Preview: Competition Zone Lands in Little Saluda River

By Rob Newell - May 2, 2018

Ever since the MLF Challenge Select began five days ago in Columbia, S.C., most competitors in the event have said if they have to fish Lake Murray in June, they hope it’s somewhere in the upper river arms.

Well for the six pros who have made it to today’s Championship Round, they are going to get their wish. In fact, the Championship Round on the final day will include the Little Saluda River arm of Lake Murray.

This area is music to the finalists’ ears because this time of year pros seek out current and usually, the farther up a river you go the closer you get to the flow.

In addition, the upriver portion of Murray provides a lot more shallow cover in the form of flats and vegetation, which lends itself well to the “no practice, no information” rules of MLF. Fishing the most available visible cover an angler can find as quickly as possible is a proven successful tactic – and the Little Saluda has plenty of it to go around.

While the zone maps brought a smile to a lot of the competitors’ faces on the final day, there was one small problem: the names of the six finalists reads like a who’s who of river rats, mud daubers and shallow water assassins, starting with the “River Otter” himself, Ott Defoe.

Defoe’s reputation on tour for fishing current in shallow rivers and creeks is well respected. And for that reason, his presence in the Championship Round being held in the Little Saluda arm has his competition a little antsy.

“I’m up a river with the River Otter,” Palaniuk said. “Perfect.”

“I like it,” Defoe said with a smile as he looked at the zone map. “I’d actually rather be in the other arm (Big Saluda) because I’ve been as far you can go up in that one, but this one will do.”

“I’ve never been way up this arm before, but I’m fixing to explore it here in a few minutes during the ride through,” Defoe added with grin. “I want to get as far away from those blueback herring fish as I can get. And I’m sure I’m not the only one with that idea.”

And Defoe would be correct in his assumption.

The River Otter may have a reputation for running rivers, but Zack Birge of Oklahoma knows how to read a river pretty well, too.

“I’m happy with it,” Birge said of the zone. “If I had my choice, this is where I’d pick to fish. This arm or the other one, either way it’s more of a comfort zone for me; it’s better than being all the way down at the dam chasing blueback fish.”

“I’ll be honest, though, I’d rather be fishing against someone else,” Birge said as he shot a quick glance at Defoe. “I’m sure there are several of us here with the same thing in mind. But looking at this zone, there are several other little side creeks and ditches other than the main river, which offers some options for us to spread out. When things get cramped is when there is just one main river arm and everyone crams into one little section.”

Brandon Palaniuk was also keenly aware of his competition’s perfect match with the zone.

“Here’s the summary for the day: I’m up a river with the River Otter,” Palaniuk said. “Perfect.”

Keith Poche is yet another one who likes to plow mud with the trolling motor to catch bass.

“I like where I’m at here,” Poche said, looking at his zone map. “I see lots of opportunity for residential bass up here – bass that just live in these backwater areas all year. The problem is residential bass are usually just a one-or-two-fish-per-area kind of deal and we have a group of guys here who all know how to catch those kinds of bass, too, so it’s going to be an interesting day.”

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