Sabbagha Says Settle in for the Herring Spawn at Lake Murray

Published on 04-17-2024

By Pete Robbins 
Lake Murray typically provides one of the hardest-fought and closest battles in Big Bass Tour competition each year. That’s because the lake is chock-full of 4- to 6-pound bass, but doesn’t typically produce a lot of true giants. Indeed, in the past nine years of BBT competition, there’s only been one 8-pounder brought to the scales. Nevertheless, you can’t be safe or secure with a 6 or a 7. 
For example, in 2022, an 8.02 took top honors, leaving also-rans with 7.92 and 7.90 pound bass distinctly disappointed. The prior year, a 6.59 was the boat-winner, but there were four more fish between 6.46 and 6.58 weighed in. That’s a difference of one spit-up baitfish. 
The baitfish in question are likely to be Murray’s prolific blueback herring. This is the time of year when they begin their spawning ritual in earnest. Indeed, some have already completed it and some haven’t even started, but when the BBT kicks off it should be peak activity levels. 
That would place Lake Murray expert Joey Sabbagha somewhere down lake from Dreher Island, keying in on likely points with fast-moving lures. It could be a Frittside crankbait, a Magic Swimmer or one of Berkley’s new spinnerbaits, but he’d most likely try to tempt the herring chasers with a surface lure. 
“I really like the Berkley Drift Walker and Cane Walker,” he explained. The former is a walk-the-dog style lure while the latter is more of a pencil popper. Both feature three trebles to snatch slashing bass. “And there’s nothing better than chrome on Lake Murray.” 
The key, of course, is to find the points that hold the better-sized bass, and also to be there when the fish are most active. 
“They’ll be on the points all day, so go practice,” Sabbagha said. “There are some big schools that just have smaller fish in them. The only way to tell is to cycle through them. There’s usually one spot on the point – the spot on the spot – where the better ones sit, and by that time they may be a little bit boat-weary.” 
He said that when the bass aren’t chasing it’s tough to call them up, so it may be a matter of waiting them out rather than running and gunning. 
He’d also look for some late bedding fish on the south side of the lake. There may not be many of them left, but some might be giants. He’d go after them with a Berkley Pit Boss or a jig with a Pit Boss trailer – and because they’re likely to be spooky or pressured he’d stick to natural colors like green pumpkin. 
Of course, for those anglers who can’t stand to play musical chairs with 200 of their best friends, it’s possible to find an off-the-wall bite that’s not likely to produce a lot of bites, but might tempt the right ones. Some anglers may chase that with a swimbait like the Berkley Cull Shad or Nessie, but Sabbagha’s oddball idea would be to go far up the lake. 
“Everybody’s chasing those herring fish,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be the dominant bite, but it might be possible to catch some real big ones with a frog up the river.”