BAINBRIDGE, GA.—Although Lake Seminole teems with heavyweight largemouth bass, there were dour predictions from the anglers who are competing here this week in the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #3 presented by Allstate.
It’s all about timing, and October is generally not a good time to catch a lot of bass at Lake Seminole.
About 15 pros piloted aluminum boats Thursday so they could run far up the Flint River and navigate rocky shoals to fish for shoal bass.
Feisty shoal bass do not grow nearly as big as Seminole’s largemouth bass, but they are more willing to bite a lure, especially in October. All the leaders in this tournament caught largemouth bass.
Local favorite Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla., claims that the bass are currently scattered throughout Seminole’s abundant aquatic vegetation. You can catch a huge bass on any given cast, but you must stay on the move to find another bass that’s willing to bite.
Tharp weighed a 17-pound, 8-ounce, five-bass limit Thursday, which has him in fourth place. Because Tharp failed to qualify for the 2016 Bassmaster Classic via the Bassmaster Elite Series, he must win here to secure a Classic berth.
On Thursday, the first competition day, the fish did prove stingy for most of the 166 pros and 166 co-anglers. Many of the pros failed to catch a limit, and 26 of them did not even catch a keeper. Bass were even harder to come by for the co-anglers, as 75 of them failed to weigh in a bass.
The tough fishing made leader Bobby Lane’s five-bass limit - weighing 20-6 - even more impressive. The Lakeland, Fla., angler claims he practiced only one day on Seminole.
“This place sets up good for a flipper,” Lane said. “I caught 15 to 20 bass today, and I have them all to myself.”
Lane is known for his ability to dig bass out of thick grass with a long, stout flippin’ rod.
Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., is close behind Lane in second place with a limit weighing 19-14. McMillan was leading the points standings for the Bassmaster Southern Opens coming into this tournament. He believes Thursday’s heavy limit will keep him high enough in the standings to qualify for an Bassmaster Elite Series invite for 2016.
The top five finishers in each of the three Bassmaster Open divisions qualify for an invitation to fish the Elite Series. Should McMillan win this tournament, it will help to finance his Elite Series dream.
Elite Series pro Kelley Jaye is in third place with 18-4.
“I fished one bait in three different areas all day,” Jaye said.
“I don’t have a lot of company because I’m fishing offshore.”
Marty Spears of Tallahassee, Fla., sits atop the co-anglers with a three-bass co-angler limit of 10-11.
The anglers who are leading after Thursday’s weigh-in are wisely keeping quiet about where they are fishing and the lures and techniques that are working for them. They don’t want to show their hand to their competitors.
However, it is likely that most of the bigger bass weighed in Thursday were caught with a tactic called “punching.” The lure is a soft plastic crawdad, or some other “creature” bait, rigged Texas-style (weedless) with a large hook.
A 1- to 2-ounce tungsten bullet sinker punches the lure through dense grass mats to reach the bass lounging in open water below the mats.
Hollow weedless frogs and Texas-rigged sinking worms also saw plenty of action on Thursday.
Drew Cook of Midway, Fla., is the big bass leader on the pro side with a whopping 8-5 largemouth bass. The pro who catches the biggest bass during the tournament earns a $750 Bass Pro Shops Big Bass award.
The co-angler big bass leader is Eugene Stinson of Dry Branch, Ga. If no co-angler catches a heavier bass before the tournament ends, Stinson will pocket the $250 Bass Pro Shops Big Bass award.
Thursday’s weather was picture perfect with a morning low in the 60s and a high in the low 80s with a slight breeze to riffle the water. Friday’s forecast is more of the same.
Takeoff Friday will be from the Earle May Boat Basin at 7:30 a.m. ET. Friday’s weigh-in begins at 3:30 p.m. at the same location. The final weigh-in for the Top 12 anglers on Saturday will take place at 4:30 p.m. ET at Bass Pro Shops, 4059 Lagniappe Way, Tallahassee, FL 32317.