After the miserable start to the week at Santee, who would have guessed that it would take nearly 69 pounds to lead the event and over 39 to make the top-50 cut after the first two days?
Monday morning's air temp was a cool 35 degrees which only served to cool the water and delay the massive waves of fish that literally flooded the shallows of lakes Marion and Moultrie. After the first two days, I'm not sure that all 104 competitors combined could have hauled in 100 pounds of fish. The conditions changed drastically.
I have never been anywhere and have never seen the numbers of fish that were coming into the shallow pockets of water off the main lake as I saw on Santee. You could find a flat pocket with water 1- to 3-feet deep just off the main lake, sit at the mouth, and watch the parade of fish that passed. There was a steady stream of bass hitting the shallows in waves.
You could go back to pockets Friday where the beds had been picked clean of fish on Thursday and find new fish had moved up to the same beds. Not only that, but more had joined them. Pockets that were void of fish on Tuesday or even Wednesday were full of fish on Friday. Unbelievable.
The weird thing about the whole deal is where they all come from; where were they swimming from? That was one of the frustrating parts of Monday and Tuesday's practice very few anglers could figure out any type of a consistent pre-spawn bite. It's like the bass magically appeared. The guys that did the best spent the majority of their practice looking for bass that were starting to move up and looking for areas that they felt more fish would move into as the conditions improved.
I see now why almost all of the boats docked on the lake were party barges set up for stripers or catfishing. If you aren't on Santee during the spawn, it might be a tough bite. We were staying on the lake close to a public boat ramp. Saturday morning when we pulled out, there was not one single boat trailer at the ramp. During the week, I saw very few bass fishermen other than fellow competitors. Most of the people out fishing appeared to be fishing for striper or catfish.
Weird deal; Preston Clark is well on his way to busting 100 pounds of bass and possibly breaking the all time weight record and the lake isn't absolutely full of recreational fishermen. What would the weights be like if we came here a month from now?
One of the reasons that the Santee lakes don't get tons of recreational anglers might have something to do with the high degree of pucker involved in navigating the lakes. Typically, anywhere we go that has navigational markers has those markers for a reason. It would be interesting to see Lake Marion a few feet low to see exactly why those markers are in place. Judging from the number of lower units torn up and off this week, I can guess why the markers are there.
Another clue that the pucker factor would be escalated, other than the sheer size and openness of the lakes, was the construction of the boat lanes. Many places have treated timbers or telephone poles for markers. Others have floating buoys anchored to the bottom with huge chunks of concrete. In the Santee lakes, they are concrete pillars driven into the bottom. These babies aren't moving. Smack one of these with a boat and the boat will be the loser.
Both lakes contain about 160,000 acres of water. Lake Moultrie has about 60,000 acres of this basically in one open bowl. How much fun do you think that is with 20 MPH winds? The majority of Marion is also wide open and staying in the boat lanes is even more important in much of this lake.
Picture 4-5 foot swells and you have to go across them at an angle while trying to stay in a 75 foot wide boat lane. Not quite as easy as you would think. In most other bodies of water, your easiest passage would be to run the troughs of the swells toward your destination, the lee side of some islands, or stay on the leeward shoreline as long as possible then cross in the swells toward your goal.
Navigating on open bodies of water such as the Santee lakes will make you a better boat driver or a wet boat driver; depends on how quick you learn from your mistakes.
Had one of my co-anglers ask me if there was one of the Elite anglers that everyone considered to be an intimidator along the lines of Dale Earnhardt. There wasn't one that came to mind at the time and I have spent some time thinking about his question.
Ego plays a huge part in every sport and bass fishing is not an exception by a long shot. I'm not sure that ego doesn't play a bigger part in fishing than in some other sports, especially team sports. The best adage I have heard that adequately described bass fishing went something along the lines of this: at the end of the day, you find out if his'n is bigger than your'n.
While I couldn't think of any angler that stood out as being an "intimidator," I did come up with several that are complete jerks. Several are "fan favorites" but not necessarily fave's with their fellow anglers. Surprised? I was when I discovered that some of my fishing heroes, while cool on ESPN2 and in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, were not pleasant people to be around in real life. Not guys you would want to knock back a few brews with.
When I first discovered that what you see is not necessarily what you get, I thought perhaps it was just me. Maybe I was the one that was playing Mr. Jerk. After getting to know some of the other competitors, I learned it was not just me. Either that or I was hanging out with all the other jerks.
So why in the world would a guy that is fishing for little green fish for a living be sour, grumpy, or hard to get along with? How in the world could you not have a good day when you get up every morning and put your boat in the water? What makes a guy act like a jerk when at the end of the day people will walk up to him and ask him for his signature on a hat or piece of paper?
I think I'm having a pretty good day when someone asks me for an autograph.