Day 1: Shallow Observations & Deep Thinking

Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi was on fire right off the bat. He landed a kicker early and filled his limit all off of one spot.

Shallow or deep? That was the No. 1 question posed by pros and pundits alike going into the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray, and after one day of competition, weigh-in results and observation suggest that the answer might to be “both.”

Shallow and deep patterns played a part in top bags from day one, and at this point it would be difficult to say which fish will be the key to victory.

After spending the first day of competition on Lake Murray, riding the lake, searching out competitors and watching them fish, I saw roughly an even split of anglers using shallow and deep approaches.

What I didn’t see was anyone fishing in-between stuff, and the approaches were as polarized as the water depths.

Guys working deep set up on classic offshore structure – long points and sunken islands – all with substantially deeper water quite near and probably with the fish relating to herring. They fished methodically and moved very little, working topwater over a specific sweet spot, switching to subsurface baits ranging from swimbaits to jigs, and picking up spinning gear to fish drop-shots and shaky heads.

Guys working shallow stayed seriously shallow, with most working flatter banks in the back ends of pockets, casting to shoreline grass and riprap, and firing well under docks with buzzbaits, poppers and frogs.

All who I watched moved quickly, never repeating a cast to a spot. Some stayed a short cast off the bank and angled their presentations slightly forward. Others worked extremely tight, casting parallel to the bank and keeping the offering in very shallow water all the time.

Neither approach yielded blistering action while I was watching, but both proved that they could produce bass.

It’s worth noting that anglers aren’t necessarily devoted to shallow or deep for this tournament. In fact, the answer to the "shallow or deep" question really might be “both” because some of the top performers, including day-one leader David Dudley, mixed shallow and deep approaches.

“You can follow me if you want to,” Dudley said on stage, “but I have no idea where the next bite is coming.”

Scott Martin told me after practice that he had been catching fish shallow and deep (but not huge numbers of either), and that he really didn’t know what to expect. He’d had to mix it up a lot, and he planned to start the first morning with the same 14 rods on his deck that he had on his deck at the beginning of practice.

I watched Martin work a couple of different offshore structures with deep water around them and thought he might have settled on the deep approach. About the time I started thinking that, he pulled up the trolling motor, fired up the big motor and ran well up a creek, only to pull a bass off a dock.

My other discovery today was that Lake Murray can hide some anglers. My boat driver and I were on the water for nearly eight hours and covered water far up the lake from the takeoff site, which is near the lake’s midpoint, down almost to the dam, including major creeks on both sides. We only found a dozen or so competitors.

Word is that not many fishermen went well up the river, so we must have passed the bulk of them. The lake just has so many pockets and fingers where fishermen can disappear.

I also saw a fair number of rooster tails from boats running from one spot to another, especially after midmorning, which suggests that a whole of searching was going on.

I’ll be back out on Lake Murray all day Friday, along with another half-dozen or so media members whose job is to share with the world as much of the action as we can capture. Stay tuned to FLWOutdoors.com and ForrestWoodCup.com for updates all day long.

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