CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — As spring arrives in the Low Country of South Carolina, Elite Series anglers will likely have the opportunity to catch massive bags during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes and prove why the fishery was ranked the third-best bass lake of 2021 by Bassmaster Magazine.
Competition days will be March 17-20, with anglers taking off each morning at 7:30 a.m. ET from John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility in Summerton and weighing in back at the facility at 3:30 p.m.
Made up of Lake Marion to the west and Lake Moultrie to the east, Santee Cooper was not only ranked as the third-best bass fishing lake in the country in Bassmaster’s annual list of 100 Best Bass Lakes in 2021, but was also named the 23rd-best lake of the decade in 2020. The two reservoirs cover over 170,000 acres combined, plus a 6-mile diversion canal that connects the two.
The lakes hold the record for the third-heaviest four-day winning weight in Elite Series history (115 pounds, 15 ounces) set by Preston Clark in 2006. In only the second visit by the Elite Series to Santee Cooper in October 2020, an event originally scheduled for March but moved due to COVID-19, Brandon Palaniuk sealed his fifth career Elite Series victory by catching 72-2 on various parts of Lake Marion.
“There are so many different faces to this lake and so many different types of fishing you can do on Marion and Moultrie,” the Summerville, S.C., native said. “There’s bluffs, flats, cypress trees, flooded timber, grass, depressions. Anything you can imagine to fish, you can fish here and it is such a huge fishery and so diverse.
“With 170,000 acres, that is huge and I like that. The hard part about coming here is trying to break it down.”
As the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk at Lake Hartwell highlighted, temperatures across the Southeast have been on the rise and bass have been pushing toward the shallows. With a cold front moving through the weekend before official practice begins, followed by warming temperatures as high as 80 degrees predicted during the tournament, Walters said he expects this event to be a shallow-water beatdown with bass transitioning from prespawn to spawn.
With a week to go before the first takeoff, Walters said the lakes were about a foot low. But with rain pushing through the areas, it is expected to rise some, which he thinks will only help the fishing.
“The cold front will come through Saturday and Sunday with lows in the 20s. The fish, I think, are already up there shallow,” Walters said. “There is pollen on my truck and spring is in the air. The cold front will knock them back some and what I’m hoping is, with a full moon and temperatures back in the 80s, that the bass will have spring fever.
“It could line up for the perfect storm. A lot of the fish wait for the water level to get right before they spawn and if it rises even a half a foot, it is going to be scary.”
While the two lakes have some distinct differences, Walters said a lot of the same elements play on both lakes and either has the potential to kick out massive bags. He added, however, Moultrie is less likely to sustain its production over the course of a four-day event.
“Lake Moultrie looks like Okeechobee,” he said. “It is a complete circle and doesn’t have much timber in the middle of it. That lake was finished when they flooded it while Lake Marion was not. Marion is a more scenic lake and a lot harder to get around.
“Moultrie has more actual channels and Marion doesn’t have as many natural creeks and stuff. There is still the same kind of cover base, but it lays out a little differently.”
On either lake, the bass will be making a push toward spawning flats and creeks, giving anglers a multitude of options when it comes to shallow cover. Flipping and pitching around cypress trees and flooded cover will play a role as well as spinnerbaits.
The lake also features lily pads, gator grass, water willow and other bank grasses where anglers can pick up a key bite.
“Sight fishing is going to play a big factor,” Walters added.
No matter what the predominant pattern ends up being, Walters said he expects the four-day totals to creep up to or surpass the century mark.
“I think both lakes will play and I think it will be a good shallow-water tournament,” he explained. “It is going to be weird when we get there for practice. But come tournament time, it will open some eyes. I think it will take 90 to 100 pounds to win.”
With two Elite Series events completed, Tennessee native David Mullins holds a slim lead (193 points) in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race over Floridian John Cox (191 points), while Georgia’s Micah Frazier holds third place with 179 points.
Full coverage from all four days of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes will be available on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19-20 beginning at 8 a.m. ET.
The tournament is being hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.