COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two weeks ago, when the Bassmaster Elite Series pros were at nearby Clarks Hill Lake, the concensus was that this week's tournament at Lake Murray would feature some outstanding bass fishing. The bass weren't quite in the full post-spawn mode at Clarks Hill, but they probably would be two weeks later at Lake Murray.
The Carolina Clash presented by Evans Williams Bourbon begins Thursday on Lake Murry and at least in practice, the Elite Series pros haven't seen what they thought they'd find here.
"It just doesn't seem like these fish have gotten into that full feeding mode," said Mike McClelland, the Bella Vista, Ark., angler, who is second in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points after five tournaments this season. "It's so random."
That could change during the course of this four-day event, which will be based at the Lake Murray Marina & Yacht Club, the site of the daily 6:30 a.m. take-offs and 3 p.m. weigh-ins. A cold front moved through the area Sunday night. Rain and overcast skies are predicted for most of this week, but the temperatures are expected to stay warm, with daily highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s.
"We had that little weather system Sunday night that kind of buggered it up for the first day of practice," said Mark Davis of Mt. Ida, Ark., who is ninth in AOY points. "(Tuesday) it got better. (Wednesday) it got better. It should just keep getting better. But I think that weather might have knocked it off just a little bit."
Davis thinks there will be some 20-pound-plus five-bass limits weighed each day. But he also predicts a 17-pound-per-day average will put you near the top of the leaderboard this week.
The 50,000-acre lake was formed in 1930 by what was then the largest earthen dam in the world. Unlike Clarks Hill Lake, which was about eight feet below its normal power pool, Lake Murray is about eight feet above normal. There is lots of flooded vegetation along the banks.
"This lake being high gives you a lot of different options," Davis said. "There are going to be fish caught in the gator vines up in the (Saluda) river, and in the willow trees in the river. There's the (blueback) herring-related fish. There are fish relating to boat docks. There are a lot of fish guarding fry.
"I don't know which one will shake out and be the best. But I'm going to say that the topwater bite might be the big-weight deal."
There was a strong topwater bite at Clarks Hill two weeks ago. Murray is known for having, year-in and year-out, a consistent topwater bass pattern.
That's exactly what Chris Lane found during practice this week.
"I'm seeing a great topwater bite," said the Lakeland, Fla., resident. "I flipped a lot, and I didn't see a great flipping bite. I'd rather flip. I could be wrong. Some of these guys may have figured out how to catch them flipping."
McClelland wasn't one of them.
"I don't see them related to bushes at all," he said. "That's what's so strange."
Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., had success in South Carolina back in February when he finished second to Alton Jones in the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell. Like Davis, Pace thinks there will be bass caught many different ways this week on Lake Murray.
"There's a lot of fish doing a lot of different things," he said. "There are still fish shallow. There are fish chasing bait. There are fish guarding fry. You really can do about anything you want to. It's just a matter of which pattern is going to produce for the longest period of time.
"I think that's going to depend on the weather. With the rain and overcast skies we're supposed to have, I think moving baits will dominate."
That's "moving baits" as in topwater and reaction-type lures.
That picture of how bass can be caught on Lake Murray will begin to clear with Thursday's Day One weigh-in.