It's a tight fight

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It’s a tight tournament on Lake Murray, and Elite anglers say the waning blueback herring spawn and Friday’s sunny conditions are the reason for the lack of separation on the leaderboard.

After Day Two of the Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash, less than 4 pounds separate leader Fred Roumbanis and fifth-place angler Rick Clunn. Jami Fralick, the Day One leader who fell to 10th place Friday, only needs to make up a little more than 4 pounds to catch up to Roumbanis.

“In any tournament, but this one especially, one big fish can carry you a long way,” said Casey Ashley, who sits in second place with 30-1, trailing Roumbanis by half a pound. “The only thing that separated me from some of the others was a couple of quality bites. That’s what you’ve got to contend with here.”

Ashley, who hails from nearby Donalds, S.C., blamed the lack of big bites on the timing of the blueback herring spawn. Herring are an abundant prey fish in Lake Murray, and during the species’ late spring spawn, largemouth bass feed heavily on them. It creates exceptional topwater fishing, especially in the early part of the day.

But there’s one problem this week on Lake Murray.

“Everything’s about the herring spawn, and we’re at the tail end of it,” Ashley said. “The herring are up in the morning, and when they leave, the bass leave. And it’s just real hard to get the bass to bite. The fish are very educated. Everybody’s been fishing for them. They’ve seen it all.”

Davy Hite, who calls Lake Murray his home water, echoed Ashley’s assessment.

“The blueback thing is kind of fading away,” said Hite, who holds down third place with 29-7. “These fish are hook-shy. They’re real cautious when they bite. You don’t get that many opportunities for good, quality fish.”

Sunny conditions and rapidly rising water temperatures didn’t help Friday. After a mix of sun and clouds on Day One, bright blue skies and calm winds reigned over Day Two.

“It was slick, sunny and hot,” Ashley said. “The water temperature is warming up a bunch. Usually you need some sun and wind, but with the water warming up so much, we could use some clouds to keep it from getting so hot so fast.”

That puts a premium on the first part of the day. Anglers have to capitalize on the diminishing herring pattern within the first hour of the day.

“Then you have to figure out what they do after they feed in the morning,” Roumbanis said.

Despite catching 18-4, the tournament’s heaviest stringer yet, Roumbanis struggled early, too.

“I was real slow to start,” he said. “I caught several striped bass but no largemouth for about an hour. It was one of those mornings.”

Though Roumbanis holds the lead, the buzz behind the scenes focuses on Hite. He’s intimately familiar with Lake Murray, and he’s been consistently catching fish over the first two days.

Hite isn’t shirking the favorite’s role or downplaying his local knowledge.

“With the blueback spawn fading, I think that’ll be good for me,” Hite said. “I know a lot of places on this lake that I haven’t even thought about fishing yet. When you have a lot of knowledge of a place, it can actually hurt you because you don’t fish patterns, you fish memories. But I think I’ve done a good job this week.”

Hite said he’ll be “swinging for the fences in a serious way the next couple of days.

“I have a couple of places that are either home run or none,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

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