The March 5 Carolinas Bass Challenge Santee Cooper tournament is in the books, and Santee Cooper bass fishing is living up to its reputation – in all respects. Plenty of big fish highlighted the tournament, with two fish over 9 pounds being caught (including a 9.53 pound beast), and a 32.55 pound sack at the top. There were twenty teams that weighed in more than 20 pounds of bass, and tournament director Brett Collins said that he couldn’t even begin to guess how many 7-pound fish he saw Saturday. They didn’t all get weighed in the big fish category! On the other hand, about half of the field (some of the best bass fishermen in the Southeast) weighed in 10 pounds or less, and fully 1/3 of the field did not weigh any fish. Monsters are out there and being caught, but it can be feast or famine!
With the Costa FLW Series event on Santee Cooper starting up later this week – and many anglers fishing it or helping pros out – a lot of the top finishers were tight-lipped about how they got bites. One person who was willing to help was FLW professional and Lake Murray bass fishing guide Captain Michael Murphy (770-605-6373), ½ of the team that weighed in 23 pounds of bass Saturday good for twelfth place. Even though Michael is fishing the Costa tournament he was willing to share what he found out on the water Saturday.
Overall Michael said that the water was high (one inch below full pool in the lower lake at 75.5, about six inches below full pool in the upper lake at 76.2) and stained, with the upper lake dirtier and the lower lake a bit more clear. He saw water temperatures as high as the mid-50s early in the day, but by late afternoon they were peaking out close to 60. There is little doubt that with air temperatures this week they will hit the 60s.
By Saturday Michael said that fish were already heavily in pre-spawn mode, and on the next full moon March 24 he expects the biggest wave of fish of the season to go on the beds. Michael found fish in a traditional pre-spawn pattern by running the mouths of spawning areas with moving baits and covering a lot of water, and when they hit a group of fish slowing way down. Fish were scattered out, and to Michael the key was to locate a group of fish and then really milk it. Over the course of the day they only caught 12 or 13 keepers, and these came out of basically three “wads” of fish. Some of the winning boats only caught 7 keepers over the course of the day, and although the fish were big when located finding them and catching numbers could be a real grind.
In the upper lake Michael and his partner caught most of their fish in 2-5 feet of water, and they caught one 4- or 5-pound bass in only about 8 inches of water. Between muddy conditions and the season fish wanted to be shallow. In the lower lake reports indicated that fish could be found in ditches (which were also structure Michael fished), and it seemed that with the clearer water some of the bass were hanging a bit deeper. The deepest cypress trees in the 5-7 foot range were good. However, with temperatures spiking Michael believes that these fish will only stay deep a day or two more before they pop up into shallower water.
As far as the baits they were fishing, for covering water Michael was throwing a spinnerbait as well as a Chatterbait. I asked about crankbaits, and while Michael said he could have fished a crankbait so much of the time they were around various forms of aquatic vegetation that they would have spent as much time picking grass off the hooks as fishing. The main spinnerbait was a Greenfish bait with ½ ounce tandem willow blades in shad color. When fish were located they would slow down and work them, and that meant throwing a ½ ounce Greenfish skipping jig that has a flat head so that it can get under cypress trees easily. He wanted it in Murphy’s Magic Craw color (green pumpkin with some silver) with a Reins crawdaddy trailer. He was also throwing a ½ – ¾ ounce Reins tungsten punch skirt with a Reins Punching Predator or Craw Tube.
Thanks to Michael for being willing to share in advance of the Costa event, and best of luck starting Thursday!