COLUMBIA, S.C. – There is an interesting fishing battle setting up in South Carolina at the Forrest Wood Cup, and the winner of that battle is going to get a million dollars Sunday afternoon.
After Saturday’s weigh-in, the 2008 Forrest Wood Cup has boiled down primarily to a two-horse race between Duracell pro Michael Bennett of Lincoln, Calif., and Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa.
After day three, Bennett leads with 16 pounds, 1 ounce. Lefebre is trailing Bennett by 2 pounds, 13 ounces with 13 pounds, 4 ounces. Behind those two is Terry Bolton of Jonesboro, Ark., with 10 pounds, 15 ounces.
Simply put, Bennett has put on a clinic the last three days, junk-fishing by the seat of his pants. He is demonstrating the art of tournament bass fishing in its purest form, relying solely on his instincts and intuition to fish almost all new water each day and making critical decisions on the fly.
So far his approach has worked beautifully, but he is the first to point out that the bottom could fall out at any time.
The last two days he has gotten just five or six bites per day and has made them count.
On the other hand, Lefebre has committed to one area, and he knows it well. Each day he has gotten more bites than Bennett. Today Lefebre said he had 11 or 12 bites.
The question now becomes whether Bennett can live on the edge another day for the quality bites. A stumble from Bennett, and Lefebre’s consistency could put the Kellogg's pro in the winner’s circle.
Beyond that, a face plant by either pro could leave the door open for Bolton or Chris Baumgardner.
Bennett turning trash into treasure
“I started the tournament with 8 to 12 rods on the deck, and I’m now down to just three,” Bennett said. “I know what to look for, but I have run completely out of water.”
A critical move by Bennett happened on day two. After finishing off his limit at about noon, he invested the rest of his tournament day in riding around the lake, looking for a particular mix of shallow cover. He found several places that fit the bill and fished those places today for his catch. But the problem is he cannot find any more water like it.
“I’ve been very comfortable fishing new water as long as it has the right ingredients,” Bennett said. “But today I fished everything on this lake that looked like that, and I’ve basically got no new water to fish. I’m going to have to start repeating on water that I’ve fished over the last few days, and I’m a little nervous about that because I feel like the fish don’t replenish very fast in these areas.”
Bennett hit 30-plus spots today and noted that the critical time is the first three hours of the day.
“Getting at least three fish in the boat in the first three hours is crucial,” Bennett pointed out. “That puts me on the right pace to finish my limit by check-in.”
As for the nerves in fishing for a million bucks, Bennett candidly said, “I get nervous onstage, but once that’s over, I’m fine.”
Instead, Lefebre has spent the whole tournament in one area and knows it “like the back of his hand.”
He had nearly a dozen bites today, and the best five checked in at 13 pounds, 4 ounces.
Unlike other leaders, who have had to run all over creation to assemble their limits, Lefebre has been steadily hammering out 11 to 13 pounds per day from this single area located up one of the rivers.
“I have a lot of confidence in the area,” Lefebre said. “I’m very familiar with what’s going on in there. Each day the pattern changes just a bit: Some days the fish are more tucked in the cover, and I have to probe in there to get them out; other days the fish are more outside the cover, and I have to swim the bait more on the outsides of the cover to get the bites.”
Lefebre noted that Dion Hibdon and Jay Yelas are also up in his area, but he made it clear that he felt like they were not sharing the same water.
“We might be overlapping a tad, but for the most part, we are all fishing different types of stuff up there,” he explained.
As for his chances at the million on Sunday, Lefebre said he would rather be in second going into the final day than leading.
“I wish that lead was just a few ounces instead of a few pounds,” he added. “But the pressure is on (Bennett) to hold the lead now.”
Bolton continued “practicing” today and said he fished all new water for about 40 percent of the day. He had seven keeper bites and boated six of them.
Yesterday he relied on a topwater toad for most of his bites but said that pattern went away today.
“I only caught one on top today, and I ended up culling that one,” he said. “I spent too much time fishing that toad today, and when I finally put it down, I caught some flipping and on a shaky head. I’m telling you, every day is like a completely different day out here.”
The Snickers pro is fishing a Zoom Horny Toad and a buzzbait around shallow cover to catch his fish.
“Some of them are on grass, but some of them are coming off nothing-looking areas, too,” Baumgardner said. “Some of the best banks are just little flat banks with nothing on them.
“I struggled for a while and then made a move down to some clearer water, and that seemed to help my bite,” he added.
Ehrler is on the run-and-gun program, using a buzzing-type toad to cover heaps of water. He hit an estimated 30 different spots today.
“I fished about 90-percent new water today,” Ehrler said. “I’m focusing on the back ends of creeks, especially where I find a mix of docks and grass. But I can’t get bites in areas I’ve already fished over, so covering new water is a key component to how I’m fishing.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Forrest Wood Cup event on Lake Murray after day three:
6th: Brian Travis of Conover, N.C., three bass, 8-2
7th: Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo., four bass, 7-2
8th: Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., four bass, 6-3
9th: Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., four bass, 5-9
10th: Mark Rose of Marion, Ark., two bass, 1-13
Day four of the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray will begin Sunday at 7 a.m. at the Lake Murray Marina and Yacht Club in Irmo, S.C.