Southern Open Finale: The heat is on

Terry Scroggins prepares for slugfest on Santee Cooper

Jonathan VanDam

Five top-10 finishes on Santee Cooper Reservoir, including a win in Bassmaster competition, should make Terry Scroggins feel pretty darn secure going into the Oct. 22-24 Bassmaster Southern Open season finale on the South Carolina impoundment.

Not so, said the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from San Mateo, Fla.

"I've got a lot of good history with Santee, but the thing of it is, it's all been in the springtime," he said. "I never have fished it in the fall. Yes, I'm familiar with the lake and know how to get around on it, but it's going to fish differently than any other time I've been there. It's going to be a challenging event for me."

No small part of that challenge will be the pressure to maintain his leader position in the supertight Southern Open points race, his only remaining avenue into the 2010 Bassmaster Classic after failing to qualify through the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Only the top two Southern Open pros will receive Classic spots. Scroggins, a six-time Classic qualifier, including five consecutive appearances from 2005 to 2009, wants to make it seven.

"I've always gotten to the Classic through the Elites, so I've never been in this situation before," he said. "I'll have to fish as hard as I can and see if I can't get myself in there."

Compounding his challenge are two other facts. One is that every pro, viable contender in the points race or not, will be after the event's first-place prize of $45,000 (based on a full field). The second fact is that several pros are striving to pull up into the top seven in points to qualify for the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series.

The heat is on, for sure. The points race is so tight — just 28 points separate the top five, and 63 points the top 10 — that Scroggins hardly has an advantage. The full points standings can be found below. Less than 10 points behind him are two fellow Elite pros, Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala., and Peter Thliveros of St. Augustine, Fla. Like Scroggins, they're already qualified for the 2010 Elite Series, but not for the Classic, so both are in the same do-or-die situation going into Santee.

Six points out of first is Vinson, a 2009 Elite Series rookie who is looking for his first Classic entry. Thliveros, a 13-time Classic qualifier, sits in third with 506, nine points out.

"That's three Elite guys right there who can get the job done," Scroggins said, including himself in the count.

Another is James Charlesworth of St. Cloud, Fla. His 503 points put him in fourth place going into the Santee Cooper event. Only 12 points out of first, he could take home Classic and Elite honors.

It would be his second Classic. Through the 2006 Bassmaster Northern Open circuit, Charlesworth qualified for the 2007 Classic on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., the same venue as the 2010 Classic. He fished full time between 2004 and 2007, including the 2007 Elite season, but then he set aside pro fishing to go back to his former occupation as a consultant with a company that makes a medical device used during spinal surgeries.

He said he'd seriously consider joining the Elite Series again, and would make a decision after securing a Classic berth.

"I love what I do — and I love fishing as well," he said. "My goal is to get back to the Classic. The Classic is the world championship, the 51 best anglers in the world. I've got some ideas on how to win that event, and that's my goal."

But first comes Santee Cooper.

"I've fished it before, and not done extremely well," Charlesworth said. "I've been there to scout. The water was low, but it's my understanding it's coming back up. Being able to navigate Santee is a must. When I was there a month ago, I hit a submerged tree at 50 miles an hour, but luckily did no damage other than take the skeg off my boat.

"So being able to find concentrations of fish will be key; to make it there and back is definitely one of the challenges. Wind will also be a factor."

He did not falter when asked the big question: Can he catch Scroggins, Vinson and/or Thliveros?

"Absolutely," Charlesworth said. "I'm not going there to lose, not even for second place."

Launch and weigh-ins will be at John C. Land III Boating and Sportfishing Facility, Greenall Road, Summerton, S.C. Takeoff will be at 7:15 a.m. ET; weigh-ins are set to begin at 3:20 p.m. ET.

Each day, will offer streaming video of the weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards, as well as photo galleries, standings and results.

The local sponsor is the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.