"I'll bet most of them were fishing Super Flukes," said 51-year-old Byron Smith of his nearly 200 competitors in last weekend's Mr. Clark Hill Bass Fishing Championship on Thurmond Lake.
He never touched a fluke, opting for a green plastic floating worm, a quarter-ounce white-on-white Buckeye buzz bait, and a Zoom green pumpkin plastic lizard. That trio caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 19.42 pounds, good enough for Smith's first Mr. Clark Hill title.
The Hephzibah fisherman and Columbia County River Rats Bass Club member edged the Outcast Bass Club's Keith Williamson, of Lincolnton, Ga., who wound up with 18.70 pounds, by just nearly three-quarters of a pound.
Third was Bobby Wayne Gaston, of Evans, and the Belvedere Bass Busters, with nine fish and 17.64 pounds. Lamond Annas, of the Carolina Bass Club, was fourth with 16.32 pounds. Rounding out the top five was Columbia County River Rats Bass Club member Sammy Landrum with eight bass and 15.72 pounds.
This year's event marked the first under a new rule that called for only the top 50 finishers at the end of Friday, the first day, to compete for the title on Saturday. Initial signup was 201 fishermen representing all 22 of the Clark Hill Committee clubs, but only 182 checked in on Day 1.
Mike Reese, of the Savannah River Bassmasters, caught the first day's big fish of 4.98 pounds, while Paul Christian, of the Clark Hill Bassmasters, caught a 3.26-pounder on Day 2.
The winner had his ups and downs during the tournament, but managed to survive.
Smith, a self-employed stonemason, said he was an original member of the River Rats some 19 years ago when that club fished the Savannah River. The club later merged with the Columbia County Bassmasters.
"Because of my work, I don't get to fish as much as I'd like, and I didn't get to practice for the tournament. The last time I was on the lake was seven months ago. I culled just one fish (subbing a larger bass for a smaller one) and the better one weighed 11 pounds. That fish probably beat Keith.
"Fishing is mostly a matter of luck. I fished the lizard Carolina-style, using a quarter-ounce worm sinker about 3 feet above the lure, and only because I love to fish lizards. On the first day, I caught a 4-pound bass on my last cast before weigh-in and that pushed my catch's weight to 10.86 pounds. People asked how shallow I was fishing and I said 'shallow-shallow.' I could see the bottom everywhere I fished."
Smith did all of his fishing around Ridge Road Campground just a short run from Wildwood Park tourney headquarters.
His 4-pounder came off a point near Trade Winds Marina. He returned to the area on the second day ("I didn't have another plan!"). Three of his five bass came off one point on the lizard.
While waiting for others to weigh in at the Clark Hill Tommy Shaw Memorial Weigh-In Station at Wildwood, Smith said several anglers told him he had won.
"But I didn't think the heavyweight fishermen had come in yet and felt that somebody was going to beat me. When it didn't happen, it was like a dream come true for me," said Smith, who made a victorious phone call to his wife, Nancy.