MANNING, S.C. — When the opening tournament of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series was held earlier this year on Texas' Lake Amistad, the anglers were in complete amazement over the huge sacks of fish that were caught there.
They gushed about the prospects of holding additional tournaments there. Heck, some of them considered buying property and moving there.
Now, the Santee Cooper Reservoir is all the rage. And rightfully so.
The 104 competing anglers and their co-anglers landed more than 2,139 pounds of bass Thursday during the opening round of the Santee Cooper Showdown here in central South Carolina. That total is only 100 pounds less than the record-breaking haul produced in Texas last month.
And here's the funny part. As great as the action was Thursday, an overwhelming number of the professionals think it will get better today. That's because the ideal combination of warm temperatures, clear water and bedding fish have turned Santee Cooper into a sight-fishing bonanza.
Leading the way is Preston Clark, who vaulted to the top of the pack with a five-fish limit that weighed 39 pounds, 6 ounces — the third-largest one-day total registered in BASS history. Clark, who lives in Palatka, Fla., used a push pole to maneuver his boat around bedding areas and said his stealthy techniques helped him land his huge sack.
With his huge catch in tow, Clark might be the only person in the field who thinks his weights will come down Friday.
"Those kind of days come along maybe once in a lifetime," Clark said of Thursday's haul. "You can't plan on a 39 or 40-pound bag. They just happen. But today, I am planning on a 25-pound bag. If I don't do that, I'll be disappointed. But I think I can do that fairly easily."
Clark said he will begin his day by targeting an 8 pounder he spotted Thursday afternoon. It was one of many sizable fish he left alone because he already had such big fish in the live well.
"When that water temperature goes just right, it's like they're coming in a herd," he said. "There are small troughs that come from the main lake into these backwater lakes. You can sit at the entrance and watch 4 or 5 pounders swim into there all day long."
Clark ended yesterday's action with a 5 pound lead over Texas' Alton Jones. But Jones was disqualified from the Santee Coope Showdown late Thursday night. BASS tournament officials did not discuss the reasons for Jones' disqualification.
The decision moved Terry Scroggins, another Palatka resident, into second place with 33 pounds, six ounces. Oklahoma's Bradley Hallman is fourth with 32-5 and Texas' Kelly Jordon is fifth with 31-15. Forty-one anglers, including Jones, caught better than 20 pounds Thursday.
Scroggins is one of many pros confident that several 30-pound sacks will be boated Friday.
"I think I've got 25 or 30 pounds to start off on," he said. "I had my fish yesterday by 10 (a.m.), so I'll probably fish the same general area and then move around some more to find some for tomorrow."
Tour rookie Bill Lowen, who is in 18th place with 23-9, said being able to land big limits in a matter or hours and then having free time to scope out potential fish for other days is remarkable.
"Everywhere you look, there are fish coming in," the Ohio resident said. "You'd be fishing one on a bed here and your co-angler is fishing one over there. And here comes another over here. It was just unbelievable."
That kind of productivity has almost every angler thinking they have a reasonable shot to make the cut to 50 this afternoon.
"Some lakes, when you get a little back in the hole, you just cannot catch up," said Mike Iaconelli who is in 41st place with 20 pounds, 6 ounces. "But on this lake you can. I'm serious. You can pull up into a pocket and catch 30 pounds like it's nothing."
Ray Sedgewick, who is from South Carolina, will need a bag like that if he hopes to make the cut. Sedgewick caught 14 pounds yesterday, but he said he made a tactical error.
"I did a little bit of sight fishing, but I thought I could catch them pre-staging," he said. "But they just left and went to the bank … I'll definitely be looking at them today … the big fish are out there. It's just getting them to bite."
Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.