By Todd Ceisner
The question stopped Jamie Hartman in his tracks.
“What’s your hometown?”
The 44-year-old former truck driver paused for a moment as a manatee meandered around and beneath the trolling motor on his Nitro boat during a recent trip to Lake Okeechobee. An alligator lurked about 15 feet to the other side of the boat.
After taking a few moments to gather himself, Hartman replied, “Nowhere right now, really.”
For the record, Hartman’s BassFan profile reflects Newport, N.Y., as his hometown, but he’s currently a man without an address other than wherever he happens to be fishing at the time. After finishing 12th in the Northern Open points in 2015, he was 6th last year to earn an invite to the Elite Series – David Dudley was 5th, but declined the invitation – fulfilling a lifelong dream of his.
“I’m trying to not let that side of it get to me,” he said. “I can lay awake and think about it. It’s the top of the top, the best of the best. You have to earn your way here and earn your keep to stay. I want to be known as an Elite angler and stay here and make a big career out of it and go wherever it leads me.
“I’m excited to get things going, for sure,” Hartman added. “I’m trying to stay focused and to not get starstruck. I’m just focused on the task at hand. I still haven’t let it hit me in that kind of way, like ‘Oh my God, I’m fishing the Elites’ or ‘I’m competing against this guy or that guy.’ I’m just trying to cover as many of these lakes as I can before we get started and get kicked off.”
Getting his homework done – he’s never been to any of the Elite Series venues save for the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain – required Hartman to bid central New York farewell (for now) and head off on the road.
Possibly for good.
He had been sharing a house with a friend near Oneida Lake (his home waters) last year, but once he qualified for the Elite Series and his friend started to explore other living arrangements, Hartman rented a storage unit, stowed his belongings and on Dec. 9, he left New York and pointed his Tundra toward eastern Tennessee, where he spent time learning Cherokee Lake. He’s since moved on to Okeechobee, where he’ll ultimately rack up 14 days of practice before he visits Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi and Toledo Bend before coming back to Cherokee for the season opener.
“It wasn’t hard for me to do it,” he said. “I’m kind of a free spirit anyway. I just go with the flow.”
He’s been fortunate to have contacts near each venue that have provided housing for him, either in the form of a camper or a living room couch or a spare room. The only event he’ll be on his own at is Lake Dardanelle.
“It made no sense to drive back home each time,” he said. “I’m not married. I don’t have kids or a house. I’ve invested everything into trying to make a career out of this. I have to get used to being on the road. It’s definitely going to be a grind.
“All of the costs would have set me back. I’m really fortunate to have these folks help me out. A lot of them understand how much is involved.”
Cutting It Close
Hartman readily admits he has only enough funding to cover the first three entry fee installments for the season, but he’s trying not to dwell on the stress and uncertainty of whether he’ll be able to complete the season. He’s chasing his dream the only way he knows how – jumping right in.
“I’ve never had anything given to me or won enough to be set up for life,” he said. “It’s always been work, work, work. It’s something I’m used to.”
That’s why he’s spending the weeks leading up to the season trying to gather as much intel as he can about the lakes that will fill up the first half of the season.
“A lot of guys have an advantage on me having been here or there umpteen times,” he said. “That’s why I’m investing all of my time now trying to get around to as many of these lakes as I can.
“My main goal is try to pull off Rookie of the Year. I try to not set my goals low. I really want to stay in the mix for the Classic. I’m not looking to lay up at these places. I’m looking to make checks and cuts. Some guys lay up and make checks. I’m not that way.”
So far, his stops at Cherokee and Okeechobee have been mostly productive.
“I haven’t had too many downs,” he said. “Tennessee treated me well. It was very cold and tough fishing, but I felt like I learned a ton. I feel confident going back there. The Big O is a whole different animal. It can be good one day and crappy the next. You have to figure it out day to day. When they say it’s fickle, they’re not kidding. I feel like I’m learning how they act and position and if I can get used to how they eat now, I’ll have a good feel when we come back.”