COLUMBIA, S.C. – Anthony Gagliardi won the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray last August with a combination of patterns that included fishing soft-plastic jerkbaits and topwaters for schooling bass. A variation of that theme is likely to work this week when the 50 teams that qualified for the FLW College Fishing National Championship convene on Murray to contest the 2015 title. Hosted by Capital City/Lake Murray Country, the tournament runs from Thursday through Saturday out of Dreher Shoals Dam and pits the top 10 squads from each of the five college conferences against each other. Thursday and Friday weigh-ins are set for 5 p.m. ET at Carolina Stadium, home of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team, with the final weigh-in taking place there at 4 p.m. ET Saturday.
Though bass won’t be shadowing wandering blueback herring in the open waters of the lake as they did last summer when Gagliardi won, they’re likely to be taking advantage of the annual herring spawn in the shallows. Much depends on the weather and the water temperature, as bass might be distracted by their own spawn. Assuming most of them will be postspawn and hungry, however, spawning herring will garner most of their attention.
“The blueback herring spawn is in its early stages, and it will have a major impact on the tournament as far as some of the college anglers being able to take advantage of it,” predicts Gagliardi. “The hardest thing will be trying to figure out when to be in the right place to take advantage. I don’t want to say it’s random, but Murray’s herring spawn is kind of hit and miss.”
When Dave Lefebre nailed down the herring spawn pattern on Lewis Smith Lake in the Walmart FLW Tour event a couple of weeks ago, he noted the best spots were where there were large rocks in the water. Smith Lake and Murray are dissimilar in that regard, however. Gagliardi says that anglers are more likely to find herring spawns on main-lake and secondary points, adjacent to steep sloping banks, along riprap banks and anywhere there is hard bottom. That covers a lot of territory at Murray, but it reinforces Gagliardi’s notion that being in the right place at the right time is perhaps the best pattern – albeit an unpredictable one.
“When it starts, it just starts; there are no key places, and I wouldn’t characterize any one section of the lake as being known for having more herring spawns than any other,” he says.
If a college team is fortunate enough to locate balls of herring in the shallows, topwater lures such as prop baits will entice strikes, as well as various swimbaits. Fluke-type baits, fished singly or in tandem rigs, also are sure to draw attention.
“It’s pretty much a school-fish deal,” notes Gagliardi. “It’s not quite the same as when I caught them last August, but it’s similar enough to look at them that way.”
What Gagliardi doesn’t expect to happen is a deep-water finesse bite, which also wasn’t a game-changer last summer. Though Murray is known for its big spotted bass, Gagliardi thinks they’ll be up shallow, either preparing to spawn or in postspawn mode and gorging on blueback herring.
“Frankly, I don’t see finesse fishing having much impact on the outcome,” he says. “Of course, maybe some West Coast college kid will prove me wrong, but I don’t think I would spend much time trying to establish an offshore pattern. It’s going to be more of a grind-it-out deal along the shoreline.”
Current lake conditions, typical for Lake Murray this time of year, favor Gagliardi’s forecast. Water temperatures are in the low 70s, and except for “a little color” in the mid-lake area that came as a result of recent heavy rains, visibility ranges from about 4 to 5 feet. The event is shaping up as a shallow-water smackdown.
“The [Saluda] river has a little more stain to it, but you can catch them,” advises Gagliardi. “No doubt you can go up there and catch fish, but I don’t know whether you can catch enough fish over three days to hold up. I think everything’s going to be decided down in the middle and lower parts of the lake.”
2015 National Championship Qualifiers
Arkansas Tech University – Sawyer Grace, Russellville, Ark., and Brandon Rieve, Sheridan, Ark.
Auburn University – Ben Curry, Hayden, Ala., and Timmy Ward, Sylacauga, Ala.
Auburn University – Candler McCollum, Auburn, Ala., and William Bates, Suwanee, Ga.
California State University-Chico – Andrew Loberg, Rocklin, Calif., and Michael Braswell, Chico, Calif.
Christopher Newport University – Peter Kenny, Ashburn, Va., and Cody Griffey, Smithfield, Va.
Colorado Mesa University – Kennedy Kinkade and Josh Worth, both of Grand Junction, Colo.
East Central University – Tanner Masters and Wyatt Ryan, both of Ada, Okla.
Eastern Kentucky University – Kyle Raymer, Brandenburg, Ky., and Ethan Snyder, Vine Grove, Ky.
Eastern Washington University – Cy Floyd, Wenatchee, Wash., and Tyler Wasilewski, Cheney, Wash.
Eastern Washington University – Nick Barr, San Antonio, Texas, and Jarred Walker, Cheney, Wash.
Humboldt State University – Christopher Childers, McKinleyville, Calif., and Erich Coulter, Arcata, Calif.
Jacksonville State University – Nate Killough, Sylacauga, Ala., and Will Bullen Jacksonville, Ala.
Kansas State University – Nathen Kozlowski, Junction City, Kan., and Lance Maldonado, Chapman, Kan.
Kent State University – Trevor White, Newton Falls, Ohio, and Greg Perry, Cortland, Ohio
Lamar University – Brandon Simoneaux, Bridge City, Texas, and Josh Bowie, Port Neches, Texas
Lamar University – Cameron Lafleur, Orangefield, Texas and Justin Royal, Vidor, Texas
Lamar University – Quinton Evans, Orange, Texas, and Colby Ogden, Kountze, Texas
Liberty University – Travis Rulle, Denver, N.C., and Caleb Eppler, Sachse, Texas
Louisiana Tech University – Caleb Boudreaux, Doyline, La., and Matthew Loetscher, Many, La.
Mansfield University – Matt Novitski, Kingston, Pa., and Alec Engleman, Milton, Pa.
McKendree University – Dustin Pendegraft, Summerfield, Ill., and Phillip Germagliotti, Highland, Ill.
Murray State University – Justin Graben, Murray, Ky., and Dan Schult, Millstadt, Ill.
Murray State University – Seth Brock, Cedar Hill, Tenn., and Lance Freeman, Eddyville, Ky.
Nicholls State University – Trevor Leblanc and Jess Robertson both of Houma, La.
Oregon State University – Chase Cochran, Corvallis, Ore., and Ryan Sparks, Gearhart, Ore.
Oregon State University – Peter Kawamura and Eric Strickler both of Corvallis, Ore.
Polk State College – Wesley Wise, Lake Wales, Fla., and Luke Ferguson, Bartow, Fla.
Radford University – Will Bowling, Fincastle, Va., and Justin Witten, Radford, Va.
Ramapo College – Joseph Zapf and Andrew Zapf, both of Whippany, N.J.
Rutgers University – New Brunswick/Piscataway – Kyle Genova, Millstone Twp. N.J., and Andrew Ridinger, Thorofare, N.J.
San Jose State University – Adam McAndrews, Santa Clara, Calif., and Joey Fortina, Ben Lomond, Calif.
Shenandoah University – Thomas Arens, and Billy Arens, both of Winchester, Va.
Shippensburg University – Kevin Hollasch, Marriottsville, Md., and Hunter Chamberlin, Shippensburg, Pa.
Sonoma State University – Brent Nelson, Santa Rosa, Calif., and Jake Banuelos, San Pablo, Calif.
Southeastern Oklahoma University – Jonathan Furlong, Bixby, Okla., and Dwight Camp, Talihina Okla.
Tennessee Technological University – Joe Ellis, Harriman, Tenn., and Matthew Townson, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Tennessee Technological University – Matt Allen, Bloomington Springs, Tenn., and Zach Youngblood,, Silver Point, Tenn.
University of Alabama – Keith Kirkley, Northport, Ala., and Frankie Appaluccio, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
University of Florida – Shelby Concon, Fruitland Park, Fla., and Kyle Smith, MacClenny, Fla.
University of Idaho – Tanner Mort, Moscow, Idaho, and Austin Turpin, Coeurdalane, Idaho
University of Louisiana-Monroe – Blake Alford and Tyler Stewart, both West Monroe, La.
University of Missouri – Ben Verhoef, Osage Beach, Mo., and Christian Ponzetti, Excelsior, Minn.
University of Oregon – Kyle Schneider, Beaverton, Ore., and Jacob Wall, Jacksonville, Ore.
University of South Carolina – Patrick Walters, Summerville, S.C., and Gettys Brannon, Columbia, S.C.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse – Pat Bowers, Hudson, Wis., and Sig Finley, Wonder Lake, Ill.
University of Wisconsin-Platteville – Brett Daggett, Cottage Grove, Wis., and Ryan Gilbert, Sterling, Ill.
West Virginia University – Mathew Gibson, Morgantown, W.Va., and Edward Rude III, Falling Waters, W.Va.
Western Carolina University – Austin Neary, Cullowhee, N.C., and Zack Hicks, Cherokee, N.C.
Western Kentucky University – Ryan Coleman, Utica, Ky., and Stephen Compton, Bradengburg, Ky.
Winona State University – Wyatt Stout, Winona, Minn., and Cade Laufenberg, Stoddard, Wis.