ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — When fishing a bass tournament on Lake Martin, anglers often use one of two strategies.
They’ll either target the lake’s massive population of spotted bass — which are smaller, but easier to catch — or they’ll take their chances with Martin’s finicky largemouth bass.
Caiden Sinclair and Hunter Gibson went with the latter strategy Thursday, and it paid off in a big way.
The team from the University of Alabama brought five largemouth to the scales that weighed 12 pounds, 14 ounces and took the lead in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops. The University of South Carolina team of Brian Sweeney and Robert White are in second with 12-4, and Andrew Himmelreich and Justin Henderson of Young Harris College are in third with 12-2.
“When we used to fish Lake Martin from the banks as kids with a worm, we always caught largemouth,” Sinclair said. “We really don’t know how to catch spots, but we have a lot of confidence coming here that we we’re going to catch largemouth.
“We know how to catch them and where to catch them here.”
Sinclair and Gibson found some good shallow areas during practice Wednesday, and their hard work paid off early Thursday morning. They caught a 3-pound largemouth right after take-off. Then from there, they said they caught fish every 20 to 30 minutes for much of the day.
Though they enjoyed success, not everything worked perfectly.
Around 11 a.m., they realized they had lost their landing net. “We think it must have just fallen into the water,” Sinclair said.
They managed to land a 3 1/2-pounder without the net, but the mistake ended up costing them in a big way.
“My buddy hooked a 5-pound largemouth,” Sinclair said. “I went to grab it and couldn’t get a hold of it.
“The smallest fish we weighed in was a 1 1/2-pounder. So that 5-pounder would have given us another 3 1/2 pounds. It’s kind of a sick feeling knowing we could have weighed in 16 pounds if it hadn’t been for that.”
The fish that Sinclair and Gibson managed to land gave them only a 10-ounce lead over Sweeney and White — two South Carolina anglers who had never even seen Lake Martin before Wednesday’s final practice day.
For two anglers with virtually no experience on the lake, they got off to a fast start.
“We started off on a spot that we knew had a bunch of fish, and caught a limit really fast,” White
said. “We had a double on the first cast, and we had our fifth fish in the boat at 7:25.”
White said those first five bass probably didn’t weigh much more than 6 pounds. But having a limit in the boat early on foreign waters gave the Gamecocks team the peace of mind to slow down and target bigger fish.
“We wanted to start with something we felt comfortable with,” White said. “After that, we found a little spot with a couple of largemouth on it and upgraded some. Then we did a lot of running and couldn’t get another bite for the longest time.”
Then just as they were headed back to the ramp, they struck gold.
“We caught two good fish right at the end,” White said. “My partner caught a 5-3 on the last cast. That was our biggest fish of the day, right before we came in.”
Weather conditions were tough on Lake Martin today with temperatures in the high 40s and a blustery wind that blew relentlessly throughout the day. Those conditions were reflected in the standings with only 30 or 214 teams bringing in catches of bass weighing 10 pounds or more.
Things could be even worse Friday with Thursday’s overnight temperatures expected to drop into the high 20s.
Friday’s take-off is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. CT from Wind Creek State Park, and the weigh-in will be held back at the park at 2:30 p.m. The field will be trimmed to the top 25 teams for Saturday, with the championship weigh-in scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Central Alabama Community College.