A quick turnaround takes the pros to the seventh event of the season, the Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes, which runs Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 8-11.
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The 85 Elites moved from Lake Guntersville in northeast Alabama, which finished Saturday in Frank Talley’s first Elite win, to the big South Carolina lakes near host Clarendon County, some seven hours away.
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The Santee Cooper Lakes, named after the rivers feeding the New Deal era reservoirs, are comprised of Lake Marion, the largest in the state, and Lake Moultrie, the third largest.
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Formed by the Santee Dam in 1941, Marion’s 110,000 surface acres earned it the nickname of South Carolina’s inland sea. Moultrie, created by the Pinopolis Dam on the Cooper River, is 60,000 acres. There is a seven-mile diversion canal connecting the lakes.
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The John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility is tournament central, with daily takeoffs each day at approximately 7:05 a.m. ET, and weigh-ins are set there for 3:20 p.m. Fans are welcome but are reminded to follow social distancing protocols. Mammoth sanitizing stations are on-site.
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Santee Cooper, which ranked first in the Southeast of Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes in 2016, has hosted 14 Bassmaster pro level events, from Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston victories in 1975 and 1976, respectively, to Allan Glasgow’s Open win in 2009, the most recent.
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While there have been other records set on Santee Cooper, the most remarkable event was the 2006 Elite Series event, where Preston Clark broke the four-day weight record with 115 pounds, 15 ounces, including a monster Day 1 of 39-6. The previous mark for four days was 108-12 set in 2001 on Lake Toho. Six anglers earned Century belts at Santee Cooper in that 2006 tournament.
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Clark also had the biggest bass caught in a Classic with an 11-10 at the Kissimmee Chain that year, so he had two of the most prestigious records in B.A.S.S. Clark’s four-day mark was broken almost one year to the day later when Steve Kennedy totaled 122-14 in 2007 at California’s Clear Lake. Clark’s big fish remains in the top spot in the Classic record book.
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The Elites are coming off a compelling event in which some new faces were in the hunt on Championship Saturday, and all posted their top Elite finishes. Rookies Wes Logan (third), Kyle Welcher (fifth) and Bob Downey (sixth) made the final 10 with third-year Elite Randy Sullivan (second) and second-year pros Luke Palmer (fourth) and Frank Talley (first). Talley, 45, rallied from sixth place on Day 4 with 18-2 for his total of 64-3.
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Struggling on Day 1 but rallying late to stand 42nd, Clark Wendlandt lost some of his lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year point race. After some tips from Talley, Wendlandt climbed to make the top-40 cut at 35th then gained another 14 points by finishing 21st. He ended up increasing his lead of seven to 25 points going into Santee Cooper.
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The fishing as Santee Cooper is expected to be in the same fall transition as Guntersville, where big bags and even limits were hard to come by. Bassmaster TV host Davy Hite, who lives in the state, said vegetation is sparse on the lakes, and wood is the primary cover. He thinks the field will be spread out. “I hope the fish have settled into the fall pattern a little more,” he said, offering this photo of spring fishing with son, Peyton. “You will see the potential for fishermen to be at the upper end of Marion all the way to the lower end of Moultrie.”
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Todd Auten, from up the road at Lake Wylie, offers some hope of big fish. “A guy who’s flipping cypress trees might get into the right area and bust a big bag,” he said. “I’m sure you’re going to see a 25-pound bag, but I’ve seen it where you do that one day and go back the next day and struggle to catch a limit.”
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Santee Cooper is the home lake for Patrick Walters, who lives nearby in Summerville, S.C. Walters is coming off an Open victory at Lake Hartwell, and he offers his rundown of the lakes’ 170,000 surface acres.
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“It takes a lot of time to break them down,” he said. “I think the majority of fish will come from Marion, but there’s some good fish in Moultrie. The October bite, it is a little tougher, but it’s going to take still 21 pounds a day to win.”
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Walters said it gives him “chill bumps” to think of all the big fish in the lakes, and he wouldn’t be surprised if a bag close to 30 pounds is weighed in then followed up with half that. “That is the fall on Santee Cooper. That is how it’s going to play out,” he said. “It will average out. The fish are moving, things are changing with the weather conditions."
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“It’s a junk fishing tournament,” said Walters, showing off a day’s catch with Hite. “You’ll see the same baits at all three, Guntersville, Santee and Chick. Typical fall, covering a lot of water, getting bait in front of fish and keeping the trolling motor on high.”
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Bassmaster LIVE, with Tommy Sanders, Mark Zona and Hite, who will be on site, runs each morning from 7:30 a.m. ET to 10:30 then from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m.