Insider: Everything you need to know for Santee Cooper - Major League Fishing Insider: Everything you need to know for Santee Cooper
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February 16, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Fantasy Fishing

The second stop of the 2024 Bass Pro Tour season will take the 80-angler field to the Santee Cooper lakes in South Carolina. While Santee Cooper — which is actually two lakes, Marion and Moultrie, connected by a diversion canal — is no stranger to the tournament scene, Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick comes with quite a bit of intrigue. 

For one thing, even though several BPT pros live in the area, none considers Santee Cooper a home waterway or seems to spend regular time on the fishery. Only a handful have competed on the lakes in the past decade, with a healthy portion of the field never having fished a tournament there. Plus, those who have experience at Santee Cooper almost certainly visited later in the year. The February timing of Stage Two should make for a rare prespawn event on the fishery. 

So, how do you wade through all those unknowns and pick a winning Fantasy Fishing roster? Here’s everything you need to know. 

How it will go down

While they have their differences, Marion and Moultrie are both chock full of shallow cover. You’ll see plenty of anglers targeting the cypress trees the lakes are best known for, but there’s also stumps, vegetation, brushpiles and more. Bass almost certainly won’t be spawning around the cover yet, but they should use it to stage as they make their way to their spawning grounds. 

Yet, despite the abundance of habitat, South Carolina native Marty Robinson said there’s a lot of dead water on Santee Cooper. As such, anglers will need to cover ground quickly, and once they do find fish, try to stay connected to them throughout the six-day tournament. Add in the fact that the bass could be finicky this time of year and that the lakes are difficult to navigate, and anglers seem to think they’re in for a bit of a grinder — albeit with the potential for an 8-plus-pounder to show up any cast. Robinson predicted 20 to 25 pounds will constitute a solid day. 

As for tactics, expect to see plenty of anglers employing classic shallow-water, power-fishing techniques: spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, squarebills. Flipping wood is always a player, too. And in 2024, you also have to figure forward-facing sonar will factor in somehow. Santee Cooper isn’t exactly classic beaming territory, but a few anglers will undoubtedly find a way to employ bass fishing’s most polarizing technology. 

The can’t-miss favorites

Always a threat when there’s largemouth to be caught around shallow cover, Ott DeFoe also won a Toyota Series event on Santee Cooper in 2006. Photo by Garrick Dixon.

It’s always a good idea to build your lineup around a handful of the usual suspects. Jacob Wheeler’s consistency is unmatched on the Bass Pro Tour; you should quite literally never form a team without him. Ott DeFoe has a win on Santee Cooper on his résumé (albeit nearly 20 years ago) and is hard to beat when shallow largemouth are in play. Alton Jones Jr. isn’t just a ‘Scoper, as he proved with his dominant victory at General Tire Heavy Hitters 2023 on Louisiana’s Bussey Brake — a fishery that, while much smaller, bears some similarity to Santee.  

It’s time to add Drew Gill’s name to this list, too. Momentum is real in fishing, and the BPT rookie is scorching hot, coming off a third-place finish at Toledo Bend and then a win at the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season-opener at Sam Rayburn. Yes, forward-facing sonar is his strength, but he’s arguably the best in the game at using the technology in shallow water. 

History on their side

While the field as a whole doesn’t have a ton of tournament history on Santee Cooper — and that history probably shouldn’t be weighed too heavily considering almost none of it occurred before the spawn — two anglers’ track records on the fishery stand out. 

Bryan Thrift clearly has a special connection with Santee Cooper. The past five times he’s competed there, all during Toyota Series events, he’s finished among the Top 10. That includes a win in 2016 that saw him rack up nearly 80 pounds in three days. The defending REDCREST champion also won on Santee Cooper as a co-angler in 2005.  

Terry Scroggins’ record on Santee Cooper might be a tad more dated, but it’s just as impressive. In his past six events there, he’s finished no worse than seventh. That includes a win in a 2007 Bassmaster Elite Series event. While it’s fair to point out that Big Show hasn’t competed on Santee Cooper since 2009, the fact that his fourth-place finish that year came in the fall indicates that his Santee success isn’t solely a product of his sight-fishing prowess. 

Other names to consider

Wesley Strader got off to a strong start to the 2024 campaign by finishing 12th at Toledo Bend. Photo by Phoenix Moore.
  • Of the six South Carolina natives in the field, I’m most intrigued by Andy Montgomery and Marshall Robinson. Montgomery doesn’t have a ton of history on Santee Cooper, but the abundance of shallow wood to skip and flip should suit his eye. Robinson, meanwhile, finished fifth in the 2022 Toyota Series event on the fishery. While that event occurred in April and was shortened to one day due to weather, the 20-year-old should be familiar with the venue and confident he can hold his own — and we know he’s talented enough to do so. 
  • Edwin Evers is good at everything, but a prespawn grinder especially seems to fit his skillset. Whether old-school, power-fishing tactics or forward-facing sonar proves to be the way to catch ‘em, Evers can do both. 
  • Speaking of versatility, Wesley Strader showed at Toledo Bend that he can hang with the young guns in a forward-facing sonar tournament. Add to that his long track record of success winding crankbaits, spinnerbaits and the like plus the fact that the every-fish-counts format clearly suits him, and he’s another appealing option in a loaded Group B.  
  • If this does turn into a classic, prespawn, power-fishing derby, it would be hard not to pick Andy Morgan. He’s made a long, lucrative career by dissecting the shallows better than everyone else. 
  • There’s an endless number of “off-the-grid” swamps, backwater ponds and other hidden holes on Santee Cooper for Keith Poche to explore. Odds are he finds a population of bass in one of them and has it all to himself. 

Dark horses

Looking for a way to separate yourself from the rest of the pack? Consider turning to these anglers, who likely won’t be rostered as frequently as the names listed above. We’re only including one selection from Group B since we’ve already mentioned so many anglers from the group. 

Group A:

  • Randy Howell — When I think of prespawn power fishing, Howell is one of the first names that comes to mind, and he should have a decent lay of the lake after fishing six previous events on Santee Cooper. 
  • Ron Nelson — Nelson fished three shallow, early-season events on the Invitationals last year and finished 15th or better each time — including a pair of Top-5s. He’s one of those guys who has a knack for finding a little something different than the rest of the field, which could pay off this week.

Group B:

  • Bradley Roy — Working off my aforementioned theory that Bussey Brake and its nearby lakes share some similar qualities as Santee Cooper, the Bass Pro Tour event that reminds me most of this one was Stage One of the 2022 season. That was a prespawn affair where, especially on the final day, the bites were few and far between, but the bass that hit the scales were big. Well, Roy won that event, plus he finished among the Top 10 in his only previous event on Santee Cooper. Even in a stacked group, I’ll try to find a way to fit him into my lineup. 
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