It’s the time of year when anglers and fish alike long for the crisp fall nights that are approaching, when many of the boaters who pack Lake Murray begin trading their fishing gear for their hunting gear, and when college football occupies the minds of many sportsmen.
If you enjoy the lake with very little boat traffic but are scratching your head about how to catch bass, guide and bass pro Michael Murphy, be sure the gas tank on your bass boat is full, because you’re going to be on the move.
“These are nomadic fish, and they are misunderstood,” said Murphy. “What makes guys unsuccessful on this lake is that they come here thinking they are going to catch them where they found them last year. They’re just not; you can almost guarantee it. Lake Murray is a lake that is really good for not having a spot work two years in a row — or even two weeks in a row. You’ve got to focus on the pattern and not the spot.”
To do that, Murphy said, you have to understand that Murray is a blueback herring lake, and to find bass, you have to understand where and how to find blueback herring.
Bluebacks are baitfish that are comfortable in saltwater or freshwater. They prefer the sun, so they will often be found close to the surface in areas of higher water quality. And they are very nomadic; they love to roam. A lot.
As the first couple of cold fronts slide across through the Midlands in September, baitfish begin their annual migration from the main lake into the major creek arms. Murphy said these baitfish are typically smaller herring and gizzard shad. If you find bass schooled around these schools of smaller baits, the bass are typically smaller and can be difficult to catch.
So he looks elsewhere, searching for larger baitfish.
“When you’re catching better-quality fish, it’s around the bigger, established bait,” he said. “It’s like if you have a favorite restaurant to where you are a regular, the waitress knows your name and even knows what you are going to order. Then, there is a new restaurant across the street, you might try it, but if it’s one of those things that’s out of your comfort zone, you’re less likely to try it.
“You have a ton of nomadic fish on Murray that have been following around the same school of herring all summer; they are going to continue feeding on that established school.”
Blueback herring lakes are often labeled as “junk-fishing” lakes because most anglers hit the water with 15 to 20 rods on the deck with a different lure on each rod.
“It’s really not so much junk-fishing as it’s fishing a system of aggression,” Murphy said. “In September, if it’s windy, you need to be running points. This is the last month before the bass really go shallow. The windier it is, the more aggressive a lure you need to be throwing, otherwise, the bass can’t find it in the waves.
“If it’s really rocking, and your trolling motor is jumping out of the water, I like to throw a big pencil popper or the Ima Big Stik so they can find it. Playing the wind conditions is where you can get so many rods out on your deck. If there’s just a good chop, I like to throw a Lucky Craft Sammy 100 or 115 or Ima Skimmer Grande. If there’s barely a ripple to mostly calm, you can throw a Fluke. For completely slick conditions, the only thing I can get them to eat is an Optimum Victory Tail. If you get a north wind or flat-calm conditions for several days, you need to get into the pockets and throw a jig or shaky head. So you can see where you end up with 10 to 15 rods pretty quickly.”
Murphy may have that much tackle on deck and ready, but he’s got his favorites:
• An Ima Little Stik in blueback herring color;
• An Ima Skimmer in blueback herring color;
• A 6-inch Optimum Victory tail in chrome;
• A green-pumpkin jig;
• A white spinnerbait with big, willow-leaf blades.
“September is the best and last topwater month,” he said. “The fish start to show up in August, moving up on the shallower, main-lake points. Then, starting in October, the schools start getting thinned out following the bait to the bank. September is really the last month where you can pull up on a point and catch 20 pounds on a topwater.
“Chase the wind, chase a pattern and don’t get too disappointed if they are not on the same spot the very next day. Keep a very open mind and be ready to run 20 to 30 places until you run into them.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Murray is northwest of Columbia, between I-26 and I-77. The shoreline is covered with public boat ramps. For a complete list, visit http://lakemurrayfun.com/ramps.shtml.
WHEN TO GO — Bass fishing is good year-round on Murray, with September being the last month when fish are in a summer pattern before they move into a more-shallow fall pattern.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Look for fish on shallow, main-lake points. The more brisk the wind, the bigger and noisier the topwater bait you tie on. In calmer conditions, a Fluke will produce bites, and in flat water, a jig or shaky head gets the nod. Late in the month, tie on a big spinnerbait and pound the bank.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Michael Murphy, Michael Murphy Guide Service, 770-605-6373. Also, see Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Lake Murray Country, Columbia, 803-781-5940, www.lakemurraycountry.com.