Bassmaster Elite Series pros don’t even want to think about Lake Murray this week. Right now, their heads are into cracking the code of West Point Lake bass. They’re busy practicing May 2-4 on the Georgia-Alabama border lake for the May 5-8 Pride of Georgia competition.
But the day that Murray will be on their minds is near. Within hours of weighing the last West Point bass, the Elite Series will pack up and travel north to Lake Murray for the May 12-15 Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash out of Columbia, S.C.
Lake Murray is a Saluda River impoundment northwest of Columbia. This is Davy Hite country. Hite lives in the South Carolina town of Ninety Six; he used to live in Prosperity. A Murray angler all his life, he’s acknowledged as the Elite Series field’s expert on the fishery.
Yet Lake Murray is also Fred Roumbanis and Alton Jones country. They don’t live anywhere close to the impoundment; their connections to the lake are as victors in Bassmaster tournaments there. Roumbanis, a California native who now lives in Oklahoma, won the 2008 Elite Series stop there. Jones, of Waco, Texas, won a 2000 Megabucks event on Murray.
Hite and Jones are having a red-hot season. One month ago, Hite won the Alabama Charge on Pickwick Lake. Jones has been leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race since the second event of the season.
Roumbanis’ Elite Series year started a bit cooler but is heating up. After three Top-50 cuts (29th, 27th, 34th), he landed a Top-12 cut with a fifth-place finish in the April tournament on Toledo Bend. After West Point, he’ll be back on the fishery from which he pulled 66 pounds, 13 ounces of bass in May 2008 for his second Elite Series-level win.
Filled by 1930, Murray is an older impoundment that’s seen change, including two structural updates to its dam. The lake is about 41 miles long, but the shoreline measurement tells more of the fishing story: 650 winding miles of banks. The bass are all largemouth — no smallmouth, no spotted bass.
The bass fishing has been decent lately. That has a lot to do with the blueback herring spawn. Doug Lown, a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain and guide on Lake Murray for 20 years, said the herring spawn hit its peak about two weeks ago in the upper part of the lake.
“But there are still some herring running around,” Lown said. “The last part of the ‘herring bite’ (largemouth chasing herring) is usually relegated to the lower third of the lake.”
He said herring move shallow at night to spawn. The activity continues into the wee hours of the morning, so the first hour of Elite Series competition — as the sun rises over the trees — will be crucial for the pros on a herring pattern. But the lake’s prolific striper population also will be after herring, so anglers will have to wade through some stripers.
Because a first-light pattern obviously does not last long, other tactics will be needed, he said.
“I believe the successful pro will have to have at least three working patterns,” he added.
Those patterns could be just about anything this time of year. A few bass are still spawning, Lown said, but many have moved offshore. The lake’s vegetation this year is non-existent, he contends, so shallow-water patterns are likely to be centered on docks, brush and wood. The lower lake holds the clearest water, so the pros will be looking for a little wind and cloud cover there. The water is more stained in the lake’s upper regions — increasingly so into the river and feeder creeks — so bluebird skies aren’t likely to be such a liability up there.
“They’ve been harder to catch so far this year,” Lown said. “My only guess on that is that the clearer water has affected the bite. It keeps the bait down. But there are a lot of big fish in the lake. I know the Elite guys will figure out a way to catch them.”
Facts about 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series stop No. 6, the Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash: