The Super Bowl of professional bass fishing will take place March 4-6, as the 52nd Bassmaster Classic returns to famed Lake Hartwell. This will be the fourth time the Savannah River fishery will host the Bassmaster Classic, the first occurring in 2008 when Texas pro Alton Jones Sr. hoisted the trophy to claim his only Classic victory.
Hartwell is a 56,000-acre man-made reservoir bordering Georgia and South Carolina and encompassing portions of the Savannah, Tugaloo and Seneca rivers. The lake was created by the construction of the Hartwell Dam and was completed in 1962. Hartwell contains a healthy population of both spotted and largemouth bass, both of which will likely play a role in the winning angler's game plan this week.
The 2022 Classic will feature 55 anglers who have qualified through various routes. These avenues to the Classic include berths from the Elite Series, the Opens, the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation circuit, the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops and the Bassmaster Team Championship plus the defending Bassmaster Classic champion as well as the winner of the final Elite Series event of the 2021 season. The anglers will compete in the no-entry fee event for their share of a whopping $1 million purse, with the champion earning $300,000.
The AFTCO pro team boasts 14 Bassmaster Classic qualifiers in this year's field, including 19-time participant Gerald Swindle. Swindle has competed in all 3 previous Classics on Lake Hartwell, with his highest finish in 2018 where he finished 10th. This is Gerald's first Classic since 2019 and his return to the Bassmaster Elite Series. Swindle is looking forward to stepping foot on the big stage in Greenville later this week.
"I'm super excited to be back in the Classic with an opportunity to win the big one, which is something that has eluded me thus far in my career," Swindle said. "You'd think this being my 19th time competing in the Classic I'd be used to it by now, but it's always an emotional tournament for me. There's just something about that first day when you get ready to pull in that arena that is just so special."
While unlocking the puzzle on the water may be Swindle's highest priority during the week, the business side of bass fishing doesn't stop during the already chaotic event. "As my career has grown so have the expectations and asks during this already crazy week," Swindle continued. "Lulu and I are constantly trying to learn ways to manage our time more efficiently and stay focused on the fishing part of it, which isn't always easy. Trying to break down a very big lake like this can leave you tired, beat down and depressed. I'm just trying to take it one section at a time and come up with a solid plan for day one." Swindle concluded.
As Swindle readies for a familiar ride, AFTCO pro team member and Bassmaster Classic rookie Marc Frazier is buckling up for his inaugural trip to the big show. The Newman, GA resident and younger brother of Elite Series champion Micah Frazier qualified for his first Classic after a 37th place AOY finish, during a hard fought 2021 campaign. While Frazier is familiar with Lake Hartwell, having a successful 2020 Bassmaster Eastern Open (9th) on the fishery he is approaching this event with a blank slate mentality.
"My main goal during my 2021 rookie season was to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, and I was blessed to be able to accomplish that," Frazier said. "I have some history on Lake Hartwell, but not very much during this time of year so I am trying to go into this event with a completely open mindset."
Competing under pressure is nothing new for Frazier, as he worked his way up the baseball ranks, eventually being drafted by the San Francisco Giants out of high school in 2011. Playing collegiate baseball at Chipola Junior College in Florida, Nichols State, and finally Auburn, his dreams of a professional career on the diamond ended when he wasn't re-drafted after college. Although he may not have made it to the big leagues, his time between the lines has helped prepare Frazier for big moments such as the Bassmaster Classic.
"It still hasn't hit me that the Classic is less than a week away, and I definitely have a lot of work to do in order to get ready for this event. I'm sure the nerves will hit when they call my boat number on day one, but I am looking forward to getting out there and enjoying the moment and having an opportunity to compete against the best of the best." Frazier concluded.
Daily takeoffs will take place from Green Pond Landing & Event Center. Daily weigh-ins will be held at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena and the annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo will take place at the Greenville Convention Center, both of which are in nearby Greenville. AFTCO will be in attendance at booth #2321 rooting on our pro team and enjoying the 52nd annual Bassmaster Classic.