By B.A.S.S. Communications Staff

COLUMBIA, S.C. — We often hear that the early bird gets the worm, but morphing this timeless idiom into “the early bass gets the baitfish,” aptly describes Brandon Cobb’s general expectation for this week's Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Murray.

Competition days will be Friday through Monday after Thursday's scheduled opening round was postponed due to weather, with daily takeoffs from Dreher Island State Park at 7 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day back at the park at 3 p.m.

Like all of his Elite competitors, Cobb understands the basic premise that bass typically feed best during daybreak’s lowlight conditions. However, he stresses the seasonal specifics of a Lake Murray favorite.

“I think you’ll see a lot of shad-spawn and blueback herring-spawn fishing,” Cobb said of the 48,000-acre Saluda River reservoir. “That’s where the majority of the weight will come from. There are very few other ways to compete when that happens, so 100 percent, the predominant pattern will be the shad and herring spawn.”

Complementing naturally occurring threadfin shad, bluebacks are a diadromous species that migrates between fresh and saltwater in its native range. Following accidental introductions, the species has thrived in Murray.

Typically a nomadic species that favors deep, offshore waters, the herring become more easily targeted during their spring spawns. For herring and threadfin shad, the early morning hours see the tail end of what was largely an overnight spawn.

For this reason, many of the Elite anglers will rush to their best shorelines with docks, seawalls and other hard cover to capitalize on a rapidly closing window of daybreak opportunity. Intense sunlight pushes the baitfish low, but cloudy mornings may extend the shad/blueback spawns a little longer.

“Murray is one of the most prevalent blueback lakes in our area,” Cobb noted. “A lot of times, the shad and the herring will spawn in the same areas, so you may not know if you’re fishing for bass that are eating shad or herring.”

While spinnerbaits, bladed jigs and swim jigs see a lot of pure shad-spawn action, herring lakes tend to find topwaters delivering the best results. Herring are fast movers, so bass respond best to a peppy cadence.

Cobb, who hails from Greenwood, S.C., about an hour west of Murray, calls Lake Greenwood (the next lake upstream) his home waters. While he hasn’t fished Murray since last year’s Elite, seasonal weather patterns provide relevant insight.

“We’ve had the muddiest winter and spring on Lake Greenwood that I can ever remember,” Cobb said. “We had a winter where we got so much rain that it pushed the mud all the way to the (Buzzard’s Roost Dam) and from there, it goes to Murray.

“As soon as Greenwood would try to clear, we’d have another rain, so it basically stayed muddy all winter.”

The Elite tournament will be significantly removed from the muddiest period, but Cobb said there could be some level of remnant turbidity lingering in the main-river section. Elsewhere, he’s looking for typical spring clarity.

The 2023 Elite event at Lake Murray saw the lake rising from a scheduled drawdown, but this year will offer stability.

“Unless they’re working on the dam or something, Murray stays pretty stable,” Cobb said. “When they drew it down (in the fall of 2022 through the winter of 2023), that was because they were trying to eliminate the pondweed that was growing in Murray.”

In terms of bass life cycle, this year’s event will likely see a different complexion. Taking place in the fourth week of April, the 2023 Elite saw a significant amount of bed fishing — including that of Florida’s Drew Benton, who won with a four-day total of 87 pounds.

This time around Cobb’s not completely counting out the bed fishing game, but his local experience tells him it’s unlikely to be the main deal. This, he said, will probably pull the overall weights down a little from the 2023 levels.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to be tough, but last time, it was pretty crazy,” he said. “I think this year, you’ll need about 18 pounds a day to make the Top 10, and I would say 21 to 22 a day to win.”

Noting that he expects all of Murray to be in play, Cobb said he believes the field will spread out to search for those early shad/herring spawns. After the early-morning activity subsides, many will transition to dock fishing as the bass that had been capitalizing on shad spawns move to the nearest cover.

Stressing what he considers a key mindset, Cobb concludes: “The way the fish are this time of year, you might get some big groups of fish, but it’s hard to get them to bite all day. You’re going to have to keep moving.”