About 5:45 a.m. this morning, I heard the unmistakable sound of a vehicle crash coming from the state Route 187 bridge that crosses Lake Hartwell, and within view of Green Pond Landing.
Minutes later, you could see nothing but solid headlights and brake lights, all of the vehicles at a standstill. Among those was Cody Hahner, the only angler not at the ramp. He was stuck in the middle of the bridge, with no way to turn around.
Andy Crawford just called me to report that just now — at 9:50 a.m. — Hahner had picked up his co-angler and was headed out. The accident with injuries required investigations from law enforcement, along with the cleanup.
Hahner, of Wisconsin, led on Day 1 and was 11th in the standings as of Thursday.
Co-angler Mitchell Grimsley gets on the board with his first fish of the day.
Making the most of your time on the water is always a wise strategy, but on the final day of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Hartwell, Andrew Upshaw knows that it’s absolutely critical.
Coming into Championship Friday 2 pounds, 4 ounces off the lead, the Oklahoma pro explained a time-management game plan that he’s hoping will deliver a shot at the win. It’s all based on his Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, which allows him to not only spot cane piles and other structure ahead of his boat, but also monitor fish movement in real-time images.
“I’m trying to make the most high-percentage cast possible,” Upshaw said.
The reason this is so important is that the schooling activity common to blueback herring lakes like Hartwell can be a feast-or-famine proposition. Often a mix of spotted bass, largemouth and stripers will push the baitfish topside, ravage them as long as possible and then it’s over.
Sometimes it delivers — Day 1 leader Cody Hahner plucked a pair of hefty largemouth that weighed 6-3 and a 5-8 from a schooling eruption. But considering the frenetic nature of schooling activity, along with the fact that your bait is competing with the natural forage the fish eat every day, relying on schoolers can amount to a frustrating game of ghost chasing.
Rather, Upshaw is scanning around his predetermined targets, watching for clusters of fish and mostly saving his casts for what he considers realistic opportunities.
“I’ll fire out just past where I see the fish and then watch them react,” Upshaw explained. “You have to make two casts: The first one to draw them out and the next one to get them to bite.”
Upshaw’s strategy earned him the day’s first limit, approximately 9 pounds by 9 o’clock. Most of the day remains and Day 2 leader Patrick Walters is also on track for a solid day.
Bottom line, every shot counts today. The angler who wins will be the one who puts the most casts in the best spots.
It's a small limit, but it's a start for Andrew Upshaw.
His strategy is obscure compared to the mainstream game plan of running and gunning, making brief stops, casting a topwater across cane piles, and hoping for the best.
Upshaw by choice is fishing open water, and he is deliberately avoiding crowded areas.
"I am using the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope to see fish," he said. "If they are there, then I stay and make casts to those individual fish."
If there are no fish, he moves on through his rotation of about 60 spots.
"I'm just trying to cover as much water as possible."
As a side note, the topwater bite is getting a lift from a steady northeast wind at 10 mph with higher gusts.
This was the parting shot taken by Andy Crawford after Bobby Stanfill made his planned 10th cast at a fishing spot.
"It's been like this all day," Crawford said. "He runs, he stops, he runs again."
What happened next was Stanfill sped away, headed towards the opposite end of the lake. Still swimming inside his livewell was 8 pounds. He had more than 16 pounds this time yesterday.
I just arrived at the lake, and the potential reason why was confirmed. There is no wind. Not even a breeze to break the glasslike looking surface.
By all accounts, what that means is the topwater bite might be suffering. Or, some ingenuitive, forward-thinking angler put the topwater away and has come up with a new strategy to confront the changing conditions. We shall see soon enough.
Bobby Stanfill's fourth and fifth keeper just went into the livewell, after he caught this double. Stanfill told Andy Crawford the limit weighed 8 pounds, and that it's all got to be replaced.
"I need wind, that is for sure," he said, of what his topwater pattern needs to jumpstart the bite.
He might get it later this afternoon as the wind delivers the predicted 70% chance of rain.
Interestingly, Stanfill had his limit this time yesterday. He is giving Andy and his boat driver a workout, only making about 10 casts across a given cane pile, and then moving on to the next spot in the rotation.
Andy Crawford is shooting a photo gallery with yesterday's runner-up Bobby Stanfill. He's got 3 keepers in the boat and is obviously frustrated with the lack of progress.
"They are just being ornery," he said, when Andy asked if the weather change was the culprit.
Stanfill is repeating his Wednesday game plan, which is running and gunning through a series of cane piles located on main lake points.
"They didn't bite well, were very tentative, coming up and nipping at the bait," he told me yesterday.
A fall turnover, rising water, and scattered fish following roaming schools of blueback herring were reasons he gave for the unpredictable bass behavior. All of those factors relate to bass and bait suspending and roaming during a typical fall turnover.
Stanfill is using a topwater, which he is retrieving as fast as possible across the cane piles. Yesterday, his 16-pound 8-ounce limit was filled throughout the day. Stanfill told Andy that he would continue grinding it out, hoping to be on the right place, at the right time.