GEORGETOWN, S.C. — Even though conditions are setting up well for the spawn to play a role during the upcoming Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay, traditional sight fishing tactics may not be the only option for the 75-angler field.
Competition days will be Thursday through Sunday, with takeoffs each day at 7 a.m. ET from Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex and weigh-ins back at the complex at 3:20 p.m. The winning angler will receive $100,000, while the entire field fights for valuable points in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
South Carolina pro Patrick Walters said bedding fish may be hard to see during higher tides — and that will force them to rely on unseen beds they located when the tide was low.
“I think it’ll be a 50-50 mixture of prespawn and spawning bass,” said Walters, a 24-year-old Elite Series rookie from Summerville, S.C. “There will be a good bit of spawning going on; we’re going to have warm temperatures all the way through the tournament.
“The tidal fluctuation can make them a lot easier to catch at certain times and at other times, you can’t even see them. So, it’s going to be important to know where the fish are and to be able to navigate the body of water.”
Bass on tidal fisheries instinctively know to establish their spawning nests below the low-tide line to ensure their spots aren’t drained dry by the outgoing cycle. That being said, a bed in clear visibility during low tide may completely disappear when an incoming tide stacks another couple feet of water over the fish.
The East Coast’s fourth-largest estuary, in terms of discharge rate, Winyah Bay is fed by the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Black, Sampit and Santee rivers. The Cooper River offers a distant, yet doable option via the long Intracoastal Waterway run south to Charleston.
Walters said wood will likely be the dominant shallow cover, although the Cooper River is known to have grass and some of the other rivers have lily pads.
“In some of the rivers, the fish can really tuck into the wood and get away from you,” he said. “And some fish will be on more accessible pieces of wood.”
Walters said he expects pitching and flipping tactics to be more common in Winyah Bay and its main rivers, while reaction baits such as spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, square bill crankbaits and bladed jigs will likely be popular in the Cooper. It’s unlikely that a single bait will consistently produce throughout this diverse and expansive estuary, but diligence and attention will reveal the sustainable patterns.
“Each river is going to have its own bite going on,” Walters said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out which river you want to fish and what the bite is at that time.
“Geography, habitat and probably temperature will determine a lot of that. A lot of the rivers have just recently become stable, while some have been stable for a longer time. That makes a big difference in where the fish will spawn.”
When the Elite Series last visited Winyah Bay in 2016, it took a four-day total of 56 pounds, 3 ounces to win and 43-9 to make the Top 10 cut. Walters said he’s expecting a more generous Winyah Bay this year.
“I’d say to win it’s going to take 16 to 17 pounds a day and 13 to 14 a day to make the Top 10,” he said. “A 6-to 7-pounder is considered a good one here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone caught an 8.
“I think we’ll see a 20-pound bag, but it’s going to be a matter of holding on. The thing about tidal fisheries is that they change every day and the key is being able to adapt every day to these changes.”
The full field will fish the first two days before cutting to the Top 35 for the semifinal round on Saturday. Only the Top 10 will advance to Championship Sunday.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Elite Expo will be held at Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex, giving fans a chance to enjoy demo rides with Nitro, Skeeter and Triton boats, prize giveaways from Toyota and Academy Sports + Outdoors, the Berkley/Abu Garcia Experience trailer, kids activities and more.
Fans will be able to meet the Elite Series pros from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at Angler Alley, with chances for autographs and photos. The pros will also conducts seminars on tackle and techniques.
On Sunday from 1-3:30 p.m., the Bassmaster LIVE Watch Party will give fans a chance to watch the tournament action as it unfolds — and they could get a chance to be a part of the show.
The Winyah Bay Heritage Festival will be held in conjunction with the tournament, featuring the South Carolina Duck Calling Championships, retriever trials and free concerts by Collin Raye from 6-9 p.m. Friday and Jason Michael Carroll from 6-9 p.m. Saturday. Both concerts will be held at Francis Marion Park.