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Elite and Bass Pro Tour: Lake Murray Breakdown

The comeback kids of the Mossy Oak Fishing Team put on major displays not only of fishing prowess, but also of perseverance, as the famous fishery near Columbia, South Carolina hosted both the Bass Pro Tour and the Bassmaster Elite Series in April. In the former event, 2019 Bassmaster Classic winner Ott DeFoe made a final day surge to move up from 10th place to the runner-up position, narrowly missing out on the win. Just about two weeks later, Elite pro Drew Benton likewise found himself in 10th heading into the final round of competition, but weighed in a tournament =-best 26 pounds 7 ounces to claim his second career Bassmaster win.

All of the pros showed off this fishery’s incredible wealth of healthy 3- and 4-pound bass, perhaps more than live in any other similar body of water. The bass were in some cases keyed in on spawning blueback herring, and in other cases on spawning shad, but DeFoe and Benton both sight-fished to their superlative finishes. DeFoe used a Wacky-Rigged stick worm and a Texas Rigged straight tail worm, while Benton’s primary bait was a watermelon red/green pumpkin laminate creature bait pitched on heavy fluorocarbon. They kept their eyes on the prize and showed that they’re two of the best in the world year-round, but especially when the bass move super-shallow.

Brandon Lester holds up a big bass

Mossy Oak Pro Angler Brandon Lester holds up a nice bass.

Mossy Oak Fishery Breakdown

Host: Columbia, South Carolina

Launch Site: Dreher Island State Park

Fishery Description: The 50,000 acre Lake Murray may be the best tournament bass fishery close to a major city in the United States. It was formed by impounding the Saluda River in 1920, and while the fishery has had its ups and downs, mostly related to changing amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation, right now it is clearly riding a wave of excellence.

Bass Species Present: While there are a few spotted bass in the lake, all or nearly all of the bass weighed in were largemouths. For reasons described below, however, they don’t always behave like the typical ambush-oriented largemouths typically found in other reservoirs.

Forage Species: While bass in Lake Murray feed on shad and crawfish and bluegills, the driving force behind the lake’s incredible resurgence has been the introduction of blueback herring, which has turned the populous largemouths into nomadic and gluttonous roamers. The Elite Series tournament, in particular, coincided with the herring spawn. They get up on shallow clay points and on “blow through” areas with hard bottoms for the reproductive ritual and the bass line up at the trough. Some anglers saw the prey and gamefish on forward-facing sonar, while others waited for the action to occur visibly before they made their casts.

Weather: The Elite Series tournament was mostly sunny and clear, but on some days the water was dead flat, and on others there was wind. Some anglers said they preferred one extreme or the other, but the catches were exceptional across the full range of conditions.

How to Fish Lake Murray in April and May

Lake Murray’s expansive flats were a sight fisherman’s dream come true in April, but throughout May that bite will generally disappear. There may be vestiges of it left, but most of the biggest bass will have spawned. Fortunately, the food chain keeps on chugging along. There are roughly simultaneous herring spawns and shad spawns which keep the fish shallow, active and feeding. They tend to be most active in the early morning hours, but rain or overcast conditions can keep it going longer, or even all day. These bass are conditioned to chase fast-moving lures during those periods, including topwaters like pencil poppers and plopper-style baits. They also like flukes skipped wildly across the surface. When the shad or herring are not moving, and the bass suspend nearly, a shakey head with a green pumpkin straight tailed worm can be an awesome tool for convincing them it’s dinner time.

Greg Hackney holds up two bass

Mossy Oak Pro Angler Greg Hackney holds up two bass from the Lake Murray tournament.

Top Mossy Oak Performers

The Mossy Oak Fishing team had six competitors in the Elite Series event on Lake Murray. Two finished in the top ten, and five of the six finished in the top twenty. Specifically, their results were as follows:

· Drew Benton – 1st

· Brandon Cobb – 6th

· Lee Livesay – 13th

· Greg Hackney – 16th

· Brandon Lester – 19th

  • Gerald Swindle – 75th

Angler of the Year

Those exemplary finishes in South Carolina (with another South Carolina tournament following right on its heels) helped the Mossy Oak Fishing Team in their year-long quest to make the 2024 Bassmaster Classic and also possibly to contend for the Angler of the Year title.

Specifically, Brandon Cobb moved into first place overall, thereby matching DeFoe’s current position on the Bass Pro Tour.

Meanwhile, Greg Hackney (8th) and Lee Livesay (9th) remain in the top 10, while Drew Benton (17th) and Gerald Swindle (31st) are both inside the Classic cut and Brandon Lester is likely just a couple of spots out as we move into the main section of the season, when he often does his best work.

What They’ve Been Wearing

For sight fishing, it plays to blend into the sky and the background, so many of our anglers have been wearing light green or light blue patterns of our Hydroplex all-natural cooling technology like Seafoam, Nautical and Iced Aqua. Benton relied heavily on shorts made by Huk – an important Mossy Oak partner – to remain comfortable and fluid as he went through the gyrations involved in tempting finicky bedding bass. Continue to wear these clothes as the summer arrives and progresses – they’ll keep you comfortable and protected, and on the clearest days in the clearest water the bass won’t see you coming.

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