Jamie Hartman – Elite Rookie Doing Things His Way.
Jaime Hartman has been shining like a Hollywood star in his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Despite the face time on TV, internet and in print media, though, Hartman is a blue-collar guy. That’s how he’s attained such success so quickly.
A former truck driver, the 44-year-old Hartman has lived on the road since before he rang-in the new year. He spends the time scouting lakes. That’s why he looks like anything but a rookie when he blasts off against the best in the business.
“In mid-December, I pretty much packed up everything that I own, got rid of my place, put everything in storage and left. I went out on the road and I tried to hit as many of those lakes as I could before cutoff and before our first event. When we went back to them I was familiar with them. I did a bunch of graphing, a bunch of looking around, some fishing. But I would spend a week-and-a-half, two weeks in some of these places learning them. That’s all I did.
“I pretty much put my eggs in that basket because if I wasn’t cashing checks and I ran out of money then I was in big trouble. I knew if I didn’t go and do that, then I was not going to keep up with those guys. They just have too much experience on those waters. And I’d never seen them.”
When Hartman qualified for the Elites via the Northern Opens, he was free to chase the dream that many of us share with him. “I’ve got no wife, never been married, no kids. Nothing holding me down. That’s why I’m able to do what I do.”
Hartman’s dad lives in New York. His mom lives in North Carolina. Both are supportive of his career move. “They love it, absolutely love it. My mom was at the Cherokee event. If I did make day 3 at Ross Barnett she was going to be there, but I didn’t so . . .”
The freedom to immerse himself in the sport has been a factor in Hartman’s success. “This season I’ve really had the time to do it and dedicate myself to it and I think putting all that extra time into the way I do things has helped tremendously. It’s a full-time job now.”
Hartman’s hard work has yielded results that surprised even him. “I was trying to stay above water. I have expectations of myself, I push myself pretty hard to do well. My thing was ‘make sure you cash checks’.
“Did I think I was going to have a 2nd, a 3rd and a 6th this quick? No. Absolutely not.
“I guess the way I’m doing things is kind of working. I’ve had a few hiccups along the way when I should have cashed a check but didn’t, but I’ve made up for it too. It’s coming together.”
Hartman’s preparation gave him extra confidence. “I felt comfortable right off the bat. It’s like ‘you know what? These guys put their pants on just like I do every morning’. They have the experience but I still have the fundamentals just like they do.”
Hartman ranks his Elite Series debut as his biggest moment in fishing so far. He was 10 ounces short of taking the trophy from Jacob Wheeler as he left the other 107 pros in his rearview. “I was very fortunate to be doing I was familiar with and like to do. I was very comfortable. I had no nerves doing it. It wasn’t like I was concerned about whether I was going to catch a fish, it was a just a question of what I was going to catch. It was fun doing a bunch of dropshoting. And I was so familiar with doing that Damiki Rig deal. It carried me through that tournament. I just didn’t get those lucky bites at the end but finishing 2nd was a huge achievement for me.”
As do most competitive anglers, Hartman prepared before he prepared, using all available technology. “Sit down on the graph, pull up the lake and just scroll through and look at it. Between that and the internet and Google Earth and all that stuff I can give myself a pretty good heads-up before I get there.”
So before he ‘gets there’ and afterward, where does Hartman sleep between tournaments? “I just got back to New York today,” said Hartman 3 days after the Elite tourney on Lake Dardanelle. “I’m staying with a buddy. He’s got an extra place at his house and he’s like ‘dude, just take it. Don’t worry, come and go as you please. Just do what you’ve got to do.”
Where ever he’s gone this year Hartman has found the welcome mat rolled out for him. “I’ve made friends along the way already. People have just offered up their homes like ‘hey, come stay with me’ you know. Mostly through Facebook and also through other acquaintances like ‘hey I got a buddy of mine who has a house down by that lake and he’d love to have you.
“Since I’ve left, any lake that I’ve gone to, I have yet to pay for a hotel.
“I’ve been that fortunate to make friends along the way like that. That’s absolutely huge.”
Hartman knows his strengths as an angler. “I like to fish offshore.”
He also sees the hole in his game. “It seems I struggle when I get into a shallow fishing deal. That bit me at Ross Barnett, it bit me at Rayburn, bit me in Florida. I know what I’ve got to work on. But I practiced those places to be offshore. I’d done a lot of graphing. But I’m not familiar with fish movement in the South. In January and February we have rock hard water in New York. I’m learning.”
Hartman has shown keen decision-making abilities already. “At Toledo Bend, 70% of the time I practiced for that offshore bite and when I got there it wasn’t happening. They hadn’t made it out there yet. There were still fish spawning. My back up was secondary points, mouths of creeks, stuff like that where a little bit of grass was growing, and I basically made the best of it.”
Hartman’s back up plan at T-Bend was good for a 3rd place finish, just 4 ounces shy of taking the runner-up spot for a 2nd time.
That willingness to fish based on current conditions as they exist, not as he’d like them to be, has been the biggest development in Hartman’s character so far this year. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to keep an open mind. I get stubborn sometimes and I want to catch them the way I want to catch them. Between Florida and Ross Barnett I feel like I really screwed up because I kept a closed mind. I refused to do a few things that I should have been doing.
“I hate chunking and winding. I hate throwing a spinnerbait. I hate throwing out and reeling it back in and hoping a fish bites it. I want to make that fish bite what I’m throwing. I love throwing plastics, jigs, that kind of stuff. But I guess I have to do some of that (chunk and wind) sometimes.
“I have to keep an open mind. Don’t be so stubborn. You have to change at some of these fisheries.”
Hartman, who calls Lake Oneida his home water, is excited about the upcoming northern leg of the Elite Series. He will likely find chances to throw a dropshot – his favorite technique. It should come as little surprise that he had just come off the water from a scouting trip on the St Lawrence River when I spoke with him.
“The river is 3 feet high and they’re predicting it’s only going to drop 3-to-6 inches by the middle of July. We’re looking at a different fishery now so I’m getting up there, taking a look at all the water it’s opened up for shallow fishing and deeper fishing. I’m trying to relearn it right now. I’m getting a jump on it.
Smallmouth is going to win. Largemouth aren’t going to win it. There are going to be some deals where they’re getting into backwaters and catching largemouth, for sure, but the smallmouth are still there and the smallmouth are going to win, hands down I mean, gosh, the fish that I saw swimming around today – they’re just tanks. Somebody may make a top 12 with largemouth. They’re not going to win.
“Of course, I say that now . . . “ chuckled Hartman.
But then, Hartman has gotten used to having the last laugh already. And now we’re going to his neck of the woods.