By Todd Ceisner
The 2014 Forrest Wood Cup will be remembered as much for the randomness of the fishing as it will for its Hollywood-quality dramatic finish.
Anglers constantly talked about the inability to generate bites out of the same areas 2 days in a row and the need to be on the hunt for new water. Only a few ever felt like they were on a pattern and even fewer got on winning-quality fish. There were no 30-fish days as Lake Murray certainly showed its stripes as one tough summer cookie to crack.
The result, though, was the closest Cup in history as even the slightest change in conditions sent anglers scrambling to different spots in search of better fish. There were fish caught from the bank up the river to hard-bottom areas in 40 feet of water on the lower end and it was a run-and-gun affair that was ultimately decided by an ounce.
Here's how the rest of the Top 5 finishers came within a whisker of taking home the Cup themselves.
2nd: Scott Canterbury
> Day 1: 4, 10-00
> Day 2: 5, 11-03
> Day 3: 5, 16-00
> Day 4: 5, 13-14
> Total = 19, 51-01
Canterbury practiced on the lower end of the lake and was convinced the Cup would be won on schooling fish chasing blueback herring and shad.
"I got some bites on shallow points and bars down there – some good 2 1/2- to 4–pound fish," he said. "I saw Anthony on places and he saw me on places the first 2 days. I thought I could go down there in the morning and catch maybe three doing that had we started at daylight. By the time we took off and got down there, it didn't last long at all. Those fish seemed to bite better in low-light conditions."
He did something different each day of practice, including fishing brush and locating areas up the river that might produce some flipping fish.
"I had some confidence up the river," he said. "That's where I fished in '08 and I knew there were fish up the river. I know it was won on the mid-section of the lake in 2008, but I also knew if you could get fish on the lower end of clear lakes to bite, they're going to be better than average fish more than likely."
On the last day of practice, he got some bites fishing grass in the lake's mid-section.
"I didn't know how good it was, but I caught a 3 and figured I could get some bites in there during the tournament," he added.
He started the tournament on the lower end fishing for schoolers and on his second stop he boated a 4-pounder. However, he couldn't hit his goal of leaving there with two or three keepers. He headed up the river at 2 p.m. with one bass and was able to scratch out three more keepers, including two flipping, to wind up with four for 10 pounds even.
He headed back down lake on day 2, but at 9:30 his livewell was empty and he pulled the plug on the schooling fish.
"I went to some shallow grass in the middle part of the lake and it just clicked that day," he said. "Everything I went to worked. I could almost call my shots. I found a little pattern running shade lines with grass and wood mixed. The grass needed gravel or rock around it. A lot of the grass here has some kind of grass growing below it and I could never get bit in it, but if I could find grass that came out and had 2 or 3 feet of water in front of it and it had gravel or rock or a clean bottom I could call my shots the second day."
His grass fish mostly came on a buzzbait with various trailers. His 11-03 stringer helped him make the first cut in 9th place.
He never fished for schoolers on day 3 and instead ran a bunch of new water looking for the clean bottom in front of the shallow grass.
"I fished places I'd never been before and in the first 2 hours, I had 12 or 13 pounds," he said.
His 16-pound bag was the biggest of day 3 and moved him into 4th entering the final day.
On Sunday, he didn't run too far from takeoff and continued to fish the shade-line pattern, but he wasn't having the success he had on previous days.
"I went down a non-shady stretch and caught a couple good ones," he said. "They were more in the sun, but tighter on the wood. When they got tighter on the wood, I went and flipped a bunch more docks and I'd gotten bites on that jig on a dock every day on wood."
He had a key fish that likely would've won the event for him come unbuttoned during the afternoon.
"I don't think my fish changed or moved," he said. "There were a lot of fish up shallow, more than I thought there would be."
> Flipping gear: 7'6" heavy-action Halo Daylite casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. Dirty Jigs pitching jig (pond bug blue), various chunk trailers.
> Fluke gear: 7'3 medium-heavy Halo Twilite casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 15-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line, 4/0 unnamed EWG hook, 5" Bruiser Baits Rad Shad (moonlight).
> Topwater gear: 7' medium-action Halo Twilite casting rod, unnamed casting reel (7.3:1 gear ratio), 30-pound unnamed braided line, Jackall Mud Sucker (ghost minnow).
> Buzzbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Halo Twilight casting rod, unnamed casting reel, same line as topwater, various buzzbaits (skirted and unskirted).
> Main factor in his success – "Following my gut instincts no doubt. I never caught fish out of the same area twice. This lake has a ton of fish in it, but it fished so tough. Most times when we go practice, we look for areas where we can get bites. Instead of looking for areas to get bites here, you need to look at areas that you think you can get a bite. You have to figure out what they're on and I really figured it out on the second day. That's when it clicked."
> Performance edge – "Everything I used. I couldn't have done it without any of it. It was just a matter of running on your gut and keeping your head straight and staying sharp."
Brent Ehrler averaged 13 pounds over the first 3 days, but fell short on the final day.
3rd: Brent Ehrler
> Day 1: 5, 13-05
> Day 2: 5, 12-07
> Day 3: 5, 13-05
> Day 4: 5, 11-10
> Total = 20, 50-11
Brent Ehrler's track record on the blueback herring lakes in and around South Carolina and Georgia is pretty stout. A 3rd-place finish at the Cup will only add to it.
He didn't light them up in practice and he said each day was different so he went into the tournament knowing he had to have several options for multiple sets of conditions.
"I found some schooling fish on the second day of practice and caught several in the morning," he said. "It was foggy and overcast and I had a limit in 30 to 45 minutes. They were pushing way more bait up than what we saw in the tournament. It was crazy. I never went back to it because I didn't know if we'd get an overcast-only type of day, but I figured if we did I could go there. Otherwise I could catch a few in the first hour or two and then it was done."
He focused on schooling fish first thing in the morning and had success with the Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits D Shad. He then had a milk run of brush piles in 12 to 20 feet he'd used to finish his limit before going shallow to try to coax an upgrade.
"What I'd do was run to some of the brush piles to finish off my limit, but as soon as I'd get my limit, I wouldn't fish any more of them because I just don't think there are a lot of fish living down there," he said. "I'd mix it up and run the bank and throw a topwater on schoolers and on the bank. I caught them both ways. I didn't know if I was going to catch them or not."
He put together consistent bags in the 12 1/2- to 13 1/3-pound range on days 1-3 and even went to a double fluke rig on day 3 when throwing at the schooling fish.
"For some reason, I wanted to try something different on day 3," he said. "I felt like I could cast the single one farther, but when I started casting it on the third day, I could cast it farther with the double just because it was heavier. I thought it would be cumbersome, but it worked better and I could cast it farther. Like with the umbrella rig, I think if they see more baits up there, they get more excited about it."
He caught a double on his first cast with it on day 3 and it helped him put a 13-05 stringer on the scale to give him a slim lead entering the final day.
His schooling fish didn't fire on the final day and he then started to fish brush piles with a dropshot later in the morning. He coaxed six bites all day and scratched out a limit for 11-10, his smallest of the tournament.
"The brush piles weren't as good as I'd thought they be," he said. "I could run up and catch a few on some, but it didn't pan out."
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Daiwa Steez AGS spinning rod, Daiwa Steez spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline SX1 braided line, 8-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line (leader), Roboworm Rebarb hook, 6" Roboworm (morning dawn and red crawler), 1/4-oz. Reins Tungsten dropshot weight.
> Soft jerkbait gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula casting rod, Daiwa PX Type-R casting reel (6.8:1 gear ratio), 14-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Gamakatsu 4/0 EWG hook, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits D Shad (pearl white).
> Performance edge – "Only two people had the new Lakemaster chips – Brett Hite and myself – and the thing about the chip is the mapping alone on the Humminbird is phenomenal. On those schooling areas, I could tell why they were related to a certain part of the point because it would show you points off to a side of the point that run perpendicular. The fish would be on those. Their electronics are so good, but the mapping is unbelievable."
Casey Ashley stuck to his strengths at the Cup after an abbreviated practice period.
4th: Casey Ashley
> Day 1: 5, 9-00
> Day 2: 5, 11-14
> Day 3: 5, 15-09
> Day 4: 5, 14-00
> Total = 20, 50-07
Casey Ashley made a strong comeback from a 9-pound stringer on day 1 that had him in 21st place. After an abbreviated practice since he was coming from the Delaware River Elite Series in Philadelphia, he opted to go straight to his comfort zone – shallow water.
"If I'd have had 1 more day, I think I could've figured out that deep brush a little earlier," he said. "That could've changed the game. I fished a good tournament, though. I didn't lose any fish."
He said there was no pattern to what he caught fish off of, saying it was "as random as random could be."
"I just covered water and caught some on points, ramps, grass, the backs of pockets," he added. "All I had was a bait that for the most part if they blew up on it, they were going to eat it."
He focused mostly on Hollow Creek and Bear Creek because he'd had success there in past tournaments. He said the fishing was tough during pre-practice in July, but he opted to not go into Hollow Creek.
"I never went in there because I knew it was tough and if I couldn't get a bite I didn't want to mess my confidence up in that area," he said. "Bear Creek is just a really good area and about 80 percent of local tournaments are won around there."
His plan for the tournament was to fish shallow and try to catch a limit that way, then if he was close to some deeper brush, he'd stop and try to catch some upgrades. The key to his success was simply covering tons of new water every day.
He didn't get dialed in on the brush-pile bite until day 3 when he yanked a 4 and a 2 3/4-pounder off one spot.
"On day 1, I fished some and actually broke one off because it surprised me when he bit," he said. "On day 2, I ran some other brush, but I was in the wrong area up the river.
"On the last day, I fished some brush around 10 a.m., but there wasn't any fish in them and I only had one," he said. "Then I went to the back of this creek that I'd found that was full of 2- to 2 1/2-pounders. There were a ton of fish in there and I'd found it on the first day of practice. I fished it on day 1 to catch five. I never fished it on day 2 and caught another limit in there on day 3. I caught two more on day 4."
After he came out of the creek, he ran more brush and finished his limit with two more good keepers to run his weight to 14 pounds.
> Buzzbait gear: 7' medium-heavy Quantum Smoke PT casting rod, same reel (6.6:1 ratio), 17-pound Hi-Seas monofilament line, unnamed buzzbait (gold blade with shad color skirt), Zoom Horny Toad trailer (green-pumpkin pearl).
> His bait of choice when fishing brush was a 10" Zoom Ol' Monster worm.
> Main factor in his success – "Just being open minded and covering a lot of water."
> Performance edge – "I used all Quantum rods and reels. That Smoke Inshore rod with that popper bait allowed me to work that a little better. It's more parabolic and has a real soft tip so when the fish get it, they ate it."
Steve Kennedy holds up the bait that helped him catch the tournament's heaviest stringer on the final day.
5th: Steve Kennedy
> Day 1: 5, 9-13
> Day 2: 5, 9-15
> Day 3: 5, 10-09
> Day 4: 5, 20-02
> Total = 20, 50-07
Steve Kennedy was the lone angler among the 10 finalists to weigh progressively bigger stringers each day of the tournament. He capped it off by a tournament-best 20-02 bag on day 4, matching Mark Rose's day-1 stringer from the 2008 Cup at Murray.
He also didn't devote any time to schooling fish on the main lake. Instead, he focused all of his time in the Saluda River, junk-fishing for resident fish until the final day when all he threw was a Zoom Horny Toad, skipping it back under trees and into shady spots.
"I only got 1 1/2 days of practice and the first day I ran around on the lower end and found some stripers," he said. "The second day I ran up the river and the water was really high from the rains they had the previous week. The river was muddy and the pockets were kind of clear.
"I actually saw 5-pound class bass gulping mayflies. It was something I'd never seen before. We had that off day in practice and going back up there first day of the tournament, the water had dropped maybe a foot. Up the river it had dropped 4 or 5 feet. I scraped out a limit that weighed 9 pounds but I never saw those big fish for 2 days and then Saturday it started stabilizing a little bit. I got two big bites and lost both of them. I knew where they were setting up and they were getting positioned where I could read them a little better."
When the water in the river was high in practice, he was able to make it nearly all the way to Lake Greenwood.
"The water was up and flowing and I finally came to a place where there were rocks and I quit going," he said. "There were some random logs, but I was waiting until noon to run so I could see the bottom. Occasionally, there'd be a rock the size of a boat in the middle of the river, but reading the current is what I've done since I was a kid."
He went up the river the first 2 days of competition, thinking those bigger fish would be there for the taking, but he wound up having to scratch out a limit both days.
"I was catching what I could on days 1 and 2," he said, adding he caught fish on a jerkbait and worm, among other things. "I just wanted to catch five. On day 3, I wanted to be in that 15- to 16-pound range."
While he didn't reach his goal, his day-3 bag of 10-09 was enough to get him into the Top 10 by 1 ounce. That set the stage for a furious finish on day 4.
"My history with the Horny Toad is not good," he said. "It cost me (B.A.S.S.) Angler of the Year back when (Mike Iaconelli) won. I missed a 5-pounder on it. It's just a love-hate relationship."
On Sunday, it was a love affair as he filled the boat with above-average fish, including a kicker he estimated to be in the 6-pound range.
"The key deal was skipping it back under the shade, especially in the morning when the wind got up pretty good," he said. "For a while I was sliding it into places that even amazed me. I was skipping it way back under the junk, into little key spots where they were set up. I caught two off the same bush and two off the same willow 2 hours apart."
When he pulled up behind the Colonial Life Arena in advance of Sunday's weigh-in, he was giddy and thought he'd caught enough to pull off a miraculous 10th-to-1st rally. In the end, he came up 11 ounces short.
"I just got five key bites and put them all in the boat. I just big-eyed them a little bit," he said.
> Frog gear: 7' extra-heavy unnamed casting rod, unnamed casting reel (7.1:1 gear ratio), 50-pound unnamed braided line, 2/0 unnamed EWG hook, Zoom Horny Toad (various colors).
> Main factor in his success – "That's all I had. I went looking for schooling fish that one day. I knew that's a risky way to fish and it's amazing that they catch them every day doing that. Obviously, the guy who lives here and knows the place was the one that pulled it off. Figuring it out in 1 1/2 days, you can't do it."
> Performance edge – "The whole thing has to work and it did."