Murray: Two lakes, plenty of options

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Moultrie or Marion? Pickwick or Wilson? The Detroit River, Lake St. Clair or Lake Erie?

For anglers this week, the choice is Lake Murray’s southern end or the northern end. Those who struggled on Day One of the Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash might have picked the wrong Lake Murray to take on. Though they’re connected, Murray’s southern end fishes worlds different than the upper end and into the river.

Alton Jones has enjoyed past success on Murray, both in the lake and in the river. The fishing in the upper end fishes more like a normal lake, he says.

“In the main lake, the bass are more like stripers,” he said. “They chase the blueback herring around and don’t really relate to cover and structure like the fish in the river do. The fish up north are like regular bass.”

Jones went into Day One expecting to bring 20 pounds or so to the scales, but wound up with 5 and change. It was like the lake he practiced on had been pulled out from under his boat. A weather front had the fish sluggish early this morning and anglers struggling all day.

However, Jami Fralick also fished the main lake and caught a tournament-leading 17-9. What was the difference?

Ryan McMurtury of Abbeville, S.C., qualified for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic via the Weekend Series. He’s fished Lake Murray for nearly 20 years, and has won numerous tournaments on the lake. He reasons that Fralick was better able to capitalize on the early bite, leaving him most of the day to try and cull.

“Mostly in the lake -- especially during the herring spawn -- you’ve got a topwater bite going on as the fish chase the herring. Then in the river, it fishes like you’d expect a river to,” he said. “It’s got dirty water, and the fish relate to the shallow water that’s in it.”

In his experience, he’s found that larger female bass are up the river, while smaller, more active bass are caught in Murray proper. McMurtury is placing his money on the river being more consistent and producing bigger and more fish.

“When the plankton bloom in the spring, the herring start spawning in mid- to late-April, and that lasts for three or four weeks, then the herring go deep and the stripers chase ‘em,” he said. “Most of the postspawn fish will start relating to the bluegill spawn, which is around willow trees in the river system. When you find those bream beads, you can get big largemouth .A 7-pounder isn’t going to chase a bunch of herring around all day long. It’d rather wait up under a log.”

McMurtury was expecting nearly 80 pounds to win the Carolina Clash. While the weights aren’t quite on track for that to happen, he still believes there are big stringers to be had from both Murray and the river.

“The key to getting the herring bite working is early in the morning, with some cloud cover and a bit of wind. That’s when they’ll eat a topwater good,” he said. “But, I’ve seen a lot of people who are on a topwater bite have it quit because a front blows through which shuts the herring down.”

That’s the story that Alton and much of the field had today. But, the key to making the river work is finding and fishing current and stained water. Rick Clunn practiced in the river and currently sits in third place.

“The big key to lakes in South Carolina is when the water hits 80 degrees,” he said. “It’s like they get supercharged and turn on big time. They go into a feeding frenzy.”

As anglers scramble to get back on their feet for Day Two, perhaps a change of lakes is in order.

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