After a Polaris Rookie of the Year win in 2021 on the Pro Circuit, Hatfield signed on to the new-look Invitationals for another go-round. After finishing 101st at Lake of the Ozarks in May, it looked like his Bass Pro Tour dreams may have gone by the wayside; but winning the Potomac vaulted him back into the Top 10 in points and may prove to be a key moment in a long career.
Final-day gamble pays off big
Starting the day in second behind Martin Villa, Hatfield knew he was close to a win. Still, the Top 10 was about as stacked as can be on the Potomac, and he also knew he needed to do more than just hold serve.
“Today I decided to scrap where I’ve been starting because it sucked yesterday,” Hatfield said. “I didn’t want to try to go in there and scrap out 14 or 15 pounds, I wanted to go for the win.”
So, he rolled into Chicamuxen Creek and started fishing in a recently opened spawning sanctuary.
“I knew it hadn’t had the pressure; I didn’t know if I could catch them in there, but I figured it hadn’t had the pressure like everywhere else,” Hatfield said. “So, I went in there and started catching them pretty quick. I got in a few areas there and caught them on a bunch of different things, but there was one little area in there that was a bream bed, and most of the big ones I caught, I caught off of it. When it went down it was pretty crazy.”
After catching a few swimming a jig and frogging in a marshy creek, Hatfield pulled out a popper as he roamed around. Things happened in a hurry after that.
“I stumbled into it as I was fishing, just going down the bank,” he said. “I threw a popper up close to the point, and one engulfed it. I kept throwing over there, and upon further inspection, after I caught some, I saw it was a bream bed. So, I actually went back to it later in the day and caught another 4-pounder off of it.”
Bream beds lead the way
Running bream beds has gotten a bit trendy recently, and the Top 10 definitely added them into the mix with the usual Potomac staples. For Hatfield, a big patch of spawning bluegill in Quantico Creek did a lot of the heavy lifting.
“I saw the one in Quantico the second day of practice and I saw there were a bunch of big ones swimming on it and it was easy to get bites,” Hatfield said. “I never found another one until today.
“I’d say out of 15 bass I weighed, maybe four or five came off something else,” he said. “Swimming a jig, a frog, ChatterBait, something like that. It was all on bream beds, basically.”
Earning a win at the pro level is no guarantee, and Hatfield knows it. At both Pickwick and Guntersville in 2021, the then-rookie had chances to win. Guntersville particularly stung – were it a cumulative-weight event, the outcome may well have been different. Then, at the TITLE on the St. Lawrence, Hatfield won his group and faltered on the final day.
“I’ve tried now for two years, and dang, it is hard,” Hatfield said. “I put in a lot of work, and days like today are what you dream of.”
Hatfield paused his pursuit of a fishing career in 2019, borrowing gas money from his dad to drive back to east Tennessee from the Mississippi River. In 2021, he was back on the Toyota Series, chasing the dream again.
“I want to thank my mom and dad, they sacrificed so much for me to be able to do this and keep me in it,” Hatfield said. “I love ‘em to death. All my family, all my friends, and then sponsors. David Mullins has been a mentor of mine, and, I want to thank Jimmy Neece too. I’ve got a guttering business back home, and he helped me get it off the ground, and that’s the whole reason I can get out here and do this.
“I’ve wanted to win one of these, I’ve tried hard. I knew that I could do it, and today just shows that I can. I can’t wait for the next one, I’m ready to go right now.”