Randy Childers isn't sure which will prove more difficult - helping other fishermen prepare for February's Bassmaster Classic or actually being a spectator at the event.

"It's going to kill me either way," Childers said. "I was helping a fellow pro the other day, and the whole time I'm thinking, 'This could be me.'"

If it were Childers, he'd be a threat on his home water – the sprawling 56,000 acres of Lake Hartwell. A resident of nearby Anderson, Childers has enjoyed his finest angling moments on the reservoir, winning more tournaments there than he can remember, including his first victory some 23 years ago at age 19.

But Childers, the reigning points champion in Division 8 of the Bassmaster Weekend Angler Series and the Wal-Mart BFL's Savannah River Division, missed out on this year's Classic when he "swung for the fences" and came up short at the Weekend Series National Championship last November.

At Hartwell, Childers knows how to hit safely, which has other anglers seeking his advice for the Classic, which will be fished Feb. 22-24.

"There are three or four basic patterns to use on the lake during that time," Childers said. "Which one you use just depends on whether we get a little warming trend or it stays cold. Every day it can change, and it'll be hard to find one spot that's going to give you enough fish for three days. You've got to have a pattern versus a spot."

Many local fishermen contend that late February is one of the best times to fish Hartwell.

"I think it's falling perfect for the Classic," Childers said. "The week they come, the full moon's approaching. It'll be even more ideal if we get two or three straight days of bright sunshine and warming weather."

The weather and water temperature will dictate what follows. Anglers will be closely monitoring the water temperature and base their tackle and tactics on what the mercury indicates. Childers' notebook reads as follows:

"If it's below 48 (degrees), that normally tells me I've got to use a jigging spoon," he said. "If it gets above that, look for the bait to move to the back of spring-fed pockets. The water coming in is warmer there, and that attracts the bait, which attracts the bass.

"And I have seen it warm up enough that fish have been schooling and hitting Blade Runners and jerkbaits. But my all-time favorite is a jig-n-pig, and that bite could be 30 feet deep."

While some local anglers abhor Hartwell's booming population of spotted bass, Childers is somewhat partial to them. In a recent tournament victory, he weighed in 17 pounds, and four of his five bass were spots.

"I expect to see a 6-pounder weighed in (during the Classic)," Childers said. "February is one of the best months to catch spots, and it's possible that somebody could come in with a limit of spots and be leading this thing."

Ah, the leaderboard. Childers says the only "local" angler in the field - 23-year-old Casey Ashley of nearby Donalds - will be one to watch, but he is also convinced that being somewhat foreign to a lake can lead to free thinking and more adaptability.

"I think you've got to give the local (Ashley) a good shot with the knowledge he has of Hartwell," Childers said. "But I look for somebody way out of state to pull 'em out. They'll do things and try things that guys around here won't do; they're not locked in to one pattern or place."

Boyd Duckett of Alabama, the defending Classic champion, recently spent a couple of weeks on Hartwell before the lake went off limits in mid-December. He said the experience was a re-education of sorts.

"I hadn't been here since the early 90's, and you forget what you learned 15 years ago," Duckett said. "But it seems to fish a lot like the highland reservoirs of Tennessee. I like clear water."

The weather will be the wild card, Duckett said.

"It could be 29 and spitting snow, or it might be 55 or 60 degrees," Duckett said. "If that water temperature will come up, I'd look for some really big sacks shallow. If it stays cold, we'll all be out fishing deeper water, 35, 40 feet, and still catch pretty good bags."

He's also convinced that spotted bass will have quite a say in determining the Classic champion.

"Three years ago ,I don't think you could've won with spots, but I think you could now," Duckett said. "The spotted bass population has really taken off in Hartwell, and there are a lot of 3- and 4-pound spots in this lake now. A guy can go out and catch 15 pounds of spots, and that gives him all afternoon to try to catch a big largemouth and bring that weight up."

Ashley, who along with Lake Wylie's Todd Auten represents the South Carolina contingent in the Classic, is quite familiar with Hartwell, and he, too, loves the timing of the event.

"February's real good on Hartwell, and there are going to be some big stringers caught," Ashley said. "The bass will be prespawn, coming in and staging, and they'll be fat and full of eggs. I'm predicting it could take as much as 58 or 60 pounds to win."

Ashley believes fans will see some familiar names atop the leaderboard.

"Kevin VanDam - it doesn't matter where you put him, he's good," Ashley said. "He's a machine who can catch 'em anytime. Gerald Swindle will be very good in this tournament because it's his kind of lake; he loves clear lakes, and he's a good dock fisherman.

"I think Skeet Reese will do well, and look for Aaron Martens, too, with his little drop-shot. He loves the drop-shot in clear water."

Drop-shot rigs - which Ashley calls, "a backwards Carolina rig" - crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs and jigging spoons will be the weaponry of choice among anglers.

Spotted bass might come into play, he said, but won't be the primary quest.

"Anglers might have a mixed bag, but largemouths will be the target," Ashley said. "There are some 5- and 6-pound spots out there, but you won't be able to catch five of them that size."

Marty Robinson, a pro fisherman from nearby Lyman, believes the winner will average between 18 and 19 pounds per day, and that the event will show the rest of the world what a gem Hartwell is.

"I think, on average, there are more 5-pounders in Hartwell than any other lake in the state," Robinson said. "I think that'll make it a real exciting Classic and show everybody what a great lake Hartwell is."