UNION SPRINGS – When Jamie Hartman was asked if he was ready to hoist the trophy for winning the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake, all he could do was nod his head and choke back tears.
The Newport, New York, angler charged up the leaderboard Sunday from fourth after the third day of the four-day Bassmaster Elite Series tournament to win it all on the final day. But he also battled back from missing a whole season due to a back injury to claim his second victory in the last three series events.
The two-time series champion captured the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament at Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro, Alabama, and finished 20th in last week’s Berkley Bassmaster at St. Lawrence River in Waddington — the first of two straight stops in New York State for the series.
“I don’t even know what to say. I did not expect this at all,” Hartman said on the stage in Frontenac Park in Union Springs, after the top 10 anglers weighed in and he was declared the winner. “I dug myself out of a big hole from day one, and it seems to be a trend of mine. Start from behind, don’t start ahead, and I’m good.”
With his injury, Hartman said, “it was literally down and out last year,” as he told himself he had to return to the series because he had worked too hard to get there.
“This is what I work for,” he said. “That first one is special. But this, this is the best one ever and ever will be – in my home state, in my home crowd. This is not just for me. This is for everybody. Who wants to touch it?”
With that, the angler jumped off the stage and allowed anyone from the strong audience in the park to come up, touch the trophy, shake his hand or give him a high-five, and express their congratulations. He spent the next several minutes in a makeshift receiving line.
Hartman’s final haul of 22 pounds, 4 ounces for a total of 80 pounds, 13 ounces bested Keewatin, Ontario, Canada’s Jeff Gustafson’s numbers of 15, 14 and 80, 3. Gustafson led after the second and third days of the tournament and had hoped to become the first Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite event.
“I’m a regular guy. My dream was to do this, and I’m here,” Gustafson said. “I get asked a lot, ‘What do I need to do to be a pro fisherman?’ The most important thing is you’ve got to fish a lot. You’ve got to be able to catch fish. … I grew up fishing every minute I could. Thanks to my dad and my grandpa, I’m up here.”
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Gustafson pointed out a couple of fellow Canadians on the Bassmaster Elite circuit and said there is a strong fan base behind them in their home country, as each of the anglers seeks to make history as the first Canadian winner.
“People go bananas up there,” Gustafson said, joking that the cold Canadian winters keep people inside watching bass fishing on television. “I’ve gotten messages from so many of my friends the last few days. I really appreciate it. We have a lot of good fishermen, a lot of good tournaments. We love it just as much as everyone south of the border does.”
Making the biggest leap up the leaderboard on Sunday was Brandon Lester, of Fayetteville, Tennessee, who started the final day in 10th place but climbed to sixth with a final haul of 20 pounds, 6 ounces for a total of 75 pounds, 9 ounces. The second-highest day four haul came from a spot Lester fished earlier in the weekend.
“I started there this morning, and man, it was lights out. That’s where I caught every single fish, off of that one little spot,” he said as he explained his strategy and the equipment he used. “It’s been a phenomenal week. … Gosh almighty, I love this lake, I love New York.”
Lester loves New York so much, he said, that he wrote an article earlier in the year for Bassmasters.com listing his top five states to fish in – and New York was No. 1.
“That’s saying a lot because I’m from Tennessee, and we’ve got a lot of good fisheries around, the Tennessee River and all that,” he said. “I’ve always jived well with all these New York fisheries. I love them all, and I love coming up here. I always will.”