Preview: Monkey Wrench Gets Tossed into Sudden Death

By Rob Newell - April 18, 2018

For the first three days of the Major League Fishing Challenge Select in Columbia, S.C., Select pros were taken to Lake Murray for the Elimination Round. Given MLF’s reputation for finding obscure fisheries to conduct events, Select pros were a bit underwhelmed by the decision to go to Murray since Murray is such a well-known tournament lake.

For the Sudden Death round, however, MLF reached deep into its bag of tricks and pulled out a doozie: Monticello Reservoir (a.k.a. Lake Monticello) located in rural Blair, South Carolina.

While anglers in South Carolina have probably heard of Monticello, none of the six pros fishing the first day of Sudden Death were familiar with it at all. Monticello is an obscure 6,800-acre power plant lake with enough oddball quirks to really throw first-timers for a complete loop.

For starters, since Monticello is a power plant lake, water is released out and then pumped back into the lake from another reservoir (Parr). The upshot here is that the Monticello fluctuates some 3 feet per day, sometimes more – almost like a tide on a coastal fishery, except it’s not controlled by the moon, but rather by power demand. For that reason, the up and down nature of Monticello is not always predictable but is more common during summer months when power demand is higher. Also, the water drops and refills pretty quickly, so these anglers will be in for a real treat when they watch the cover they’re fishing literally “dry out” right before their eyes.

The shallow banks and cover on Monticello look fishy, but due to the up and down nature of the lake, word is the bass don’t spend much time up shallow. Instead, they make their living out in more of the 8- to 12-foot zones where current from the daily power draws washes over offshore points and cuts. Given the “fish shallow fast” strategy of most Select pros, this little wrinkle alone could give the anglers fits.

Also, just to add to the confusion, Monticello also contains smallmouth bass – some good ones, too.  Which, brings up another point: Monticello is known for being more of a quality lake over a quantity lake: the numbers might not be there, but the big ones are. The lake has a reputation for having a lot of 3- to 6-pound fish given its size.

This, again, throws a major kink into the Sudden Death strategy of finding a pile of small fish and nickel and diming them to the cut weight. And speaking of cut weight, the day’s mark has been set at 12 pounds: the first three to reach a dozen pounds will go on to the Championship Round while the other three will be cut from the competition.

In short, Lake Monticello is everything the MLF format is not. Those hoping to fish shallow fast to get on the board quickly and then pile up some keepers to reach the cut weight will likely be in for a real surprise.

Just how surprised?

Comical pro James Watson was the first pro to get vocal about this drastic curveball.

“I was dialed in at Murray!” Watson exclaimed upon exiting the truck. “I stayed up all night rigging up all kinds of sexy double-fluke rigs and blueback herring imitators. I even went over there to Ott Defoe’s boat in the boatyard and copied all the lures he had tied on. I’m telling you I was ready for Murray again. And then they bring us to this place – Monti-something-or-another. That’s MLF for you – ruining my bass fishing stardom with all their monkey wrenches!”

Watson’s ubiquitous comedy routine had reached Ott Defoe’s ears.

“Well it looks like my plan worked then,” Defoe chuckled. “I left that stuff out on my deck as a decoy and Watson fell for it – again.”

“I’m actually glad we’re not back at Murray,” Defoe continued. “I’d much rather come to a place like this where none of us have any experience than to return to a place where most of us have fished before. This is more in line with the spirit of MLF. As much as we fish all over the country I know it’s hard for MLF to find these little nooks and crannies where we’ve never been, but this is what I like about this format. I have no idea what this place has to offer and neither do any of these other guys and that’s what excites me more than anything.”

When Defoe was informed of the cut weight, his enthusiasm waned a bit.

“Twelve pounds?” he questioned. “That might not be good. Usually when we go to good places the cut weight is high. Twelve pounds sounds a little low. As professional bass anglers we’re required to be optimists at all times. We want to think that the place we’re fishing today is always better than where we were yesterday, so I’m a little concerned about the cut weight. But again, it’s the same for all of us right now and that’s what makes this so much fun.”

Several boats over Michael Neal was hoping for a return to Lake Murray for Sudden Death.

“I felt like I had something figured out the other day at Murray so I wanted to see if I could run with it a little more,” Neal said. “I know nothing about this place. I don’t know if it has grass, if it has bluebacks, if it has current, if it has rock, clay, mud – whatever – I know absolutely nothing about it.”

“But it’s the same for everyone here,” Neal continued. “And it’s calming to know everyone here has those same unanswered questions. That makes the first period sort of a grace period in these things. The SCORETRACKER is usually quite early on because we’re all out there exploring and experimenting. Where things get nerve-wracking in these Sudden Death deals is when someone starts cracking the code and climbing the leaderboard fast. If it’s you doing the cracking and climbing, it’s a lot of fun; if it’s not you, it’s a real pressure cooker.”

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