Hamner completes wire-to-wire Bassmaster Classic victory on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees

March 24, 2024

TULSA, Okla. —

When most anglers win the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, they at least pretend like it came as the biggest surprise of their lives.

But not Justin Hamner.

The fourth-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Northport, Ala., said openly that he “just had a feeling” coming into this year’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors that he was going to win — and in three days on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, he turned that feeling into a hard-core reality.

Hamner completed an assault on B.A.S.S. history with a Championship Sunday limit of five bass that weighed 15 pounds, 13 ounces, and pushed his three-day total to 58-3. He became only the 10th angler in the 54-year history of the event to lead all three days.

“I have no idea what’s been going on, but this past month has been pretty dang good,” said Hamner, who earned $300,000 and the coveted Ray Scott trophy. “I can’t explain it, but I really did feel like I had a good chance to win.”

That feeling wasn’t exactly reinforced during a tough practice when Hamner said the best bass he caught was a 3-pounder. But he started the tournament on the spot where he caught that fish and used a shad-colored, deep-diving jerkbait to put together a limit that weighed 22-6 and gave him the Day 1 lead.

He went back there for Day 2. But, just like in practice, he couldn’t replicate a pattern and was forced to redirect.

“The wind was blowing a ton of bait into the pocket I was fishing,” he said. “When all of that bait got in there, those fish were keyed in on the bait and they wouldn’t bite my jerkbait. I couldn’t make them bite it, and I still can’t really explain it.”

That’s when Hamner relocated again and started using Garmin LiveScope to target largemouth in brushpiles. He quickly caught two 5-pounders that pushed him to a 20-pound limit and helped him maintain the lead going into the final day.

Despite being in the most visible spot a professional angler can hold, Hamner said he never got nervous until around 1 p.m. on Championship Sunday. At that point, he said he lost four big bass, but he couldn’t say if nerves caused him to lose the fish or if losing the fish caused the nerves.

“The first two didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I still had that calm feeling. But around 1 o’clock, the fish changed and wouldn’t even react. I don’t know what caused what. There’s just no telling what was going through my mind because the pressure was finally starting to get to me.”

Despite his troubles, Hamner’s limit of 15-13 helped him hold off Wisconsin angler Adam Rasmussen who made a hard charge with 18-5 on the final day but finished almost 3 pounds back with 55-4.

“My father taught me not to talk about myself, so it’s gonna be hard for me to get used to calling myself the Bassmaster Classic champion,” said Hamner, who finished 14th and third in the first two Elite Series events of the year in February. “But it’s been an amazing month.”

Hamner said he hadn’t thought about where he’ll put the massive Ray Scott trophy. Instead, he said he’s more worried about moving out of the double-wide trailer he’s living in — something that should be easier to do with the $350,000 he’s won over the past two months.

Something else that will likely be easier for the 33-year-old is promoting his sponsors.

Though he was coy about which brand of deep-diving jerkbait he used this week, he said he added No. 6 Duo Realis treble hooks — and since they were made from a heavy wire, they helped the bait sink a little further. He stuck with Yo-Zuri T7 Premium Fluorocarbon all week, using 12-pound test when he was around lighter cover and 14-pound test around thicker brush.

He used a variety of high-speed baitcasting reels, all on 7-foot Halo Scott Canterbury Series medium-heavy cranking rods.

One of the biggest keys to his success, he said, was adding scent from the BaitFuel Hardbait Stick.

“It’s the new stick that they came out with that you can actually apply to the hard bait,” he said. “I had like six fish follow my jerkbait today. I would stop and put that stuff on and then catch them. There’s no doubt in my mind it makes a huge difference.

“It was like immediate. The whole school would come up chasing it, but they wouldn’t eat it. I put that on there and the first one that would come up would eat it.”

Hamner described his cadence with the jerkbait as “weird.”

“I change it up a lot — so much that my friends make fun of me,” he said. “I let Garmin LiveScope tell me in real time how the fish are reacting to the bait.

“The key, to me, is figuring out what speed they want the bait — and today, they wanted it faster.”

When all the talk of rods, reels and baits was done, Hamner summed up his amazing week with a question.

“What just happened?” he asked. “I always thought this lake set up the way I like to fish. It’s like Lake Tuscaloosa back home. You can’t do the same thing twice on that lake either. Maybe that helped me this week — maybe. I honestly just can’t explain it.

“But, like I said, I had a great feeling coming into the week.”

Florida angler Aaron Yavorsky, who turned 18 last week and now holds the record as the youngest angler ever to take part in the Classic, earned the $2,500 Mercury Big Bass of the Tournament prize with the 6-12 largemouth that he caught on Saturday.

The Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Week was the 22-6 bag caught by Hamner on Day 1. That earned him an extra $7,000.

Hamner also earned the $20,000 Yamaha Power Pay award for being the highest-placing eligible entrant.

Alabama pro Will Davis Jr. won the $1,000 BassTrakk Contingency Prize for listing his weight for the week as accurately as anyone in the field.