At the day’s conclusion, Hartman’s name appeared next to three of the Top 10 Big Bass — a 5-pounder, a 4-14 and a 4-4. He also added a 4-0 just 10 minutes before the weigh-ins opened at 3 p.m.
“I upgraded in the last few minutes on the way in; I was pretty much done and I just hit something on the way in, made three casts and caught a 4-pound smallmouth,” said Hartman, a native New Yorker. “That spot was just a steep drop with some grass on top of it. “I’ve fished it in the past and I’ve never caught a big fish off of it, but I’ve caught some decent fish. I was basically scouting for tomorrow, so after catching a 4-pound smallmouth, I think they’re there.”
Hartman’s late-day bonus spot exemplified the type of habitat he eventually settled into. Finishing his day with a mixed bag of three smallmouth and two largemouth, Hartman actually got off to a slow start but eventually turned his day around by adjusting his location.
“I went up north and the water was so calm that it was tough for me to get bit at all,” he said. “I ground it out for a while, got a couple of bites and made one move. When I finally made the move to go fish what I wanted to fish, it all came together. I bounced around to several different spots within the same area, making decisions on what to fish.”
Hartman generally described his area as a mix of rock and grassbeds in 12 to 15 feet. The key, he said, was targeting the right type of grass, specifically taller patches of milfoil.
“I was watching my electronics and making sure I was around patches of grass,” he said. “I was making sure I was in the high enough grass.”
Hartman caught his bass on a mix of soft-plastic presentations. Although he tried to get the fish interested in reaction baits early, a Carolina rig proved most productive.
“I tried to catch them on a swimbait like I did in practice. But there was no wind, so they wouldn’t eat it,” he said.
With the grassy shallows of the Ticonderoga area at Champlain’s lower end presenting the tempting potential for big largemouth, Hartman admitted he considered making the 70-mile run.
“When I had a slow start, I thought I had made the wrong decision by not running to Ti, but I slowly started to put it together,” he said. “I just kept reminding myself: pick off one at a time. They’re good ones, so we’ll keep going.”
Buddy Gross of Chickamauga, Ga., is in second place with 21-2. Noting that Champlain’s smallmouth have often confounded him in the past, Gross mainly focused on largemouth Thursday. But with the lake about 4 feet below normal, he caught them in places where he has targeted smallmouth.
“I had spent a lot of time looking for structure for smallmouth, but the largemouth took over some of my spots and it’s really helping a lot,” Gross said. “As low as the water is, it’s pulling the largemouth out to the first places on the drops, and it’s making them a little easier for me to find them.”
Fishing the lake’s north end, Gross caught his fish on a prototype bullethead jig from Nichols Lures with a Zoom Chunk trailer and a Z-Man Jack Hammer ChatterBait with a Zoom Z-Craw trailer. The latter, he said, proved most strategic in finding his bites.
“I used moving baits to cover a lot of water,” he said. “I haven’t been getting a ton of bites, but when I do, it has been quality. So, I’m having to run a whole lot of water.”
Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga., is in third place with 20-8. Targeting solely smallmouth, he committed to the lake’s north end where he targeted offshore humps, shoals and boulders in 15 to 40 feet.
“I caught my fish on a drop shot with a Yum Warning Shot and a 3/8-ounce weight,” Frazier said. “I had a midmorning flurry, and then I caught a couple of bigger ones later once the sun came out.”
Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Md., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-2 largemouth.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET at Plattsburgh City Marina. The weigh-in will be held back at the marina at 3 p.m.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.