At every Bassmaster Elite event, the competing anglers have one big decision to make heading into the tournament — where to fish.
In the days leading up to last weekend’s event at Winyah Bay, the 75 anglers spread out from the launch site — the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex in Georgetown located on the Sampit River — in search of good concentrations of big bass.
One of the options was to make an approximate 100-mile run each way to fish up the Cooper River north of Charleston, an area revered for its population of lunker largemouth.
Of course, the local rivers that feed into Winyah Bay — namely the Black, Pee Dee and Waccamaw — were another possibility to consider.
The prestigious tournament’s eventual winner, Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., chose to stay close, avoiding the long runs, and proved that the local waters of Georgetown County surrounding the Waccamaw River also hold a pretty darn good population of big bass.
“I think that’s one of the farthest runs we’ve ever had the option of making,” said Blaylock on Thursday, after having a few days to let his $100,000 pay day sink in. “There’s places we can make long runs but I think that one is definitely the biggest.
“For me, I’ve never been as successful when making long runs. Too many things can change, too many things out of your control can happen. I chose to stay close and was fortunate enough to find one area that had a good concentration of fish.”
Blaylock tried two different areas during his pre-fishing days.
“I spent the first day of practice on the Santee (River), and it was terrible,” said Blaylock. “The floods had that river out of its banks, high with a lot of current. It didn’t fit right. I wanted to fish there and didn’t get bit. I spent the second day (pre-fishing) in the Waccamaw. It seems like I got bit in there a little better. I got bites in one particular area and it seemed like it held a good concentration of fish.”
That location was The Fingers, an area between the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers on the south end of Sandy Island.
After the first two days of fishing, Blaylock found himself in sixth place with a two-day aggregate of 23 pounds, 13 ounces, well over three pounds behind leader Bill Lowen (27-3).
Last Saturday, Blaylock found the bigger fish.
“That third day it was just different,” said Blaylock. “Every other bite I got was a good fish. I knew there were definitely some big ones living in there. It was a perfect combination of deeper water and those fish moving up in there to spawn.”
Blaylock weighed in a bag of 17-15, the heaviest of the tournament, to take the lead with a 41-12 aggregate entering Sunday’s final round, which saw the field trimmed to 10 anglers.
Blaylock primarily threw a 5-inch green pumpkin YUM Dinger stickworm with a 1/32-ounce nail weight and occasionally pitched a white YUM Christie Craw on a 3/0 hook and a 7/16-ounce weight.
“I caught 90 percent of my fish on the YUM Dinger and when I saw them on bed I caught them on the Christie Craw, just a few,” said Blaylock.
On Sunday, action slowed down for most of the 10 finalists, except for Scott Canterbury of Odenville, Ala. Canterbury weighed in 16-2, easily the heaviest bag of the day, but Blaylock came in with a 9-3 to barely hang on.
Blaylock’s four-day aggregate for 20 fish was 50-15, just nine ounces above Canterbury in second place with a 20-fish aggregate of 50-6.
A week after finishing in second place in an Elite Series event at Lake Hartwell in Anderson, Blaylock finally had his hands on the coveted blue trophy awarded to Elite Series winners.
“Other than the Bassmaster Classic, winning those blue trophies is what it’s all about,” said Blaylock, who earned $126,500 over the two tournaments. “I was finally able to bring that blue trophy home, and man it feels good.
“As an angler I try to fish and live one day at a time. To be able to seal that deal and win that trophy, it doesn’t make me want to slow down, it makes me want to mash the gas that much harder. Once you win and get that feeling, what it means to your career and financially and everything involved, it makes you want to do it that much more.”
Blaylock found fishing out of Georgetown challenging, and praised the venue.
“It’s definitely a top-notch facility — the crowds were awesome, the fans were awesome,” said Blaylock. “For me being there, the Winyah Bay fishery is one of the most challenging. And one of the most rewarding. Once you see success in a place like that you definitely want to go back again.”
The next few weeks feature a number of tournaments being held along the Grand Strand. The details follow:
GSSWAA Flounder Tournament: The 18th annual Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Flounder Tournament will be held April 27 in Murrells Inlet.
For more information, contact Ed Skowysz (843-450-8218, Chick McDaniels (843-651-2076), or David Rapp (937-207-4018).
Meatfish Slam: The 11th annual Georgetown Meatfish Slam will be held out of Georgetown Landing Marina in Georgetown April 25-27. For more information, call (843-546-1776) or visit www.georgetownlandingmarina.com.
Far Out Shootout: The event out of Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., allows competing boats to fish two days during a stretch from April 27 through June 1. For more information, call (910-575-3474) or visit www.OIFC.com.
IFA Redfish Tour: The Atlantic Division of the trail returns to the Campbell Marine Complex on April 26-27. The tour features divisions for boats and kayaks. For more information, visit www.IFATours.com.