Despite the adversity, bass were biting. Casey Ashley, who lived just 30 miles from the lake, won with a very respectable 50 pounds, 1 ounce, after three frigid days of fishing.
“Think of it this way,” said Jacob Powroznik, who finished fifth in 2015 (and in 2018) and will be competing again this year, “right now, people are drilling holes through ice 3 feet deep and catching fish on every drop.
“Cold weather doesn’t matter to the fish. They gotta eat.”
The freezing weather had a greater impact on the anglers than the bass, he pointed out.
“Half the field was already out of it when they saw how cold it was going to be,” said Powroznik, who runs a duck hunting operation back home and is accustomed to brutal winter weather.
“You’ve got to get that stuff out of your head.” Having the right clothing for Arctic blasts is essential, he added. Powroznik also packed a portable heater in his boat during competition, and he needed it.
The cold didn’t get into John Crews’ head, but it did affect his hands.
“My hands locked up,” related Crews. “I have great cold-weather gear, but my hands don’t function in that real cold weather.”
Crews suffers from Raynaud’s Syndrome, a medical condition brought on by cold weather that causes spasms in the blood vessels of his hands, decreasing blood flow to the fingers and turning them white, then blue. It can also affect a person’s ears, toes and nose.
He was able to handle a spinning rod well enough to catch a 4 1/2-pound bass on a Zoom Super Fluke right off the bat that first day, but couldn’t put enough of the right fish into the boat to finish higher than 33rd.
Powroznik welcomed the cold snap and thought he had the inside lane going into competition.
“I liked my chances — if they would have let us go,” he said. “That 2 1/2-hour delay killed me.” By the time he reached his key spot, the “herring bite” was all but over, and he could muster only four bass weighing 9-2 that day. On subsequent days, which weren’t delayed, he caught limits of approximately 15 and 19 pounds for a total exactly 7 pounds off the winning pace.
“In cold weather like that, a lot of people will struggle to catch the right ones, but six or eight of us might find big schools of fish,” Powroznik explained. Timing was key, however. Blueback herring congregated in drains where the water was slightly warmer, but as the sun rose and the water warmed, they moved out to deeper water, and bass went with them, he noted.
He’s not so optimistic this year, when long-range forecasts call for highs in the upper 60s and 70s.
“In those [warm] conditions, anybody can stumble onto the right bank or the right deal and actually win the Classic,” he said.
Like Powroznik, Matt Herren of Alabama thought he had a good shot at finally hoisting the heavy Classic trophy in 2015.
“I truly thought I had the opportunity to win that tournament,” Herren recalled. “The boat draw got me.” He had identified two spots loaded with good bass, but by the time it was his turn to launch and run to the areas, other pros were already camped on them.
He’s hoping the recent cold weather will set Hartwell up for another deep-water bite, which plays to his strengths.
“Who knows what’s going to happen,” Herren suggested. “They’ve had a lot of rain, and the forecast looking out the next 14 days is looking unusually cold.”
Cold conditions could position big spotted bass on deep points and humps, Herren said. “There are a lot of big, rogue spotted bass living in 30 to 50 feet of water on that lake. I think spotted bass will be a factor.”
He bases his predictions on information from a Facebook page by the group, Weather Nerds of Alabama, which shows South Carolina might be in the grips of unseasonably cold weather when Classic competition begins. Popular weather apps are predicting highs during Classic weekend in the high 60s and low 70s, however.
If he really wants it to be cold, Herren should ask B.A.S.S. officials to invite The Weather Channel meteorologist Reynolds Wolf to cover the ’22 Classic. Cold conditions seem to follow Wolf, who has reported live from two previous Classics — Hartwell in 2015 and Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma, in 2013 — and they were the two coldest Classics to date.
“I think it’s going to be seasonably normal weather,” Crews said. “I expect the fishing to be pretty decent, but it’s not likely the fish will be doing just one thing. You’re going to have to mix it up a bit, and I like that.
“Some of the guys want it to be either cold or hot so they know what the fish are doing. I like it when you have to adjust.” Perhaps the only thing Crews is confident in as he looks ahead to the competition is his new Missile Baits Ned Bomb color, “Sweet Carolina,” which his company will be introducing at the Classic Outdoors Expo. “It was made for Hartwell,” he said. “I think that’s going to be my limit-getter.”
While Herren, Crews and Powroznik all regret they didn’t do as well in the 2015 Classic as they expected to, each is proud to have participated in and survived the most brutally cold world championship in history.
“It was a neat deal,” Powroznik said. “I got to experience something we probably will never see again.”