Spring dynamic could be on display for Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes

South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Lakes will host the 2024 St. Croix Bassmaster Open presented by SEVIIN tournament March 7-9. 

Photo by Craig Lamb/B.A.S.S.

February 28, 2024


CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Bassmaster Elite Series pro Bryan New is certain there will be plenty of bass to catch during the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes presented by SEVIIN. The Saluda, S.C., angler is just not certain how he and his competitors will catch them.


Competition days will be March 7-9 with daily takeoffs from the John C Land III Sports Fishing Facility at 6:30 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day at the same location at 2:30 p.m.


“There’s going to be fish spawning and some prespawn,” New said. “The fish will still do the same thing, but where do they do it? I’m sure some fish will be staging on grass, on trees, in ditches — and some will be spawning in backwater ponds.”


Santee Cooper Lakes include the 110,600-acre Lake Marion, impounded by the Santee Dam, and Lake Moultrie, which runs down to the Pinopolis Dam. 6.5-mile diversion canal links the two lakes and, while theres no lock to control access, running to Moultrie from the tournament site on Marion’s northeast side requires careful time management — especially if a windy day slows travel time.


Fed by the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree rivers, Marion’s best known for the upper end’s riverine cypress swamp, but includes a mix of docks, lily pads, stumps and grass. Moultrie has traditionally been more of an offshore deal, with brushpiles, bamboo piles and concrete rubble reef sites placed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources dominating the scene.


With good numbers of stocked Florida-strain largemouth bass, Santee Cooper Lakes are a well-renowned giant factory with a reputation for kicking out impressive numbers. During last year’s AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes, 10th-place finisher Matt Robertson of Kentucky sacked up the event’s biggest bag — 28 pounds, 1 ounce — while Oklahoma pro Luke Palmer averaged just over 24 pounds a day, as he won and almost earned a century belt with 96-14.


That late April Elite tournament fell toward the end of the Santee Cooper spawn, but the upcoming Division 1 Open will likely comprise a mix of early-season action. With the bass at their heaviest weights of the year and still in a snappy kind of mood, the stage is set for a potential slugfest.


“Somebody could blow it away,” said Elite pro Todd Auten, who hails from Lake Wylie, S.C. “I’ve seen 45-pound bags there. If you hit it right when the fish are up spawning, you can catch 9- to 10-pounders off beds.”


As New points out, water clarity could suppress some of the fishery’s potential. Recent rains have muddied the waters and, while the fish still feel their seasonal prompting, lower visibility shrinks the strike zone.


“Both lakes are very dirty,” New said. “It’s rare that the Lower Lake gets dirty, but before (the off-limits period), I talked to a friend who said it’s dirtier than he has ever seen it.”


With more rain forecast for the tournament week, turbidity will likely continue to factor, particularly for Marion, which is first to receive major inflows. New notes that grass-filtered backwater areas away from the main flows could see cleaner water, but water staining might also bring benefits.


“Water color can be a good thing; we may be catching spawners we can’t see,” he said.


Wind could also play a significant role in how this event unfolds. As New points out, spring’s fickle nature often meddles with competitive game plans.


“You have to ask yourself, ‘Can I get to where I want to go? Will the wind dirty the water up? Will it cool the water down?’” he said.


New said an increase in aquatic vegetation will certainly impact the fishing — likely in a positive manner. Much of this is due to the SCDNR’s habitat enhancement efforts, which transplanted water willow from the lakes’ vast growth areas to more barren zones, while also bringing eelgrass plantings from Lake Greenwood (two hours northwest of Marion).


“Last year, we had eelgrass that was starting to come in pretty good,” Auten said. “This year, there’s also hydrilla and milfoil. That’s going to be a game changer for somebody, somewhere.


“The last few years, there’s been like no grass in the Lower Lake and those prespawn fish would stage out on brush or a drop. Now, the fish can really be about anywhere in that grass. They can spread out a lot more and have a lot more places to hide until they move up to spawn.”


More grass means more opportunities, but it also will require more searching. While a good stretch of open water might separate a brushpile or reef site from the spawning grounds, a healthy grassbed could provide cover and feeding opportunities right up to the areas where fish may bed.


Auten expects lipless baits, spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, big worms and flipping jigs to produce competitive fish. New adds squarebills and wacky rigs to that mix. Both agree that surface presentations from frogs to buzzbaits could deliver big.


“A topwater might come into play if the water temperature gets up there,” Auten said. “I know they’re catching some shallow already, and it’s only going to get better.”


Tournament weekend brings a new moon and, while typically not as strong as the full moon’s affect, this phase is known to spur spawning movements, provided water temperatures are warm enough. Noting that seasonal progression will be inching closer to go-time, Auten expects the Santee Cooper Lakes to make a strong showing.

“To make the Top 10 cut, it’s probably going to take about 35 pounds,” Auten said. “If somebody can catch 25 to 26 pounds a day, they’ll probably win.”


The final day of competition will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 8:00 a.m. ET, with streaming available on Bassmaster.com, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.


This event is being hosted by Clarendon County in association with Santee Cooper Country and the Town of Santee.


2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: St. Croix

2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Presenting Sponsor: SEVIIN

2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro ShopsDakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Lowrance, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC


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