By Todd Ceisner
A lot happened to Jamie Hartman during his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
He darn near won the first tournament of the year, then notched four other top-7 finishes, setting an Elite Series record for most top-10 finishes by a rookie. He collected $123,000 in winnings, qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic and finished 2nd to Dustin Connell in the Rookie of the Year standings – by one point.
Of the 38 total competition days across the regular season and Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship, he was on the water for 32 of them and had a Bassmaster Live camera in his boat on nine of those days. By comparison, AOY winner Brandon Palaniuk logged 34 competition days.
Not bad for a guy who stuffed most of his belongings into a storage unit in Central New York before heading off on the road last season to chase what had been his career dream. He’s acutely aware of the risk he took and extremely humbled by the way things worked out.
“It was a big, crazy risk doing what I did,” Hartman said. “Last year was do or die – that was my state of mind. I had to make it happen or I’d be in deep trouble because I didn’t have the financial backing. Obviously taking 2nd in the first one took some of that off my mind. It kind of snowballed from there and I got comfortable with the format with the three days of practice. It all got more comfortable and it felt like that’s where I should be. I felt at home after a little bit.”
Speaking of home, he’s no longer a nomad without an address.
Last fall, Hartman went hunting with some friends in Arkansas and took a liking to the area. Soon after, he retrieved his belongings from New York and is now leasing a home in Russellville, Ark. Lately, he’s been consolidating and organizing his tackle now that it’s all in one place and getting it travel-ready.
“I’m liking it,” he said. “I was up there staying with a friend in New York, but it wasn’t home. I didn’t have all of my stuff there. I’m digging it now. Things may change. I’m just seeing where I want to be for good.”
He joked that the winter weather recently in Arkansas hasn’t been much of an upgrade from what he’s used to in New York.
“They say you can fish all year round here, but we have had mornings when it’s been 12 or 16 degrees out,” he said.
Keep It Going
With his rookie season now behind him, Hartman has the sense that he’ll have to prove himself all over again in 2018. While he gained way more exposure than he could have imagined, the pressure is on to maintain his level of performance this season. He says consistency will be the key to him avoiding any sort of a sophomore slump.
The first challenge he’ll face is narrowing his focus on Lake Martin, which will host the season opener early next month, rather than getting distracted by Lake Hartwell and preparations for his first Classic.
“It is hard because I keep thinking of Hartwell,” he said. “I have to remind myself there’s an event before that. Martin should help for Hartwell because it sets up a lot the same.”
He also said Martin reminded him somewhat of Cherokee, where he was 2nd behind Jacob Wheeler in last year’s opener. Hartman spent several days at Martin prior to it going off limits in an effort to familiarize himself with the sprawling Alabama lake.
“I tried to relate it to Cherokee without the drawdown,” he said. “It has different bank composition in that there’s no rock like Cherokee, but it will be a winter time sort of bite. Depending on the weather, there should be several patterns going on.
“I still have three days to take advantage of learning the lake. I learned how it set up and I have places to start and will buzz around as fast as I can in those three days.”
Hartman said after reflecting back on his rookie season, the highlight was the collection of premium finishes he had and the exposure it generated for him.
“That was pretty awesome and it’s been a pretty big deal,” he said. “It didn’t hit me until after the season to see how important that was. None of that sank in because I was still focused on what I had to do.”
He said having a camera in his boat so often was something he just got accustomed to.
“I adjusted to it,” he added. “I’d watched so many shows and studied so many of them and knew what they were there to do. I would tune them out until I needed to engage with the camera.”
Hartman said he grew as an angler, too, and will continue to expand his knowledge base this season.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “I still have a lot to learn, like how southern patterns and fisheries set up with the elongated spawn periods. I don’t have it nailed by any means, but I did learn a lot.”