It appears that the winter is winding down on Lake Murray, but it seems that the bass never really got into a traditional winter pattern. Veteran tournament angler Captain Doug Lown says that even though water temperatures are as cold as they’ve been this year right now, around 47 degrees yesterday morning, fish aren’t in the same places they usually get during the winter. They also aren’t taking the same baits they have eaten in past years, and unlike last year the Alabama rig has barely been a factor this winter.
In large part this may be a function of water clarity, and Doug says that he has not seen the lake with this much color to it since 1998. The whole lake is stained, and although it’s clearer below Bear and John’s Creek there are still only a few feet of visibility in the usually clear lower lake.
Doug says it’s typical for muddy water to push fish into shallower water where they can see better, and with the bait relatively shallow and no real temperature differential across the water column the bass have no reason to be anywhere else. As a result most of the fish that have been caught are in 5 feet of water or less, with the majority being caught on crankbaits. Shallow, rocky points have been the best spots, and with bass up feeding on crayfish Shad Raps in crawfish color have been about the best bait. Doug believes it’s unlikely that this pattern will change very much until water temperatures get into the low to mid-50s and hold there.
For a lot of anglers the bite has been pretty inconsistent, and some of the same guys who are catching a big bag one day are turning around and having trouble repeating the feat the next day (or week). Feast or a famine is a pretty fair characterization.
One guy who has been feasting the last few weeks is tournament angler Andy Wicker, who won the TBF Federation tournament with 21.92 pounds on February 6 and then turned around and landed 21-1 to take 5th place in the February 13 BFL on Lake Murray. A couple of weeks earlier he and a partner landed 28.43 pounds in an open team tournament!
In the BFL Andy caught the majority of his fish up shallow cranking, with only a couple of fish landed on a jig or an Alabama rig – also shallow. Over the course of the day he landed 12-14 fish and may have only weighed fish that came on a crankbait. Windy, rocky points were the key, and as he says is often the case on Murray if the wind is blowing he needed to be in it. It wasn’t especially pleasant fishing in 2 ½ foot waves but that’s where the fish were.
On Saturday the fish bit in spells, and Andy says that it wasn’t until 10:30 that he caught his first fish. Pretty much everything came between 10 and 1:30, and during that period there were peaks and lulls. He might pull up on a windy point and catch 4 or 5 fish, then go a while without a bite. This continued a trend this winter on Murray, and at the tournament where they caught the monster 28.43 pound bag he and his partner didn’t have a bite before 12:30.
Andy concurs with Doug’s assessment of the water color, and he says that he has never seen the lake this stained. Andy thinks it may be a good thing for the system by rejuvenating it, but in any event it certainly has the bass up shallow!
Overall, Lake Murray water levels are slightly up to 356.79 and surface water temperatures at the dam are just below 50 degrees.
Striped bass: Good. Lake World (803-957-6548) reports that fish seem to be moving down the lake earlier than usual this year, and even though the upper reaches still seem to be best some fish have already been caught as far down as Bomb Island. It could be that all the water moving down the lake is bringing the fish with it. The most productive pattern has been pulling free-lines and planer boards, with planer boards pulled over 35-50 feet of water in the creeks working best on cloudy days. Both large minnows and herring have been working. A few fish are being caught on down-lines but not enough to report as a significant pattern, and cut bait fishing hasn’t really kicked in yet. By March it should be wide open. Some good fish up to 21 pounds have been caught recently.
Catfish: Slow to fair. Captain Chris Simpson (864-992-2352) reports that water conditions still have the Murray catfish bite off. Drifting will still work, but anchoring on humps and points that top out at the level where catfish and bait are holding and waiting for them to move through is often more effective in these circumstances. Cut herring and white perch are good bait options.