For The Press and Standard
CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Whenever a tournament returns to a fishery in consecutive years, comparison is inevitable. This notion certainly applies to the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes, but despite a later time frame than last year’s event, local pro Patrick Walters has no doubt this Palmetto State powerhouse will again deliver the goods.
Competition days will be April 27-30 with daily takeoffs from John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility at 7 a.m. ET and weigh-ins at the same spot each day at 3 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
With stocked Florida-strain bass living alongside native Northern largemouth, Santee Cooper holds the potential for impressive quantity and quality. Double-digit giants live in these lakes and, as Walters notes, the event’s timing brings the Elite field to town when some of the fishery’s biggest bass are most accessible.
“There’s already been a couple good waves of fish spawn, but there’s still a lot to come — and that’s the good thing,” Walters said. “We had a cold front (two weeks before the event) and it was 42 degrees in the morning. That kept a lot of them from spawning. They’ll spawn all the way into May on Santee Cooper, so it’s going to progress the fish.
“The first fish to the bank are bass, but now the bream are coming to spawn, the shad are going to be spawning and the (bass) stay up there once they spawn, because of all the forage. The bite only gets better.”
With this year’s tournament scheduled a month later than the 2022 event, it’s likely anglers will find bass in a mix of prespawn, spawn and postspawn positions. This scenario, Walters said, will widen the options and spread the field.
“It’s setting up great; we couldn’t ask for a better scenario,” he said. “You can catch them any way you want and everyone will have fish. With a mix of all three stages, you can catch them doing anything. Guys are going to be able to fish their strengths.
“April is my favorite month because you can catch them just fishing. You can catch them anywhere on the bank; you don’t have to catch them on one tree.”
Common search baits for pre- and postspawners include spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, frogs, swim jigs and bladed jigs. For bed fishing, a mix of Texas-rigged creature baits, finesse worms and jigs handle most of the work.
“The early morning shad spawn is the bite that will be going on the best,” Walters said. “You’re (probably) not going to be able to catch a five-fish limit bed fishing, but if you catch 17 to 18 pounds in the shad spawn, you’ll be able to go catch one big one bed fishing. That’s how you’ll get over the 23- to 24-pound mark.”
The playing field comprises the 110,000-acre Lake Marion and 60,000-acre Lake Moultrie, with a 6 1/2-mile canal linking the two. While Moultrie’s mostly known for its offshore brushpiles, Marion holds docks, lily pads, stumps, grass and its signature feature known as the “The Swamp” — vast cypress habitat at the upper end’s riverine section.
The second-largest river on the eastern U.S. coast, the Santee originates at the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers and exits Marion’s east side through the 8-mile-long Santee Dam before winding its way to the coast and splitting into North and South rivers, southwest of Georgetown Inlet. Originating in Moultrie, the Cooper River flows through the Pinopolis Hydroelectric Dam at the lake’s south end and concludes in Charleston Harbor.
“Both the lakes are in really good shape right now,” Walters said. “The water level is up and it has a good color to it. The water’s not gin clear.”
Walters said the entire fishery could be in play, but most spring tournaments tend to favor Marion’s expansive shallow-water habitat. Typically, a significant portion of the field disperses throughout The Swamp and seeks out the unique features like drains and high spots that make particular sections stand out from the masses.
Given the event’s later seasonality, Walters expects slightly lower weights than last year’s heavily spawn-centered event. His prediction: 16 to 17 pounds a day to make the Semifinal Saturday Top 50 cut, with 90 pounds being a likely target for the win.
Another key measurement of a tournament’s productivity, the Century Club recognizes anglers who amass 100 pounds or more over four days. Last year’s tournament produced two Century Club belts — winner Drew Cook (105-5) and second-place Caleb Kuphall (103-1).
“I don’t think we’ll see 100 pounds this time, just because more of the fish will be postspawn than prespawn, so the average (fish) weight will be lower,” Walters said. “We might see one, possibly two, but it’s less likely this time.”
That being said, Walters has no doubt that the field will stay busy with multiple options.
Success, he said, will require versatility and adaptation.
“It will be about doing something different every day,” Walters said. “You’re not going to be able to get keyed in on one thing or one spot this time.
“You’ll have to stay on your toes and fish the conditions of that day.”
New for 2023, fans can enjoy predictions, conditions and live hits from the lake as part of the LIVE Preview show streaming on Bassmaster.comWednesday, April 26 at 9 a.m. ET. Bassmaster LIVE kicks off tournament coverage Thursday and Friday mornings at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster.com, Tubi and the FOX Sports platforms while FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday and Sunday.
The Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce is hosting the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes.
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
2023 Bassmaster Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Yamaha Rightwaters
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