Sabbagha Says Murray will be a Shootout

Published on 04-21-2023

By Pete Robbins
Anyone who follows either or both of the major pro bass fishing tours is well aware of how incredibly South Carolina’s Lake Murray is fishing. Limits aren’t a problem. Seventeen pounds is ho-hum. Twenty pounds barely gets a raised eyebrow. And 30-plus pounds isn’t out of the question. This fishery near the city of Columbia may have more 3-, 4- and 5-pound bass per acre and total than any place else in the country – and it just seems to be getting better.
The trick, at least when it comes to the Big Bass Tour event, will be setting yourself apart from the pack. The numbers of sixes and sevens doesn’t lag far behind the legion in the next class down. While the Murray BBT has switched back and froth between spring and fall over the years, it has almost never taken less than 6 pounds to creep into the overall top five – the last time that happened was 2016, when fifth place missed it by the weight of just one baitfish and logged in at 5.95.
Baitfish – specifically the lake’s prolific blueback herring – will be the key said local expert Joey Sabbagha. Find the herring and you’ll find the bass.
“I would run shallow herring points with a big topwater,” he said. The lake’s lower end up through the mid-section. has tons of clay points, as well as blow-throughs where the bait gangs up and the bass follow in behind them. Some of his choices would include the Berkley Cane Walker, J-Walker and Drift Walker, in colors like chrome and bone, or any natural baitfish color. They’re big, but it’s heft, not length, that is the primary driver in that decision.
“It’s not about bigger, it’s about being accurate,” he said. “Those bass are moving one way or the other. You need to get in front of them. The first time it moves they’ll grab it if they see it, so it’s critical to recognize which direction they’re moving.”
He said that anglers should pick a favorite creek and go to work, but he’d caution against going far up the river, noting that it “hasn’t been fishing very well.”
Anglers also shouldn’t worry about the pressure the lake, or a given section thereof, is receiving. The bass continue to gorge on the fast-moving herring and never let them get far away. Sometimes it’s a matter of camping in a key place and waiting for the washing machine to start swirling. The action can be fast and furious, but once it’s done it can be hard to pick more off, even if you see them swimming around nearby.
For those anglers who are nevertheless convinced that the pressure has the bigger fish turned off, or more difficult to catch, Sabbagha would recommend going as far back in the creeks as possible and engaging in old-fashioned target fishing with a hollow-bodied frog and a Berkley Choppo. These fish are residents, not focused on the herring, and act more like traditional ambush-feeding largemouths.
While the largest waves of spawning bass have completed the reproductive process, there may also be some bedding fish available, either visible or not. He’d target them with a Berkley Rocket Craw or a Berkley General stickbait. The latter is especially good on the lake’s many docks for both spawners and fry guarders.
Finally, for those anglers who are true giant hunters, willing to hero or zero, Sabbagha recommends tying on a big glide bait and covering water. It’s back breaking work, but it may provide the best overall chance at an 8 or above. Last year’s BBT winner topped the 8 pound mark with an 8.02, making the four other anglers who caught 7-pounders or greater quite disappointed. Even if you find yourself in that boat, by following the live leaderboard it’s possible to salvage a solid hourly check.