By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Cody Hollen has a lot of lipless crankbaits among his tackle assortment because he uses them to catch smallmouth and the occasional largemouth on the Columbia and Willamette rivers back home in Oregon. He had no inkling that they'd carry him to victory in the B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship on the other side of the country at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell.

The 35-year-old automotive technician from Beaverton, Ore. rallied from 10th place to claim the title on the final day with a three-day total of 32-12. His 13-12 stringer on day 3 the heaviest of the tournament was compiled entirely with a rattlebait over a three-hour period toward the end of the round.

"On the third day I ran all the way down the lake to where it hadn't turned over and I had five or six cane piles waypointed," he said. "I threw to the first one and the bait came through the top and a fish just annihilated it, but I lost it.

"I ran to all the other ones and every one I pulled up on, I caught a fish or at least got bit."

His total eclipsed runner-up and fellow Pacific Northwesterner Taylor Smith of Spokane Valley, Wash. by 1-05. It garnered him a $20,000 cash prize, a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic, paid entry into the 2020 Bassmaster Opens division of his choice and an invitation to compete on next year's Elite Series.

He's uncertain as to whether he'll accept the latter perk.

"I'm kind of 50-50 right now there's a few people I need to talk to. I want to talk to some guys who've gone to the Elites from this same route and find out what their struggles were and what they'd do differently if they had it to do over again and then I'll make a decision at that point.

"I'd like to do it. It's been a longtime dream of mine."

Didn't do it Alone

Hollen knew next to nothing about Hartwell when he qualified for the Nation Championship. Fortunately, he had a friend who lives in Hodges, S.C. and another in Livonia, Ga. who fish the lake frequently.

"I spent five days down there before the cutoff and had a few people show me different things," he said. "I wouldn't have caught what I did without that help from them."

He fished brush piles with a dropshot rig on the first two competition days and came away with decent sacks (9-02 and 9-14) to grab the last championship-round position as the original field of 59 boaters was reduced to the top 10. That tactic was unproductive during the early portion of day 3, prompting his run to the cane piles.

"The first two days I caught most of my fish in the morning and the afternoons were horrible," he said. "Once I figured out what was going on (on day 3), I knew my only chance to win was on the lipless. It was the only rod I had on my deck the rest of the day."

How did he get the idea that a rattlebait might be effective, anyway?

"A friend of mine, Adam Gross, who fished for Washington but is actually from Oregon, threw one in practice and on four casts he caught two fish. I had a bigger version, but I figured they should eat it, too."

The cane piles (vegetation attached to bamboo rods) were in roughly 25 feet of water, with some sticking up to two feet beneath the surface. He stayed 30 to 40 yards away to facilitate casts that were as long as possible.

"I just threw it and started reeling and the bait was running three to four feet down. The fish were coming up from down in the piles and killing it."

Pattern Notes

> His starting spot each day was a road bed that ran diagonally through a pocket that was shown to him by his day-1 co-angler, a lady from North Carolina with a lot of experience on the lake. "It was always good for a limit in the first hour, but the fish were bigger on the second day than they were on the first and the third," he said.

> He picked up one weigh-in fish on a jig that he dropped straight down to after seeing it on his electronics. "I missed it the first time, then I dropped again and caught it."

Winning Gear Notes

> Cranking gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Duckett Ghost rod, Daiwa Tatula CT casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, Yo-Zuri Rattl'n Vibe (chrome with blue back).

> His dropshot baits consisted of a 4 1/2" Roboworm (Aaron's morning dawn) and a Strike King Half Shell (sexy shad).

Notable

> Hollen doubts he'll be able to make a trip to Lake Guntersville for Classic pre-practice before the lake goes off-limits on Jan. 1. "I don't think I'm going to have the time to do it," he said. "I'll probably just have to study as many topographic maps as I can find and use a Navionics card, a Humminbird (LakeMaster) card and Garmin Echo maps because they don't all show the same stuff. I'll also watch a lot of YouTube videos and research past tournaments to see the weights and patterns from that time of year."

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Final Top 10 Standings

1. Cody Hollen -- Beaverton, OR -- 15, 32-12 -- 0 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 09-02 -- Day 2: 5, 09-14 -- Day 3: 5, 13-12

2. Taylor Smith -- Spokane Valley, WA -- 15, 31-07 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 10-00 -- Day 2: 5, 10-08 -- Day 3: 5, 10-15

3. Cam Sterritt -- Newfields, NH -- 15, 31-02 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 07-03 -- Day 2: 5, 13-08 -- Day 3: 5, 10-07

4. Brock Belik -- Orchard, NE -- 15, 30-12 -- 0 -- $5,000
Day 1: 5, 11-15 -- Day 2: 5, 07-13 -- Day 3: 5, 11-00

5. Justy Varkevisser -- Johannesburg, SA -- 15 -- 30-11 -- 0 -- $4,000
Day 1: 5, 11-06 -- Day 2: 5, 10-15 -- Day 3: 5, 08-06

6. Kelly Kellogg -- Kelso, WA -- 15, 29-05 -- 0 -- $2,000
Day 1: 5, 08-04 -- Day 2: 5, 10-14 -- Day 3: 5, 10-03

7. Nobuyuki Terajima -- Hermitage, TN -- 15, 29-05 -- 0 -- $2,000
Day 1: 5, 10-11 -- Day 2: 5, 10-10 -- Day 3: 5, 08-00

8. Matthew Langford -- Kingaroy, AUS -- 15 -- 28-14 -- 0 -- $1,000
Day 1: 5, 10-09 -- Day 2: 5, 10-08 -- Day 3: 5, 07-13

9. Greg Alexander -- Hebron, MD -- 15, 28-12 -- 0 -- $1,000
Day 1: 5, 10-14 -- Day 2: 5, 07-09 -- Day 3: 5, 10-05

10. Pedro Rodrigues -- Evora, Portugal -- 15 -- 28-08 -- 0 -- $1,000
Day 1: 5, 10-10 -- Day 2: 5, 08-07 -- Day 3: 5, 09-07