By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The Winyah Bay Bassmaster Elite Series was likely the event on the 2019 schedule that was dreaded by the most anglers on the 75-man roster. Comparatively speaking, the playing field is huge and the number of keeper bass per surface acre of water is far lower than most venues that host top-level tournaments.
There were some big bites to be had, though, and the anglers who got them were able to separate themselves in the standings. Those who finished nearest to winner Stetson Blaylock went about the task in a variety of ways.
2nd: Scott Canterbury
> Day 1: 5, 11-15
> Day 2: 5, 7-01
> Day 3: 5, 15-04
> Day 4: 5, 16-02
> Total = 20, 50-06
Scott Canterbury, a two-time tournament winner during his long stint on the FLW Tour, left Georgetown, S.C. tied atop the Angler of the Year standings with rookie Patrick Walters just short of the midway point of his first campaign on the Elite Series. He had a decent day 1 followed by a lackluster day 2, and then turned in two hefty stringers (by Winyah Bay standards) on the weekend.
He caught the vast majority of his weight from a 15-acre pond off the Cooper River, about a two-hour run from the launch.
"I covered a lot of water in practice and had a few fish on beds that I caught the first day," he said. "One of them I had to run 5 miles and catch it on one cast or I wouldn't have made the (top-35) cut.
"It was a great tournament and I fished the way I like to fish. I don't know what happened on day 2 – that really got me.
He caught his entire day-3 bag on a swimjig – a bait that produced one or two other weigh-in fish for him on previous days. On a hunch, he switched to a buzzbait on the morning of overcast, humid day 4 and used it to procure 80 percent of his bag, with the other fish coming from a bed.
His final-round haul included one fish over 6 pounds and a 5 1/2 – the two heaviest specimens caught that day.
"It was about making the right decisions," he said. "I went to the Cooper River because I knew it had bigger fish and it set up the way I like to fish.
"There were seven or eight of us in the same area, but when I went farther upriver I got into some fresh fish that hadn't seen a bait in a few days. Getting away helped a lot."
> Swimjig gear: 7'6" or 7'3" Halo Titanium Series rod, Ardent Grand casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 50-pound P-Line TCB 8 braided line, 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Tackle swimjig (bream or black/blue), NetBait Mini Kickin' B trailer (blue sapphire or green-pumpkin).
> Sight-fishing gear: 7'11" heavy-action Halo Titanium Series rod, same reel, 25-pound P-Line TCB 8 braid, 3/8-ounce Flat Out Tungsten weight, unnamed craw-style bait (pumpkinseed).
> Buzzbait gear: 7'5" heavy-action Halo Kryptonite Series rod, same reel, 50-pound P-Line TCB 8 braid, 1/4-ounce Dirty Jigs Tackle Scott Canterbury Pro Buzzbait, unnamed toad trailer (black).
Cory Johnston caught most of his fish from hard-bottomed areas on a spawning flat.
3rd: Cory Johnston
> Day 1: 5, 11-02
> Day 2: 5, 11-12
> Day 3: 5, 17-06
> Day 4: 5, 9-01
> Total = 20, 49-05
Cory Johnston's pre-tournament research led him to believe that the winning fish would come from the Cooper River. That notion proved incorrect (Blaylock fished the Waccamaw), but committing to the long run propelled him to the best finish of his four-year tour-level career.
"I spent all my practice time in the Cooper," he said. "I didn't even look anywhere else."
He had quite a few spawning fish marked, and those carried him through the first two days. He didn't have much time to look for others during the event as they could only be spotted at low tide.
"Most of the time I was just casting out to where I knew there were bedding areas. When the sun was out on the second day I could see the holes in the hydrilla, but the rest of the time I was just blind-casting."
He pulled the majority of his weight from a spawning flat that featured scattered hydrilla. The small places that featured a hard bottom held most of the fish.
A wacky-rigged soft stickbait was his main offering, and a swimjig also produced.
> Stickbait gear: 7'3" G. Loomis NRX 872 spinning rod, Shimano Exsence spinning reel, 8-pound PowerPro braid (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (leader), size 1 Gamakatsu B10S Stinger hook, wacky-rigged Strike King Ocho (green-pumpkin).
> Swimjig gear: 7'5" medium-heavy G. Loomis NRX 893 rod, Shimano Metanium MGL casting reel (7:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Punisher swimjig (green-pumpkin), Strike King Rage Craw trailer (green-pumpkin).
Jason Williamson's 15-11 bag was the biggest of day 1.
4th: Jason Williamson
> Day 1: 5, 15-11
> Day 2: 5, 8-11
> Day 3: 5, 10-13
> Day 4: 5, 11-00
> Total = 20, 46-03
Jason Williamson chose to pass on the arduous trip to the Cooper River, choosing instead to spend his time much closer to the launch in the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers. He held the lead after day 1, but couldn't replicate his big opening-round haul over the remaining three days.
"I was keying on marinas in the morning, flipping the banks, and then dropshotting deeper until I caught five," he said. "Then I fished the same series of canals that (fellow top-10 finishers Blaylock, Koby Kreiger and Clent Davis) were all in.
"Fish live in the marinas and some of them get big, but they're not always the easiest to catch."
His flipping targets included wood, dock poles and reeds. Many of those fish ended up being replaced by bigger dropshot specimens from deeper water.
"I had two areas in the canals that had good depth to them (as much as 20 feet) and a pretty good amount of bluegill and shad. The water was deep enough that they could live in there – a lot of other backwaters were pretty shallow – the fish would pull in and spawn and leave and you could catch what was there at the time, but that's it."
> Flipping gear: 7'7" heavy-action Taipan J-Will Series rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, 5/16-ounce tungsten weight, 5/0 straight-shank worm hook, Zoom Brush Hog or Zoom Z Craw (tilapia).
> Dropshot gear: 7'3" medium-action Taipan J-Will Series rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum spinning reel, 15-pound Gamma Torque braid (main line), 8-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon (10" leader), 3/16-ounce tungsten teardrop weight, 1/0 Roboworm ReBarb hook, Zoom Swamp Crawler (morning dawn).
John Crews relied on a variety of different baits depending on the tide and other conditions.
5th: John Crews
> Day 1: 5, 11-13
> Day 2: 5, 8-15
> Day 3: 5, 15-09
> Day 4: 5, 9-13
> Total = 20, 46-02
John Crews had good practice days in both the Cooper and in the rivers closer to the launch, and that left him in somewhat of a dilemma about which direction to go as day 1 approached. He'd spent all three of his competition days in the Cooper during the circuit's previous visit in 2016, logging a 23-place finish.
"I was really confused about where to fish," he said. "On the third day I went back over (to the Cooper) and found another new area, and I just figured that I had enough stuff over there that I'd be alright.
"I had had one area that was a big rice field that the fish seemed to key in on and some other stuff along the main river. There's a lot of grass over there – most everything seemed to be grass-related. The biggest thing was not getting locked into one particular area and mixing in different baits based on the tide and location."
His key depth range was 2 to 6 feet. His bait lineup included a couple of different worms, a bladed jig and a jerkbait.
> Wacky-rig gear: 7'3" medium-action Cashion rod, Daiwa Tatula LT spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline Xplasma Asegai braided line, size 1 Gamakatsu Octopus hook, Missile Baits The 48 (green-pumpkin).
> Worm gear: 7' medium-heavy Cashion rod, Daiwa Tatula 100 casting reel, 30-pound Sunline Xplasma Asegai braid, unnamed 1/8-ounce weight, 3/0 Gamakatsu Heavy Cover Worm hook, Zoom Speed Worm (green-pumpkin).
> Bladed jig gear: Same rod and reel as Speed Worm, 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon, 3/8-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jackhammer (green-pumpkin), Missile Baits Shockwave 3.5 trailer (fisholicious).
> Jerkbait gear: 6'9" medium-heavy Cashion rod, same reel as Speed Worm and ChatterBait, 12-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon, Megabass Vision 110+ (herring).
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