Top 10 takeaways from Santee Cooper

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Shane Durrance

There are two kinds of Bassmaster Marshals for the Bassmaster Elite Series. There are Marshals and there are Super Marshals. The difference between the two is a Super Marshal is someone that goes above and beyond in their blogging, photography and content providing efforts. So much so that B.A.S.S. gives them high marks and affords them the opportunity to Marshal on the third day of the event, and in some cases, the fourth. When I learned of this distinction prior to my first opportunity to Marshal at Lake Lanier in 2019, I knew then that I wanted to be a weekend Marshal. I made up my mind to work my tail off with any opportunity that came my way and pack for four days rather than two.

I received a call on Monday morning following the NOCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville notifying me that the Marshal program was being suspended for the Elite Series events at Santee Cooper and Chickamauga due to safety concerns for everyone involved in the events. My initial feeling was disappointment because I had been looking forward to those events, but I understood the situation. Then came the question, “Do you want to come to the event at Santee Cooper, have a media boat and serve as a Super Marshal? You won’t ride in the boat with an angler, but you might have the opportunity to cover five or six anglers over the course of the day. You’ll have the opportunity to blog, take photos and Skype with the team on Bassmaster LIVE.” 

“Are you serious?” I responded. I wasn’t about to turn down this opportunity.

I arrived in Santee on Thursday with an assignment to cover as many anglers as possible and was treated to a four-day experience that, while we worked extremely hard, was an experience that only the Bassmaster Marshal program can provide.

Below are some takeaways from that experience.

  1. Having an experienced boat driver is critical. With the help of Davy Hite, I was paired with a local angler named Ryan Bowles. Bowles is an avid angler, and he has spent the majority of his life on the Santee Cooper Lakes where he’s cashed a number of tournament checks. He knew every stump, log, swamp and turn, and his knowledge and experience with the lake was crucial in our ability to cover as many anglers as we did over the course of the event.
  2. Santee Cooper lived up to its reputation. While the Bassmaster Elite Series had not fished on the Santee Cooper Lakes since the inaugural Elite Series season (2006), the South Carolina fishery did not disappoint. With very limited fall fishing information available, anglers utilized their practice time wisely in breaking down the largest lake in the Palmetto State. The lake gave us big bass and big crowds each day.
  3. It became apparent to me early afternoon on Day 1 that the Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper brought to you by the United States Marine Corps was probably going to be decided north of the I-95 Bridge. We spent the first half of Day 1 below the bridge before heading north. We caught up with Taku Ito (64th), Buddy Gross (37th), Jason Williamson (47th), Brian Snowden (69th) and Cory Johnston (third). Johnston was the only angler among those that we covered on Day 1 above the bridge.
  4. Trust your instincts. Brandon Palaniuk had an instinct Sunday morning leaving takeoff to fish an area that was new to him. He initially set out to chase a topwater bite and found a random brush pile that ultimately rendered him a 7-pounder on a dropshot that he tied on. The veteran angler trusted his instincts and was hoisting a blue trophy, his second of the season, at the end of the day.
  5. Storylines are critical in covering events. We began Day 2 with Hunter Shryock and ended the day with Clark Wendlandt. Had it not been for a couple of misses, Shryock could have bagged more than 20 pounds on Day 1 and was returning to the scene of the crime on Day 2. We began the day with Shryock in hopes of landing that big bite for the LIVE audience. While the big bite never came, Shryock would flip his way to a 29th-place finish. We ended the day with Bassmaster Angler of the Year points leader Clark Wendlandt. With only a couple of events remaining, the AOY race is becoming exciting, and Wendlandt, with a 17th place finish, would leave the South Carolina fishery with a 37-point lead in the standings. When we were in the boat with Wendlandt for a LIVE segment on Day 3, the veteran angler did not back away when asked about the AOY race. “Of course I think about it,” snapped Wendlandt. “It’s my goal at the beginning of the year, and it would mean everything in the world to win AOY.”
  6. Confidence baits have no limitations. When you’re competing for $100,000 and a blue trophy, having the right bait can often make all the difference in the world. Destin DeMarion was using a presentation that he felt was much different than anything else being used in the tournament but found he was out of the baits following the Day 2 weigh-ins when he put 15-15 on the scales. That didn’t stop the Pennsylvania rookie who would climb in his truck, drive nearly two hours to meet a sponsor for enough baits to cover him for the weekend. Did it work? The Dura-Edge Pro bagged 17-15 on Saturday and finished seventh in the event, earning his first Top 10.
  7. Match the hatch. One interesting observation one can make on an assignment such as this is you get to see exactly how each of the anglers are attacking their day. One common theme throughout the course of the event was black and blue and red. Almost every angler we were able to visit with, who had a flipping set up on the deck, had a black/blue or a red soft plastic trailer rigged. Following the event, Brandon Lester posted a photo of a giant red crawfish that a bass had spit out in his livewell.
  8. Fish your strengths. Obvious right? We covered two anglers on Championship Sunday, Derek Hudnall and Bill Lowen. Hudnall began the final day in ninth and Lowen would begin in 10th. Both anglers gave me their starting locations prior to launch. On a hunch, we opted to follow Lowen first. We arrived in a bay off the main river and Lowen spent the first two hours of the morning throwing a topwater bait with no success. In an effort to catch up with Hudnall during the morning segment of LIVE, we received his latest GPS coordinates and found he was already fishing his best stuff which was different than the location he gave us prior to launch. When we arrived, he told us that he decided to scrap his initial starting spot and go right to his best area. “I’m in ninth place. I’m not going to drop far. I’ve got to have big bites and big fish live here,” said Hudnall. The Louisiana pro spent Sunday skipping a worm and flipping cypress trees. When we left to find Lowen for the afternoon, we didn’t have to go far. As soon as we turned out on the main river, there was the Xpress Yamaha Pro on the trolling motor, flipping stick in his hand, dissecting the structure along the riverbank. “I should have never gone in that bay this morning,” said the Indiana pro. “I should have been here the whole time.” Lowen would mine the riverbank and grind out a sixth-place finish.
  9. Bassmaster Elite Series Pro’s are among the nicest people you will have the opportunity to spend time with; however, they’re some of the most fierce competitors alive. On Friday afternoon during weigh-ins, I was wandering about the dock exchanging pleasantries with some of the guys when I came upon a couple of anglers talking, one of which wasn’t going to fish on Saturday. The one angler offered some comments to the other saying, “Dude, don’t be disappointed in your finish. You got some good points for this event.” The other angler responded, “I can’t feed my family with points.” On Saturday, I was in the parking lot talking with another angler following weigh-in, and he added, “You cannot take a breath over here. That’s been the biggest learning experience in my two years on the Elites,” he added. “If you stop for one minute to feel sorry for yourself or to celebrate a moment, these guys will crush you. You have to keep your foot on the pedal all of the time.”
  10. With B.A.S.S. making the decision to suspend the Marshal program for the event at Lake Chickamauga and utilizing judges in the boat for the 2020 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the next opportunity to Marshal will come in the 2021 season. This is the best program going at B.A.S.S. As soon as the 2021 schedule is released at Bassmaster.com, you need to make plans to be a Bassmaster Marshal. You will not be disappointed.