By Rob Newell
Special to BassFan
Greg Hackney took a moment to digest the question.
“What three lures are absolute must-haves at any lake across the country in any season, in any condition?”
After a thoughtful pause, Hackney started picking through his rod locker and added, “I kind of like this concept. Maybe we should have a tournament where we are restricted to just three lures; now that would be interesting.”
In less than a minute, the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup winner and 2014 Elite Series Angler of the Year had plucked out three rods.
“These three never leave the boat,” he added. “They are on my deck nearly every day I’m on the water, so here you go.”
Here’s a breakdown of what Hackney picked out.
No cover in the upper 7 feet of the water column is safe from Hackney’s square-bill. Riprap, natural rock, docks, cypress trees, scattered vegetation are all subject to being probed by the Louisiana resident.
“No matter where we go, there are bass usually living in 1 to 7 feet of water,” Hackney said. “And it’s hard to beat a Strike King KVD 1.5 square-bill for searching that zone of water. It’s an efficient bait for covering water in all seasons, from the pre-spawn through the fall.”
His favorite shallow cranking targets are laydowns or any kind of wood targets. But he also has a couple of tricks up his sleeve for old square-lips as well.
“Everyone thinks you’ve got to be cranking 15- and 20-foot plugs in the summer on TVA lakes – that’s not necessarily the case,” Hackney noted. “A lot of fish get on some of those shallower river bars in places like Kentucky Lake, Pickwick and Chickamauga. Those fish are totally catchable on a 1.5.”
Hackney dominated an FLW Tour event on Pickwick Lake in 2014, catching 97 pounds of bass over four days on shallow river bars when others were looking deep. He used bigger swimbaits during the event, but it was the 1.5 that initially sniffed out the mother lode.
In addition, Hackney contends that a square-bill is deadly on smallmouth up north in open water.
“That’s another common misconception with square bills – that they must hitting bottom or hitting something all the time to be effective,” he said. “That’s not always the case, either. The neat thing about the KVD 1.5 is it’s always hunting center, making it look like it’s deflecting off something, even when it’s not. I’ve had smallmouth come up from 10 feet of water and blast it when cranking over shoals.”
Hackney fishes the 1.5 with 16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line on a 7-foot, 4-inch Quantum Tour KVD cranking rod with a Quantum Smoke HD 200 reel in a 6.3:1 gear ratio. He says the bait will run 5 to 6 feet on that set-up. As for colors, Hackney likes Cataouatche special for stained water, sexy shad for clearer water and chartreuse perch when targeting smallmouth.
Interestingly, a swim jig is gaining popularity in the must-haves category among top bass pros and Hackney says there is good reason why.
“The swim jig has not always been such a mainstream lure,” Hackney said. “It used to be viewed more as a window bait, with specific seasons and covers. But over the last 10 years a lot of anglers have figured out bass will bite a swim jig just about anywhere at anytime and now it has earned a year-round spot on the deck for a lot of pros, myself included.”
Hackney likes a swim jig so much, he designed one for Strike King, aptly named the Hack Attack Heavy Cover Swim Jig. His favorite model is a 3/8-ounce size in a green-pumpkin color.
“By simply changing the colors or the trailers on a swim jig, you can make it imitate so many types of baitfish,” he said. “In green-pumpkin it looks like a bream, mix in a little yellow and you’ve got a perch, go with white or pearl it looks like a shad – the versatility of the swim jig is outstanding.”
In addition, Hackney says changing the trailers on a swim jig turns it into a totally different lure.
“Most of the time I fish a swim jig up in the first two feet of the water column,” he noted. “When I do that, I always go with a Rage Craw trailer. It’s a flat trailer that gives the bait some lift and makes it sort of hover on a pause. That’s perfect for shallow, clumpy vegetation, or skipping around docks or bushes.”
In 2012, Hackney landed a 10-09 brute at the St. Johns River on a stick worm – this is a replica mount of the bass presented to him by B.A.S.S.
If he wants to make the swim jig go deeper, Hackney changes to a Rage Swimmer swimbait in either the 3.75- or 4.75-inch version.
“This is more of that northern style of swimming a jig, where you want to slow roll it down there in that 5- to 10-foot range – over ledges or through brushpiles – it’s basically like a swimbait,” he added. “Putting that swimbait trailer on it lets it get down deeper and gives the jig a completely different action.”
Hackney also alters his line for the two different swimbait uses. When fishing the shallower one, he normally employs 50-pound test Gamma Torque braid and when swimming it deeper in clearer waters where fish might get a better look at it, he goes with 16- or 20-pound fluorocarbon. He fishes it on a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy action Quantum Tour KVD casting rod with a 7.3:1 Quantum Smoke HD 200 reel. The higher gear ratio helps him speed up the lure and is critical for taking up the slack during the hookset.
“So many times swim jig fish will hit coming towards you, putting a lot of slack in the line,” he said. “Being able to take up that slack fast helps.”
Hackney’s final selection covers his bases when he has to slow down and get more finessey to earn a bite. For that, he turns to a straight 5-inch stick worm either fished weightless or topped with a 1/8- to 5/16-ounce tungsten weight, depending on cover.
“Again, this is a lure that can be changed to be used in several different situations,” Hackney said. “And don’t ask me what a bass thinks it is. Because, honestly, in the water, it doesn’t do much at all. It just has a subtle glide and shimmy to it that drives bass crazy.”
Hackney’s choice of stick worm is pretty simple, opting for a Strike King Shim E Stick in either green-pumpkin or black and blue. If he is casting it weightless, he puts a 4/0 hook in it and just lets it flutter down in the cover in between pulls. His other favorite way to use it is to pitch it with a weight, usually a 3/16-ounce.
“It’s just a great all-around pitching bait,” he said. “From pitching vegetation or bushes to wood or even docks in the summertime – that thing covers a lot of situations.”
Whether he is fishing it weightless or pitching it on a weight, he uses 16-pound test Gamma Edge on a 7-foot, 6-inch Quantum Smoke flipping stick.
During the 2012 St. Johns River Elite Series, Hackney was blind-pitching a Shim E Stick to bedding bass in lily pads when a 10-pound, 9 ounce Florida behemoth gave him one of the most thrilling battles of his life. That bass earned Hackney the Carhartt Big Bass of the Year award. As part of his prize, Carhartt presented him with a replica of his Florida giant in its native habitat.
“It’s one of the coolest things I have from my tournament fishing career,” Hackney added. “Which is why the Shim E Stick will always be a must have in my boat.”