Greg Hackney has no trouble remembering the moment he decided what he wanted to do for a living.
He was only ten at the time, awfully young to make such worldly decisions, but when he viewed a Bassmaster Classic near his hometown of Star City Ark., he reacted like a kid wanting to run away with the circus.
The only difference? He made good on his dream.
“My dad took me to see the last-day weigh-in at the Bassmaster Classic in Pine Bluff, about 45 minutes from where we lived,” said Hackney, who is now 49.
“That was before I knew anything about bass tournaments, but I just loved the atmosphere–the high-powered boats, the tackle, the pros signing autographs, the crowd of people. “It was the greatest thing ever. I remember telling my dad on the way home, “That’s what I’m going to do for a living.” And here I am.”
After more than 20 years in professional fishing, Hackney has risen to the top, like many of the anglers he once idolized.
He is one of the sport’s superstars, a guy who has won multiple regular-season tournaments, Angler of the Year honors, and other achievements.
He has traveled over some peaks and valleys along the way, but he continues to be a contender in every B.A.S.S. Elite tournament he enters.
“I’ve been at it a long time, but I still have that fire,” Hackney said. “It’s still a thrill to get a big ol’ bass on the line.”
Greg Hackney and giant largemouth bass are no strangers (Photo courtesy of Major League Fishing)
Growing Up As A River Rat
Growing up in southeast Arkansas, Hackney was surrounded by great bass fishing. He lived in the Arkansas Delta, where rivers like the Arkansas were teeming with big largemouths.
“When I was growing up, the Arkansas state record was broken three times on the Arkansas,” Hackney said. “After it was dammed up, it created a lot of new backwaters, new grass, and flooded timber.”
Hackney was among those who benefitted. He’ll never forget a day back in 1991, when he fished Moore Bayou on the Arkansas and caught his personal-best bass, a largemouth that weighed 12 pounds, 8 ounces.
“She was spawning on a giant cypress stump, and I could see her,” he said. “I flipped a (plastic) lizard to her, and she bit.”
That’s only half of the story, though Later, he caught another giant–one that weighed 8 1/2-pounds. He enticed one of the fish on a black lizard, the other on a blue “Just an unbelievable day,” he said.
Hackney did most of his fishing near where the Arkansas and the White rivers dump into the Mississippi.
That’s where he learned to fish heavy cover, flipping or pitching jigs, casting topwater frogs, or using crankbaits or spinnerbaits. It’s no mystery that those are his favorite methods for catching big bass today.
“The river had a lot of thick cover, and a lot of tournaments were won on a jig back in those days,” Hackney said. “I felt confident flipping or pitching. That was my security blanket, and it’s carried over to today.”
Hackney even designed a jig called the Hack Attack for Strike King. The bait was built to be fished on a braided line in heavy cover.
Hackney uses a Strike King Rage Craw as a trailer, and that combo became an instant hit. He also teamed with Lew’s to develop a series of Hack Attack rods and reels for heavy-duty flipping and pitching.
“When you fish the thickest cover you can find, you need good equipment to pull the bass out of there,” Hackney said.
Greg Hackney has had strong support from his family as he has built a career in professional bass fishing. (Photo by Seigo Saito/ B.A.S.S.)
The Family Life Of A Pro
OK, see if this would work for you. You get married one day. The next day, you get up early for a weekend-long fishing trip.
Instant annulment? Not for Hackney.
He took that trip with the full support of his wife, Julie. Greg was off to compete in an Everstart tournament in his first year competing as a full-time pro. Julie knew that the honeymoon could wait.
“We got married in May, and we took our honeymoon in August,” Hackney said. “Julie knew before we got married that fishing in bass tournaments was an important part of my life. It wasn’t like it was a surprise or anything.”
That tournament was a milestone moment for Hackney. He led after the first day and finished fifth in the final standings. He proved to himself that he could compete on the national level.
That launched a long and successful career. He has made plenty of fans along the way, including his in-laws.
“When I met them, and I told them what I did for a living, they were confused,” Hackney said with a laugh. “They thought I was a crabber or that I ran shrimp boat. They didn’t know bass tournaments even existed.
“But they’re some of my biggest fans now. Every time I go to their house, there’s a Bassmaster Magazine on their coffee table. They totally get it. They follow all the tournaments and watch them on TV.”
Meanwhile, Greg shows his support for Julie, too. When she got a chance to own a veterinarian business in Louisiana, the couple packed up and moved.
“Really, I could base anywhere,” Hackney said. “I’m going to travel no matter where I live. “This was important to Julie, so it was important to me, too.”
When Greg Hackney searches for big bass, he often gravitates to the heaviest cover he can find. (Photo by Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.)
Flipping For Bass
Some fishermen get overwhelmed when they look at a bank lined with thick brush and timber for as far as the eye can see.
Not Hackney. He is a master at finding key spots in areas teeming with cover.
“I’ve learned that it’s more about the bottom than it is the cover,” he said. “Early on, I learned that what makes one bush different from the rest is where it is located. It’s usually on a (fish) highway –a ditch, a channel, a turn, something different.
“Even at Okeechobee (in Florida) that has so much vegetation, that’s true. There are acres of vegetation, and it all looks the same, but there are places where the bottom is different, even if it’s a subtle little depth change.
“Those are the places I look for.”
How he fishes those areas differ according to the conditions. He is known for flipping a bass jig with a plastic trailer, but then, conditions can lead to subtle changes in his technique.
“My daddy and I were team partners when I was young,” he said. “I would always use a KVD chunk for a trailer. That would work great when the water was cooler, but I wouldn’t catch them that way when it warmed up.
“My daddy was using a Rage Craw as a trailer, and he was still catching them. That told me all I needed to know.”
Hackney uses other baits to catch bass out of that shallow cover as well. He also uses topwater frogs like the Strike King KVD Sexy Frog, shallow-running squarebill crankbaits, and soft-plastic baits.
“At this level, you have to be versatile,” Hackney said, “And you have to know when to change. A lot of that comes from time on the water.”
After moving to Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour for two years, Greg Hackney is back with B.A.S.S. (Photo by Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.)
Returning To His B.A.S.S Roots
Hackney, 49, spent much of his early career with B.A.S.S. and became a legend in the pro game, but he and other of the sport’s top fishermen jumped ship in 2019 when Major League Fishing started its Bass Pro Tour.
The upstart league offered a new concept, where fish were weighed and released at the boat, and totals were based on scorable bass caught instead of the traditional five-bass limit. The new tour promised big money and big television exposure.
But Hackney soon discovered it wasn’t for him. So he moved back to B.A.S.S. after two years of being away, and he is experiencing the same excitement about pro bassin’ as he did the first time around.
“The new format just wasn’t for me,” Hackney said. “I like the five-fish limit. You can slow down and fish for big bites instead of worrying about catching numbers. Plus, there’s a lot of history involved with B.A.S.S. They’re the ones who got this sport started, and I missed being part of that.
“The Bassmaster Classic is the only title I haven’t won. If I win that tournament, I would feel like I completed the job.”
Greg Hackney likes to travel deep into the flooded timber and brush and get off to himself (Photo by Phoenix Moore/Major League Fishing.)
Fishing Tips From A Pro
Hackney has a few words of advice for beginners in tournament fishing: Don’t follow the crowd. Instead, stay with your confidence techniques and search the reservoir for areas that best suit your style of fishing.
“You can find something similar to where you like to fish wherever you go,” Hackney said.He advises fishermen to look at the results of recent tournaments to give them tips on what size of bass to target.
“For example, if it takes 15 pounds to win, I know I should be looking for 3-pound bass,” he said.He also does his research and determines the best-known spots on the lake…then he avoids those areas.
“I know that’s where the heaviest fishing pressure is going to be,” he said. “I want to stay away from those spots.”
Hackney’s style of fishing is simple. If he finds a spot so tangled with brush that no weekend fisherman would dare cast to, he’s found his next target.
“I’m a heavy-cover fisherman,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m flipping a jig, throwing a frog, or using a crankbait. I like fishing the nastiest stull I can find.”
When you hit the water this spring, try following Hackney’s advice. Maybe you’ll catch one of those giants like he does.
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