Tough day three at Santee Cooper

The fourth stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series took place this past weekend in South Carolina at the Santee Cooper Lakes. In what was the second of back to back events, Santee Cooper fished tougher than expected. It was the third time in four years that we’ve visited this big body of water near the Atlantic coast so many anglers in the field are starting to put together more knowledge of this fishery. Santee Cooper is known for its big bass, with seven to nine pound fish more common than most lakes that we visit.

It is a challenging fishery because the two lakes, Marion and Moultrie, are big, open bodies of water so it can be tough to get around if the wind blows. Further adding to the challenge of getting around, there is still a lot of standing timber left in this reservoir, so in many areas of the lake you must run in marked boat lanes. If you leave these lanes, you must idle because you are constantly bumping into stumps. It’s a lot different than our lakes in northwest Ontario.

My past two visits to Santee have had mixed results. In the fall of 2020 I had a great tournament, ending up in ninth place and catching the big bass of the tournament, a 9-7 giant that is still my biggest fish in Elite Series competition. In 2022, I had my worst finish of the season at 68th place.

This time around, I decided I wanted to pick a new area of the lake to fish and start fresh. I had not fished in Lake Moultrie during my past visits so that was where I went that first practice day. It wasn’t an outstanding day but I found an area where I got quite a few bites and felt like I could put some fish in the boat. In talking to a couple of other anglers, it became apparent that the fishing this time around was a lot tougher than in the past. After trying other areas the next couple days of practice and barely being able to get a bite I decided that area I found the first day was going to be the best place to spend my time in the tournament.

While I wasn’t threatening to win, the first couple days went pretty good and I made the day three cut in 36th place. The top 50 anglers fish on day three and making that cut guarantees you finish in the money. The third day was a lot tougher for me, only catching four fish and I ended up finishing in 42nd place. Sometimes, especially at these southern reservoirs where I’m not really in my wheelhouse, simply making the day three cut is a win, and that’s how I felt after this one. It could have been worse.

There were a few other anglers fishing the same area that I did in Moultrie and none of us were able to catch a limit on the third day, after all of us had no problems catching fish the first couple of days. The water level dropped almost a foot over night between days two and three, which the fish evidently did not like. It just made them not want to bite. That’s something you just remember if we come back to this body of water in the future.

We have a week off this week before getting back at it next week at Lay Lake, Alabama. It is a body of water that I have not fished in the past but I’m excited to get to see it. It is part of the Coosa River system. Two years ago we fished Neely Henry Lake, which is part of the same system and I had a decent tournament there. I’m expecting it to be similar. Following that event, we get to come home for a few weeks, I’m definitely looking forward to that walleye opener the third Saturday in May!

Jeff Gustafson fishes Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina last week, where he had a 42nd place finish. (Photo courtesy Bassmaster)