COLUMBIA, S.C. – Although Louisiana pro Cliff Crochet didn’t have a great feeling about his chances on Lake Murray at Fox Rent A Car Stage Three Presented by Mercury, you could never tell from the results.
Following up a 19-pound first day with a 22-pound, 9-ounce limit on Wednesday, Crochet finished atop Group B’s qualifying round to lead the 20-angler field into Thursday’s Knockout Round. Crochet’s two-day total of 41-15 outdistanced runner-up Dustin Connell by more than 4 pounds heading into the Knockout Round, where weights are zeroed and the best 40 anglers from both groups chase a Top-10 finish and the right to advance to the Championship Round.
Crochet is the first to admit that Lake Murray doesn’t hit his style as a shallow-water power fisherman from Louisiana, but he’s making it work.
“The week started gloomy because the lake doesn’t fit me,” he admitted. “It’s a sight fishing deal on a clear lake and that’s a finicky deal. I started the week not knowing what was happening, but a few bites in practice clued me into something.”
Those practice bites helped push him in the right direction, and Crochet has run with what he’s discovered, expanding to different areas of the lake.
“I didn’t know that bite was that strong, but it’s been a good first two days, and I’ve been able to get the right bites,” he said. “I was worried that the changing weather today with calm and sunny conditions would hurt the bite. That scared me, but the bite seems to have held up through the changes and seems to be getting better.”
Crochet didn’t get into details about his pattern or baits, but he said it has proven effective in multiple situations.
“I thought the ideal weather for it was one (condition), but it seems to be (a different condition),” he said. “The whole key is covering water and being in the right areas. This lake is spotty; you’ll know when you’re around the right fish because they live in certain areas.”
With a solid cushion over the Toro Cut Line to begin the day, Connell knew that it wouldn’t take much to advance. He caught an early limit and upgraded a handful of times throughout the day to reach his 16-7 total. However, he spent most of the day looking for more areas for the Knockout Round.
“There are a bunch of fish on beds and more moving up, it seems like,” Connell said. “My plan for tomorrow is to fish the herring spawn first and if I need to, I can go and try for some of those bedding bass.”
Of the two spawns, Connell would prefer to target the herring spawn because the potential is there to stack up weight quickly. But, his approach will be weather-dependent.
“Today, we had horrible conditions for the herring spawn fish with sun and calm conditions, I need some wind and clouds to roll through and that’s what’s supposed to happen,” he said. “I’m hoping that that comes true, but I’m willing to go after those bedding bass if necessary. I found some good ones, but none of the mega giants it will take to win this.”
The weather forecast: Wednesday was a picturesque spring day with sunny skies and warm temperatures, but that is expected to change overnight. Clouds are in the forecast, which should help the herring bite and possibly slow down those with their eggs in the sight fishing basket.
Spawn: herring or bass? So far, anglers have succeeded with the two major spawns on the lake. Many top anglers are fishing for spawning bass and more are targeting bass feeding on spawning herring. Both tactics are working and helping anglers pile up the pounds on SCORETRACKER®, but only one is likely to be the winning pattern. What’s it going to be this week?
What’s it going to take? Each day of the tournament has produced multiple 20-pound bags. That seems to be the mark for a good day and some anglers think it could take nearly that to crack the Top 10 tomorrow when all anglers are fishing hard without any incentive to lay off their fish.
Connell expects even more bags in the 20s.
“I think if you can catch over 20 pounds, you’ll make it (to the final day),” he predicted. “I can see taking almost 19 pounds to advance because there are so many good fish in this lake.”
Stage Three continues Thursday, with the best from both groups letting it all hang out. They’ll race for a Top-10 finish and the right to advance to Friday’s Knockout Round. The action starts at 7:45 a.m. ET with MLFNOW! streaming live on MajorLeagueFishing.com and lines going in at 8 a.m. ET. The pros will fish for three periods until 4 p.m. ET.