Friday, March 22, 2024

2024 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors on Grand Lake Day 1: Justin Hamner Scores 22-06lbs for Lead!

Canadians Chris Johnston 17th, Gallant 28th, Gustafson 29th & Cory Johnston 38th!

By Bryan Brasher


TULSA, Okla. — “I’m leading the Bassmaster Classic,” said Justin Hamner, sounding as much like he was asking a question as making a statement. 

But it was 100% true. 

The young pro from Northport, Ala., weighed in 22 pounds, 6 ounces Friday to take the Day 1 lead at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors. The fourth-year member of the Bassmaster Elite Series found a pattern on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees that placed him just over a pound ahead of Missouri pro Cody Huff and continued the flow of what has been a dream 2024 season. 

“This whole year has just been so much fun,” said Hamner, who opened his Elite Series season with a 14th-place finish at Toledo Bend and a third-place showing at Lake Fork last month. “I’ve just been fishing free and doing what I want to do with no stress. I’m just going back to my roots and bass fishing knowing it’s my only job for the first time ever.

“It still hits me sometimes that this is the first year that I don’t have to have a side job anymore. This is what I do now — and obviously, I couldn’t be any happier than I am right now.”

Unlike many anglers who overestimate their weights on BassTrakk — the unofficial real-time scoreboard for B.A.S.S. events — Hamner underestimated his bass Friday. BassTrakk showed him with five fish in his livewell at quitting time that weighed just 19 1/2 pounds. That total would have been good for third place, but it was off by nearly 3 pounds. 

Hamner, who was tightlipped about his techniques, caught keepers steadily throughout the day, putting his first bass in the box at 8:57 a.m. and his last in at 3:06 p.m. The two largemouth that anchored his bag were estimated at 5 pounds each.  

After a practice he deemed “absolutely terrible,” Hamner said he was shocked by the level of success. 

“Every day was so different that I could never duplicate patterns two days in a row,” he said. “So now, I’m going into every day with an open mind. Obviously, I know where I’m going to start tomorrow. But if it ain’t happening quick, I’m just gonna go fishing.” 

One thing Hamner did seem sure of was that increased winds would help his fortunes — and that’s exactly what the forecast is calling for. While Saturday’s winds will once again be at 5 to 10 mph, Sunday’s forecast is calling for 20 to 30 mph winds with an occasional gust over 40. 

“That should be very good for me,” Hamner said. “When it was slick calm this morning, the fish I caught would just have one hook in their mouths, barely hooked. I even lost a couple of good ones because of it. I could have had a sure-enough big bag. 

“But as soon as that wind picked up, they would bite it and have the whole bait sideways in their mouths.”

As for managing the emotions of leading the Classic, Hamner said he didn’t know what to expect since he’s never been in the situation before. He also said he’ll have to figure out the increased presence of spectator boats as he goes. 

“The way this whole year is going, I just don’t feel a lot of pressure,” he said. “I’m just going out there to have fun. The spectators could be interesting because I’m fishing some really tight areas. But I’m not worried about it. I’m just glad somebody wants to come and watch me.”  

Like Hamner, Huff didn’t have the best practice, but his fortunes changed when it was time to go live.  

BassTrakk showed Huff with catches of a 4-0, 4-8, 4-0, 3-8 and 4-0, but some were obviously underestimated, considering his heavier total weight of 21-2. One thing that was completely accurate, however, was that the last bass he caught was weighed in just before noon. 

Confident that he had 20 pounds in his livewell, Huff decided to spend the final three hours of the day “trying to catch a big fish” and looking for things that might help him the rest of the event. He caught a few decent keepers — nothing that would allow him to cull, but hopefully a sign of good things to come. 

“My practice wasn’t that great, but it seemed like when I got to some of those areas where I caught them in practice, they were all good ones today,” Huff said. “I hope it stays that way — I hope the big females just keep coming through.”

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