UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Lake Mead

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Past Cups on Murray

This August, the best of the best will compete for the most prestigious title in professional bass fishing – the Forrest Wood Cup, which will be held on Lake Murray. While the Cup has been on a variety of venues throughout the years, Lake Murray has some special Cup history to its credit.

August 11-13 will mark the third time the coveted tournament has taken place on this South Carolina fishery and though it was won a different way each time, there are some similarities that could hint at what will shake down this year.

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Last time’s nail biter

The most recent Cup on Murray took place in 2014 when Anthony Gagliardi won it by a mere ounce over Scott Canterbury – who suffered one of the most gut-wrenching fish loses FLW has ever captured on film. 

Still, Gagliardi’s win was the smallest margin of victory in the Cup and to do that in front of his home crowd filled with family and friends was a spectacle to watch.

Summertime on Murray means you can almost bank on a strong shallow bite to take place. There was no doubt that several of the top pros would take advantage of the skinny water fish, however, the X factor was going to be the schooling fish who roam the waters of Murray chasing down blueback herring.

For Gagliardi, years of experience on the waters of Lake Murray helped him en route to his first Cup. Gags spent a good portion of his time focusing on schooling fish to produce some of the most consistent limits of the event.

On days one and two he focused on shallow grass points where fish were chasing bluebacks. He also spent some time up the Saluda River during the first three days to sample some brush piles once the morning blueback bite died off, but on the final day, he put all of his effort into catching schooling bass down by the dam.

Early in the event, Gagliardi employed a 5-inch Basstrix swimbait on a 3/8-ounce Buckeye swimbait head to catch fish chasing bluebacks up on points. When he targeted deeper schoolers on the final day, either a Zoom Fluke or Yamamoto D Shad paired on a weighted 4/0 hook with 10- or 12-pound Gamma fluorocarbon did all the work. Mixed with some serious patience, it proved to be the winning combo for Murray in the August heat.

The rest of the top-10 pros employed a mix of shallow and deep tactics to catch summertime bass. Canterbury, Steve Kennedy, Jacob Wheeler, Casey Ashley, Matt Herren, Scott Martin and Bryan Thrift all employed some form of shallow pattern to catch their fish – which shouldn’t come as a huge shock. Brent Ehrler even dabbled in the shallow bite with a topwater when his schooling bite subsided.

While some of these same pros capitalized on an early-morning blueback bonanza, the majority relied on running new water everyday hitting everything from shallow bank grass to docks to laydowns.

As far as baits go, buzzbaits and soft-plastic buzz frogs saw a good bit of action, but the two paired together were the rage in 2014. The main reason for combining a Zoom Horny Toad and a buzzbait is because it casts further, comes through cover like a tank and skips like a dream – plus fish hold onto it better when they bite it – making it the perfect tool for picking apart the shallow cover on Murray in a timely fashion. Not only did the majority of the top 10 have one on the deck, many of the pros that made the top-20 cut did as well.

One interesting thing to note was Michael Wooley’s deep pattern that carried him to an eighth-place finish in his first Cup. Wooley found a milk run of deep rocks to rotate through with a Carolina rig – much like he would do back home on the Tennessee River. While his weights weren’t huge, he did manage to scrape by on fish virtually unpressured by the rest of the field. It’ll be interesting to see if that gets tapped into again this August.

 

Bass pro Michael Bennett lands one in the Forrest Wood Cup as his co-angler mans the net.

Frogfest in ‘08

While Horny Toads and buzzbaits seemed to be the major trend last time, the first Cup held on Murray was back in 2008 and it was the event that initially showcased how deadly frog baits could be on a sweltering Murray. 

At the tender age of 24, Michael Bennett won the $1 million prize in 2008 by leaning on a Snag Proof frog to produce the bulk of his winning catch.

Bennett incorporated a buzzing toad and a shaky head to a degree, but the hollow body frog was the main deal mostly because of where he was fishing it. His pattern was simple, yet very dialed. Fishing docks with gator grass intersecting the walkway providing shade was Bennett’s primary pattern. The frog allowed him to fish these tight areas without hanging up, but it also allowed him to keep the bait in the strike zone longer. He ran new water every day to the point where he basically ran out of places to fish by the final round and had to resort to smaller, isolated docks that he overlooked earlier in the event.

Of the remaining pros in the top five, Terry Bolton (third) and Chris Baumgardner (fourth) utilized some form of frog to make a run at the title. Bolton spent time up the rivers  around willow trees and grass working a Spro Bronzeye Frog to catch a good portion of his fish including a 4- and 6-pounder over the course of the tournament. Meanwhile, Baumgardner covered a lot of water around the middle of the lake with a Horny Toad for his finish. Even a few others in the top 10 threw some form of frog – including Brent Ehrler (seventh) – to outpace the majority of the field.

Frog fishing aside, the general breakdown of how this tournament played out was overwhelmingly shallow. Searching for cruising fish or “wolf packs” of bass prevailed as the hot ticket. Heck, Kevin Vida (fifth) took it a step further and basically sight-fished his way to the top five using a one-two punch. Vida would cover water with a Rebel Magnum Pop-R all while keeping his eyes peeled towards the shallows in order to spot cruising bass before they saw him. Once he spotted a bass, he’d pitch a shaky head to it in order to coax a bite.

Eliminating some of the 50,000 acres Lake Murray encompasses is no easy feat, thus why frogs (or some form of topwater) became a strong choice to efficiently work along the miles and miles of gator grass and docks that line the lake.

With the third Cup on Murray a little over a month away, both pros and fishing fans alike are anxiously waiting to see how this event will unfold. Currently, Murray has some of the best grass it has had in a while and that will surely factor into this tournament. Add in the blueback curveball and it looks like a mix of both previous Cups are likely to unfold. If history has shown us anything, it’s a safe bet that this tournament will be a battle between a fluke and frog for the $300,000 payday.

Tags: kyle-wood  pre-tournament  2017-08-11-forrest-wood-cup 

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