Bassmaster Elite Series angler Charlie Hartley has a serious addiction. He can't stop bass fishing. Even worse, he doesn't want treatment. The man's not the slightest bit interested in any 12-step program for recovering fishaholics. He's happy being hopeless.
"My mother had a very addictive personality. Maybe it's her fault," he laughs. "I don't know. But I can't really quarrel with words like addicted or obsessed. I suppose that's what I am. There's nothing — and I do mean nothing — that gives me as big a rush as catching a fish."
If "nothing" sounds crazy, consider that Hartley started fishing when he was still in diapers, won his first tournament — a father-and-son event — when he was only eight, and, with the help of his mother, bought his first tournament-ready boat when he was 14.
"I had a ball with that boat. My mother would drive me to the ramp in the morning and pick me up when she got off work that afternoon. I fished all day, every day during school breaks and during the summer."
As his angling skills matured, Hartley developed an interest in bass tournaments. He joined a local club in Columbus, Ohio — The Alum Creek Bassmasters — and fished as many as he could. He was limited, however, by the fact that he was too young to drive. He couldn't tow his own boat.
His mother, a recovering alcoholic, devoted much of her time to helping other men and women beat the disease. She helped some of the men by promising them an opportunity to fish a tournament with her son if they stayed sober.
"I loved it. They had a driver's license and could get me and my rig to local tournaments. I got to fish competitively, and they had something positive to do.
"It served another purpose, too. Mom was very worried that I would inherit her addictive personality. I had all the signs. She encouraged my fishing in the hope that I would become addicted to that rather than to alcohol or drugs."
Happily, her theory has worked perfectly. Hartley has no trouble staying away from the bottle, even if he does have a lot of trouble staying away from fish.
"What she did for me comes only from a mother's love. I can't say enough good about Mom and the many ways she helped me, not only in fishing, but also in life."
Of course, we all know that if left untreated, addictions get worse. Hartley is no exception to this rule. He slipped into the hopeless category when he discovered two-day tournaments. The travel, the new water and the challenge consumed him.
In his early years he fished three local circuits — one on Tuesday, another on Wednesday and yet another on Thursday evenings. At the same time he fished three Red Man Divisions — Indiana, Michigan and Ohio — as well as several upper-level FLW events and a ton of BASS tournaments.
In between his scheduled tournaments he competed in every fruit jar and wildcat event he could find. In any given year, he might fish as many as 65 or 70 competitive events and spend another 200 to 250 days on the water.
"I was young and single at the time, so I didn't care much about being home or about the holidays. I could usually find a local tournament after a big event. And, over the years, I discovered a surprising number of tournaments on holidays scattered around the country."
But that was then; this is now. Hartley met, fell in love with and married the woman of his dreams, Tracey. His marriage, Father Time and the Elite Series all combined to slow him down.
"If Tracey isn't traveling with me, I find that I miss her and want to be with her. I got married because I finally found someone I love and want to spend the rest of my life with, not because it was the thing to do.
"My age is also a factor. I don't consider myself old, but I can't go like I once could. There was a time I could drive all night, fish all day, sleep two or three hours and go at them again. I can't do that anymore.
"The Elite Series changed things, too. The competition is so fierce that you have to spend a lot of time practicing if you expect to do anything. And the travel is a killer. Some of these places are far apart. That requires a lot of driving. There isn't as much time as there once was."
This year he's down to approximately 50 tournaments and will spend no more than 250 days on the water. He's currently fishing two Bassmaster Open divisions, the Elites, some of the Strens, a couple of FLW Series events and his three weekly tournaments, when he's in town.
Mixed in with all this are his finances. He isn't independently wealthy; there's no trust fund lurking in his past; and his winnings don't cover his expenses. He's forced to work at his business, Signcom, in between his fishing trips.
"I usually get up around 3 a.m. and work on the business for a few hours before I go fishing. I don't like it, but that's the way it has to be. Without Signcom I couldn't fish like I do.
"This year's been tough. With the economy the way it is I have to spend more time on my computer and more days in Columbus. It's really hurt the number of tournaments I've been able to fish and the amount of time I spend on the water. Maybe next year will be better. I need to get back to doing some serious fishing."
Obviously, his mom was right to be worried about his addictive personality. It's equally obvious she was right to point him toward the water.