The Carolinas Bass Challenge has its first South Carolina Division tournament of the 2015 season this Saturday on Lake Murray out of Dreher Island State Park. 173 boats are entered, and there is a guaranteed first place prize of $8,000.00. Blast-off will be at safe light with weigh-ins in flights after 3:00. I caught up with Captain Doug Lown, a veteran tournament angler and long-time guide on Lake Murray, to see what he expects on Saturday. Doug and his tournament partner finished in 4th place in the 2-day Tomahawk Team Trail Championship last weekend, so he has a pretty good read on the Lake Murray bass right now. Additionally, unlike tournament anglers for whom Murray has been off-limits since Monday, Doug has been fishing (and catching bass) this week.
While fish can be caught, Doug says that fish are not holding in many of the types of areas he likes to fish this time of year. Fish are still basically related to bait and they are not on docks in significant numbers. Further, the bait is constantly on the move, often from day-to-day. A visible sign of this is the birds, which will not generally sit in an area where there is nothing to eat. Anglers will notice that the birds will be in a cove or creek one day, and then totally gone the next. With the lake off-limits to anglers for almost a week this may make for a strange tournament dynamic, as it is very unlikely that bait (and the bass following it) will be in the same areas that they were last weekend when anglers could practice. With no meaningful practice, in a sense anglers will be fishing blind.
In another week or two the bait may get shallower, and Doug says there are some early signs that bait may be just beginning to move into some of the creeks. However, for now most of the bait is still out deep, either on the main lake or in the outer sections of creeks. Doug says that last weekend they found the best action putting the boat in about 15 feet of water where they could cast towards the banks. It had to be right the type of bank with the right taper if it were going to hold fish.
Most of the fish have been in about the 8-12 foot range, but they are not relating to the bottom and Doug says it’s hard to get bit on something like a shakey head. Instead the fish are suspended, and as much as he hates to throw it the majority of the fish they weighed last weekend were caught on Alabama rigs. Doug notes that the specifications of the A-Rig, including bait colors and weight, matter for getting bit, and it’s not as simple as just throwing an Alabama Rig. He hasn’t fished it much although a jerkbait might work, but in any event successful anglers Saturday will probably be on what Doug calls a “minnow bite.” (Crankbaits have also been catching fish.)
One further factor that will make anglers’ jobs difficult, and frankly inject an additional degree of luck into the tournament, is that the best bite has been first thing in the morning. Doug explains that herring move up shallower at night and then back out into deeper water in the day, and so the best bite is usually first thing. (Threadfin operate differently, and will actually move shallower in the afternoon when the sun heats up the water. Bass up the rivers are more likely to be feeding on threadfin, so Doug says a possible pattern is to start out down the lake and then move up in the afternoon). Since most of the anglers are targeting bass that are eating herring, with a small feeding window in the morning, anglers who correctly locate the bait early are at a huge advantage.
Overall, Doug predicts that there will be a lot of sacks in the range of 15 pounds weighed in, as 2- and 3-pound bass can be caught fairly reliably right now. He expects that it will take about 16 pounds to get a check, and at the upper end he expects to see about 24 or 25 pounds for the win. Doug predicts that the winning boat will be the beneficiary of some luck, and they will have a combination of “the right idea and being in the right place.” He predicts that anglers will “either be a hero or zero within the first two hours of the day. Someone will land on a magical spot in the first 30 or 45 minutes” and catch them, and everyone else will be struggling to catch up.
Doug says that the X-factor determining how high the winning weights are will be wind. Last Friday in the Tomahawk Championship the wind blew and there were four or five bags over 23 pounds, while on Saturday it was calm and nothing over 19 pounds was brought to the scale. Doug expects that this Saturday will be similar, and weights will be much higher if the wind is blowing. On the clear lower end wind is particularly important, and if there is no wind anglers need to seek out more stained water to get bit.
My thanks to Doug for the preview and his insights, which are always highly appreciated. Stay tuned to SCFishingReport.com for results on Saturday.