Russ Scalf – Aug. 13, 2017
As sure as the summer will draw to a close, Ryan Bowles will catch his limit on the Cooper River. The Pineville native recently added another accolade to his impressive resume on the Cooper. Bowles and teammate Deron Heimerdinger took home the Lowcountry Bassmasters Working Man Tournament Series points championship.
Bowles has lived in the Lowcountry his whole life, and has fished the Santee Cooper system for the better part of 35 years. He is the definition of a local stick. Since beginning tournament fishing ten years ago, Bowles has won the WMT final an impressive 5 times, and collected the points title three years running.
Ryan recently took a few minutes out of his busy schedule, busting Cooper River bass, for a little dock talk with Palmetto Bass:
You’ve been fishing this system for 35 years, that’s a whole lot of local knowledge.
Hahaha, yeah theoretically.
But you’ve only been tournament fishing for ten years, what gives?
My dad taught me how to fish, but he just never fished tournaments. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that started fishing with my college roommate. Our first tournament was the WMT series. That first year we finished 30th in points. The next year we qualified for the championship and won it our third year.
So you were a pretty quick study, huh?
Haha, I guess you could say it was trial by fire. You either keep donating money or you turn it around quickly. I owe a lot of credit to Ken Ellis, for teaching me about tournament strategy. Things like how to fish a tournament, when to move, how to manage your time on the water, that kind of stuff.
Do you have a home lake or favorite body of water, and why is it your favorite?
The Santee Cooper system, to include the river, because I’ve lived here and fished it all my life. Santee Cooper fishes differently than any other lake in the country. It bodes well for people who fish here, but it doesn’t do you much good when you fish other places. It’s been hard to be successful at Murray or Wateree, because it’s so different. They say that Santee Cooper bass are illiterate because they’ve never read Bassmaster Magazine. It’s such a unique fishery, things that work here don’t work anywhere else and vice versa.
You’ve had a lot of success in the WMT series, is there anything in particular you enjoy about it?
I’d say I enjoy the unique format. We blast off at around 5:30 p.m. and all the boats have to be in at 8:30 p.m. You get about two and half hours to really fish. You don’t have any time to waste. You better get on your stuff and get it quick. It’s a great local tournament. When you pull 70-80 boats in a local tournament you’re doing something right.
What kind of strategy goes into fishing a 3-hour event?
Different people do it different ways. I fish for a limit right off the bat, and get five in the box right away. Once we do that, one of use will just throw big fish baits and try to get that one big one. What seems to work for us best is running somewhere and getting a limit as a solid foundation, then building on that the rest of the night.
Do high and low tides change your strategy at all?
Immensely, you may know there’s a bunch of fish in a location, but they may not eat unless you’re on the right tide. I try to let the tide dictate where I can fish and where I can go. Just going to one spot every week and trying to catch them there is most likely not going to work. One week you’ll have high tide and the next you’ll have low. You have to fish a spot where you know fish will bite on that tide.
So what kind of advice do you have for fishing high and low tides?
In the words we’ve all read a thousand times, every fish tells you something. You have to pay attention to the tide when you get bites. You can come back to a spot on a different tide and never get bit. If you try a spot and don’t get bit, don’t be afraid to go back at a different tide. Also, pay attention to what kind of cover they’re holding on, a lot of times you can replicate that up and down the river.
Do you have any gear or lures that were keys to your success?
75% of my arsenal is soft plastics. Shaky heads, wacky worms and light Texas rigs on spinning gear accounted for the majority of my fish. Bait color usually has more to do with water clarity. I’ll throw watermelon colors in the upper part of the river, and green pumpkin & scuppernong in the lower river, down in the East Branch to Bushy Park.
What is one tip you would give to someone new to fishing the Cooper River?
It’s funny, in the winter you can fish on ½ oz jigs and crankbaits, but in the summer you’ll never get bit that way. Fish current breaks, ditches, and drains during the day. Late in the day and evenings pick up a frog or a topwater and you can have a lot of fun.
Deer hunting! Work doesn’t let me fish much in the fall or winter. I run a quail plantation here in South Carolina and we run hunts all winter, so I don’t hardly pick fishing back up again until the spring.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank Lowcountry Bassmasters and all the sponsors of the trail for all of their hard work. It’s a great trail to fish. You can win $1000 on a Thursday night, and I picked up a $7000 Phoenix Boats bonus earlier this season. That’s not bad at all.