I’m not a huge fan of fishing in a crowd. No bass fisherman is. But I’d rather be fishing behind somebody in an area that has fish than to be casting by myself in a place where bass are scarce. I’ve fished in crowds before, but never in such a confined area as where I put all my chips in at Winyah Bay.
The place was a series of canals and ponds off the Waccamaw River, which is about a 20-minute run from the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex where we took off. The banks there are lined with overhanging limbs, laydowns, cypress trees and a few docks. I shared this water with most of the pros who didn’t make the long run to the Cooper River.
I spent one of my practice days checking out the Cooper River. I didn’t find enough bass there to make the 100-mile haul worthwhile. When I figured in the time I’d waste stopping for gas, the round trip to the Cooper River would have eaten up four hours of my day. I decided to stay close and invest more time with a lure in the water.
On the third day of the tournament, I was paired with a Marshal who had made trips to the Cooper River the first two days. When I told him I was going to fish close to the takeoff, he said he was going to buy me a steak dinner.
I knew a bunch of the other pros were also going to crowd into the same area I was fishing. It was simply the best bass habitat to be found short of the Cooper River. I was often within a cast of other competitors and fishing used water. It was challenging to keep my head down and not let the crowd spin me out.
I kept reminding myself that the fish were there and, with it being a tidal fishery, new fish were constantly moving into the backwater canals to spawn out of the current. Luckily, there was a falling to low tide during the tournament. When the tide was high, many of the bass would move far back into the flooded cover where we couldn’t get to them.
With so little elbowroom, you might think that tempers would be flaring. But I didn’t see anything like that. We all understood what we were up against and tried to give each other as much space to fish as we could.
Just because you’re fishing behind somebody doesn’t mean that they caught all the fish. I saw some of the guys flipping soft plastic creature baits and throwing swim jigs and topwater baits. I wanted to show the bass something subtle that was a little different. I wacky rigged a 5-inch green pumpkin Bizz Baits Sassy Stick sinking worm on a 2/0 Owner Wacky Hook.
A lot of the bass I caught were spawning on cypress knees. I couldn’t see most of them. I normally use spinning tackle with 15-pound P-Line Braid and a 10-pound P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon leader with this bait. I switched to a 12-pound leader to prevent breaking off in the cypress knees.
I only got seven to nine bites a day, but I was able to sack a 3- or 4-pounder every day. Those kickers were huge in that event. I finished in 15th place. That was better than I expected, given the crowded conditions. Stetson Blaylock also fished the same area and claimed that he did better than he expected. He won the tournament by fishing in a crowd.
This was a big learning experience for me. Fishing in a crowd can be very, very intimidating, even when you’re fishing offshore. But if you know the bass are there and can see what other people are throwing, try something a little different.
The hardest thing is getting over the mental aspect of it. That’s especially hard to do when you see one of your competitors catching fish. If that happens, try to tell yourself that it’s actually a good thing because it tells you the bass are there. You just have to figure out how to catch them.
Yes, you can fish in a crowd and still do well in a tournament.