COLUMBIA, S.C. — Only two anglers have a chance this week for back-to-back Bassmaster Elite Series wins, albeit wins of a different color.
Steve Kennedy, just off his May 8 victory at West Point Lake, could claim back-to-back Elite wins by taking the title in the May 12-15 Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash on Lake Murray.
Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., victor in 2008 when the Elite Series last competed on Murray, is the only pro who could claim consecutive Carolina Clash titles.
Just to make things interesting: Kennedy was runner-up to Roumbanis in that May 2008 tournament. If they do well again on Lake Murray, it won’t be because they were able to repeat how they attacked it in 2008, Roumbanis and Kennedy said.
“The fish don’t seem to be in the same patterns,” said Kennedy, who traveled home to Auburn, Ala., between tournaments so got in just one day of practice. “To me, they’re sitting deeper. They’re not where I expected them to be.”
He said the blueback herring, a favorite bass forage on Murray, are spawning on points in the very early mornings.
“Where the bluebacks go, the bass go in this lake,” said Kennedy.
Roumbanis said Murray contains “a ton more blueback herring than I’ve ever seen.”
Roumbanis speculated that the big herring size of 4 to 5 inches, plus the sheer numbers of the baitfish, might mean that Lake Murray’s bass are gorging at dawn and less inclined to take artificials.
“You have to get on an area where they’re busting them hysterically,” he said. “My goal is to get five fish; then I’m going to start picking up the big rod and throw what we call the ‘tennis shoe’ — the big swimbaits.”
He said he will cover water with a swimbait. When he sees some interest, he’ll fire another bait to take the bass, but that often happens only after he allows the bass to “rest.”
Roumbanis won in 2008 on a frog pattern upriver where vegetation that grows from the shoreline provided cover. That vegetation died off, likely when the water level was low for a sustained period of time. But, Roumbanis pointed out, the fish did not go away.
Roumbanis said he found “quality fish” upriver in the same area over the past few days during practice, and the vegetation isn’t critical to catching them, the bluegill spawn is.
“And there’s a similar bluegill spawn that’s going on right now,” he said. “I’ve always done well on the bluegill spawn.”
Other interesting Kennedy-Roumbanis facts play into the Lake Murray scenario: In the all-important Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, Kennedy sits in fourth place, and Roumbanis is in ninth.
Roumbanis’ primary goal now is a 2012 Classic qualification; Kennedy already has one in the bag, thanks to the instant entry that came with his victory at West Point Lake.
Roumbanis said he’ll do all he can to ensure he stays near the top of the points list, but he feels he has a new-found freedom to take a few chances.
“It’s not like I feel the Classic is secure,” said Roumbanis, who qualified for the 2008 and 2009 Classics, but not in 2010 or 2011. “But I’m further ahead in points than I’ve been in the past.”