By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The last time the Bassmaster Elite Series conducted an event at Santee Cooper Lakes, the winning weight was just an ounce shy of 116 pounds. Nobody will compile a total anywhere near that mark this week.
The seventh stop on the reconfigured schedule is a derby that was originally set to take place in April. That was the timeframe of the 2006 event when Preston Clark averaged 29 pounds per day en route to victory.
The top weights for this one should be a bit higher than last week at Lake Guntersville, when not a single 20-pound bag came to the scale. Consistency will again be the key, however, as the fortunes of many competitors will change day by day.
The water levels in lakes Marion and Moultrie are a little bit higher than normal and that's spread the bass around the vast fishery. Some big bags will be caught, as will some that are one or more fish shy of a limit.
The setup would seem to favor the shallow-water power-fishermen as most of the fish are expected to be pulled from depths of 5 feet or less. If the winner doesn't end up with a 20-pound average, he won't be far from it.
Before getting further into the bite, here's some intel on the fishery itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Santee Cooper (Lakes Marion and Moultrie)
> Type of Water: Lowland, swampy reservoirs (Marion/upper and Moultrie/lower)
> Surface Acres (full pool): Marion 110,600 acres, and Moultrie 60,400 acres (171,000 acres total)
> Primary structure/cover: Cypress trees, stumps/timber, brushpiles, some drops
> Average depth: Marion, average 12 (max 70); Moultrie, average 20 (max 70)
> Primary forage: Shad, bream, some crawdads
> Species: Largemouths
> Length limit: 12 inches
> Reputation: Prolific fishery capable of breaking records, but tough times can be miserable
> Weather: A mix of sun, clouds, showers and thunderstorms with temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s
> Water temp: High 60s/low 70s
> Water visibility/color: Clear to stained, depending on location
> Water level: A little above normal, but falling
> Fish in: 1 to 15 feet
> Fish phase: Late summer/fall
> Primary patterns: Senkos, topwaters, square-billed crankbaits, jigs (conventional and bladed), various plastics.
> Winning weight: 80 pounds
> Cut weight : 28 pounds (Top 40); 48 pounds (Top 10)
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Santee Cooper
> Biggest factors: Really big bites – they're out there to be had
> Biggest decision: Which lake to fish – Marion or Moultrie – and whether to stick with a spot or move on
Cooler is Better
Stringers in excess of 20 pounds have been required to win recent single-day local events and more than on such sack has shown up on occasion. The fish required to compile such hauls live in both lakes, but staying on them in a multiple-day event will be a challenge.
The water temperature has dropped about 10 degrees over the past month, which has reinvigorated the bite. Still, it's perhaps a little early for the big fall feed-up in preparation for the impending colder months.
Inky Davis, who grew up on Santee Cooper and has guided there for more than half a century, said a key depth could be the first drop – where the level goes just a foot or so to 4 or 5 feet.
"They won't be far from being real shallow, but just on the edges of deep water or on the edge of a flat," he said. "Another thing that could be coming on strong is brush piles, although it might not be quite time for that. Some guys have 100 or 200 piles out there and you can go real good on them or not any good at all."
Although the venue hasn't been a frequent tour stop in recent years, a lot of competitors in the field are from the region and have considerable experience on it. That list includes Patrick Walters (the winner of the Lake Hartwell Eastern Bassmaster Open held 2 weeks ago), along with veterans such as Jason Williamson, Matt Arey and Todd Auten and rising stalwarts Brandon Cobb and Shane LeHew.
Anglers will launch at 7:05 a.m. ET each day from John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility in Summerton, S.C. Daily weigh-ins will be held in the same location beginning at 3:20 p.m.
> Thurs., Oct. 8 – Mostly Sunny - 85°/61°
- Wind: From the NE at 5 mph
> Fri., Oct. 9 – Mostly Cloudy - 81°/66°
- Wind: From the E at 7 mph
> Sat., Oct. 10 – Showers - 78°/70°
- Wind: From the SE at 9 mph
> Sun., Oct. 11 – Thunderstorms - 80°/67°
- Wind: From the S at 9 mph