COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jami Fralick was struggling on Lake Murray until he landed a 6-pound, 9-ounce largemouth, the anchor to his 17-9 bag and the key to the first-day lead in the Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash.
“It was tough out there. I didn’t get the number of bites I thought I was going to get. I was fortunate to catch that 6-9 — that turns around a tough day pretty fast,” said the pro from Martin, S.D.
Fralick edged ahead of Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., who considers Lake Murray home water. The winner of the season’s third event, Hite had 16-7 to show for his day.
Bass fishing legend Rick Clunn was third with 15-12, and John Crews ended the day in fourth place just 1 ounce behind Clunn. Rounding out the top five with 15-8 was Steve Kennedy, who on May 8 won the Elite event on West Point Lake in his native Georgia.
The day started with fishing-favorable overcast skies, but ripened to hot sun over slick water, factors that made the post-spawn bite on Murray a challenge for most of the Bassmaster Elite Series field. Only 78 of the 99 anglers were able to bring in limits.
Fralick was still after his limit when he landed his 6-9 at about 11 a.m. He followed up with an afternoon of junk fishing.
Unlike many in the field, who pulled up in a spot only to see another boat and then move on, Fralick said that after he landed his big bass, he moved to a new area for him that he had mostly to himself. It was his remedy for the slow afternoon he had learned to expect over three days of practice. His decision helped him to 10 keeper-size bass Thursday.
“I caught one here, one there, doing a lot of different things, just fishing. If I saw a flat that looked good, I’d go fish it,” he said.
Contrary to his practice experience, Fralick was stumped by the early morning blueback herring-spawn bite.
“I had five bites in the first hour and a half, I never landed them, they came off. But that’s the key here,” he said. “Tomorrow I’m going to have to catch them first thing in the morning.”
Fralick expressed surprise that he could take the lead of the Clash without the early bite that many in the field had declared was critical. Hite said as much, but he caught fish in many areas all day.
“Early morning’s better, I think for everybody a little bit,” Hite said. “But it’s key to catch fish throughout the day.”
He declined to comment on the role an early blueback herring bite played or did not play in his day, and emphasized that the tournament was just beginning.
“I like to call this (Thursday) the first quarter — we have four days to fish,” he said.
Clunn said his day began — and almost ended — with the textbook Lake Murray early herring bite that lasted two to three hours for him.
“You’ve got to get your good fish then,” he said. “After that, you might as well go have coffee and biscuits.”
Fralick’s 6-9 set the pace for the event’s Berkley Big Bass of Tournament bonus of $500.
The Elite Series field of 99 anglers will compete Friday and be cut to 50 for Saturday and then to 12 Sunday when one will earn the $100,000 first-place prize and an instant entry into the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.