Lake Greenwood, South Carolina, host to the American Fishing Tour Angler of the Year tournament, October 2011. A winner takes all event for a fully rigged bass boat. I was fortunate enough to be the Angler of the Year for District 48 of the American Fishing Tour (AFT), and that put me in a position to fish this fantastic opportunity. With the event on the 22nd of October, I spent August, September, and most of October, studying topographical maps, reading fishing reports, and trying to learn what I could about the lake and the prevalent bait fish. All my preparation was finally at an end, and it is the morning of our one and only prefish day.
Arriving at daybreak, we found a parking lot full with the other contenders for the title of ABA Angler of the Year. However, anglers were just sitting in their boats. Come to find out, the lake was completely fogged in, you couldn’t see the end of the launch ramp. Since I had never been on the lake before, it just wasn’t worth the risk to try and navigate. I’ve spent months studying the lake, I know there are no apparent hazards, but it’s just not wise to head out when you can’t see. Come to find out after the fog lifted about 9 A.M., there were, in fact, two hazards on the lake. Two trees in 30 foot of water just topping out above the surface.
Water temperature was 65 degrees, not as cool as I had hoped. However, it may be cool enough to get the shad moving. Water clarity was extreme for this southern fisherman, with visibility down to 3 plus feet in places. All the reports I read on the lake didn’t mention any vegetation, but I had still hoped there would be some, but NO grass or vegetation. This is a big hit to my confidence. The lake is a little more than 3 feet low. This puts most of the shore line cover from laydowns and docks either out of water or in very shallow water. So now the only cover I have to fish I can see the bottom under it, again not good for my confidence level. Not a major problem, I am a fairly versatile angler, fishing from the west coast to the east coast and many places in between. Clear water is not a killer for me; it just changes the game.
Lake Greenwood is a fairly shallow lake with many slow sloping banks. There are a lot of flats, lots of shallow points, lots of arms. Being just over 25 miles long, there was no way to cover the entire lake in just one day of prefish, much less a day that was cut short because of fog and the fact that we had to be off the water by 2 PM for a mandatory meeting. 5 hours of prefish, what to do?
With the water temperature in the mid sixties, it was difficult to say what to do. Had it been in the upper fifties, I would have headed to the far reaches of the creeks looking for fall feeding bass. Mid sixties is close, but not quite cold enough to get the shad really balled up and moving. With the electronics on, I could see large balls of bait fish and hundreds of fish suspended in 16-20 feet of water. There were so many fish that I just couldn’t convince myself that they were bass; but maybe stripers, crappie, or some other species yet to be determined. I headed for mid lake and the biggest arm in the area. I shut down and idled into the arm looking for where the deepest part of the arm was 16-20 feet; where the bait fish were. About halfway back into this arm, there was a hump and the outside edges were in the correct depth. I picked up a top water, and Laurie picked up a crank bait. Laurie was allowed to prefish with me as a family member. We worked our way around that hump and then back towards the back of the arm looking for shad and bass activity. After two hundred yards, filled with pockets, cover, and docks and not a single bite; I idled back to our starting point and worked towards the main lake. Finally, in the first pocket just inside the main arm from the main lake I caught a 3 pounder on a top water yellow magic.
Unfortunately, it was now 12:30 and I only have an hour and a half prefish time left. I spent the last little bit of time looking at various places on the lake trying to find more water similar to where I just caught that fish. I found three places that I could actually see fish swimming the banks. One area had a boat dock that reached out to about 3 feet, and at the end of the pylons, I could see two quality bass and a third swam away as we trolled by. This will be my starting point.
At the meeting, I am drawn out number 13. Lucky number, I’m off to a great start. The drive to the lake is full of thoughts running through my head, some anxiety, and an over whelming desire to make a cast. I really expected to be fogged in again. We had a cold front come through the area the day before prefish, which dropped the temperatures and caused the fog on the prefish day. However, this morning is clear as a bell. It’s finally safe light, and we are lining up for blast off. At this point, all I can think about are those three bass I saw on the dock. I am telling myself to get there, shut down early, use the trolling motor to get into position and then set the Power Poles down, so I don’t drift on to the bass. This way I can make repeated casts to the dock without spooking the fish. All the anglers had trouble catching bass yesterday. At the meeting one and two fish was the story everyone told, but I had three on one dock! At this point, my confidence couldn’t be higher.
My number is called, and I head down the lake. I have about a 10 minute run at 70 plus MPH. As I look down the lake, I’m watching for anyone that might pull into the bay I found. I pass one, then two boats, and creeping on the third when I see it’s time to peel off to my bay. As I shut down, there are no ripples on the water. This is a great thing as it means no one has been in here this morning. As I idle back towards the dock, I can make out a shape that doesn’t look familiar. As I get closer, sure enough, there is a boat sitting on the very dock I was headed too. It wasn’t another competitor as there was no wave traffic to indicate someone had pulled into this area. Turns out there is a private ramp in the back and a local angler launched and simply started fishing. Wow, drive all the way to South Carolina and get beat to my number one hole by a local angler. Nothing against local anglers getting out and enjoying their water. Just a bad deal for me is all. Without any further hesitation, I head to my number two spot.
My number two spot is straight across the lake. Not far at all, however, now I have the rest of the competitors blasting up the lake and I want to shoot straight across it. Kind of like running though a cross walk, with a green light to on comming traffic. With a little bit of timing, the great mid range of the Mercury 250, and the stability of a Legend Alpha 211, I was able to needle my way across without getting into anyone’s way.
Spot number two, a main lake pocket that has a single dock just inside on a point. The day before I seen schooling activity and shook off two bites. Third cast, this morning, with a ‘yellow magic’ I caught a two pounder. Three casts later I lost a solid keeper. On the point, I lost a very good fish. I circled back around to work it with a slower presentation and nothing. Before the sun gets to high, I decided to run for the area I had caught the only fish in yesterday. I had high expectation for this spot but blanked.
Taking what I’ve seen so far I started running and gunning points before the sun got to high. I came across a point that had large fish chasing shad out in deeper water. The slight breeze over the night had them pinned up on this point. Cast after cast I couldn’t draw a strike from this activity. Top water, crank baits, swimming soft plastics and nothing. I decided to get in the middle of them and work a jigging spoon. The graph was almost blacked out from the shad that were at this point. Yet I still couldn’t get a bite. Finally, several fish exploded right in front of the boat, and I got a good look at them. CATFISH, yep, catfish schooling on top eating shad.
As the day went on, my bite was nonexistent. Time to regroup and find some fish. About 11 A.M., I ate my pop tart and looked at the map on my Lowrance and found another arm that had some steeper banks and just a few boat docks. The way the sun and wind were, these docks would be shaded and the wind blowing down them. Perfect location for roaming bass to hold up to feed if there were shad present. As I idled into this pocket, I could see shad on my graph and on the surface. This put my confidence back in over drive. After trying a top water, spinnerbait and finally a crank bait and not getting a bite, I picked up my standby shakey head and whipped it up under a dock. I could feel the rig coming though some brush and then that tell tale “tap”. Set the hook and put another keeper in the boat. Within the next hour, I finished out my limit. After the poor prefish, and the fruitless morning; I was pretty excited with a limit.
Now it’s time to increase the size. I started looking for deeper docks that had brush and were closer to the main lake. This process worked, but I was only increasing my weight by an ounce or two at a time. We had to be back at the ramp at 3 PM and time flew quickly. I finished the day with a limit that was only 8 pounds. However, I felt like this was a strong finish, because the bite was tough. I knew it wasn’t a winning stringer as I didn’t have a kicker fish, and in events like this where the best are pitted against each other you better have a kicker or two.
I was in the back half of the field at weigh in. When it was my turn to weigh in, I was the first angler to cross the stage with a limit. After a few questions and teasing about which lake I actually fished I took the hot seat for the boat. Makes you feel pretty good. I knew my position wouldn’t hold long, but sat in the hot seat for a few minutes before a limit of 10 pounds bumped me out. The winner had a very nice 15 pound limit of fish. He was a local angler and had spent a lot of time on the water prior to cut off. Kudos to him. Many times, the local anglers, get caught up on what should be happening and fail to adjust to the conditions of the day. Local anglers often spot fish instead of pattern fish. Shawn (the winner), put a pattern together on the water, and executed it to a point that he left all of us standing in the dust. Very good on him!
Over all this was a great experience and I am grateful for the opportunity. While I didn’t win, I represented our district well. I was told eight place; however, I never seen any official standings on the AOY tournament. Probably because it was a winner take all, second is the first looser. The AOY is over, and now it’s time to spend the rest of the week on Lake Murray to fish the Nationals. Three days of prefish, and a three day tournament!