July 29, 2014 by Jeff Samsel
Tough, tough and tough – that’s the nearly universal word from pros who made trips to South Carolina’s Lake Murray to pre-practice for the Forrest Wood Cup before the lake went off limits July 28. No competitor will get to fish the lake again until the official practice begins on Aug. 10, the Sunday prior to the competition, and all seem hopeful that the bite will get at least a little bit better between now and then.
Chevy pro Bryan Thrift had only fished Lake Murray a few times prior to the Walmart FLW Tour season finale on Kentucky Lake, despite only living two hours away in Shelby, N.C. He’s since spent a handful of days on the water during the pre-practice period. While pre-practice is usually about looking and learning, and not as focused on actually fishing, Thrift admits that he’d hoped for a few more bites. His pre-practice was a grind.
“I’m talking about fishing 12- to 14-hour practice days to get three or four bites,” he says. “I’m sure some guys are getting more, but that’s about what I’m getting. I think it’s going to be hard to catch five for four days.”
Not all can be blamed on the fishery, of course. For the final week of pre-practice, pros were faced with highs in the upper 80s to mid-90s, while lows never dropped below 70 degrees. Excluding an inch or so of rain that fell in Columbia on July 21, the area has received almost no precipitation for the entire month of July.
Hot, dry, dog-day weather always makes for tough fishing.
Barry Wilson, who was at the lake when I spoke with him and who spent several days at Murray during the final week it was open, caught two or three keepers per day, on average.
“Today I had three, plus a couple of other strikes and a couple of shorts,” Wilson admits. “If you get five keepers, you’ve done something.”
Wilson talked with several fellow competitors while at Murray, including Matt Arey, David Dudley and local favorite Anthony Gagliardi, and they all reported essentially the same thing: very difficult fishing and only a few keepers per day.
But a few pros have managed to hunt down a big bite, as indicated by posts on Facebook and other social media sites. Scott Martin and Arey are among that group, with Arey showing off a 5-pound-plus kicker-sized bass via social media. Yet, it seems that getting two bites of that quality is so rare that if a pro can figure out how to accomplish it for a couple of days, he’ll probably end up near the top of the leaderboard.
“If it keeps fishing like it is, if you can get 12 pounds per day, you’ll be in the top 10 easily,” says Wilson, whose research suggests that the bite on Murray should continue to improve as the water temperature rises.
Wilson says the lower lake is clear, but not as clear as it sometimes gets at Lake Murray. The upper lake is lightly stained, and well up the rivers the water is heavily stained – pros will certainly be presented with a variety of options when official practice opens in a couple of weeks.
Randy Haynes got his first-ever look at Lake Murray last week, and he too found the pickings slim.
“It was pretty rough on me,” he reports. “I had heard that it would be tough, so I was kind of prepared, but it was really tough.”
Not surprisingly, Haynes, a Tennessee River ledge specialist, spent almost all of his pre-practice time looking offshore.
“I don’t think I can compete with these guys shallow, so I spent my time trying to figure out the blueback herring,” Haynes says.
Haynes did catch some fish while he was at Lake Murray, but he didn’t report finding anything that gives him great confidence at this point. He’s planning to stick with his strengths and stay off the bank if possible.
“When practice begins I’ll keep trying to figure out the herring and the deep-water fish,” he says. “I guess if they won’t bite, I’ll have to try flipping docks.”
The extended forecast for Lake Murray this week shows the first signs of relief from summer’s grasp. Highs in the 80s and lows in the upper 60s are forecast for the remainder of the week, while the chances of storms and precipitation hitting the region remain high beginning Friday and extending through the middle of next week.
It’s difficult to find a reliable forecast beyond the first week of August, but then, this year’s Forrest Wood Cup champ likely won’t pay any mind to what happened with the weather prior to the day the tournament begins. If past results are any indicator, this Cup will go to the pro who remains flexible and fishes day-to-day, whether he’s chasing down herring schools or junk-fishing on the bank.