Diverse field looking to break through with first Bassmaster Classic win

Mar. 22—This season is Greg Hackney's 18th year qualifying for the Bassmasters Classic, but it never gets old pulling up to the first day of the event.

"[The feeling] really doesn't change; it's the Bassmaster Classic," Hackney said. "You see teams go to a Super Bowl; I've been to 18 Classics, so it is like going to 18 Super Bowls. It never gets old. It is the greatest tournament in our sport, and there is an argument to say it is the reason I am still fishing. It's that big of a deal; it means that much to me. That is my No. 1 goal every year, to requalify."

Hackney is a 23-year professional, former Tournament of the Year winner and a winner in 11 tournaments, but he has something in common with newcomers Aaron Yavorsky and Easton Fothergill, as well as veterans Brandon Palaniuk and Takumi Ito. Despite having different backgrounds, the four anglers are all still looking for their first Classic wins.

"That is still the top prize; it is the only thing that has eluded me," Hackney said. "If I had won a Classic, I wouldn't have the same drive. It would change the way I feel; it would be a sigh of relief."

This will be Palaniuk's 13th Classic appearance, but his reaction is still the same.

"The feeling hasn't changed for me. I am definitely more calm than my first few, since I know the process. But the excitement and the adrenaline haven't changed," Palaniuk said.

At this point, Palaniuk is a veteran of the sport, but he will go up against some of the rising starts. Yarvosky made history as the youngest angler to qualify for the Classic. At just 17 years old, he stormed to a huge victory in the Bassmaster Team Series.

Now just a week out after turning 18, Yarvosky is rubbing elbows with some of his fishing idols. Yarkosky previously broke the record set by 18-year-old David Brind.

"It's definitely getting to me seeing some of the faces I am going up against this week," Yarvosky said. "All the guys I look up to in the fishing industry are here right now, and we have to try and beat them out in this tournament. The pressure is definitely there. But at the end of the day, it's us against the fish."

Yarvosky is joined by another young angler in Easton Fothergill, who earned his place in the Classic after winning the College Open out of Montevallo University.

Last year, Fothergill said he was in the nosebleed section to witness Jeff Gustafson's win in 2023 on the Tennessee River system. While he watched Gustafson lift the Bassmaster Classic Trophy over his head, he was dreaming of competing in a Classic of his own. Just one year later, that dream came true.

"I never thought I got here so quickly," Fothergill said. "Winning the college bracket fast-forwarded everything for me and it's a dream come true. There is definitely a little bit of pressure sitting next to my idols on Media Day and trying to do my best to block that out and keep that mindset into the first day."

While the young bucks are trying to make a name for themselves, that doesn't mean the veterans are taking their feet off the gas pedal.

The event starts on Friday, March 22, and ends on Sunday, March 24.

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