Top lures at Santee Cooper Lakes 2023

The conditions were set for something special to happen at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes. A spawning cycle leaning more toward late spawn and into postspawn provided plenty of big bass opportunities for everyone.

Photo: Craig Lamb

Luke Palmer winched big bass out of gnarly cypress tree roots, armed for heavy combat with a stout rod, thick line and big baits, the full intention being to push the limits of his areas on Lake Moultrie. He succeeded, nearly breaking into the B.A.S.S. Century Club. 
Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams. Palmer hoisted his first big blue trophy with a winning weight of 96 pounds, 14 ounces, doing so with the sixth largest winning margin by weight in B.A.S.S. history.
Palmer’s daily scorecard was impressive, with weights of 21-3, 26-3, and 25-15, also earning him $100,000. See the baits used by the Championship Sunday anglers to get dialed into the spawning cycle wherever you live. 
Click here to buy these lures at Bass Pro Shops.
Matt Robertson (10th; 54-4)
Robertson used a one-two punch of swimbaits and a wacky rig, with the latter bait used as a follow-up bait for missed strikes. 
Robertson’s big bass catcher was the new Berkley Cull Shad, in both the 6- and 8-inch versions. 
He made the wacky rig with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General, rigged on a 2/0 hook.  
Jacob Powroznik (9th; 55-10)
Powroznik used a one-two punch with a stick worm for bedding bass and a topwater popper to intimidate fry guarders to bite. 
In calm water, he used a Livingston Lures Walking Pop 77, using the bait’s sound vibration technology to create reaction strikes. 
For slower presentations, he used a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko.
Powroznik rigged the Senko on a 2/0 Ryugi Heavy Guard Talisman Hook.
Steve Kennedy (8th; 58-9)
Kennedy’s penchant for using big swimbaits throughout his career paid off with a Championship Sunday qualification that pushed him over the $2 million mark in B.A.S.S. earnings. 
Fittingly, he used a Megabass Magdraft 6, with a special edition Bassmaster Classic run of Aurora Shad. 
Bryant Smith (7th; 60-13)
Smith’s primary baits were a bladed jig and wacky rig, both used to cover his most productive areas of the water column. 
For reaction strikes, Smith used a 1/2-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket, with a Strike King Blade Minnow.
Smith made the wacky rig with a 5-inch stick worm, and a 1/0 Decoy Worm 108 Body Guard HD Weedless Wacky Hook. 
Paul Mueller (6th; 67-2)
Mueller’s key bait was a Neko rig. 
He made it with a 6 1/2-inch worm, rigged on a No. 1 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Tournament Grade Wire Stinger Hook, with a 1/16th-ounce nail weight.
Click here to buy these lures at Bass Pro Shops.
Brandon Palaniuk (5th; 68-15)
Palaniuk’s big bass bait strategy worked, using two lifelike baits in his key areas. 
A top choice was a Megabass Kanada Ayu Jerkbait, MB Gizzard Shad (at top). Alternatively, he used a Megabass Kameyama, Ghost Pearl (on bottom).
Brandon Cobb (4th; 74-7)
Sticking to his South Carolina strengths, Cobb relied primarily on a wacky rig that is so productive for him throughout the state. 
He made it with a Zoom Fluke Stick, rigged on a 1/0 Decoy Cover Finesse HD Worm 220. Cobb snipped off the twin tails for the desired action. 
Drew Cook (3rd; 74-9)
A 2-gallon garden sprayer was part of Cook’s lure arsenal. He filled it with water and a few drops of Dawn, to disperse pollen from the surface so he could see bass on spawning beds. 
A carryover from the previous week at Lake Murray was this Big Bite Baits Scentsation Quarantine Craw, rigged on a 5/0 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Hybrid Worm Hook, with a 1/4-ounce tungsten weight.
Cook also used this 4-inch Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog, rigged on a 4/0 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Heavy Cover Worm Hook, with a 1/4-ounce tungsten weight.
For heavy-duty action, he used a 5-inch Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog, rigged on a 5/0 Gamakatsu G-Power Heavy Cover Flip and Punch Hook, with a 3/8-ounce weight.
Mark Menendez (2nd; 82-11)
Menendez alternated between a worm and squarebill crankbait to cover his areas. 
A top bait was a Strike King 7-inch Rage Cut-R-Worm, rigged on a 5/0 Gamakatsu Straight Shank Worm Hook, with a 1/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Weight.
To cover water, Menendez used a Strike King 4.0 Squarebill Crankbait.  
Luke Palmer (1st; 96-14)
Palmer alternated between two creature-style baits for his shallow-water strike zone. 
A key bait was a YUM Bad Mamma, rigged on a 3/0 straight shank hook, with a 1/4- or 5/16-ounce Rougarou tungsten weight. 
Using the same weights and hook, he also used a YUM Wooly Bug.