From Amistad to the Classic

Del Rio’s Ray Hanselman gives a “thumbs up” as he prepares to launch for the final day of practice Wednesday on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Hanselman is competing in the 50th Bassmaster Classic this weekend.

A lifetime of fishing has led Del Rio’s Ray Hanselman to the biggest event in the sport – the 50th Annual Bassmaster Classic.

Hanselman, a local fishing and hunting guide who also fishes professionally, is one of 53 anglers who will compete in the three-day tournament that begins this morning with a 7 a.m. launch.

“It’s the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” Hanselman said Thursday afternoon. “It’s kind of surreal. This is the 50th anniversary of the Classic and it’s fitting they’re having it here in Alabama because this is the birthplace of BASS and this is one of the best lakes in Alabama. There’s a lot history here. It’s the best fishermen in the world fishing in the pinnacle of the sport. It’s what we strive to do as tournament fishermen.”

Hanselman said he began fishing as a youth. He said his father would take him out and his love of the sport began.

“It’s all his fault,” he joked.

Hanselman said he grew up fishing in tournaments. When bigger tournaments came to town, he threw his hat in and did his best.

“I didn’t always win, but I was always right there. My love for the competition grew from there,” Hanselman said. “In high school I started fishing more regional events. When I came back from college, I decided I wanted to make a living fishing. In 1993 was my first year I started guiding.”

As Hanselman’s experience grew, the tournaments he participated in grew larger. He fished in different series, including the FLW Costa Series and BASS open tournaments. In 2015 he decided to devote a full year to fishing on tour and he took on the Rayovac FLW Series. He made history that year, becoming the first angler to win all three stops on the Texas Division and the series championship held on the Ohio River.

That run of wins qualified Hanselman to compete in FLW’s top tournament, the Forrest Wood Cup, where he finished 20th out of 50 anglers.

After a tough 2017, Hanselman had a chance to fish on the Bassmaster Elite Series, which is home to the top 100 anglers on the BASS tour. After discussing everything with his family, Hanselman made the decision to join the Elite Series in 2018.

“I didn’t intend on fishing the Elite Series. I wanted to try to make the Classic through the opens, but I fished well enough on the opens that I qualified for the Elite Series,” Hanselman said.

In his rookie year he earned a check in four tournaments including a ninth place finish at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest Benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Lake Travis.

Last year, Hanselman finished 28th overall and qualified for the Classic as one of the top 40 anglers on the Elite Series. His 2019 season saw him earn a check in nine tournaments. His best finish was seventh at the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River where he weighed in 81 pounds, 12 ounces for the tournament.

He also fished on Lake Guntersville in June, finishing 12th overall with 54 pounds, 7 ounces. Hanselman is hoping to replicate some of that performance this weekend.

“When we were here in June, it was post spawn and right now it’s pre-spawn. The fish typically go back to where they pre-spawned, so I went out to get an idea of where they came from and where they were going. I used my pre-fishing trying to relocate some of those schools of fish. It worked out a little. They weren’t all in the same spots, but in the same ballpark,” Hanselman said.

The weather hasn’t been the best on Guntersville this week. Hanselman said it’s rained there much of the week and cold weather is expected for all three days of competition though it’s projected to be sunny skies on Friday and Saturday. All of that will factor into how an angler does at the Classic.

“This lake has a lot of eelgrass. It’s a different type of aquatic vegetation then what we see in Amistad and the fish set up on it like hydrilla. There’s also a lot of it. It can grow from three feet out to about eight to 10 feet out. That make the fish a little tougher to find,” Hanselman said. “I had a decent practice, and I feel like I’m gonna catch some fish this weekend. The weather will be similar to how it was earlier this week so Lord willing we’ll do good.”

“I want to put myself in the position to have a chance to win. If I can average 18 to 20 pounds the first couple of days that will put me in position that last day,” Hanselman added.

The experience of being at the Classic has been something Hanselman said he wouldn’t forget. Wednesday night, he and his family were part of a dinner gala to honor the participants and sponsors. Thursday, he took part in the official media day as he was peppered with questions from a wide variety of media outlets.

“We had the walk through today at the coliseum. I’ve seen the Classic on television, and now I’m gonna be a part of it. It takes you back a little bit,” Hanselman said. “It’s been a long road to get here, and I probably should have started this level of fishing when I was younger, but it is what it is. Having a young family and young kinds, it’s hard to be gone as much I have been, but I have a lot of off time and I spend it with them as much as I can.”

Angers will be on the water today from 7 a.m. until about 3 p.m. They’ll then come in off the water and drive to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala., which is about an hour and half away from Lake Guntersville, for the official weigh-ins.

The entire field will fish Friday and Saturday. After that, just the top 25 anglers based on the first two days of competition will fish on Sunday. Hanselman said his goal right now is to make it to that top 25. After that, the pressure goes up.

“I think the key to winning is to try and keep a level head. The way this lake is and the weather is, it’s going to be kind of a grind. The water is really cold, so it’s not going to be fast and furious for a lot of people. In those cases, you don’t wanna spin out and lose track of what your goal is. You wanna stay focused with every cast,” Hanselman said.

Hanselman will have a small gathering of friends and family following his progress in Alabama. Aside from his wife Misty and sons Mason and Miles, his parents, a niece and friends from Texas, including Dylan and Danny Thompson, are there to cheer him on. Hanselman said it’s that kind of support that’s always kept him going.

“To everyone back in Del Rio, I couldn’t do it without you. Thank you all,” Hanselman said.

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