Top 10 Patterns from Santee Cooper - Major League Fishing

Top 10 Patterns from Santee Cooper

Shad spawn, sight-fishing and offshore all played a role
Image for Top 10 Patterns from Santee Cooper
William Fletcher Photo by Charles Waldorf.
April 29, 2019 • Sean Ostruszka • Toyota Series

Santee Cooper is full of 30-pound stringers. It’s also been known as a lake that will humble an angler quick.

Bradford Beavers had experienced that before, having twice before weighed in 30-plus-pound stringers in tournaments on his home lake only to bomb the next day. Well, third time was the charm. After weighing in 31-02 on day one of the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division event presented by Power-Pole, he managed to back it up on day two by fishing both lakes for his first signature victory.

Of course, he had to hold off some hard charges from some veteran locals to do it. Here’s how they and the other top pros managed to carve out their own patterns and stay consistent on Santee.

Beavers’ winning pattern

Top 10 baits gallery

Complete results 


Lex Costas

2. Costas leaves canal, hangs in Moultrie

Santee Cooper is a shallow-angler’s dream lake. Yet, of all the legendary locals, Lex Costas is arguably the best, and he’s at his best fishing deep.

The Daniel Island, S.C., pro’s claim to fame is fishing the canal between lakes Marion and Moultrie, where little openings to backwaters off the canal create current seams. Sure enough, he fished his bread-and-butter plenty this week, though, it never quite went as best it could.

“It’s just not the right time of year for the canal,” Costas says. “I still managed to catch a couple fish from it both days, though.”

In the canal, Costas switched between a white homemade hair jig that he’d swim and hop along the bottom (and get hung up and break off often) and a crankbait, bending over to stick his rod in the water to help get his crankbait down deeper.

Yet, on day two, he only had a pair of fish by noon, prompting a move into Moultrie to fish deeper stumps and brush piles in 4-8 feet of water. Dragging a green pumpkin Zoom Magnum Trick Worm, Costas went from two fish to a giant 26-pound, 3-ounce bag in a hurry.

“The only reason I moved there was the water was clearer in my areas and I figured I had some stuff other anglers hadn’t fished,” Costas says.


Mike Watson

3. Watson’s kicker trees come through

There are countless cypress trees in Santee Cooper, but there’s a small clump of them on the south end of Marion that Mike Watson is quite fond of.

“I’ve fished the spot for years, and it always just produces big ones,” Watson says. “It’s just a little pile of trees, and it must be a good spawning area, because it only produces fish over 7 pounds.”

Unfortunately, someone else had found the area to start day one, so Watson had to be patient and not give it away. Once the other angler moved on, he was able to go in with a wacky-rigged green-pumpkin Yamamoto Senko and catch one good one on day one.

Day two, though, it produced quite a bit more.

“I missed one when I first got in there today,” says the Sumter, S.C. pro, “but then a little while later I caught a 9-pounder and 8-pounder about 10 minutes apart.”

Those two fish anchored day two’s biggest bag, 27-15.


Joey Sabbagha

4. Sabbagha milks shad spawn in Marion

Everyone knew a shad spawn was happening on Santee, but most either couldn’t capitalize on it or didn’t care to, instead focusing on spawning bass. Joey Sabbagha of Prosperity, S.C., was one of the few who focused on it, and did so quite well.

Fishing “way up in the swamp” on the north end of Marion, Sabbagha found some areas where shad were spawning around cypress tress. There, he could catch quick, quality limits tossing a Greenfish Tackle Swim Jig in Guntersville shad color with a Strike King Rage Swimmer trailer. He tossed the swim jig on a 7-foot, 3-inch Level Performance rod with 20-pound-test P-Line fluorocarbon.

“I had the majority of my weight both days by 9 a.m.,” Sabbagha says. “On the first day, I eventually culled up a little bit tossing a BOOYAH Pad Crasher frog, but today, I just stuck with the swim jig all day.”

While the shad-spawn bite may have died early, he figured that much bait in the area had concentrated the bass in the same area, and thus, he tried to stick it out. While he went through a midday lull, the afternoon bite turned on bigtime, and he figured he caught three 20-pound limits swimming that jig in and around any piece of cover in the area.


Kyle Welcher

5. Welcher hangs close to takeoff

There were three predominant patterns at Santee: Pitching to cypress trees, sight fishing and the shad spawn. Cleveland, Tenn., pro Kyle Welcher sampled them all in route to fifth.

Welcher started both days on a shad-spawn pattern in Marion, but on Thursday he ran to Moultrie to complete his limit sight-fishing. Then on the way back in, he caught a bonus 6-pounder that keyed him in on something.

“I realized all my biggest bites came closer to takeoff, here on the upper end,” Welcher says. “So today I again started on the shad spawn and then went pitching cover. Didn’t matter what it was. Just had to be in 3 ½ to 4 feet, be isolated, and have shade, especially anything green touching the water’s surface.”

For his shad-spawn bite, Welcher tossed a white 3/8-ounce  Davis Baits Elite Swim Jig with a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw trailer. When it came to flipping cypress tree or targeting bedding fish he flipped and pitched a green-pumpkin Yamamoto Senko with an 1/8-ounce weight on 20-pound test K9 Fishing fluorocarbon line.


6. Smith commits deep

Todd Smith considers himself a so-so offshore fisherman, and he hates throwing a Carolina rig. Yet, once he realized how many fish in Moultrie were postspawn, he dedicated himself to both.

“I originally wanted to fish the trees with a watermelon red Yamamoto Senko or a California 420 Zoom Trick Worm on a 1/8-ounce Picasso shaky head if there was a lot of current,” says Smith, who threw either on Big Bear spinning rod with 15-pound test PowerPro braid to a 10-pound test Gamma fluorocarbon leader. “The last hour of day one I went deep and realized that’s the place to be.”

Smith’s deep spots were stumps and brush piles in 10-12 feet of water. There he utilized a Carolina-rigged, green pumpkin Zoom Lizard on a 5/0 VMC hook and a ½-ounce weight on 20-pound test Sunline fluorocarbon.

It also just so happened that FLW Tour pro Buddy Gross was staying at Smith’s house, and one evening he asked Gross how to get a big bite.

“He gave me one of those [Scottsboro Tackle] swimbaits, and I caught my biggest one on it today,” says the Bonneau, S.C., pro, who threw both the C-rig and swimbait on a 7-3 medium-heavy Fitzgerald rod.


William Fletcher

7. Fletcher sticks with a spinnerbait

Marion’s north end above the Route 95 bridge is prime for a spinnerbait, and that suits William Fletcher just fine.

The Dallas, Ga., pro loves a spinnerbait, particularly some older ones or homemade versions, including one from Peanut Craft Lures. His color of choice this week was a white-chartreuse-and-blue skirt, with a gold willow leaf main blade and chartreuse kicker Colorado blade.

As for where he threw it, Fletcher targeted staging areas in 2-4 feet of water.

“I was looking for the first sets of trees close to the channel,” Fletcher says. “I was getting a mix of pre- and postspawn fish cycling through them.”

Unfortunately, while he caught multiple big fish the first day, he only got one big bite the last day, never allowing him to climb above the 20-pound mark.


Brent Riley

8. Riley fishes in front of house

It’s always nice to fish a tournament on your home waters. That goes especially true for Brent Riley, as he was fishing within sight of his house on Moultrie.

There, the Cross, S.C., local concentrated on cypress trees with a wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senko with the tail dyed chartreuse. A big key for him was hitting trees he felt others hadn’t, even if it meant going above and beyond to do so.

“Sometimes I’d idle 200 yards deep into areas to hit two trees I didn’t think anyone else had hit,” Riley says.

That tactic worked wonders, as he actually caught more fish on Saturday than on day one; something few anglers did. Unfortunately, he says he lost a key big fish both days that cost him from climbing higher in the standings.

Bryan Thrift

9. Thrift uses light line to maximize trees

Bryan Thrift has won quite a bit of money from the trees in Santee Cooper, even winning a Costa Series event back in 2016. Sure enough, he shook a few more dollar bills off the trees thanks to a key tackle tweak.

“The trees here just get so much pressure,” Thrift says. “They really get beat up in practice and the tournament. So, a big thing for me was switching to a lighter line. I think it helped my Damiki Stinger fall even better and got a few more bites in the clear water.”

Thrift’s line choice was 15-pound test P-Line TCB Braid to a 10-pound test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon leader. He threw his wacky rig on a 7-2 medium-heavy Fitzgerald Vursa spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier 30 spinning reel and with a 3/0 Finesse Wide Gap Berkley Fusion19 hook.

Another key for Thrift said was not hitting any trees in practice that he planned to fish during the tournament.

“I just kept running new trees,” Thrift says. 


10. Hutson abandons sight-fishing, targets brush piles

Mark Hutson is known as one of the best sight-fishermen on Santee Cooper. So of course, that’s exactly what he hoped to do throughout the event, especially after what he saw in practice.

“I had one spot on the south end of Marion where I could’ve Power-Poled down and caught a 30-pound stringer,” Huston says. “But when I checked it on Thursday, they were all gone.”

Hutson filled his limit on Thursday with small bucks off beds before scrambling around hitting cypress trees the rest of the day. That said, the Moncks Corner, S.C., pro figured the trees had taken such a beating that he wanted to do something else on the final day.

“I had some brush I’d sunk in Moultrie I’d been saving,” Hutson says. “So I ended up fishing that with a Zoom Ol’ Monster (green pumpkin) with a ¼-ounce weight.”