TOP 10 BAITS & PATTERNS: How the best caught ‘em on Lake Murray - Major League Fishing

TOP 10 BAITS & PATTERNS: How the best caught ‘em on Lake Murray

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The Top 10 anglers on Lake Murray used a variety of baits to chase the herring spawn and sight fish. Photo by Garrick Dixon.
April 11, 2023 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Lake Murray was the star of the show at the Fox Rent A Car Stage Three Presented by Mercury. The fish were big and plentiful, with many different tactics in play. The top anglers utilized a variety of baits to target both spawning bass and fish feeding on herring.

Here’s a closer look at how they caught ‘em in South Carolina at Stage Three.

1. Anthony Gagliardi – 47-12 (10)

Local hero Gagliardi claimed his third tour-level victory on his home lake. To do so, he forswore both the traditional herring-spawn tactics and sight fishing, instead leaning on a drop-shot with a 6-inch morning dawn straight-tail finesse worm for bass staging and waiting to attack spawning herring.

Gagliardi ran points in 8 to 12 feet of water and fished quickly, “point hopping” and looking for bass and bait activity on his forward-facing sonar.

“I was fishing staging points and places they would use to ambush herring, but stayed out a little deeper,” he said. “Instead of the typical fluke and topwater baits that we all use for herring spawn, I went with a drop-shot. I was looking for fish on my Garmin LiveScope and there were a lot of stripers around. I cast to stripers all week because every now and then, you’d catch a nice bass out of there. Plus, the stripers won’t bite a drop-shot like they will other baits.”

2. Ott DeFoe – 43-1 (10)

The current Bally Bet Angler of the Year leader, DeFoe squeaked into the Top 10 in 10th and made a savvy adjustment on the final day.

“I was 4 pounds back and (on the final day) decided the only way I would have a chance to win was just to go fishing,” DeFoe said. “I fished all new water and caught my biggest on a wacky rig, but the rest were on various topwaters, including a rat.”

DeFoe sight-fished his way into the Championship Round.

“The first three days were all bed fishing, and I spent most of my time way down the lake,” he said. “There was less pressure down there from our guys and locals, and the water was cleaner and made it easier to see fish.”

DeFoe fished a wacky-rigged Bass Pro Shops Wacky Stik-O Worm and a Texas-rigged Bass Pro Shops Magnum Fin-Eke Worm, both in the Sooner run color. He chose a No. 1 VMC RedLine Series Weedless Neko Hook for the wacky rig and a 4/0 VMC RedLine Series Hybrid Worm Hook with a 3/16-ounce weight for the Texas rig.

3. Brent Chapman – 41-6 (10)        

Like others fishing the final day, Chapman had to make changes and adapt as the week progressed.

“The fish were changing all week and doing different things,” he said. “I started the week with a 6-inch soft swimbait that was a shad pattern and a big topwater, but the fish changed.”

He then switched to a Strike King KVD 1.5 Squarebill in gizzard shad and a 5/8-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket with a white Strike King Rage Tail Twin Tail Menace Grub the final two days.

“I knew the fish were still there; I just had to change it up,” he said. “I believe the fish I was catching were all postspawn fish and were setting up on the points and riprap, waiting for the shad to start spawning. I wish I had picked up the Thunder Cricket sooner the last day because I caught six or eight scorable bass in the last hour of the day.

4. Chris Lane – 40-15 (10)

Lane continued his excellent start to the season by fishing an array of different baits.

“It was everything from a spinnerbait and swimbait to a topwater and wacky-rig. You name it. I fished everything,” he said.

He also mixed it up with various tactics, fishing anything Lake Murray showed him.

“I caught fish around docks, seawalls, rocks, Murray has everything to offer,” Lane said. “Sight fishing was one of the keys the first few days, but that changed the final two days.”

The first two days of competition, he fished a ½-ounce Bass Pro Shops XPS All-American Double-Willow Spinnerbait in white and chartreuse in the Saluda River, where the water was dirtier, but progressed to a more finesse approach as the event wore on.

“Later on, I was fishing a green pumpkin Bass Pro Shops Fin-Eke Worm on a wacky rig, fishing it weightless and slow closer to the ramp in the cleaner water,” Lane said.

5. Jonathon VanDam – 40-6 (10)    

VanDam had a stellar opening round, leading Group A with 41-12 over two days. He enjoyed similar success in the Knockout and Championship rounds, but had to switch gears to do so.

“The first two days with a little wind, I was able to get away with winding a Strike King Red Eyed Shad really fast and mixing in some swimbaits,” VanDam said. “The last two days, I had to go with the finesse, a drop-shot and shaky head. When you keep beating on the same areas, the fish get wise to you.”

VanDam said he was keying on the herring spawn bite and that fish were moving in and out of his areas.

“The fish were coming and going, some were prespawn and some postspawn,” he said. “Those herring spawn on those flat clay banks, but the better areas had some natural rock mixed in. It could be a little gravel or some bigger chunk rock.

VanDam went with a blueback herring color for his Red Eyed Shad but also utilized clear sexy shad and chrome sexy shad. For the drop-shot, it was a morning dawn finesse worm and he went with a green pumpkin Googan Baits Slim Shake Worm for the shaky head.

6. John Hunter – 40-0 (10)  

Fishing near takeoff all four days of the event, BPT rookie John Hunter was able to capitalize on a strong early morning bite on largemouth that were feeding on spawning herring.

“I stayed shallow and fished points and blow-throughs where the herring were spawning,” he said. “It was all within a few miles of takeoff. I stayed close the entire time.”

His primary baits were a Googan Baits Dart in white pearl shad on a 5/0 weighted EWG hook and a 6-inch hand-poured pink finesse worm. He also caught a few sight fishing later in the day early on in the week.

“I caught a few key fish on a white Googan Baits Bandito Bug on a Tokyo rig,” he said.

7. Jeff Sprague – 37-3 (10)

Texas pro Jeff Sprague had a solid week fishing shallow for spawning bass and sight bass that were cruising. He stayed relatively close to takeoff at Dreher Island State Park and ventured down to Bear Creek, fishing pockets between the two areas.

As the event wore on, Sprague adjusted what he was looking for.

“I started looking for the flatter pockets because they warm up faster and as the event progressed and it got warmer, it was the steeper pockets,” he said.

Sprague caught a handful of fish on a buzzbait, but a soft stick worm and creature bait were his primary tools.

“I fished all natural colors for the soft plastics,” he said. “The watermelons and green pumpkins were best with the clear water.”

8. Bryan Thrift – 36-13 (10)

Living up to his run-and-gun reputation, Thrift fished multiple spots daily, trying to capitalize on the herring spawn. Most of his fish came on a 5-inch Damiki Armor Shad in pro blue.

“I ran the whole middle section of the lake and would hit 40 to 50 points a day,” he said. “The whole key was pulling up at the right time and making long casts to reach the fish.”

9. Andy Montgomery – 36-0 (10)

Montgomery fished two ways; cranking on points for bass eating herring and sight fishing for bedded bass.

“I caught sight fish with a wide variety of plastics; it was a little bit of everything,” he said. “The best areas for me to do that were down on the lower end of the lake.”

Montgomery also fished closer to the takeoff site for the herring bite and used a Strike King Hybrid Hunter crankbait.

“The herring deal was good on all the windy points,” he said.

10. James Watson – 31-11 (9)

Most of Watson’s time was spent fishing for spawning bass with a white tube or craw bait, but the fireworks came on a buzzbait during the Knockout Round. Fishing a Tackle HD Worldwide Buzzer in the ½-ounce model with a white skirt and silver blade, he scored a 22-8 limit for second place on the day.

“That was how I caught my biggest fish during the Knockout Round,” he said. “It was a good day, but during the Championship Round, not so much. I did that and simply ran out of sight fish on the final day.”

Watson spent his time down the lake, focusing on main lake pockets.

“Some pockets didn’t have any fish and some would have four or five fish,” he said. “That’s kind of how it went for me this week and you’d have to keep moving until you ran into those groups of fish.”