Without any experience on Winyah Bay or its nearby rivers to rely upon, I went into the second Elite Series tournament of the year with an open mind. I knew that all of the good fishing was going to be a long distance away, typically an hour or more, and would require crossing big water to get there. Over the years I’ve confronted many such situations, and the lessons that I’ve taken away are that you’d better be dialed into the bite and if you’re fishing multiple spots they all need to be relatively close to one another.
I spent my entire practice period in the Cooper River which is reportedly the best quality fishery. There was one area in particular that seemed to have the most appealing vegetation and not coincidentally it also produced the most bites. With a stop for fuel, it was going to take 2 hours to get there and then an hour and 45 minutes to get back, so it was critical to maximize my fishing time once I got there.
In practice I’d done the most damage with my typical Florida setup – a 7’11 extra-heavy Lew’s Custom Lite rod, a Lew’s Super Duty reel and 50 lb. Gamma Torque braid. That’s the rig you need to flip a 1 ½ ounce Reins Tungsten weight with a Missile Baby D Bomb all day. I was dialed in on a particular type of vegetation and by picking it apart I was getting 10 to 20 bites in the typical 12 hour practice day. They bit better on the slack to outgoing tide but I wasn’t going to get as much of that as I’d like.
I was committed to making the run but I didn’t know whether it would require me to refuel once or twice. Fortunately, my Phoenix/Mercury combo is extremely fuel efficient and it ended up that with only one stop to fill up I still made it back with 6 gallons to spare. I was excited to take off but on the first day of competition we had terrible weather and got delayed for an hour and 20 minutes. When you’re only going to have four hours to fish under the best conditions, that’s not good.
I had incoming water most of the day but in the last 15 minutes I had to fish the tide went slack and I caught my first keeper, lost a great big one, and then caught my second keeper. Then I had to leave to be on time to check-in. I wasn’t happy with 3 pounds 11 ounces, but given the potential of my area I knew that I could make up quite a bit of ground with a few key bites the second day.
The morning of Day Two was calm and I was able to cut 10 minutes off my run time and arrived in my grass bed at low tide, which was perfect. In the first 20 minutes of fishing I caught a keeper and a 5 pounder and with four hours to fish I felt certain I was going to bust them. It took a few hours, but eventually I filled out a limit of over 11 pounds.
In the early afternoon I hooked a 4 pounder on a Chatterbait and for reasons that I still can’t figure out it came off. It turned out that it was on a bed, but after being hooked she was spooky. I worked her for an hour and a half but could never get her to bite again. That fish would’ve put me up to 13 pounds and inside the 50 cut. Things just didn’t work out.
I suppose that if I had this one to do over again I’d organize my tackle differently. On the first day I tried to make my boat as light as possible for the long run and I took out everything but my flipping sticks and a few Chatterbaits, the only two setups I’d been fishing. On Day Two I put everything back in and tried to expand my repertoire and caught a few fish doing other things. If I’d done that on Day One, maybe I would’ve caught a third bass and gotten a chance to fish a third day. The lesson is that you have to carry anything you might need….ALWAYS.
While my Elite Series season hasn’t started off the way I wanted, there’s still a lot of time and a lot of fishing left to go. With a good event or two I can climb right back into Classic contention. My main concern is remaining focusing and fishing clean from here on out. There’s no room left for mistakes.
Next up is an event split between Bull Shoals and Norfork in Northwest Arkansas and while I don’t have a lot of experience on either of them, I feel like I know what to look for, and I’m looking forward to the tournament. After that is Toledo Bend, one of my all-time favorite lakes.
Although the season is still young, I’ve already put my equipment to the test, and my Phoenix 921XP and Mercury 250 Pro XS to the test. They’ve served me well on long runs and in rough water, and I know that I have the best tools on the market working in my favor at every tournament.
68th Place; 7 fish, 15-03