The first event of the Carolinas Bass Challenge 2015 South Carolina Division season is in the books, and as expected tournament director Brett Collins hosted a superb tournament to officially kick off the fourth year of this mega-trail for weekend anglers. 173 boats and 374 anglers were part of the event where more than $40,000.00 were given away, and the quality of the production fit the occasion. There was a professional quality weigh-in including several live-streaming full size TV monitors, electronic scales with a digital display, and of course the Skeeter beans team which fed chili to all the hungry anglers (and observers). There was plenty of food and Brett made sure everyone knew they could fill up as many times as they wanted.
At the end of the day Lake Murray provided the real drama, though, as some big sacks and monster bass were brought to the scales. Chris Marshall and Josh Gardner of Rutherford, North Carolina won the event and $11,000.00 with a 23.90 pound sack as well as the big fish – an 8.31 pound hawg! Second place went to Mike Stephens and Chris Gravely with a 23.078 pound bag (worth $5,000.00), and third went to John Parker and Scott Allison with 22.01 (worth $3,500.00). Fourth place went to Scott Farmer and Samuel Freeman with 21.78 pounds (worth $2,500.00), and in fifth place SCFishingReport.com correspondent Brad Fowler and Brock Taylor had 21.31 pounds and won $2,000.00 for their day. The Skeeter/ Yamaha bonus money was split three ways with Daryl Watson and Ken McFarland taking home $2,500.00 with a 16.16 pound sack, Kevin Rake and Tony Morris winning $1,500.00 with a 15.65 bag, and Kevin Fulmer and Al Fortner winning $1,000.00 with 15.29 pounds. (Complete tournament data will be posted on the CBC website later this week, but for now more complete information can be seen here: http://www.scfishingreport.com/carolinas-bass-challenge-lake-murray-tournament-results/)
In addition to the winners’ big fish six more bass over 7 pounds were weighed in, including an 8.05 pound hawg caught by Randy Hall and Mike Seawright. It’s not every day that an 8 plus pounder is not the tournament big fish, and 6-pounders didn’t get a second look in the big fish category.
But while there were an impressive eleven teams which weighed in a sack over 20 pounds, weights dropped off below the top and 15.29 was enough to cut a check and finish in approximately the top 15% – solidifying the impression that Lake Murray is feast or famine right now. Some very, very good Lake Murray bass fishermen weighed in small bags or didn’t weigh in at all.
The tournament was billed as an Alabama rig event, and all indications are that it lived up to the predictions. Whether fishermen would admit they were throwing it or not, all reports on the lake were that the vast majority of anglers were primarily fishing the A-rig. And as veteran tournament angler Captain Doug Lown predicted in his tournament preview, the best Alabama rig bite came early in the morning when fish were pulled up shallow feeding on the herring that move up overnight.
Being in the right area (around bait and bass) and throwing the right bait (the Alabama rig) first thing in the morning looked like a winning combination, and with so many anglers doing that it appeared that the only question was who was going to be in the right place at the right time throwing the right the bait.
Change of Plans
The previous two weekends tournament winner Chris Marshall has been very successful fishing tournaments on Lake Murray, and he has brought sacks weighing 24 ½ and 23 ½ pounds to the scales. He says that he has been catching his weight early and essentially finished by 8:00. His partner Josh Gardner has been travelling for work and told Chris that since he had handled the pre-fishing Josh would pay the tournament entry fee, and Josh told me he was pleased when Chris told him that he had gotten them signed up in time for the event. He was sick though when the next thing Chris told him was that their blast-off position was 173 – out of 173 boats!
The anglers said that it was a weird feeling watching 172 boats take off before them and then being the final guys to get out on the water. They tried to stick with the pattern that had been working the previous couple of weeks and “ran around” fishing a crankbait for the first couple of hours, but at 10:00 they realized that they needed to do something different. That meant picking up a jig, and all of their weight came flipping a Katch-Her brand jig around main lake docks. The fish were in the same areas that they had been the last couple of weeks, but for them in the time-slot they were fishing they wouldn’t take a moving bait.
Chris and Josh told me that their weight came above Dreher Island, and the docks they targeted were in about 8-12 feet of water. Fish were holding on the outside, deepest part of the docks. Even though they tried to move up into pockets that warmed up during the sunny day they got no bites off the main lake. They had little doubt that the fish were feeding on shad that had been blown up shallow around the docks by the wind, but Chris said that he did have a live well full of crayfish after the day. The jig color was “Chris Craw” and they saw water temperatures ranging from about 48-51 degrees.
Overall, the anglers believed that the pattern they fished was the result of the recent full moon, and they didn’t believe fish would be doing the same thing again for about another month. Chris predicted that he would be throwing a different bait next weekend in the BFL event on Lake Murray. Josh noted that they had lost a 5- or 6-pound fish on an Alabama rig during the day, and were extremely relieved to find that losing that one had not been decisive.
Brad and Brock
I also caught up with SCFishingReport.com correspondent Brad Fowler and Brock Taylor, who has been slaying the bass in recent tournaments on Lake Hartwell. Brad and Brock proved that they know a thing or two about fishing on Lake Murray as well (finishing in fifth place with 21.31). The anglers reported that everyone they saw was throwing an Alabama Rig but they caught their fish around a mid-lake ledge in 25-30 feet of water that is productive for them every year at this time. After trying some other spots early they pulled up on this spot about 8:15 and saw bass all over their electronics and immediately got bit. By 8:30 the bite was done and the fish had moved off, but they had all five fish that they ended up weighing – basically 4-pound clones with a 5-pounder thrown in. Brad and Brock were the highest finishing team that didn’t have a really big fish in the mix, as the four teams ahead of them variously had an 8.31, 6.90, 7.98, and 6.59 kicker fish. Their fish came off Buckeye Lures football mop jigs in brown and peanut butter and jelly colors.
Captain Doug Lown predicted that it would take 24 or 25 pounds to win the event in light of the wind that was predicted – the winning bag was 23.90 – and his prediction that it would take about 16 pounds to get a check was also spot on. It also seems clear that it was an Alabama Rig day. While the winning boat reported doing something different than throwing an Alabama Rig or crankbait for the victory, that may have been by necessity since it was almost 8:00 before they were able to get on the water.
My thanks to Chris and Josh, Brad and Brock, and Captain Doug Lown for their insights, and of course to Brett Collins for hosting this event. (Also thanks to AnglersChannel.com for sharing a photo of the winning team due to user error on my camera). Brett reminds anglers that the Carolinas Bass Challenge will have a North Carolina Division event next weekend on Lake Norman, and the next South Carolina event will be March 7 on Lake Wateree. Stay tuned to SCFishingReport.com for more information and coverage of the South Carolina CBC events.
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