CELEBRATION, Fla. — The Bassmaster Southern Open circuit heads for South Carolina's bass-rich Santee-Cooper Reservoir May 3-5 with the competitors wondering the same question that is always asked this time of year in the South.
Will the bass be spawning?
Spawning bass mean shallow, accessible bass that can often be seen by fishermen before they cast to them. That, along with the heaviest bass of the year, is the recipe for big catches — and lots of them.
If BASS history is any indication, there will be enough quality bass to make the competitors happy. Lakes Marion (100,500 acres) and Moultrie (60,000 acres) have been making fishermen's dreams come true for years and have long ranked among the pros' favorite fisheries.
In tournament held recently on Santee-Cooper, local guide and Southern Open pro Ken Ellis exploited bedding bass to the tune of 86 pounds, 7 ounces over four days.
"I think the fish are still going to be doing what they were doing this past week," said Brent Riley, a former Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Ridgeville, S.C. "This week they were bedding again. We keep having these cold fronts that keep pushing the fish back. I would suggest bedding and cypress trees — a combination of that — will be the deal during the tournament."
That was exactly the combination that provided Ellis with his recent win. The Bowman, S.C., pro fished the Bonneau area of Lake Moultrie where he targeted bass relating to shallow stumps and brush. Ellis scored on Senkos and Zoom Trick Worms.
Ellis expects spawning bass to be a major factor as well since there is a full moon the week of the tournament, but believes sight-fishing will be limited.
"The next wave are going to bed out (from shore)," he said. "They're not going to bed in those real clear ponds where they've been bedding. It's going to be warm enough out in the stump fields in 4 or 5 feet of water on the main lake. So it's not going to be such a big sight-fishing thing.
"It will be real good fishing. There will be a lot of weight because we've had a cold front here, so I expect it to be as good or better than this past week. I don't think there will be any 30-pound sacks because it's getting a little late in the year for that. But there will be a lot of 20-pound sacks and some 25s."
Riley predicted that the winner will have a three-day total of about 70 pounds.
"Typically, by this time most of the bedding is over," Riley added. "We had a big wave of fish move in last week. It surprised the heck out of everybody that they were that many still going on the beds. It's pretty chilly down here again and I'm thinking that's probably going to set them back again."
This will be the second of three Southern Open events, which serves as a feeder system into the big leagues of bass fishing — the Bassmaster Elite Series — while providing a quality payout. At stake is a top prize of $56,000, which includes a Triton/Mercury rig. Also at stake are valuable points toward qualifying for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic and coveted Elite Series.
Daily weigh-ins will begin at 2:45 p.m. at John C. Land, III, Boating & Sportfishing Facility on State Route 260 in Summerton, S.C., and are free to the public
BASS anglers who want to participate in the most Elite-level of tournament fishing have two avenues to reach that goal in 2007. The new, revamped Bassmaster Opens feature two divisions, the Southern and Central, which serve as feeder systems into the Bassmaster Elite Series and bass fishing's world championship, the Bassmaster Classic.
In all, each division will host three events with the top three points finishers from each of the Open Series qualifying for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic and the top five points finishers from each division qualifying for the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series. The final Southern Open will be Oct. 18-20 on Lake Wheeler in Alabama.