Editor’s Note: The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.
Time really flies in professional fishing. It seems like yesterday that all of us were launching our boats on Okeechobee, with dreams of competing in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup that begins this week on Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C.
For all the Walmart FLW Tour anglers who participate in the championship tournament, Cup week is very emotional. All of the 35 pros that qualified through the Tour are pumped beyond belief.
Most of the qualifiers feel a sense of relief and gratitude that everything panned out in the six qualifying events that earned them a spot in this, the most difficult championship to qualify for in professional angling.
For the other 145 pros who didn’t qualify, this week’s Cup marks a period of days they wish will come and go very quickly. Whether following the event from home, or working the FLW Expo for a sponsor, their minds will be going over all the lost fish, equipment failures and poor boat draws that derailed their bids to qualify during the preceding season.
Indeed, their minds are already focused on 2015.
Back to the here and now, however: Lake Murray is going to fish just the way a major championship should be – tough. August and September are two of the most notoriously challenging months of the year, as the fish tend to scatter and feed a lot at night.
I look for the 2014 Cup to fish similar to the way Murray did in 2008, when Michael Bennett won the event. The California pro fished a frog in shallow water – that simple. In 2008, the deep-water bite was practically non-existent, which is the trend in most blueback herring lakes that don’t have a big spotted bass population.
There are a lot of shallow options on Murray. Docks, rocks, logs and overhanging trees are scattered throughout the lake. I see the tournament setting up to be a junk-fishing angler’s ideal situation. That being the case, if the Walmart FLW Tour’s junk-fishing master David Dudley doesn’t win or come close to it next week, it will only be due to some uncontrolled variable.
For most pros who are successful on Murray, their day will go something like this: catch one off a dock, then get one on a frog under some shade, crank one off a laydown log, and pull up on the dam riprap and catch a few on a shaky head.
This approach is how I see the tournament being won. The key to winning in shallow water is putting together a combination of several quality spots with a bait selection that can produce a limit each day with the possibility of a 4-pound-class kicker along the way.
The only thing that will keep this event from getting won on the bank is, most likely, offshore brush piles. This time of year, on any given lake in the country that has a population of fish in the 8- to 30-foot zone, man-made brush piles create a huge advantage for those who know where they are located.
Summer brush piles tend to produce better on threadfin shad lakes, or – as mentioned before – the herring lakes with spotted bass and very clear water. However, one interesting fact about the 2014 Cup field is that it is composed of a disproportionate number of offshore aficionados, if only because of the high number of ledge events on the schedule this season. Even so, my prediction is that most of the anglers who try to force the deep bite won’t make it past the first cut.
Regardless, someone will leave Columbia with $500,000 more than he had when he got there, and will have ensured his survival in the sport for many years to come.
Best of luck to all the qualifiers!