August 13, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
It’s over. Finished. Done. And yet, the whole shebang is really just getting started.
Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. was the first official Forrest Wood Cup Media Day at Dreher Island State Park on the shore of Lake Murray. And while the event (complete with a Livingston Lures South Carolina barbecue) signified the start of on-site coverage for national outdoor media covering the Forrest Wood Cup, it also marked the end of the official three-day practice period for the tournament, which is presented by Walmart and hosted by Capital City/Lake Murray Country.
Not one of the 45 qualified pros or their co-angler partners can have his boat in the water or make another cast until Thursday morning, when the field takes off for day one of competition. That means there’s no more time to test patterns or check uncharted waters. There’ll be no more searching and refining.
All that’s left for anglers is final equipment preparation, registration and rules meetings, a formal dinner and reception Wednesday night, and about 30 hours of time to spend evaluating, game-planning and – for many of the pros – wondering just what they should do when the Big Show gets started. For a few, that probably means restless nights and anxious waiting. For the veterans in the crowd who know how to handle the pressure, they’ll put on a face as if this is just another tournament. But it’s not. It’s the Forrest Wood Cup. And Sunday evening someone is going to walk away with all that hardware as a bass fishing legend – and he’ll be $500,000 richer.
Here are a few of the story lines that surfaced at Media Day.
1. Tough, but not as tough as expected – Some pros are singing the blues, but there are also apparently a lot of sandbaggers. Now that practice has ended, it appears that the bite has been strong for about half the field. Limits in the upper teens have been caught – or at least found – and several pros feel confident they can catch that much every day.
2. Conditional changes and herring – Early reports were that junk-fishing would dominate this event, and to some extent it will. However, Murray’s blueback herring population will have a major influence on the outcome. They live in the deep lower end and attract the lake’s biggest fish, but they’re vagabonds. They move daily, and even slight changes in sunlight and wind can trigger a move or require a bait change. The winning pro will likely not do the same thing all four days.
3. The river – An influx of rain over the last week has muddied the Saluda River and Little Saluda River tributaries. It’s also brought on a little current that has several pros leaning toward making the river run.
4. Morning key – Almost everyone agreed that the morning bite will be critical in this tournament. Midday fishing has been tough. Then, if someone is on a midday pattern, that someone could be setting himself up for a big win.
5. Run-and-gun is in – Finally, it feels like the shallow, shoreline, run-and-gun bite is still working, but the results are inconsistent. Flipping jigs and tossing topwaters could produce a 15-pound bag one day and a 9-pound bag the next.
The Pros Weigh In
To give you a better idea of what pros faced this week during practice for the Cup, we tracked down a handful of them at Media Day and asked them to weigh-in on their prospects. Here’s what they had to say.
Matt Stefan – I’m optimistic. I spent two days here in pre-practice, and I had one good day and one bad day. I’m getting bit a lot of different places. I’m kind of getting bit all over. It’s a solid pattern, but I just have to find the right thing. They (quality bass) are there. It’s just a matter of someone figuring out how to catch them.
Jacob Wheeler – It (Lake Murray) hasn’t changed since pre-practice. It’s going to be a grind. This time of year you have to throw a topwater all day to get a bite.
James Biggs – It (official practice) wasn’t as good as pre-practice. But that’s to be expected. I really thought I had found 17 to 18 pounds (in pre-practice). These fish just move so much. I don’t know where they are to be honest. I figured out how to catch some fish though. It’s been great so far, representing The Bass Federation (Biggs is the national champion). There’s a bunch of fishing heroes here. This is my first Cup, and a lot of these guys expect to make it each year. It’s fun to face off with the best.
Barry Wilson – It’s been pretty good. I have a window of opportunity. By 9 a.m. I had 10 keepers today, and my best five would have gone 16 or 17 pounds. The first day I had about the same, but yesterday was tougher. It’s that window. If I can hit that, I’m going to make a long run and have the opportunity to get one or two more bites, and if I can they’ll be quality bites.
Randall Tharp – I didn’t fish much in practice. Practice doesn’t pay. I’m just going to wait and try to catch them in the tournament.
Scott Martin – Honestly, I could do really bad, or I could do really well. The good thing for me is I had one difference-maker bite each day.
Shad Schenck – It was slow, but it got better every day. If it’s cloudy, I’m going to fish shallow. If it’s sunny, I’m going to fish deep. And if it’s sunny and I’m not catching them deep, then I’m still going to go shallow.
Brett Hite – It’s been tough, but I’ve been catching a few good ones every day. And somebody’s going to win $500,000; that’s for sure.
Charlie Ingram – It was slow for me. I can catch a few fish on topwater, but it’s not as easy as I expected. I had a game plan before I left home, but I had to abandon that a little. There’s not as much grass as the last time the Cup was here, and it’s really risky to follow the blueback herring because they move around so much.
Matt Herren – My practice was not real good. It’s a grind. I expected it to be a little better. I’m just going to go fishing in this tournament. I’m going to swing for the fences because how many times do you get to fish for half a million dollars?
Austin Felix – It’s better than everybody is saying it is. I think there will be a lot more limits than everybody is saying there will be.
Mark Rose – Like everybody else has said, it’s a typical midsummer tournament. It’s tough. Murray is a great lake, but anywhere in mid-August with the hot water we have here is tough. I feel very open-minded. I’m not locked in to any one thing.
Marcus Sykora – I would say it was really good or really bad. There’s no in between. It’s feast or famine. But when it’s good, it’s really good. Representing the BFL (Walmart Bass Fishing League; Sykora is the All-American champion) is something I’m really proud of, and I’m using it as a sheer motivational force. The things that are my motivating factors are my family and the BFL nation, and all my friends back home. I have a lot of people pulling for me, and the last thing I want to do is let them down by not leaving everything on the table.