GEORGETOWN, S.C. — Forgoing a long run to the presumed big-bass “promised land” of the Cooper River, South Carolina’s Jason Williamson remained close to the takeoff site and found the right bites to amass a five-bass limit of 15 pounds, 11 ounces which leads Day 1 of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay.
While over half the field committed to a hour-plus run south along the Intracoastal Waterway, through Charleston Harbor and into the Cooper River and surrounding waterways, Williamson stayed in the Waccamaw River and played his time-management strategy to perfection. Essential to his plan was a thorough and persistent approach.
“A lot of guys are running the bank and flipping. You have some fish that are spawning supershallow. You have some postspawners that are done. And you have some that haven’t spawned yet,” Williamson said. “What I’m doing is trying to get the best of all three worlds in one area.
“I’m fishing shallow, I’m backing out and fishing deeper and I’m doing some midrange stuff too. A lot of guys are buzzing through an area, catching what’s aggressive and then going. I caught what was aggressive, then I backed out and got a few more bites. Adjusting throughout the day was key for me today.”
Williamson threw a mix of flipping baits, topwaters and finesse baits. The right area, he said, was one with greater depth than surrounding backwater spots. This allows the fish comfortable postspawn habitat, which keeps them in the area longer.
“Some of these backwaters have 12 to 15 feet of depth, and those fish move up and down with the tide; they adjust throughout the day,” Williamson said. “I was able to move with them in one area.”
The area Williamson fished had a mix of lily pads, docks, wood and some rock. This diversity ensured significant forage to hold quality fish.
Williamson’s catch included a 6-10 largemouth that leads the $1,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award competition. BASSTrakk had reflected a 5-pounder on his catch record, but Williamson admits the thrill of the moment caused him to underestimate.
“I caught her this morning pretty early and I was so excited I put her in the livewell and didn’t really realize she was that big,” Williamson said. “I thought she was 5- to 5 1/2 pounds, so it was a pleasant surprise.
“You look at the weights here through history and you think ‘I don’t know if it’s possible to catch that kind of weight fishing where I’m fishing. But after today, I have a lot more confidence that there are some bigger fish that live here than I thought.”
In second place, Hunter Shryock also stayed local, committing his day to the Santee River and securing a limit that weighed 15-8. He caught his bass by flipping a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss around cypress trees.
The problem he faced was recent releases from Santee Cooper Lakes pushed a tremendous amount of water into the river and raised the level about 3 feet since his last day of practice. This eliminated many of his spots, but he was able to dial in one viable area.
“The good thing about this one area is that the higher water has the fish penned into one spot where I can reach them,” Shryock said. “If the water gets much higher, it will push them too far into the (shoreline cover), and I won’t be able to reach them. I might end up running to the Cooper River tomorrow.”
In third place, Luke Palmer made the run to the Cooper River and returned with a limit that weighed 14-2. Palmer is using an undisclosed mix of reaction baits and slower presentations. For him, the day’s stiff east wind created a challenge for his preferred game plan.
“I wish the tide would have gone out a little more than it did,” he said. “I really like for the tide to come on out and get down that drain so I can pinpoint them a lot easier. I’m staying in drains with hydrilla, and that’s the difference.”
Rounding out the Top 5 are Indiana pro Bill Lowen with 13-4 and Alabamian Clent Davis with 12-14.
The tournament will resume Friday with takeoff at 7 a.m. ET from Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex. Weigh-in will be held at the same location at 3:15 p.m.
Only the Top 35 anglers will advance after Friday’s second round.