Fantasy Fishing: Surviving Winyah Bay

Double-header fishing derbies fully illustrate exactly what it means to “grind it out” in the fishing world. Now take the second half of a back-to-back and move it to a stingy tidal fishery like Winyah Bay, and you’ll end up with some strung-out, tired and frustrated anglers.

Not everybody will struggle, mind you. Someone will figure out how to catch them — they always do. But for some, surviving the 2019 Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay is the goal.

To keep the Bassmaster Elite Series interesting, each year the tour usually features a tough fishery, and Winyah Bay is that on the 2019 schedule. There are plenty of bass to catch, but big fish will likely require a long, risky run up the Cooper or Santee rivers.

So the question becomes: Avoid the risk and remain near Winyah Bay proper hoping to scratch out 10 to 12 pounds per day? Or go for it all and make a near 2-hour run (one way) for the alleged promised land of eastern South Carolina’s bass fishery?

The event will most likely be won up the Cooper River again this time around — Britt Myers did it in 2017. But for the anglers looking to leave Winyah Bay with their season still intact and adding a few valuable Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points to their docket, playing it safe and catching what can be caught will likely be the best option.

Regardless, the Winyah Bay region is breathtakingly beautiful, full of countless species of wildlife, impressive scenery and expansive stretches of water that is home to healthy populations of largemouth bass. This event will show the guts of a lot of pros, and likely include some heartbreak. But rest assured, it’s going to be interesting … and fun.

In making your selections this time around, consider both types of anglers: The one willing to risk it all for the win, and the one willing to take the conservative approach to salvage AOY points.

Let’s dig in:

BUCKET A: ZALDAIN

Chris Zaldain finished in 10th place with 43 pounds, 9 ounces the last time the Elites visited Winyah Bay. He cut is bass-fishing teeth learning how to effectively run tidal fisheries in his home state of California. I feel that not only is Zaldain due to win, but this one sets up perfectly for his fishing prowess. If he doesn't win, he’ll leave South Carolina happy.

Dark Horse: Patrick Walters is no dark horse, in fact he’s a very solid selection in this bucket to win it all, but I steered away from him due to dominating ownership. I’d say look at Seth Feider, who has a knack for grinding out tough bass. If not Feider, I’d consider Drew Cook or Hank Cherry.

BUCKET B: MENENDEZ

This has Mark Menendez written all over it. There is a good chance that flipping to spawning and postspawn bass will occur, and not many are better than Menendez himself. He made the Top-12 cut in 2017, and coming off of an outstanding Top 10 at Hartwell, I expect good things from the Paducah, Ky., pro.

Dark Horse: If Menendez is not your flavor, go with Bill Lowen or John Crews. Both are experienced and accomplished at a fishery like Winyah Bay, and both are long overdue for a big win.

BUCKET C: COMBS

Texas pro Keith Combs managed a solid sixth-place finish in 2017, and I forecast nothing different this time around — except a better finish perhaps. This type of fishing is right in his wheelhouse, and he did it last time by playing it safe and not making the run to the Cooper River. Maybe the event could be won nearby the main launch this year. Maybe Combs will be the one to do it. We’ll see, but Combs is a safe bet regardless.

Dark Horse: I like Hunter Shryock here too. There’s no question he belongs in the big leagues, but he’s yet to prove that to himself. I believe dominating a tough event like Winyah Bay will not only prove that point, but give him the confidence to keep proving it. If not Combs in Bucket C, go with Shryock.

BUCKET D: PRINCE

This is a tough bucket. At this point in the season, the AOY race is starting to become defined. Sure, there’s plenty of time for a lot to happen that can move guys up and down the standings, but you can begin to see who is struggling in Buckets D and E. Cliff Prince might be struggling a little this year, but he has a tremendous amount of experience, and on a fishery like this I can see him putting some valuable AOY points back under his name to make up a little ground. He’s a risky call, but he’s more than capable — plus he finished in 38th last time and pulled a check.

Dark Horse: Steve Kennedy or Rick Clunn both have my attention here too. In fact, Kennedy has been far too quiet for some time now, and is long overdue for another victory. He’s beyond capable and experience will be key to a good finish at Winyah — Same for Clunn. Another win for him this year would be beyond historic.

BUCKET E: HUDNALL

Life is not always good in Bucket E. These are the guys that need a turn-around quickly, or their prospects at a Classic berth will fade quickly. In looking at this bucket, I see names that don’t belong, and Hudnall is one. He was forced to post a zero at Hartwell due to a well-documented rule infraction. That makes him hungry to dig himself out of the hole he’s in. Plus, he’s a Louisiana native, he’s more than used to plying dirty, dark waters for lurking bass. I think Winyah is not only the perfect time for the rookie to turn his season around, but the fishery also plays to his skill set.

Dark Horse: Carl Jocumsen is not having a great year, and he knows it. Always the positive one, he’s looking for revenge on Winyah Bay. I’d be confident in saying Jocumsen will take the gamble and run up the Cooper again, where he led Day 1 with nearly 20 pounds. In 2017 someone pirated his fishing hole, which eventually derailed Jocumsen’s game plan. Not likely to be the case this time around.