Canadians: Cory Johnston 36th, Gallant 58th, Gustafson 59th & Chris Johnston 63th
BASS PRESS RELEASE
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Drew Benton had never fished a tournament on Lake Murray before this week, but the conditions are making him feel right at home.
With the bass right in the middle of their spawning cycle, Benton has fished his strengths and took the lead Friday in the Marathon Bassmaster Elite at Lake Murray with a two-day total of 46 pounds, 9 ounces. After landing in second with 23-0 on Day 1, the Panama City, Fla., pro added 23-9 on Day 2 and holds a slim lead over Tennessee angler Hunter Shryock, who is second with 45-14.
“If I spent time on (a bedding bass), I caught it today,” said Benton, who earned his only career Elite Series victory on Lake Travis in Texas in 2018. “Yesterday I spent a lot of time on a couple I didn’t get to catch. You have to find them in the right mood. It isn’t just, go down the bank and you see one and catch it. A lot goes into it, and I was really fortunate today.”
Anglers once again fished under warm and sunny conditions on Friday, with winds picking up as the afternoon progressed. That allowed several of the competitors to see the cruising bass they were targeting.
Though there was also plenty of schooling activity across the lake, Benton has ignored schoolers for the most part this week. Instead, he’s cruising around the shallows looking for bass that are locked on bed. According to BassTrakk, he caught 11 total bass and made important culls throughout the day.
Around 1:20 p.m., Benton landed his biggest bass of the day, a 6-9 largemouth. Then with about 30 minutes to go, he caught a 4 1/2-pounder that lifted him to his final tally.
It was an efficient day for Benton, who never spent more than 30 minutes on one bass. The 6-9 took the longest — and the only reason for that, Benton said, was because the male bit four times before he coaxed the female into biting.
“It would have been a lot easier to catch that female if I could have kept the male, but I already had five in the livewell,” Benton said. “The male I kept catching was about a 1/2-pound smaller than the smallest fish in my limit, and I seriously considered releasing my fifth keeper just to get that male out of the way.
“Fortunately, I managed to catch that female without doing that.”
The area of the lake where Benton is fishing is about 3 degrees colder than the rest of the lake. He hasn’t found his spawners in a specific depth range, but he thinks more bass are coming in to spawn.
“They have to be. There were three new ones (today) that weren’t there yesterday,” Benton said. “I have got to stay in that zone of the lake because it is the only place I am getting new fish. Up here where it is 75 degrees, it isn’t enticing them to come up.”
A cold front is expected to move through the area overnight and into Saturday morning, bringing with it a chance of rain, wind and storms. Benton feels he will need to adjust to keep his lead.
“I am going to have to make some of those fish bite that I am seeing up on the points,” he said. “With the conditions, I feel like they will bite better. If a man ever figures out how to catch the ones that are just up there swimming around, he will walk away with this thing. Tomorrow will be the day for that to happen.”
Shryock is also fishing shallow, but he abandoned his sight-fishing strategy on Day 2 and caught 23-5 to add to his Day 1 mark of 22-9.
“It wouldn’t have surprised me if we had caught 25 to 27 pounds today,” Shryock said. “But it also wouldn't have surprised me if I caught 12. That is just the way this place is. As soon as we went off Bassmaster LIVE, I caught a 5 1/2. I also had a 6 or 7 try to eat my topwater. It chased after it and boiled on it. If I catch that one, we are at 25 1/2.
“There are 27 pounds swimming all around. It is that crazy.”
On Day 1, Shryock had all of his weight in about an hour. On Friday, he opened the day with a 5-pounder and slowly made his way to a limit by 11 a.m.
The only bass from that limit that made his final bag was that 5-pounder. After 11, he made four upgrades with four different baits.
“I got bites doing other things today that I didn’t do yesterday,” he said. “So that gave me a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. Getting that rotation down — where to be at the right time — I feel like I was a little early knowing this is what I needed to be doing. I kind of rushed and tomorrow we will try to pinpoint that.”
Shryock is seeing plenty of bass that are bigger than what he has put in the livewell. Making them bite has been a challenge and he is hoping that in the next two days, he can get a couple of them to eat.
“I’m talking, they are as long as your leg,” Shryock said. “And they live in the same places. I come back through again and they are still there. One of these times I am going to catch one and that is going to make all the difference.”
With a two-day total of 44-12, Japanese pro Kyoya Fujita jumped into third place on Friday. He has caught 22-6 both days of the event and anchored his Day 2 bag with a largemouth that was about 6 pounds.
Fujita has been fishing offshore for his bass this week, in anywhere from 6 to 18 feet of water. He said the deep, clear nature of Lake Murray reminds him of his home lakes.
This morning, the Japanese pro struggled with execution. But by noon, the bass started biting consistently. He has been rotating through several areas, using mostly one bait to catch his bass.
“They were biting morning and afternoon,” he said. “(I have) many spots. Low light has been best.”
Brandon Card had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day Friday with a 6-14 largemouth — an accomplishment worth $1,000. He is tied with Matt Robertson’s Day 1 6-14 for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament.
Robertson also holds the VMC Monster Bag of the Tournament with the 25-8 limit that earned him the lead on Day 1.
The Top 50 remaining anglers will launch from Dreher Island State Park beginning at 7 a.m. ET Saturday and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. The Top 10 after Saturday’s weigh-in will compete on Championship Sunday for a $100,000 first-place prize and the coveted blue trophy. FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday from 8-10:30 a.m. Live coverage will transition to Bassmaster.com afterward.