The first tournament of the year for King Kat proved once again what a big fish destination Santee Cooper is.
Catfish anglers from twelve states traveled to Santee Cooper Lakes to fish the King Kat Tournament Trail presented by Bass Pro Shops Cabela’s season opener. Sixty-four teams gathered at Black’s Camp and Restaurant in Cross, SC to test their catfishing skills against other anglers and Mother Nature.
Pre-fishing produced mixed reports from anglers testing the waters before the event. A good report of a 76-pound blue gave reason for optimism, but numerous other poor reports had some anglers wondering what tournament day, February 16, would bring. Then at the Captains Meeting, another 70-pound plus fish was reported along with several other good fish and optimism was restored for tournament day.
Competitors were vying for $16,500 in cash and prizes, and an opportunity to qualify for the $120,000 Classic Championship to be held November 1 and 2, 2019, on the Tennessee River (Wheeler Lake) at Decatur, Alabama.
Just as forecast, and expected when a tournament rolls into town, the rains came. Air temperatures were in the mid-60s with winds at 10 – 15 mph. Anglers woke up on Saturday morning to steady rain and heavy winds. The rain cleared throughout the day to leave the weigh-in dry.
Now it was just a matter of time to see what Santee Cooper would produce. The first fish came in early, about 9:00 am and pulled the scales to more than 50 pounds. It was the start to a day that would see numerous trophy cats weighed in. Anglers were fishing under the new 2019 rule of one fish over 36 inches per person. Tournament rules allowed only two overs of any species per team.
Demonstrating the fickleness of catfishing, the winning team changed their game plan by moving from the upper lake to the lower lake. The second-place team changed their strategy on tournament day by moving from the lower lake to the upper lake.
Results for the Top Catfish Teams
Longtime tournament partners Ronnie Hughes from North Carolina and Johnny Jones from Virginia claimed the top spot in the one-day tournament. They had to completely change their game plan from what they expected. Instead of catching fish shallow, as they had in previous days, their fish came from relatively deep water. They only weighed in four fish, but their bag included Big Kat of the tournament and a total weight that claimed the Santee Cooper title.
“We started off anchoring in the upper lake (Marion) in shallow water,” explained Hughes. “It was about 7 to 8 feet of water. We caught fish there yesterday and thought it would be good today. We had three spots identified for a place to start the day.”
Hughes and Jones stayed in the upper lake for about 3 or 4 hours. They had no luck at all so decided to move to the lower lake (Moultrie) and an area they refer to as the dikes.
“We drifted for a solid three hours from 10 foot of water all the way across,” continued Hughes. “The wind was really bad at first. We were just letting it push us along a channel where we caught our first fish about 1:30 pm. By 2:00 o’clock we had only caught a couple smaller ones and were talking about packing it in. We decided to fish a little longer, but at that point, we were not even going to come to the weigh-in.”
“The wind was bad,” added Jones. “But when it started calming down a bit, we got a good drift going. We started catching our fish in about 38-40 feet of water. We were pulling white perch on a regular Santee rig with Demon Dragons on Big Cat Fever rods and Shimano Dakota reels.”
“Then about 2:30 a rod just slammed down,” said an excited Hughes. “It buried it. It went down so hard it spun the Driftmaster Rod Holder around. It was the big fish and he took off snatching drag off the reel and turned the boat around to where the drift sock was in the motor. He was about 100 feet out to start with and I worked him up to the boat and straight up and down. It was like I couldn’t even move him. Man, golly. I’m still shaking.”
That big fish weighed 76.86 pounds and lifted Hughes and Jones to a winning weight of 119.90 pounds in only 4 fish! They earned $5,200 for first place, $1,260 for Big Kat and $300 for the Driftmaster Bonus.
Runner Up Spot
Second place went to the North Carolina team of John Terry and Shane Owenby with a total weight of 115.30 pounds. They were able to find fish on tournament day after a change of strategy from the lower lake to the upper lake.
The team caught about 20 fish on the day and earned a check for $2700.
“We had two really rough days down here prefishing,” said Terry. “We caught one fish. We fished the lower lake and just couldn’t get our rhythm together. We just could not find fish consistently. We move to the upper lake on tournament day and found the fish on a point where we did pretty good.”
The team could not put a pattern together on the lower lake so they made the move to the upper lake. Owenby had never fished it and Terry had not been there in 3 or 4 years, but he used to fish it a lot so he was familiar with it.
“The wind was the most significant factor,” Added Terry. “We were in 4- to 5-foot waves and anchored down. We weathered the storm and were catching fish every 15 to 20 minutes. The wind had the bait backed up on a little point and we just sat on them and caught them all day long.”
“We had an absolute blast,” concluded Owenby, who had only fished Santee three times. “ We had a rough two days prior to the tournament and then it turned on for us on tournament day. We were using perch and shad in different size cuts. The smaller baits seemed to work a little bit better.”
The third-place spot went to Jim Page and Richard Tucker with 111.34 pounds. The team was drifting shad and perch in about 20 feet of water to start the day. They moved deeper in the afternoon and found their fish in 35 feet of water.
Page and Tucker fished Lake Moultrie and landed 8 fish on the day. They culled 3 fish over 36-inches in the morning. Their unders they needed did not come until about 2:30 after they moved deeper. They were also using shad and perch. Their stringer earned $2100 for the South Carolina team.
Eric and Marya Jenkins from Catawba, NC claimed the fourth-place spot with 110.80 pounds.
Team Jenkins fished on the upper lake drifting all day on windblown flats. They indicated they had to fight the wind all day long but managed about 15 fish on the day.
They used shad and perch in 9-12 feet of water. From their total number of fish, they culled five over the 36-inch limit on their way to earning $1,350.00 for the fourth place spot.
The Remaining Top Ten Catfish Teams
5th Place – Ken Luttrell, Sam Schramm, & Jerry Walker – 100.04
6th Place – Paul Blackwell & Daniel Goggin – 95.26
7th Place – Carl Morris Jr. & Rob Parsons – 92.56
8th Place – Charles Ouvry & Robert Evans – 90.44
9th Place – Cliff & Sharon Strength – 90.14
10th Place – Benji Brown & Cary Vandenbroecke – 89.12