The Costa FLW Series presented by Frabill on Santee Cooper is quickly becoming a tale of two lakes. Bradley Dortch of Bay Minette, Ala., is leading from the lower lake (Moultrie), but just behind him by 9 ounces is Tim Malone, who is fishing the upper lake (Marion). The two lakes are connected by diversion canal. Ironically, both anglers are in different lakes, but they are both using spinnerbaits to do their damage.
Patterns are more varied among the rest of the leaders. Here are the details.
In order to get a lure where Malone is catching his fish within a thick stand of cypress trees, you would almost have to be a trick caster. But Malone is up to the challenge, using a backhanded cast to sort of “wrap” his spinnerbait around tree trunks hundreds of times each day.
Malone says the fish initially moved into the area to stage, but now he thinks they have set up on the trees to spawn.
“I think they were actually locked down and guarding today,” he adds. “I could see them chasing bream away like they were defending their nests. And several times I would have a fish swipe at the blade two or three times before I caught it.”
Even though Malone is fishing amid thousands of trees, he says the interesting part is that certain trees replenish with bass each day.
“I have exact casts on exact trees memorized,” Malone says. “I have caught multiple fish off those casts this week. That’s what makes me think they have set up to spawn on those trees. They are in the same places every time.”
Finding key cypress trees that replenish with spawning bass seems to be an emerging theme at Santee Cooper. Pat Fisher is playing that same game down in the lower lake, but he is using wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senkos to bag nearly 25 pounds per day.
“After fishing down there for two days, I have noticed there are certain trees that seem to replenish over and over again,” he says, “and that’s a good thing. It tells me they’re still moving in and setting up to spawn.”
Fisher says he left his primary area by 11 a.m. today
“I only made two passes through there and caught what I weighed in,” he adds. “If they keep moving in there like that, it should be pretty good tomorrow.”
Preston Clark is fishing far back in the cypress trees as well, but he says the key for him has not been fishing the trees themselves.
“It’s not really the wood I’m fishing, but rather the mats of grass and hyacinths that have blown up against the trees,” he says. “It’s more like an Okeechobee pattern.”
Clark notes that his fish are pale white, which is common of fish that have recently been in deeper water.
“It’s about 6 feet deep where I’m fishing, but there is much deeper water nearby,” he says. “They’re pulling up under those mats and acclimating before they go spawn.”
Bryan Thrift is using his patented “smoke on the water” junk-fishing approach, covering as much water as possible in a day.
“In two days I’ve fished from ‘the swamp’ all the way down to Pinopolis Point on the lower lake,” Thrift says. “I’ve caught them on jigs, topwaters, up shallow, out deep, out of brush piles – you name it, I’ve fished it.
“When the big fish are biting like this, I just don’t think you have to force-feed them,” he says. “So I’m not going to sit there and soak a bait. I’m going to give them one or two hops to bite, then I’m on to the next cast. There is just no sense in begging them to bite.”