We are one week away from the 5th stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series on Lake Murray in Columbia, South Carolina. So far, the rookies are showing out as there are 6 of the 10 rookies in the top 20 of the AOY standings, and 8 of the 10 rookies are in the top 26. Could this be a continued trend throughout the rest of the season? The Elites visited Lake Murray last year at the end of April, a few weeks prior to when they are fishing this year. We saw anglers capitalize on spawning bass with wacky worms and Texas rigs. We saw anglers chasing the herring feeders with topwater walking baits, swimbaits, weightless flukes, and hard jerkbaits. We saw anglers chase the shallow shad spawn with topwater baits and shallow squarebill crankbaits. With this tournament being a few weeks later this time around, we will possibly see more post-spawn bass even though there could still be lots of fish still spawning. We will suggest two anglers per bucket based on their strengths, momentum, tournament history in South Carolina and similar herring lakes, and more!

Let’s dive into it!

Bucket A: Jordan Lee or Trey McKinney

(Photos Courtesy of Bassmaster)

If you’ve been keeping up with the last 4 Elite Series tournaments or even just looking at the AOY standings, it is pretty self-explanatory as to why you should pick one of these two anglers. When it comes to Jordan Lee, he has not finished worse than 15th place this season. Lee has only fished 3 major tour-level events on South Carolina lakes, but he did win the 2018 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell. He is also very successful on his home lake, Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama. Smith Lake is a herring lake similar to Lake Murray, and he is used to throwing big topwater baits and swimbaits which could be big players on Murray this time around. We would not be surprised if he was practicing on Smith Lake after the previous event to prepare for Lake Murray since they fish very similar this time of year. When it comes to Trey McKinney, he is a rookie who already has a win under his belt and has finished no worse than 17th place. While he doesn’t have any herring lake history on the pro or semi-pro level, he has proven his versatility skills at several different bodies of water across the country. Lake Murray is a lake that suits his forward-facing sonar strengths as well. While there are plenty of anglers in this bucket that could do well, it would be difficult to bet against these two anglers with the momentum they have had lately.

Bucket B: Patrick Walters or Drew Benton

(Photos Courtesy of Bassmaster)

When it comes to these two anglers, they each had a great tournament on Lake Murray last year as Patrick Walters came in 4th and Drew Benton won. Walters is a South Carolina native and has had much success in his home state. Of his 8 Bassmaster events in South Carolina, his worst finish is 19th place. He won a Bassmaster Open on Lake Hartwell in 2020, finished in 12th place at the 2022 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell, and finished in 11th place at a Bassmaster Elite Series on Lake Hartwell in 2019. Drew Benton has fished 8 Bassmaster events in South Carolina with 3 of those being on Lake Hartwell or Lake Murray. He won at Murray last year and finished 43rd and 20th at Hartwell. Benton is fresh off a 4th place finish at the previous event on the St. Johns River which gives him confidence going into this event.

Bucket C: Brandon Palaniuk or Kyle Welcher

(Photos Courtesy of Bassmaster)

These two anglers are both past AOY winners which makes them great picks. When it comes to Palaniuk, he had a sub-par season for his standards last year and is off to a sub-par start this year. However, he is due a great finish as he typically has one or two top 10 finishes early in the season. He finished in 16th place at the previous event on the St. John’s River. This has been his best Elite Series finish since finishing in 2nd place at Lay Lake a year ago. Could Lake Murray be his first top 10 in a year? When it comes to Kyle Welcher, he is currently 53rd in the 2024 AOY standings after winning AOY in 2023. He had an 18th place finish at Lake Murray in 2023 which proves that he can catch them there. Welcher has also had success on Lake Hartwell as he finished in 2nd at the 2022 Bassmaster Classic by a margin of ounces. We know that he wants to make it back to the Classic again next year so he can get revenge. Could Lake Murray be the event that boosts Kyle Welcher above the Classic cut line?

Bucket D: Brandon Cobb or Bryan New

(Photos Courtesy of Bassmaster)

There is no doubt that these two anglers are the favorites in this bucket since they are both from that region of South Carolina. While Brandon Cobb grew up fishing Lake Hartwell and has had multiple great finishes there including an Elite Series win, he also has had great success on Murray including a 3rd place finish in the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup and a 6th place finish at the Elite Series event there last year. Cobb had a stellar season last year battling down to the wire for AOY with Kyle Welcher. While this year has been a struggle so far for Cobb, he is looking to have a breakthrough event in his home state at Murray. This tournament should set up well for his topwater fishing strengths. When it comes to Bryan New, he calls Lake Murray his home waters. He did not have a great event last year at Murray as he finished in 87th place. However, he did finish in 3rd place in a 2022 Bassmaster Open and 9th place in the 2022 Bassmaster Classic, both on Lake Hartwell. Like Cobb, he hasn’t had a great start to the 2024 Elite Series season. Look for either Cobb or New to rebound this event in their home state.

Bucket E: Matt Robertson or Cole Sands

(Photos Courtesy of Bassmaster)

While these two anglers are in Bucket E, they are still great anglers. Robertson had a great season in 2023 finishing 11th in AOY standings. He had two tournaments in South Carolina last year where he was leading after day one, and Lake Murray was one of those events. He ended up finishing in 29th place at Murray last year. He is great at throwing a big swimbait which could be a big player at Murray again this year. While Cole Sands finished in 82nd place at Murray last year during his rookie season and is currently in 86th place in the 2024 AOY standings, he could potentially have a breakthrough event. He doesn’t have a ton of experience at South Carolina herring fisheries, but he is a versatile angler as he showed his skills by qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic his rookie year. Look for these two anglers to shoot for the win at Murray and re-gain some critical AOY points!