A casual observer could make the mistake of thinking that today was an ordinary day of college for University of South Carolina junior Gettys Brannon, an advertising major at USC and one-half of the bass fishing team that also includes Patrick Walters. Gettys had to go to classes, and when he wasn’t in class he had a project that he was working to finish up. But the truth is that today was no ordinary day for Gettys or Patrick, because in addition to the normal, day-to-day aspects of college life they also have something extremely rare for a college student on their to-do list – getting ready for the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouchita in August! I caught up with Gettys today, fresh off the team’s win this weekend in the 2015 FLW College Fishing National Championship on Lake Murray, to get a little bit more information about how they figured out the fish and punched their ticket to compete against the pros in the FLW Championship.
Even though Gettys and Patrick are college students, they approached the college national championship with an appreciation of bass fishing history on Lake Murray. Gettys says the largemouth spawn is underway right now on Lake Murray, and it will continue for another month or two. However, they didn’t weigh a single fish that came off the beds.
“That wasn’t the deal for us. With the overcast weather and the fact that this was a multi-day tournament, we concentrated on the [blueback herring spawn] bite.” They knew that in recent years multi-day tournaments on Lake Murray at this time of year have generally been won on the herring spawn, and they concentrated on bass feeding on shallow herring. Gettys noted that this might not be the right tactic in a single-day tournament, where a big kicker fish would be more important, but in the multi-day event they knew consistency was key.
While the herring spawn was just getting underway, Gettys said it wasn’t great yet. “There were not a lot of groups of fish yet, it was more roamers. We were concentrating on the first fish to come up off the spawn.”
But instead of looking for bass, Gettys and Patrick were looking for the bait. That was because even if fish weren’t feeding on herring at a particular time, it was a good bet that at some point they would. By way of example, Gettys said that even if the bass weren’t feeding on herring in a particular area at 8:00, they might be at 8:45. Find the bait and at some point there would be bass.
Finding the bait, however, is easier said than done. With the pelagic (open-water) nature of blueback herring they moved from day to day. Gettys said that one day they might be on a point in the main lake, and the next day they could be in the backs. Without a doubt they moved over the three days of the tournament.
While Gettys and Patrick did have one particularly productive area between the front and middle of Bear Creek, on day three the action there slowed down and they only caught one good fish off of it. This could have been because of local pressure on Saturday, or maybe it was just time for the fish to move.
If the key to catching fish was locating the spawning blueback herring, and they are on the move, I asked Gettys how they did find the bait. Part of it is obviously knowing the lake, and with the local knowledge Gettys and Patrick have they knew some areas that were likely to be productive. They also knew that, despite the perception that blueback herring will only be found spawning off points with a certain depth of water and a hard clay bottom, that isn’t necessarily true on Lake Murray.
“They might be anywhere along a shoreline – near wood cover, points, the back ends of coves – whatever. You just have to find the places where there seem to be the most and start fishing.”
Gettys also emphasized to me that “you can’t just look for the obvious. There might be a certain knob, crevice, or ditch [that the herring are relating to], and it might be 200 yards over from a point.”
Other ways to locate the fish are to look for one or two “dumber fish” that are showing themselves, and there is always the stand-by of casting a spinnerbait – which bluebacks will follow – to locate them. Gettys said the spinnerbait is unlikely to catch bass, but if they are in the area they will follow it back to the boat.
I asked whether the birds still had any relevance this late in the spring, and Gettys laughed that following the birds is often “a good way to catch a nice mess of striper.” However, he says that it can be possible to sort through the striper to catch largemouth, and at one point his partner caught a striper and a largemouth at the same time on a double fluke rig.
Speaking of baits, while they did fish Carolina rigs with a Zoom Trick Worm, most of their weight came off a Zoom Super Fluke. I didn’t press Gettys for information about specific colors but he said it is important to have several different colors handy, and depending on cloud cover, sunlight and other factors fish will want different colors on different days. “Once you figure out what they want that day stick with it.” Note: both Trick Worms and Super Flukes are available on our sister site Angler’s Headquarters (formerly SCFishingTackle.com). We have low prices and a wide selection of colors. Enter code “GAMECOCKSWIN” to take 10% off any order at Angler’s Headquarters.
Admirably, instead of downplaying the assistance they had gotten from other anglers, Gettys asked me to express his gratitude to Captain Doug Lown, who is also my source for Lake Murray bass tournament reports (and, unsurprisingly, the winner with partner Rhett Manus of last weekend’s CATT tournament on Lake Murray with 24.71 pounds). Gettys pointed out that, in terms of consistent success, over the last 25 or 30 years Doug has been the premiere bass fisherman on Lake Murray. Doug showed Gettys and Patrick around a couple of months before the tournament, and Gettys said his even bigger contribution was probably helping them figure out how to make decisions about when to move and look for different groups of fish. Gettys said, “he helped us as far as getting our minds right.”
Overall, Lake Murray appears to still be fishing pretty tough. As the herring spawn gets cranked up that bite will get better, but anglers will still have to find the bait to find the bass. Even in March and April, on Lake Murray these days it just isn’t about riding the banks looking for obvious cover like docks, trees, and brush and throwing your favorite lure at bass hanging around the cover. As Gettys summed it up, “Not on this lake.”
Congratulations to 2015 FLW College Fishing National Champions Gettys Brannon and Patrick Walters, and my thanks to Gettys for sharing their insights. Best of luck to these anglers at the Forrest Wood Cup!