Elite Series: Thurmond Lake

CELEBRATION, Fla. — The CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, with its winning formula of combining the nation's best anglers with the best lakes at just the right times of year, has produced big bass, big results and big excitement in its first four stops in 2006.

 Next week, the Series continues its pace when it visits Thurmond Lake at Clarks Hill for the Pride of Augusta presented by Lowrance in Columbia County, Ga., on May 4-7.

 "It's going to be really good, just like all of the tournaments we've had this year," said Davy Hite, the 1999 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion from South Carolina. "BASS has the schedule really right with great lakes at great times. It's unbelievable how good the fishing's been so far."

 BASS brought big-time tournament fishing back to Thurmond Lake last year for the first time since 1975 and reminded the fishing world of just what a fabulous largemouth fishery exists in the 71,535-acre impoundment officially christened the Strom Thurmond Reservoir.

 Located about 22 miles north of Augusta, the 39-mile-long impoundment has turned into a quality bass lake after - as legend has it - well-meaning anglers introduced a saltwater forage fish called blueback herring into the Savannah River system.

 The herring was first found in Thurmond Lake in 1982 but their population has boomed to an estimated four to six million. Combined with threadfin shad, bass and other game fish have a plentiful chain of food on which to feast.

 When BASS visited last year in March, California's Mike Reynolds was the big winner with 52 pounds, 11 ounces. Jimmy Mize of Arkansas (52-6) and Terry Butcher of Oklahoma (50-0) also topped the 50-pound mark.

 Ray Sedgwick, another Elite Series competitor from South Carolina, says the fishing is typically even better in early May.

 "The shad and blueback herring will be up shallow spawning and the bass will be chasing them all over the place," Sedgwick said. "That's the ticket to some of the best topwater fishing of the year."

 Both Sedgwick and Hite predict that the winner will need to boat at least 60 pounds over four days. That would be an impressive 3-pound-per-fish average for a

daily limit of five bass.

 Unlike the early tournaments in the Elite Series season, neither pro expects spawning bass to dominate the locations or angler strategies.

 "I think it will be both topwater and cranking for post-spawn fish and some sight-fishing," Hite said. "There will be some sight-fishing for spawners, but there will be a lot of topwater fishing for post-spawn."

 Sedgwick agreed. "The topwater fishing is going to be great. The bass will really be ganging up on those blueback herring on the points and in the coves.

 At stake is a $100,000 top prize and valuable points toward the 2007 Bassmaster Classic.

 Daily weigh-ins will begin at 3 p.m. ET at Wildwood Park, 6212 Holloway Road in Appling. Coverage of the event will air on The CITGO Bassmasters on ESPN2 on Saturday, May 13 at 10 a.m. ET.

 Local sponsors include the Greater Augusta Sports Council and Columbia County, Georgia.

 Also, in connection with the tournament, Advance Auto Parts, 4483 Columbia Road, in Martinez will hold an Elite Series pro night and CastingKids expo on Saturday, May 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. Elite Series angler John Crews of Virgina will be on available for autographs.