved and scrimped for a Bass Tracker and bought one at a sports show. I thought I had time for it to arrive before my first tournament of the year, but I was wrong.

At the time I was an active member of the Alum Creek Bassmasters and one of the guys made arrangements with a local marina for me to borrow a boat so I could fish the tournament. I had a great time. But again, I don't remember how I did.

When the boat finally did arrive my mother would tow it to the ramp for me — I couldn't legally drive — and then I'd back it into the water because she couldn't back a two-wheel trailer. I'd fish all day and she'd pick me up at the ramp where we would reverse the process before heading home.

My biggest payday as a professional angler came when I won the Canadian Open a few years ago. I earned $40,000. Of course, my greatest accomplishment as an angler was qualifying for, and fishing in, the 2008 Bassmaster Classic.

One other thing you might find interesting is that my name isn't Charlie. It's James. (The Hartley part's right, though!)

It all happened when I was in the second grade. There were four of us named James. The teacher decided to call one Jim, one Jimmy and another James. Obviously, she needed a fourth name.

My mother suggested she call me Charlie, after Charlie Brown. Mom said I resembled Charlie Brown with my attitude and in my actions. So, my teacher called me Charlie that year. Nothing's changed since then.

April 30, 2008
Our Clarks Hill tournament is this week. I thought we could take this opportunity to talk about practice and how to get the most out of it.

All of us in the Elite Series have fished Clarks Hill. We know it well. But, this year is different — the water's down. Most of what we've fished in past years is high and dry. It's a new lake and needs to be analyzed like one.

I'm going to break the lake into three parts and devote one day to prefishing each of them.

Day 1: I'll spend the first day in the Savannah River arm of the lake.

I prefished one of the nearby lakes and know that some of the bass are still spawning. It seems like we're a little earlier in the spawning cycle this year than in previous years. I'll be looking for big, prespawn or spawning females that'll bite topwater plugs, jigs or maybe a soft plastic stickbait like a Venom Salty Sling.

Day 2: I'll go into the Little River Arm on Tuesday.

I don't know this area as well as I should. I'll spend a lot of time looking around, getting an idea of what's available and what's going on. I'll still be looking for the big females.

Day 3: Wednesday will be devoted to the southern end of the lake, down near the dam.

I want to look for big, kicker bass here. And, because our launch is in this area, I'll try to find a few spots that are good for a final cast or two before we have to check in each afternoon.

As you can see from my schedule I'm trying to maximize my time on the water. I want to check out every area of the lake and then develop a plan on Wednesday evening about where and how to fish the tournament. I won't make any final decisions until after I've looked over everything.

The idea is to find a good bite for Thursday — that'll get me off to a good start — and then have a good idea of what I want to do for the rest of the tournament. I'll also need a couple of good backup spots in case the weather or the bite changes.

You can do the same thing, and you don't need three days to prepare. Even if you only have a few hours, try to look at as much water and as many places as you can. Then, make your best judgment as to where and how to fish during competition. And, always have a backup plan or spot in case they don't bite or things change.

Everything works better with a plan.

April 23, 2008
The PAA tournament at Lake Fork in Texas was a good one. Our team — I was the captain — finished eighth and we earned a check. Like I said last time, I needed a check. It was good to see one for a change.

Anyway, I'm at The Moors Resort & Marina on Kentucky Lake. I'll fish here for a couple of days and then move on to Georgia. I haven't done well on Kentucky Lake over the years and want to spend a day or two graphing some on the ledges in preparation for the Bluegrass Brawl in June.

On Wednesday or Thursday I'll leave for Georgia. I want to fish a couple of the reservoirs above or below Clarks Hill. That should give me a good idea of what stage the fish are in when official practice starts next Monday for the Pride of Georgia next week.

I really need to be back in Columbus tending to business at Signcom but this is important, too. I've dug a big hole for myself and this is the only way I know to climb out of it. My dreams of making the Classic again are going to be just that — dreams — if I don't get my butt in gear.

And, along with needing to meet my Signcom responsibilities I'd just as soon be in my own bed tonight. You know, traveling as much as Tracey and I do is not what it's cracked up to be. Always a different bed, another restaurant, looking for a place to do laundry... It gets old.

This world we (professional bass anglers) live in isn't what it looks like from the outside. It isn't all fun and good times fishing on the water. Some of it is, of course, but most of it is plain, old-fashioned hard work.

But, this is the life I chose and the one I want to live. It can be frustrating, though. I mean, I've fished hard this year, and it just hasn't happened for me. I want to fish next year's Classic and I won't settle for anything less.

Regardless of all that stuff, I'm thinking positive. Clarks Hill is much like Lake Hartwell, and I did very well in the Classic on Hartwell so I'm hopeful about what I can accomplish there — not overconfident mind you, just confident.

Of course, the Classic was at a different time of the year but still....

April 14, 2008
Amistad was a disaster for me. I had a good practice but a lousy tournament. Day 1 was bad. I had five bass that weighed 13 pounds, 6 ounces. And, if that wasn't low enough, Day 2's catch was a whopping 8 pounds, 14 ounces. I finished 105 out of 109.

There's no way to put a good face on that.

I think I've got bad karma or something really bad like that. I had at least 20 bites on Saturday (Day 2) and didn't get a good hook-set once. Not once! I have no idea why. It happened is all I can tell you.

Tracey doesn't think it's bad karma. She thinks we just plain stink. (Notice how generous she is; I'm the one not catching fish. Who's we?) She's talking about soaking me in a tub full of tomato juice. Hey, maybe that's not as crazy as it sounds. It works with dogs.

But, on a serious note, the truth is this is a tough sport. We try to trick fish into biting something they can't eat, if they want to eat at all. It's not precise and sometimes they win. I'd like to turn this into a big-time, meaningful lesson of some sort but in reality the lesson might be that sometimes things don't go our way. Maybe it's just that simple.

Like I said, I set the hook on nothing but water at least 20 times Saturday. And I know I was around quality bass because my co-angler had a limit of good fish — and was culling, — before I boated one. Why? I don't have a clue.

The thing is it's not about adversity; we all face that on the water — and in life — from time to time. The test is how we deal with it. Sometimes the best way to do that is to try to survive to fish another day.

Anyway, I'm on my way to the Professional Anglers Association (PAA) tournament next week. It's at Lake Fork here in Texas and is a pretty big deal — lots of hospitality tents, entertainment, good fishing, and a guaranteed check. I can use one of those if I still remember how to cash one.

April 8, 2008
Well, I wish I had good news to report from Falcon, but I don't. I made a big mistake fishing that one. It's a mistake I shouldn't have made and one that should serve as a lesson for all tournament anglers.

I had a good bag shallow in the brush on Monday. Tuesday wasn't so good, but Wednesday got better so I thought everything would work out. I really thought I was in good shape.

On Thursday, the first day of competition, I caught 27 pounds, 12 ounces. That's a pretty good bag but nothing to brag about considering we were fishing Falcon Lake. Still, I was in contention to make Friday's cut.

On Friday I stayed shallow — 8-10 feet — in brush. I caught at least 50 bass, but they were small — most of them between 3 and 4 pounds. I knew that wasn't good enough, but I kept thinking it would get better — that somehow the bass would grow.

They didn't. It was a dumb mistake. I know better.

The lesson is simple: No matter how many fish you're catching, you can never forget you're fishing a tournament. It's not about how many bass you catch. It's about how big they are. I somehow forgot that and it cost me. I'm really down about it — dumb, dumb, dumb!

If you're fishing tournaments, don't fall prey to CFM (Charlie's Falcon Mistake) Syndrome. Don't be afraid to leave bass if they're too little. This is a weight game, not a numbers game. The weighmaster never asks how many bass you caught. He only asks about your five best ones. Forget like I did and you'll be in my shoes — driving instead of fishing.

But, on the positive side I'm at Amistad and things look good. I've been catching fish. I don't think they're big enough, but I won't make the same mistake twice. This time I'll move.

I mean, let's face it, the pressure's on. If I expect to make the Classic, now's the time to get moving. I'm currently 65th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. That's not where I want to be and not what'll get me to where I want to be next February.

April 3, 2008
This one is coming in a little late and I apologize for that, but last week was a long week. I'm not making excuses but that's how it was.

I had to work at my business all week and then drive 25 hours to get to Zapata, Texas. I split the drive equally over two days but it was still a long haul. Back a few years ago I'd have driven 18 hours the first day and six the next. A few years before that, I'd have driven straight through and then fished a few hours.

But that was then, and this is now. Age takes its toll.

You know, I'm asked a lot about turning pro. That's what I did, and I don't regret it one bit. But still, life as a professional bass angler isn't as easy as it looks from the outside. There's more to it than going fishing every day.

It's no fun to spend two 12-hour days behind the wheel of a truck towing a boat, and then get up early the next morning and look for fish all day. It's hard work. What you must keep in mind about this business is that fishing is less than half of it.

There's money to earn and finances to manage — unless you're fortunate enough to earn all your money on the tour, something very few of us can do — as well as sponsor appearances to make and fan activities to attend. And then, in your spare time, you can do maintenance on your vehicles and equipment. After that you try to be a husband to your wife.

There are times I'm so tired, I go to bed at 8:00 or 8:30. I just can't stay up any longer than that.

Oh, and don't forget about the press. You've got to talk to reporters when they need an interview and a story. That's especially fun after you've blanked for the day in a big tournament. But without them you won't have sponsors, and without sponsors you won't be fishing professionally very long.

OK, I've cried enough. It's time to fish.

I'm here on Falcon and things are going well — maybe, sort of, I hope. I've caught some fish, but here's the problem: My bass aren't in the same type places the other guys are fishing. I try to make my own decisions, but when you see all the other guys fishing stuff that's different from what you're fishing, you get nervous.

I mean, let's tell it like it is. I need to make a good showing in the Texas tournaments if I expect to compete in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.

March 26, 2008
I got my boat re-wrapped this week. It looks good, so I'm ready to go once I get out of this coat and tie and away from the office. Of course, I say that knowing that the office and my company give me the ability to fish, so maybe I shouldn't complain.

I haven't fished much since Kissimmee. I've been working on my tackle and getting ready for the tournaments in Texas. I think jigs will be big there. At least they will be for me. I don't think you can win at the Elite Series level unless you fish your strengths. I want to be ready.

By getting ready I mean tying a bunch that matches the crawfish there at this time of year. I think that's something a lot of us miss about jig fishing. Too often we grab a jig that looks good to us without thinking about what it looks like to the fish.

I'd encourage other anglers to do the same thing. We're all in a hurry to go fishing. That's understandable. We spend all week at our jobs and want to get going. I mean it's only human to feel that way.

But sometimes we'd do better if we spent some time looking around analyzing the forage. That way we could pick better lures — ones that the fish are more likely to eat. That's especially true with jigs. I can't stress that enough. Match the hatch with jigs!

The crawfish at this time of year in Texas are a kind of red and black mix. So I'm going to try to make colors that resemble them. And I try to match size whenever possible. You know, they should look like what the bass are eating at Amistad and Falcon.

Now, don't get me wrong. Falcon and Amistad are two very different bodies of water but the principle is the same. Make your baits look like what the bass are already eating. You're more likely to catch them that way.

And while we're on the subject of Texas, I think these will be interesting tournaments. A lot of the guys think the Clear Lake record will be broken at one of them. I'm not so sure.
Most of the bass will be postspawn, so they'll weigh less. And, being postspawn they'll also be a lot harder to pattern and catch. Postspawn bass scatter and don't eat quite as well, at least not all the time anyway. So I think it will be a slugfest, but maybe not quite like Clear Lake.

We'll all know shortly, won't we?

March 17, 2008
Kissimmee was better to me than the Harris Chain but I'm still not where I want to be. I am kind of pumped about my performance though. It boosted my confidence.

I didn't catch a big bag on Day 1 and knew I had to do better. So, on Day 2 when the wind started blowing I decided to do something different. I went to water I'd never fished before but knew about. It was full of pads with some hydrilla growing underneath

I don't usually fish new water in competition but the wind made my other spots unfishable. Sometimes you do what you have to do, not what you want to do.

When I arrived the area looked like it was made for a Venom Rattle Shake. It's like a ChatterBait but I like it better than any of the others. In my opinion it handles better and has a cleaner vibration.

After thinking things over for a moment I decided to fish the inside edges of the pads, away from the wind. Now let me tell you that was no easy task. Casting accuracy was impossible — you didn't know where the lure was going to land.

And there were no lanes in the pad fields to fish. You had to pick your way through them by working the rod tip left and right during the retrieve; sometimes holding it up, other times holding it down worked better. Hanging on a pad was an ever present problem.

I'd go along real good for maybe 20 minutes without any problem. And then I might hang on five or six casts in a row. It was hard physical work; by the end of the day I was beat. I was also catching bigger bass.

The point of all this is that I improved my standing on Day 2 and made the cut. I fished on Saturday. And Saturday was better still because I was fishing the same pattern. I didn't make the cut for Sunday but I did improve each day. Just as importantly I reinforced my confidence in my own decision making.

I trusted my instincts on Day 2 and went to the pads even though I'd never fished them before. And, I was willing to put up with the difficulties of fishing them. I mean, there were a lot of places that would have been easier to fish but I had confidence in that one. It all paid off.

Those are lessons that every one of us should remember. As anglers we don't trust ourselves. We're tentative and don't try to win the gold. That's a mistake; it'll kill you in this business. Believe me, I know.

March 11, 2008
Well, last week was the week of hard knocks. If it could have gone wrong it did.

First, my boat wrap blew off. That's right, it blew off! So now I have a boat that looks like heck to fish out of. They're going to make it right though. It'll be redone on Wednesday after the Kissimmee event. But still, it looks awful, and I don't like that.

My reputation as a cleanee and a neat freak isn't exactly a secret. Even VanDam came up to me and said, good naturedly, "Charlie that has to be killing you."

Yes, Kevin, it is as a matter of fact.

And then my rods and reels were all stolen from my boat on Monday night. I went out and my rod box was ripped open. It was empty. Thank goodness they didn't steal my lures and tackle. The police said they steal the rods and reels because they're easy to pawn or resell.

Well, thanks to my sponsors and the generosity of my fellow competitors — I can't say enough about that — that got all straightened out. Berkley arranged for new Fenwick rods and all new Revo reels. I was good to go within 24 hours, but it's still a hassle and very upsetting.

And then, of course, my tournament was a complete disaster. I didn't make the cut on Saturday. You don't get to the Bassmaster Classic fishing like that. If I expect to be at the 2009 Classic, this has got to be my worst finish.

Let me tell you how bad it was: On Day 2, I caught an Ohio River limit. My bag was holding five legal bass that weighed less than 5 pounds. I mean, I didn't know you could do that in Florida on the Harris Chain. You'd think I'd have caught a 2-pounder by accident. I mean, I caught 20 keeper bass that day?

But Sunday after the tournament was real good. I fished a neighboring lake with Denny Brauer. We had $5 on the first bass. I caught it and Denny had to pay up. It was great — for me anyway. I don't think he enjoyed it as much as I did.

But, despite my bad luck and poor fishing this week I wouldn't have it any other way. This is the life I chose and the one I want to live. How many anglers get to fish with Denny Brauer and get paid $5 for doing it? Ha!

Practice at Kissimmee is going OK. I've had a few good bites and think I may be starting to develop some good spots and a pattern. I hope so anyway. Like I said, I won't be at the Classic next year if I fish another tournament or two like I did the Harris Chain.

I'll give you the details on my fishing strategy and tactics next week.

March 3, 2008

Well, it's been a week like no other in my life. I got the Classic Crud (flu) in Greenville and haven't really got over it yet. I had to go home on Monday, get my new boat and then go to Nashville on Tuesday to get it wrapped. Then I came here with Tracey to the Harris Chain for the first Elite event.

Of course, the rest of my time has been outfitting my new boat so it feels like home. That's a lot of work. Everything has to be just right at this level of competition. I loved my old boat and want this one to be outfitted the same way.
But hey, I love it and the phone hasn't stopped ringing. Tracey and I spend a large part of every day talking to people. They all have been complimenting me and wishing me well. I really appreciate that. It means more than you think.

I've had a chance to think things over this week too. I still can't believe I didn't go where I knew the fish were on the last day until it was too late. I mean, I was in a position to win the Bassmaster Classic and didn't trust my own instincts. It doesn't make sense.

I'll tell you one thing — that won't happen again. I have a newfound confidence in my fishing. I don't mean that I think I know all the answers or have this sport whipped, because I don't. But I do mean that I have more confidence in myself as a professional. I've made a pact with myself that from now on I'll trust what Charlie tells Charlie to do. If I lose it won't be because I didn't listen to myself.

I've also thought a lot about this upcoming Elite Series season — you know, what I want to do and what I want to accomplish this year. Of course, like every angler out there I want to win Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. But beyond that I really want to qualify for next year's Classic. That would be a successful season for me.

I know that might sound like a lot, but that's honestly what I want to do. I pretty much blew my chances of qualifying through the Opens with my poor performance on the St. John's River, so that's the only way I'll be able to return.

And believe me, I want to return! I mean, I've fished the Classic and not fished the Classic. Fishing it is better.

February 24, 2008
Well, it's over. Today was tough and I made it tougher. I make no excuses and ask for no sympathy. I didn't catch as many bass as I needed to and that's what this game is all about. The guy with the biggest fish wins.

Last night was OK. I took a hot shower, got a bite to eat and went to bed. Tracey read some of the blogs to me before I fell asleep. They were great. Some of the things people said about me almost brought tears to my eyes. There's no way you can overstate the importance of friendship and love. I know that may sound corny but it's true, it really is.

I was a little sore last night though. I wasn't sure why but I think now I'm coming down with the Classic Crud. I ache all over and I'm a little feverish. I've been popping Advil all day. But that didn't have anything to do with what happened today and I'm certainly not using it as an excuse. Today is on me.

I didn't listen to my gut until it was too late. I didn't trust myself to do the right thing. The baitfish scattered around my docks and brush and that messed me up. I did catch one this morning schooling behind me but it wasn't very big.

Then I started running around the lake looking for a bite but the problem was I didn't have that many spots that I thought were holding fish big enough to win the Classic. Running around was a bad decision and it came back to haunt me — big-time. I knew where I should be but didn't go there.

And when I finally did go there — muddy water — I only had about an hour to fish. That's what I should have done hours before but I didn't have the guts to do it. The water was 55 degrees, the warmest I found all week. I lost a 5-pounder on top of the water and another big one, too. But by then it was too late. I couldn't catch up because I was out of time.

The truth is I need to be a man out there. When I know that I should be doing something I need to have the nerve to do it. I'm not a kid anymore. I need to trust my instincts. That's what you have to do if you want to fish with the very best. It's really that simple. This is not a sport for timid or insecure anglers. I've got to do better.

But on the brighter side I did learn how to get rid of all the spectator boats around you — stop catching fish. That'll do it.

But I don't want to sound too negative tonight. Overall I had a good time this week and learned a lot about bass fishing and myself. I mean, Charlie Hartley competed in the biggest fishing tournament in the country, against the very best anglers, and made a credible showing. I'm really proud of that and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

And I know Tracey had a good time, too. When we first got here she poked me in the ribs and said we should do this more often. She enjoys all the social stuff that goes with something like this. I'm glad for her. And I agree; we should do it more often.

I did notice that she misses the quality time we usually spend together at the tournaments though. Don't get me wrong, she didn't complain or anything but I can tell.

Most of the time — during a regular tournament — we relax with a beer before supper, maybe play some darts and then go to bed. It's really nice. But here there's no time for that. It's one thing after another all day and all night long. It never stops, not even for a minute.

Last night is a perfect example; I fished all day, talked to the media, walked into the hotel room, pecked her on the lips, took a shower, and fell asleep. That's not quality time for a wife.

But don't take that the wrong way. The importance of this to Tracy and me is beyond description. Not only is fishing the Bassmaster Classic every bass fisherman's dream but it also validates my fishing career. I fished a Bassmaster Classic and was in a position to win it on the last day. That's a good feeling after all these years.

You know what I mean — I didn't win but I had the opportunity and I'm grateful for that. And now, it's off to the Elite Series. I'll keep you posted.

February 23, 2008
I finished last night's blog with the thought that I'd get something to eat, say hi to Tracey and go to bed but it didn't work out that way. I mean, I was still being interviewed as I went to my room. One writer called and met me outside the elevator on my floor at the hotel as I was walking to my room. I told him to make it quick; I hadn't been to the bathroom in 10 hours and couldn't hold it much longer.

But it's great. To say this is a dream isn't telling the whole truth. It's more than that. I finished the first day in first place in the Bassmaster Classic. How cool is that?

Once I got to my room last night I stood in the shower for two hours letting hot water run all over me. Tracey knocked on the door several times to see if I was all right. She said I was laughing and giggling. That's kind of embarrassing. I mean I was in there all by myself. But, it's probably true.

I did get a little sleep though. Thank goodness I don't have any trouble sleeping. But still, from 10:00 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. is not eight hours and I need close to that to stay on my game. I'm really tired now. It's starting to set in on me.

Fishing was tough today for me but I understand my competitors found it the same. I caught most of my fish early and that surprised me. Once the sun popped up it got tough. I only caught one after that. I really struggled. But I tried to remember what everyone told me — forget it's the Classic and keep you head down and your mind on the task at hand.

I tried to do that but it wasn't easy, I'll tell you that. I had boats following me all over the place. I never saw so many. And you know I'm not used to that. Nobody ever cared what Charlie Hartley was doing on the water before today. But it was kind of neat. I won't deny that it's fun to have everyone watching you.

They were everywhere all day, nonstop. There was even a Hooters boat following me today. What kind of distraction is that? Try fishing with all those girls around you. It isn't easy, I'll tell you that. I think VanDam sent them to throw me off my game — ha!

And I got messages from darn near everyone. One was especially meaningful to me. Gary Rusk, a bass angler from back in Ohio who was president of the Alum Creek Bassmasters when I joined them at the age of 14, called and told me to bring home the trophy. I haven't heard from him in 20 or 30 years and that really meant a lot to me.

I honestly can't believe how much love and support I'm receiving. It's the greatest, and by far the best, part of this. To realize that I have so many people rooting for me means more than I can ever say. It's what's so special about competitive fishing. I love it.

Tracey has been wonderful too. A lot of people don't realize how much support we get from our wives. They take care of things while we're out on the water. That's no small thing. It makes it possible for us to do this.

And Tracey is the best. You know, it's easy to forget that she's under a lot of pressure too. She has to live and die with the decisions I make as an angler and she isn't even there. That's hard to do.

I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow. I may not return to the same area. I've fished it pretty thoroughly and I don't like to fish behind myself. But you never know. I might hit it real quick first thing in the morning but that's all. I'm fishing a jig in brush — fairly shallow — and I'll stick with that but I'll probably change areas. A lot of it depends upon the weather.

I think I can be competitive tomorrow — I'm only a little over a pound off the mark. Anyway, we'll all know in less than 24 hours.

February 22, 2008

Wow, what a day; I'm leading the 2008 Bassmaster Classic!

And to think it started out kind of rough. I woke up this morning at 3:00 a.m. and didn't have any hot water. I had to take a cold shower. I thought to myself that considering all the flop houses I've stayed in over the years and to be in a Hyatt without hot water on the first day of my first Classic — how ironic.

But maybe that was a good omen. I caught a limit in deep, clear water first thing this morning. I had five fish in the livewell by 10:00 a.m. But they weren't big enough and I knew that. They might have weighed 10 pounds and that's not going to win the Classic. I didn't work this hard to weigh in 10 pounds of bass at the Classic. No sir, I did not.

And so I decided to make a 20-mile run to another arm of the lake where the water had some stain to it. I had prefished that area on Wednesday and knew it held quality fish. I didn't really know how big they were because I don't set the hook in practice but I knew they were good ones, better than what I had. The bite was fast and furious. By about 12:30 p.m. I had culled all of my first five bass with bigger ones.

And then I had to make a decision, fish or leave. I didn't think I could upgrade any further at this spot but I knew there were more fish there. So I decided to leave and just go fishing. I left those fish for tomorrow when I'll need them. Do you know how hard that is to do? I mean I left biting fish to go fishing. I can hardly believe it myself. (I didn't put another fish in the livewell today.)

But one thing I've learned over the years through tournament fishing is that tournaments are won and lost with the decisions you make at the moment. It isn't about preplanning or trying to out think the bass or the weather or whatever. It's the decisions that you make on the water during the competition.

I made this one and I'll have to stand by it. I hope it works out for me but you never know. One thing I do know is that I'm fishing to win, not to place. And if I can catch another bag tomorrow like I did today, I'll be on my way. It didn't make sense to keep catching those bass if they weren't any bigger than the ones I already had.

I was asked by several of the media guys when I came in if I thought I could win this thing. The honest answer is that I don't know. I've never been this high in the standings, in this big of a tournament, against this level of competition so I really don't know what it takes to win at this level. I do know that I'm going to give it all I've got. If I don't win, it won't be because I didn't try and I'll be a better fisherman for it.

I headed in for some dinner and to see Tracey and then go to bed early. I'm sure she's as excited as I am. I wonder if I should tell the hotel to disconnect the hot water this evening so I can have a real cold shower in the morning? I mean, maybe I should start every day off on the rough side.

February 21, 2008

I just got finished with Media Day. What a great event. We had media representatives from all over the world there. I think this is the most I've ever been interviewed; actually, I know it is. This has been an experience. I mean, I've been asked just about every question imaginable.

And you know, for the most part they're pretty good questions, too. When I say good I mean the questioner obviously knows something about bass fishing and how we — Bassmaster Classic qualifiers — do it. Of course, a lot of them want specific information about our primary pattern, lures and the places we're going to fish. We're not going to tell them that but you can't blame them for asking either. It's their job.

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow but I can't say I'm not nervous. I mean my first Classic appearance will be official in the morning. I received a call this afternoon from an old friend that I fished with years ago in the draw tournaments. He wished me luck and reminded me that once all this activity dies down I'll have to put my head down and go fishing.

That brought it all home to me. Fishing is what this thing's about. The parties, receptions, dinners, get togethers, photos and interviews are nice but when all is said and done I've got to go catch bass.

Our lifelong friends, Dan and Nancy Welch, are here from West Virginia with us. We've been friends with them for years. He fishes a lot and has several good tournament wins to his credit. He was an observer with Peter T on Wednesday and will go out again tomorrow with someone. We don't know who yet. He's excited about that and I'm excited for him.

I'm really glad they're here. Tracey travels with me a lot. We don't get to socialize as much as some couples. We spend a lot of time together, just the two of us. With them here she can be with other people while I'm doing my thing. And she's ready for it to start too. I've prefished for Classic fish, and she's preshopped for Classic outfits, about as much as we can.

Tomorrow will be a tough day. It's cold and windy now with a steady rain. It's 38 degrees now; tomorrow will be a high of 43 with heavy rain — up to an inch is expected. I don't care who you are or how much you love to bass fish, those are tough conditions. If I was a bass I wouldn't bite either. I hope mine don't read the weather forecast.

I'll post a full report tomorrow.

February 20, 2008

Well, today was the last practice day before Friday. It started out cold but warmed up as the day went along. The wind blew like the devil after about 9:00 this morning. That made the fishing a little tough but all in all I think it went well. I'm satisfied anyway.

My deep fish are still there so I feel pretty good about that. The shallow water bite has me worried though. The rain last week muddied some of the creeks and shallow areas. That could be a problem if it warms up during tournament days and the shallow water bite is where it's at. It might take late day shallow bass to win this thing.

But, there's no sense in worrying about what you can't control. Whatever happens is whatever happens. If you're going to fish with the big boys you've got to produce. It's that simple. I'll do my best to deal with it.

Whatever happens this has been a great trip for Tracey and me. It's been a lot of fun; we're both enjoying ourselves a lot. I mean, I didn't realize how much fun a Classic could be — parties, dinners, social get togethers, and the like. It's a whirlwind. To be honest it's hard to keep your mind on the task at hand — catching bass.

Tracey bought cards back in Ohio for every day we're here. I didn't know she was going to do it but it's pretty neat. She gives me one every morning when I wake up. This morning's card said the reason there are so many stars in the sky is so everyone could have their own for a wish. (She doesn't think I read my cards. Maybe this will convince her otherwise. Ha!)

Several writers and media guys have asked me what I think it'll take to win this Classic. I honestly don't know. There are a lot of bass in Hartley but you never know if they'll cooperate. Some of the guys are saying maybe 17 or 18 pounds a day but I'm not so sure. I think a little less than that might be enough. I guess we'll know on Sunday.

Anyway, all my equipment is in good shape and I'm ready to go. No excuses; this is when it's time to go fishing!

Tomorrow is Media Day. That's when all the writers and photographers get to interview and photograph you. I've never done anything like that before but I think it'll go OK. I hope so anyway. I'll let you know tomorrow after it's over.

February 15, 2008

I just finished my last day of practice — until next Wednesday. The first day of my first Bassmaster Classic is exactly one week away. I can't wait!

Yesterday (Wednesday) was tough. It was cold and blustery and the bite was really slow — at least for me. I was pretty discouraged, but today was another day. It was a good one too.

It started out slow though. My boat got wet yesterday evening when I came in and the temperature dropped to around 19 degrees last night. This morning everything was frozen solid, even my steering wheel and hot foot. I had to idle in a straight line this morning until it thawed.

I was fishing near the ramp — shallow because I couldn't run — and I started catching bass. Now, it's 19 degrees in February following a cold day with lots of wind, and I'm catching them shallow. How strange is that? They're not supposed to be shallow. Somebody should have told them that.

Maybe my frozen boat was a good omen. The weather isn't supposed to get much better. The fish might still be there if I need them next week.

Actually, the fishing's been kind of strange. I'm not sure what to make of it. Despite the cold weather and cold water I've caught fish deep and shallow every day. They don't seem to be heavy with eggs though. It looks like the spawn is going to be awhile.

Anyway, Tracey is driving down tomorrow. She'll be here sometime late in the afternoon. It'll be good to see her, I miss her. Unfortunately she's bringing Signcom work with her that I'll have to do this weekend. I don't miss that but we have bids due next week and bills to pay all year long. The real world is never far away.

I might go to one of the neighboring lakes tomorrow afternoon if it warms up and practice with a couple of the techniques I used to catch fish today. I haven't fished them in a while and I'm rusty.

Then, in between the Signcom bids this weekend, I've got to download my tackle from the boat. We're only allowed 10 rods and 12 reels. That might sound like a lot but it really isn't. Most of us, me included, have our favorites that go with specific baits. I need to figure out what I've got to have and what I can do without.

I'll have more after next Wednesday's official practice.

February 13, 2008

It's Tuesday evening, February 12. I just finished my first day of official practice. I've never been to a Classic before, so everything's new to me. I can't believe how many big-time anglers are here. The parking lot is full of them. I can look up from my boat and see Skeet Reese, Peter T and Mike Wurm. It's unbelievable.

Anyway, the Fenwick rep was in the parking lot this morning. He gave us some new rods to test. They're called "Techna," and I think they're pretty good. I used them some today, and they seem to be sensitive and strong. I didn't have any trouble feeling the bite or setting the hook. We'll see as time goes along.

And speaking of setting the hook, I did some of that today. I'm surprised at how far along spring is here in South Carolina. I didn't expect that. There are buds on the trees and the geese are starting to pair up. The water's cold, though. Most of it's between 49 and 55 degrees.

I think things above the water are ahead of things below the water. The fish are still deep. I caught a few on spoons and Silver Honeys early. The water warmed as the day went along, however. That generated a shallow bite.

If that pattern holds, it'll be an interesting tournament. The fish will be deep early in the day and shallow late in the day. That'll put a premium on changing tactics — following fish is not the same as finding them.

But if the water warms into the mid or upper 50s by Classic time — and stays there — the fish are likely to be in a true prespawn mode. That'll cause the weights to go through the roof. There'll be some really heavy bags weighed in if that happens. I hope three of them are mine.

I used all my equipment today just to make sure it's working. Everything seems to be in good shape. I hope so anyway. If something's going to break I want it to do it now, not next week.

And by the way, if any of you readers out there are coming to the Classic, make sure you bring your camera. Everybody's got their new trucks and wraps and shirts and everything. They'll make good pictures. It reminds me of a high school prom, all the guys struttin' their best stuff.

I'll update you again after practice Thursday night.

February 8, 2008

We're still at Falcon fishing our hearts out. Yesterday Doug lost two double-digit bass at the boat and the day before — Wednesday — I caught three bass that weighed 9 pounds apiece. And that's not counting at least 30 bass each day that weighed around 5 pounds.

I've been fishing a lot with jigs. I'll probably use a lot of them in the Classic, but this timber is not like Hartwell's so I don't know how much I'm learning.

They say everything in the desert will scratch you, sting you or bite you. That's true, and it doesn't much matter whether it's above the water or under it. This stuff is thick and twisted. Hartwell timber is mostly hardwood, so it fishes a lot different. Regardless, I'm getting psyched for the big show. That's what I wanted to accomplish here.

I'll work this afternoon with some other lures so I can get a feel for them before I leave.

I did get a topwater fix last evening though. I was throwing a Bagley Bang-O-Lure type bait over some flooded brush and having a ball. The strikes were explosive, lots of noise and splash and commotion. That doesn't help me get ready for the Classic; there won't be a topwater bite there. But it was a lot of fun anyway.

Overall, this has been a good trip for me except that I think I'm in trouble with my wife, Tracey. She's been calling and it seems like I'm always catching fish when she's on the phone. She got a little frustrated yesterday and asked me if I was going to talk to her or fish.

Now that might sound like a simple question, but it really isn't. I mean I love Tracey to death and I'm very lucky to have her — I married later in life than most and she was definitely worth the wait — but the fish don't always bite like this either. I'll call her back tonight.

Doug flies home tomorrow (Saturday). How hard is it going to be for him to fish in Ohio after this? (I'm not counting Lake Erie.)

After I take him to the airport I'll head toward Greenville. I should be there by Sunday sometime. I want plenty of time to change out my tackle. I'll need lighter stuff for Hartwell. And I need some time to review my maps and notes from practice on Hartwell. I want to be ready mentally for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. That's when we're allowed to practice.

I'll let you know how things are going after Tuesday.

February 5, 2008

It's Tuesday, February 5 and it's a great day to be Charlie Hartley!

I arrived at Falcon Lake yesterday. My friend from Lima, Ohio, Doug Fett, is with me. He's going to fish a few days and then fly back home. He's a good fisherman and a real friend. I'm lucky to have him with me.

We caught several good fish yesterday including a 10-2 late in the afternoon. It's one of my biggest bass ever. But that was nothing compared to today. We've caught 25 bass so far and it's just a little past noon. They're not giants, but they're big. I'd guess they average just less than 5 pounds. And, if today is like yesterday, the bite will get better as the afternoon wears along.

It's so good here I'm having trouble keeping my mind on this blog. I mean Doug's casting to a bush right in front of me, and I know he'll hook another good one any minute. I need to be alert. I might need to jump up and grab his belt to keep it from pulling him in — ha!

This has been really good for me. The St. Johns tournament hurt. I didn't have a good practice period, and I had a worse tournament. I needed this to boost my confidence. We ran the lake yesterday and analyzed the water and structure. Then we started fishing. We found bass exactly where we thought they'd be. That makes me feel better about myself — more confident.

That's important in this business. You don't ever want to think you've got 'em figured out but you've got to have confidence in yourself and your fishing judgment. If you don't, you're beat before you ever leave the dock. Always think positive … always.

Anyway, they're biting jigs thrown right into the bushes off the secondary points. The bass are staged on the last turn in front of the spawning bays. And when I mean staged, I mean they're everywhere. Like I said, they're hitting jigs today, but to tell you the truth they'd probably hit just about anything you throw in there. They're hungry and not at all shy.

I'll fish here until Saturday and then drive to Greenville. I want to leave early in case I have any trouble and I don't want to be tired for the official practice on Hartwell next week either. I'm not as young as I used to be, so I need my sleep and rest. I want to be ready on the first day of the Bassmaster Classic.

Later this week I'll fish with some different lures that I think will be in play during the Classic. I'll let you know how it goes.

February 1, 2008

This has been an exciting week. I spent yesterday in business meetings with Dave Maurice, owner of Venom Lures ( www.venomlures.com), getting ready for the Classic. He made me a bunch of new hair jigs that should work real well at Hartwell.

We expect the water to be cold and at least some of the bass will be suspended in the standing timber. That means everything will be lethargic, not moving much. I'll rig my jigs with one of his plastic trailers. They're called Refers. They have a wide, flat tail and lots of salt. They look a little bit like a reaper but they work better in cold water, or at least I think so anyway.

I also got a few bags of Silver Honeys for the cold. That's their blade bait. There's almost nothing better than a bladebait or a jigging spoon for cold water, suspended bass. It's best to be prepared.

We also spent some time designing new packaging and other stuff for the Classic. This is their first time with their own booth at the big show — they're a fairly small company located here in Ohio — and we're all excited about it. We'll be at booth 5157. I hope everyone stops by to see what Venom has to offer. I should be there some of the time, but of course I'll be busy fishing too.

And hey, let me tell you about this! I went shopping at the Bass Pros Shops in Cincinnati the other day. I was going along putting stuff in my basket when the manager came up and offered me a cart. We started talking fishing and before long I had a ton of stuff in that cart. I don't usually do that. I'm a really conservative guy when it comes to finances and spending money.

Anyway, after awhile he slipped me a note wishing me good luck. And then when I went to the register to pay all the ladies started clapping and cheering and wished me luck, too. How cool is that?

I had no idea they knew who I was or that I was headed to the Classic. I mean nobody ever recognized me outside of a tournament before. After all, who's Charlie Hartley? Well, now he's a Bassmaster Classic qualifier! A guy could get used to this. But you must always remember that the fish can bring you back to reality in a hurry. A guy doesn't want to get carried away with himself.

I leave Saturday for Falcon in Texas. I'm going to use it to tune up before the Classic. I want to be ready when the time comes. As of now, everything looks good.

January 25, 2008

Well, it's Thursday, the week after the Southern Open. I'm back in Columbus, Ohio, working at my business, Signcom, Inc. We design, manufacture and install commercial signs. It's been good to me, but I'd rather be fishing.

And speaking of fishing, the Southern Open was a disaster for me. I'm really kind of down about it. I tried so hard and thought I was doing the right things, but it just didn't work out. I've fished tournaments where I caught fish and fished them when I didn't. It's more fun to catch them.

On the bright side, my second day co-angler, Ty Story from Alabama, made the cut. We had some problems though.

We pulled up to a spot with about an hour to go, and he caught a pretty good bag very quickly. I only had a couple of small ones, so I told him we needed to leave to make sure he got back in time for the weigh-in. Well, I started the motor and immediately the lower unit went out. I mean it just went clunk — gone! But, as luck would have it, Ish Monroe came by, stopped and hauled our fish to the scales for us.

When he pulled up, I told Ty to put his fish in a bag and I was doing the same. We wanted to keep everything separate. Ish saw us doing this, laughed and said there was no need to do that because there was nothing swimming in either side of his livewell — I could have one and Ty could have the other. What a guy! I mean Ish is as fine a fellow as I have ever met. He's what's good about our sport.

I'll be spending most of the next couple of weeks here working to keep Signcom going until I leave for Falcon Lake in Texas. I've never been there, and I want to fish it before the Elite Series Lone Star Shootout in April. I'm a little worried though. There's Classic practice for three days the week before everything starts. I wouldn't want mechanical problems in Texas to mess that up.

I have one other project to complete before I leave for Falcon, too. My mother-in-law gave me a new skateboard for the Classic. It's really pretty neat. I want to have it wrapped just like my boat. That way they'll match. Hopefully it'll be done by Classic time. That'd be great.

Next Wednesday is my business meeting with Venom Lures (www.venomlures.com). We'll look at the new lures and plan for next year. I'm really excited about it. They've been good to me over the years, and I hope they get some benefit from my success. They deserve it.

I'll give you all the details next week.

January 18, 2008

I'm doing this a day early this week because of the Southern Open. It starts the day after tomorrow — Thursday — and I want to be ready. I've learned over the years that the only way to be successful is to concentrate on the job at hand.

I've been working on my skipping technique the past few days. I think it may help me in the Classic, and I know it'll help me later this week. This Florida cold front will keep the bass from chasing baits. I think there'll be five good bites from the docks. Lure placement will be the key.

The docks here on the St. John's River aren't like the ones on Hartwell, but the principle is the same. Put the bait where no one else can or will. Skipping is the best way to do that.

My Power-Pole broke today — in the down position. For those of you who don't know, a Power-Pole is a long, hydraulically controlled fiberglass rod that mounts on the back of your boat. It drops down and sticks into the bottom to slow you down or hold you in place.

Anyway, mine broke, and I spent most of the day working on it. I think it'll be ready to go by Thursday if the parts arrive. I sure hope so anyway. I'm going to need it during the tournament. It's invaluable for skipping jigs and plastics around docks. It'll hold your boat just where you need it no matter which way the wind is blowing or how rough the water.

I skip baits a lot. I'd like to think I can put a lure darn near anywhere. But to do that you've got to have your boat in position, and that requires practice. It's worth it though.

Skipping is a lot like Goofy Golf. To get good at Goofy Golf you've got to be able to ace the windmill hole. That's the hardest one. It requires concentration and timing to get the ball through the blades and just the right touch to make the ball drop in the hole.

Skipping a dock is about the same. You've got to concentrate on the toughest spot you can find and then time everything with the wind and waves. The right touch is important too. Too much and you're on the bank. Too little and your lure lands in water that's been fished to death.

Anyway, the point of all this is you've got to find virgin water to win these big tournaments. I mean, today's anglers are so good that fishing behind them — or fishing "used" water — is a waste of time. I don't want to do that here … or at the Classic.

January 11, 2008

It's Thursday the 10th and I'm still fishing the St. John's River getting ready for the Southern Open. This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. You see manatees, eagles and all sorts of wildlife every day. I just wish there were a few bass mixed in with them.

I mean this place has been tough on me. Good bass have been few and far between. I did catch one good one the other day though. She weighed between 9 and 10 pounds — the biggest one I've caught in about a year. Maybe she'll bite again in the tournament!

I spent some time last week working on equipment and tackle. I'm supposed to get a new boat before the Classic, but you never know. So, just in case, I put new batteries in my old one and checked out the electrical system. And I put new tires on my trailer, too. You can't be too careful in this business. Equipment problems will kill you.

And Venom Lures — they're my oldest sponsor — is making me some new jigs for the Classic. I think jigs will be important come February, so we're working on some new designs and colors.

They may have some new plastics, too. If the sun comes out real strong, the bass may pull up under the floating docks. There are a lot of them on the lake, and they've been pushed out over deep water. Skipping plastics may be the ticket. I want to be ready if that happens.

I'm supposed to meet with Dave Maurice, the founder of Venom Lures, on the 30th to go over everything. I'm sure it'll be alright, though. They're a class outfit.

My new rods and reels are in. I throw more spinning stuff than a lot of other professionals. I got started that way as a kid fishing farm ponds, and it never left me. Anyway, Fenwick sent me some rods and Daiwa sent me some big, 3500 size, spinning reels for them.

I'm going to fish with them some to make sure everything's OK — with me and the equipment. I mean, this is the biggest thing that's ever happened to me fishing-wise and I don't want anything to go wrong, not if I can help it anyway.

I was thinking though, I really wish my mom was here. She died awhile ago and I miss her. I think about her every day. She'll be watching, for sure, but it sure would be nice to see the look on her face when I pull away from the dock that first day.

January 4, 2008

This is the first of several pieces I'll be doing about my Classic preparation and experiences. I'm really excited about the opportunity.

It's called "Charlie Hartley's Classic" because that's what it really is — my classic. I've been waiting for this my whole life. That's no exaggeration. My whole life — years and years of tournament fishing — has been pointed towards next February.

Today (January 2, 2008) I'm prefishing on the St. John's River, near Palatka, Fla. The first Southern Open will be in about two weeks, and I want to be ready. Even though I'm consumed with the Classic I still want to fish every tournament I can until then. I like to stay in a tournament mode of thinking — having to catch fish. That helps me stay focused.

I fished Lake Hartwell just about every day this fall (until it went off limits) with two goals in mind: (1) learn something about the lake and (2) learn something about the bass.

Lake Hartwell is really a great lake. I burned a lot of gas while I was there. I want to know what's up every creek arm and what's around every point. That's important. You don't want to spend last minute practice time trying to find stuff. You want to spend it looking for active fish.

The water was down about 10 feet when I was there. That takes away most of the shoreline cover and structure. But, on the other hand, it forces you to fish off the shoreline, and that's probably where the bass will be in February anyway. The lake's full of flooded standing timber, and I know where most of it starts. That's good, I feel confident about that.

We heard so much about the spots in Hartwell that I expected to catch a lot of big ones, but that didn't happen. Most of the ones I caught were around 2 pounds and the biggest was 3 pounds, 10 ounces. Now, don't get me wrong, that's a big spot, but it doesn't compare to the largemouth.

I mean, Hartwell is full of 3, 4 and 5 pound largemouth bass. A lot of them are bigger than that. The best one I got was around 7 pounds, but I think they'll be bigger in February.

Unless things radically change, I can't see spots being much of a factor in the Classic. I saw Aaron Martens while I was down there, and he commented on the same thing. The largemouths are so numerous, and so big and fat, that he doesn't think this Classic will be a spot Classic. He thinks it'll be a largemouth Classic, too.

Anyway, we'll know for sure on Sunday, February 24th.