SUMMERTON, S.C. – Bryan Cook secured his status as a local legend, bagging 28 pounds, 9 ounces on the first and only day of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Southern Division event on Santee Cooper. Dangerous wind conditions cut the promising event short, but the action was plentiful for those who found themselves at the top of the leaderboard. Matt Wieteha and Zach Crider both bested the 24-pound mark, and the rest of the Top 10 brought more than 20 pounds to the scales.
Day 1 offered fishable conditions, but most anglers encountered a rough ride on their way back to the ramp. With a small-craft wind advisory in effect on Day 2 and another forecasted for Day 3, tournament officials had to make the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the event.
“At MLF, angler safety is our first priority,” said Tournament Director Leroy Hensley. “We want anglers to have a good time and fish all the days that they can, but we have to get them home safely to their families.”
As the winner, Cook is certainly happy with the outcome but found himself disappointed that they couldn’t spend more time on the water. Fishing on his home lake, he felt he had what it would take to go the distance, no matter what the wind blew his way.
“Day 1 was great,” Cook said. “I honestly wish we could’ve fished another day or two, but we can’t control mother nature. I had a really good practice. I had found fish and prepared for everything from calm conditions to strong winds. I had four different patterns that I was getting bites on. With those four patterns, I feel comfortable that I could’ve consistently caught them throughout the week.”
To start the tournament, Cook targeted prespawn fish with a Santee staple – the wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senko. Pitching to key pieces of cover, a fluorocarbon leader and Falcon LowRider Salt Series rod were key to his success.
“The Senko is a namesake here that always works well,” Cook said. “I caught a lot of fish on that. Wacky rigged with a parabolic rod, that’s really important.”
After adding a few anchor fish to the box, Cook began probing grass lines with a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver. While the fish weren’t as plentiful, the pounds were.
“I didn’t get a lot of bites, but the ones I got were good,” he said. “I actually left those fish, preparing for the next two potential days.”
With five fish in the livewell and the wind picking up, Cook switched to two different moving baits. He leaned heavily on a Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer, and also picked up an old-school Terminator Spinnerbait in preparation for when the wind really started to blow.
At this point, the long-term strategy began to come into play.
“When I had about 24-25 pounds in the box I considered backing off,” Cook said. “But I knew some weather was coming and I realized I needed to continue a little bit more. I caught two more key fish, which got me up to 28 pounds, 9 ounces. That was midday. After that, I cut all my hooks off and went practicing for the potential following days. I continued to have some really good bites the rest of the afternoon.”
In the end, he wouldn’t need those fish to take home first place, but it solidifies Cook’s knowledge and experience on his home body of water. He began fishing tournaments at the age of 16, when the local club actually changed the rules to allow him to participate.
“I fished out of a John boat in those early club tournaments,” Cook said. “I carried more cotter keys in my tackle box to fix the prop than I did baits back in the day.”
Cook’s investment of time and effort has certainly paid dividends, this time to the tune of $51,500 and a first-place trophy. Even more important, he has overcome the odds and solidified his place among the local legends.
“I’ve been here a long time,” Cook said. “It’s very meaningful to win here against all my idols – the people I’ve looked up to my entire fishing career – it makes it really special.”
1. Bryan Cook – 28 – 09 (5) – $51,500
2. Matt Wieteha – 25 – 02 (5) – $20,000
3. Zach Crider – 24 – 05 (5) – $14,250
4. Joel Richardson – 22 – 11 (5) – $12,250
5. Marshall Robinson – 21 – 10 (5) – $12,550 (includes $1,000 Phoenix Bonus)
6. Johnny McCombs – 21 – 03 (5) – $9,125
7. Kyle Austin – 20 – 09 (5) – $7,900
8. Kyle Glasgow – 20 – 05 (5) – $6,900
9. Danny L. Shanz – 20 – 03 (5) – $5,900
10. Lee Stalvey – 20 – 02 (5) – $4,500