Becker claims early lead on Santee Cooper - Major League Fishing

Becker claims early lead on Santee Cooper

Image for Becker claims early lead on Santee Cooper
Matt Becker leads the way after Day 1 with 12 bass weighing 45-8. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Matt Becker.
February 20, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Entering the first day of competition on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper lakes, Matt Becker wasn’t feeling optimistic. The reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year on the Bass Pro Tour said he had a “horrible practice” amid the muddy, prespawn conditions that greeted the field at Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick. He picked his starting spot because he got a single bite there during the three-day practice period.

Within the first 35 minutes of Tuesday morning, Becker had turned that one bite into six scorable bass weighing a combined 23 pounds, 6 ounces. That flurry gave him an early lead over the rest of Group A, and he never relinquished the top spot on SCORETRACKER®, finishing the group’s first day of qualifying with 12 bass totaling 45-8. 

“I went to an area where I had one bite — that’s where I decided to start,” Becker said. “And before I knew it, I had six fish in the boat, and I didn’t even know what was happening. So yeah, it was fast and furious this morning. I did not expect that at all.”

It wasn’t just Becker who found the fishing better than expected on Santee Cooper. While bass didn’t hit the scales in the same numbers as Stage One on Toledo Bend, plenty of big ones showed up. Thirteen bass weighing 6 pounds or bigger were caught Tuesday, including one over 8 — an 8-3 brute boated by South Carolina native Britt Myers, which earned him $1,000 as the Berkley Big Bass. Fifteen pros topped the 20-pound mark on the day.

“Honestly, everybody caught ‘em, myself included, better than I expected,” Becker said. “I did not see this coming. I expected it to be a lot tougher on everybody. But I’m super happy with how it turned out.”

Becker leads second-place pro Dylan Hays by 4-3. From there, the leaderboard is tightly bunched, with third place (Alton Jones Jr., 39-10) and seventh (Ron Nelson, 32-10) separated by 7 pounds. 


Becker stuck to one area throughout Day 1, where he power-fished around “classic prespawn stuff.” Photo by Phoenix Moore.

Confident Becker keeps rolling

Becker burst onto the national tournament scene in a big way last year, beating out the likes of Jacob WheelerOtt DeFoe and Jones Jr. to claim both the Stage Seven and Angler of the Year trophies at the season finale on Saginaw Bay. 

Clearly, the offseason did nothing to stem his momentum.

Becker started the 2024 campaign with a Championship Round appearance on Toledo Bend. He then finished 16th in the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season-opener on Sam Rayburn. Now, even on a fishery that, at least on paper, doesn’t suit his strengths, Becker looks like he’s figured out the Santee Cooper bass.

Becker attributed the strong start to simply fishing with confidence.

“Definitely it’s a confidence thing,” he said. “I feel very confident in myself right now, and it just seems like every decision I make turns into the right one. Like today, for instance, I literally had one bite in that area that I started, but my gut was telling me to go start there, and it turned into the lead. 

“I don’t ever want it to end. I want to keep this train rolling as long as we can.”

His fast start Tuesday only fueled his confidence. Becker said it made him believe in his area, removing the temptation to fire up his Suzuki and make a time-consuming run across the treacherous fishery. He spent the rest of the day exploring new water in the same vicinity as his starting spot.

“It kind of slowed me down and allowed me to expand and fish new water,” he said. “I had that one spot where I got a bite in practice, and then I kind of just expanded around the area the rest of the day. But having that confidence of getting a couple bites early really let me expand and keep fishing new water.”

After a bit of a lull, Becker continued to pad his total throughout the afternoon. Midway through Period 2, he boated a 6-10 kicker. On a fishery that lacks numbers of bass, triggering big bites looks like it’ll be key to contending. Seven of the top eight anglers on SCORETRACKER® caught at least one bass over 6 pounds.

“There’s a lot of big fish, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time — if you set the hook enough times, it’s going to be a 6- to 8-pounder,” Becker said. “So, it’s going to take a couple of big fish every day to do well in this tournament.”

Becker didn’t want to divulge too many details about his pattern, but he said he’s not relying on forward-facing sonar to target fish. Instead, he’s power fishing around “classic prespawn stuff.” He’s not slowing down, covering water with his trolling motor and fishing whatever cover he encounters — in his words, “pretty much just junk fishing around in one section of the lake.”

While Becker noted that he only saw one other competitor all day, which excites him, he’s not sure whether he’ll be able to ride his starting spot, or even the general area, to another Top 10. He plans to spend the second day of qualifying exploring more of the massive, habitat-rich playing field.

“I feel like I might have burnt up that area today, but you just never know,” Becker said. “It’s springtime, more fish could be coming with a warming trend. The sun was out this afternoon, and it was warming up. So maybe some more fish are coming. But I’m going to keep an open mind going into the rest of the tournament and try to expand on Day 2, try to fish some new water and maybe find something else as well.”

Dylan Hays finished Day 1 within 5 pounds of the lead. Photo by Phoenix Moore.

What’s next for Stage Two

Which 10 anglers from Group A advance to the Knockout Round will be decided Thursday, when the group returns to the water for its second day of qualifying. Brent Chapman currently sits in the 10th-place spot with 26-10 on eight fish, a mere 2 ounces ahead of Adrian Avena in 11th.

Wednesday, the 40 anglers in Group B will begin their competition on Santee Cooper. Keep up with the action on SCORETRACKER® and

Fishing Clash Angler of the Year

Bass Pro Tour anglers will compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year award and its $100,000 payday. Becker, who claimed the award last season, will look to make up some ground on early leader Dustin Connell at Stage Two. Connell sits sixth in Group A with 34-5 after one day on the water.

Fishing Clash, an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide, is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play, or log on to for more information.

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