COLUMBIA, S.C. – Pre-tournament expectations were high heading into Fox Rent A Car Stage Three Presented by Mercury on Lake Murray, with solid potential for 20-plus-pound bags courtesy of a herring spawn and largemouth on beds. Day 1 on Murray proved to be as good as many predicted.
Jonathon VanDam quickly caught a solid bag in the morning and he never let go of the lead, ending the day with 21 pounds, 14 ounces on top of a tightly packed SCORETRACKER®. The fishing was strong throughout the field, but VanDam was able to separate himself early and expand on his pattern the rest of the day.
VanDam caught his limit about as fast as you can in the morning, taking just 13 minutes to stack his first limit that weighed 18-3. Included in his initial bag was a 6-7; and a few minutes later he was already past the 20-pound mark.
The fast start surprised him, even though he knew he was on to something targeting bass feeding on spawning herring.
“The day started strong, and I had over 20 pounds on my first stop, which is as good as you could ever hope for,” VanDam said. “After that, I spent a lot of time practicing and looking and still caught fish throughout the day. That was good because it added a few spots to the rotation.”
VanDam’s morning flurry resulted from great timing, but also showcased the quality of largemouth that live in Lake Murray.
“This lake is full of fish with some nice quality bass, so while I had a good day, I’m not out of the woods to make it to the next round just yet,” VanDam said. “I’m fishing for bass (that are) sitting, waiting for the herring, and trying to be around them when they’re biting. If it happens, you can get right in a hurry.”
Looking further into his day on SCORETRACKER® INSIDER, VanDam caught 15 largemouth, including nine that weighed over 3 pounds. He’s on the right quality to make some major waves this week if the pattern holds.
“It’s hard to say if that bite is going to continue the rest of the week,” VanDam said. “The weather dictates everything for the herring spawn, but if it gets windy or we get overcast, it could get even better.”
After a slow start, South Carolina pro Marty Robinson – the winner of the 2021 MLF Summit Cup on Lake Murray – put his knowledge to work to settle in second place. Even though the results show a 20-4 bag, Robinson admitted that it was a challenging day.
“It was a terrible day, honestly,” Robinson said. “It was one of those days where nothing was going right. I couldn’t get a bite this morning. I kept telling myself that it’s going to get better and finally, late in the day, I ran into some good ones and was fortunate to have a good bag.”
Among those was the day’s Berkley Big Bass, a 6-12 specimen that greatly helped the cause and turned his day around. To catch his fish, Robinson is mixing it up.
“It’s all shallow, and I’m just fishing what the conditions give me,” Robinson said. “I caught some postspawn fish, some on the docks, and some that are spawning.”
A late cull allowed second-year Bass Pro Tour angler Cole Floyd to jump into third place as he crossed the 20-pound mark. He committed to a sight fishing plan and stuck with it all day.
“I had a good practice, but was trying to decide if I was going to go fish some stained water or sight fish,” Floyd said. “Near the end of practice, I decided to look as much as I could and started seeing a lot of good ones on beds. That’s what I decided to do this morning and got a 5-pounder in the first few minutes and a couple more solid ones to get the ball rolling.”
After boating some solid keepers, Floyd committed to the sight bite for the rest of the day; something he plans to continue when Group A returns to the water on Tuesday.
“The key is covering a lot of water because fish are constantly moving up,” he said. “You even have to go and look at places you’ve already checked because so many are on the move and things are changing fast. I’ll continue to sight fish as long as I can this week.”
Sight fishing is a fickle way to catch bass this time of year in a multi-day event, but Floyd plans to stick it out as long as he can before switching gears.
“I don’t know if it’s the way to win this,” he said. “You’d have to have a lot of fish marked, so you might have to mix it up. I have some backup stuff to try if it starts going away.”
Limits aplenty: For the first time since switching to a five-fish format this year, all 40 anglers in a group found their limits. It’s a testament to how good Lake Murray is fishing, and although there’s a big gap between the haves and have-nots, there are plenty of fish to be caught.
The bass spawn vs. herring spawn: A lot of Mother Nature’s creatures are spawning in South Carolina. The bass and herring spawns are the two dominant ways to catch bass this week. It’s too soon to tell which one will be the winning pattern; but there’s a solid contingent of anglers doing both of them and some mixing it up with both approaches.
The Toro Cut Line: A few anglers were surveyed Sunday morning to see what weight they thought it would take each day to advance to the Knockout Round. The consensus was around 15 pounds, which seems spot on after today’s catches. Matt Lee is in 20th place with 15-13, so anything over 15 pounds looks like a solid day so far at Lake Murray.
Stage Three continues Monday as Group B gets its first chance on Lake Murray. The pleasant weather from Sunday is forecast to shift slightly, bringing more wind. 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.