MANNING, S.C. — The first two days of the Santee Cooper Showdown presented by MotorGuide offered the best possible scenario for sight fishing — gem-clear water, warm temperatures and bedding bass.
The 50 remaining professional anglers took advantage of the conditions — landing sacks of fish so large that eight men are more than half way to breaking the record for a four-day weight total in BASS history.
On Saturday morning, however, the pros got their first taste of imperfection.
They launched in a drizzle and under heavily-clouded skies at 6:15 a.m. The wind is forecasted to increase a bit today, though the sun is expected to poke through the clouds around noon.
The downturn in the weather didn't seem to have too large an impact on the hopes that someone will break Dean Rojas' record of 108 pounds, 12 ounces — a mark he set in 2001 on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga.
Clark's plan of attack
Preston Clark, who is from Palatka, Fla., is the person many believe has the best chance to shatter the standard. Clark pulled in a 39-pound, six-ounce limit on Thursday and followed with a 29-pound, five-ounce bag Friday, giving him a two-day total of 68-11. His catch is slightly more than five pounds heavier than that of Kelly Jordan who has a two-day total of 63-9. Terry Scroggins is third with 61-2, Skeet Reese is fourth with 59-15 and Kevin Wirth is fifth with 59-5.
Clark knows if he's to hold off the field he's going to have to land another sizable bag. He plans to fish new water today as the number of big fish in his areas on the first two days has diminished, he said.
"I'm worried about this ride across the lake because I hate rough water," Clark said. "But I think the fish will be fine. I know where some really good fish are located. I think they'll bite. The only thing that will mess me up is if the wind is blowing on certain areas and the water muddies up. Then I'd have to slow down and not look at them. I'd just have to feel my way through. But I think I can do 25 again. That's pretty easy. If I get lucky, I can get to 30."
Scroggins, who like Clark is from Palatka, said several 30-pound sacks will be brought to the scales, the damp weather notwithstanding.
"I don't think it will effect fishing a whole lot," Scroggins said. "The water is so clear here, the fish are easy to see. So it shouldn't be bad. In other tournaments, it would play an important role. Not here."
The anglers' confidence level in the Santee Cooper Reservoir's production allows such statements to be made. But Kelly Jordan, who has won here before (in 2004) seemed more cautious about today's outcome. And this from a man who has landed 30-pound bags of bass on consecutive days.
"It's going to make it hard to see them," Jordan said. "I don't know. I'm just going to go fishing. I've got an area that's got plenty of fish. I don't have many that I can run to and catch right away. I've been plucking off new ones every day....But (the pressure) doesn't bother me. I sleep like a baby...that's the guy that's got the pressure on him," he said motioning to Clark.
Clark said his first priority is to win the tournament. Then he'll worry about the record. And he realizes he'll probably have to catch bigger fish to win than to break the record.
"I had a guy ask me yesterday evening, he said 'Man, all you need is 20 pounds tomorrow and 20 the next day to break the record.' And I said 'Yeah, and I would be in about fourth or fifth place.'"
Guys like John Crews (sixth place, 58-13) are looking to improve their position to make the cut to Sunday's final 12 anglers. They know one big bag can throw them atop the leaderboard on the final day.
"If I can get to 20 (pounds today,) then I'll worry about 30 or 40 and on up," he said. "It's mind boggling (to consider catching 30 pounds), but I've almost done it two days in a row with 28 and 29. So I can definitely see how you can stumble up on 30 or 40."
Then of course there is Rojas himself, who is in seventh place with 57-4. He too has designs on bettering the record he set at Lake Toho five years ago.
"I'm ready to catch another big sack," he said. "I want to keep pace with the leaders and maybe do it again tomorrow and pull this thing off."
The way the catch has been the past two days at Santee, the pros know that anything is possible.