By Jonathan Manteuffel
Special to BassFan
Jamie Hartman came charging out of the gates onto the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series as a true rookie, notched a 2nd-place showing in his first event and went on to finish among the top 12 four more times en route to ending up 13th in the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year race. That qualified him to fish the Bassmaster Classic and left him just one point shy of winning the Rookie of the Year award.
He had given up pretty much everything – job, home, girlfriend – to focus on being the best angler he could become and attempting to earn his living with a rod and reel.
After all that sacrifice and hard work, the 45-year-old Hartman was well on his way to qualifying for a second consecutive Classic (he was 35th in the points after five events) when disaster struck. After the Sabine River event, he was hurting. He made it home to Russellville, Ark., but the pain was so bad he had to go to the hospital emergency room.
A sudden flare-up of a sciatic nerve issue caused such extreme pain in his back and leg that it wouldn’t allow him to stand or sit. By the first day of practice for the Mississippi River event in La Crosse, Wis., he was home from the hospital, but still undergoing treatment. He attempted to make the trip to Wisconsin to compete, but realized it wasn’t possible. He sought a medical exemption and withdrew from the 2018 Elite Series.
“This is one of – if not the most hardest decision I have had to make in my life,” he said on his Facebook page at the time. “But I need to take this time now to get better so that I can come back next year and continue to do so for seasons to come. Competing at the highest level of professional fishing in the world is an honor that I am still humbled by 'til this day.”
That was a month ago. So how is Hartman doing now?
“I had an MRI done in late June and they said it looks like the L5 disc is ruptured,” he said. “That was a little more extreme than I had anticipated, but it definitely explains all of the pain.”
His doctors put him on a program of therapy in an attempt to avoid surgery.
“The last 4 1/2 weeks I’ve been taking it real easy,” he noted. “I’m having better days and bad days. Standing is least painful, but it’s tiring. Laying down is next best, and I can’t really sit at all without pain shooting down my leg. I researched a lot and was changing my diet, taking certain vitamins and doing stretches and exercises to make it better.
“I tried to carry this deal on my own, but now it’s gotten to the point I have to go the surgery route,” he added. “My doctor saw the MRI and changed his mind on getting by without it. I’m going to have microdysectomy, where they remove the part of the disc that’s out of the vertebra and pressing on the nerve. It’s the quickest and least-invasive surgery.”
According to www.Spine-Health.com, microdiscectomy is considered a relatively reliable surgery for immediate, or nearly immediate, relief of sciatica from a lumbar herniated disc. Still, it will take Hartman 6 to 8 weeks of physical therapy, and continued work on his own, to recover. And like any significant medical procedure, it’s not cheap.
“I have some insurance and I’ve filed for pre-approval,” he said. “I’m just waiting for it to be approved. I’ll have to go back to New York state (his home before relocating to Arkansas due to its closer proximity to most Elite events) to have it done, though, as that’s required by the insurance. I’m fighting getting depressed about it. I want to get it over with and feel better.”
Has Solid Backing
Hartman said his sponsors have been understanding of his situation.
“I’ve heard from all but the one I most expected to hear from, which is Nitro/Bass Pro Shops, but they’ve been busy with ICAST and other things, so I’m sure we’ll talk soon,” he said. “I want to discuss what I can do for them once I have the surgery and can get around better. My other sponsors have been great – very supportive.”
While he's determined to recover and be back on the Elite Series next year, he was disappointed to see a Western swing added to the 2019 schedule.
“Man, that’s a lot of driving,” he noted. “I’ve never fished out West, and I like to pre-fish places ahead of the cutoffs, but I’m not too sure I’ll be able to do that for those two events. Even worse, it’s all the way across the country, and then back to the complete other side. I’m not a big fan at all (of such a schedule).
“But I’ll be back,” he declared. “I plan to be there.”
> The next Elite Series event will begin on the Chesapeake Bay on July 26-29. Hartman had been looking forward to that one, as he won a Northeast Division BFL in May of 2015 there with 22 pounds, 12 ounces. “That place is so changeable, but I’ll give it to someone like Powroznik or Tharp,” he predicted. “Really, it’s whoever makes the right adjustments.”