The first King Kat tournament of the year highlighted the big fish destination of Santee Cooper Country.
Catfish anglers from nine states traveled to Santee Cooper for a King Kat Tournament Trail event presented by Bass Pro Shops Cabela’s. Forty-eight teams gathered at Black’s Camp and Restaurant as for the kick-off event of the 2020 season.
Tournament day followed a late winter storm that produced torrential rainfall and winds greater than 40 miles per hour. Still, many anglers ventured to prefishing before the Captains Meeting on Friday night. Though none admitted to good catches, there was a feeling of optimism in the air. Almost everyone reported good quantiles of bait and the stage was set for tournament day.
When the time came for lines-in at 6:30 the winds had fallen to two miles per hour, blowing from the NNW. Santee Cooper was flat. Too flat in fact, for most catfish tournament anglers. Winds increased as the day went on and clouds rolled in to make for a cool weigh-in in the 40’s. Santee Cooper produced another outstanding weigh-in at Black’s Camp and Restaurant.
The top spot at Santee Cooper went to Jim Page, Rick Page, and Alex Summer from Newberry and Clinton SC. Their limit of 5 fish weighed 157.2 pounds and included big fish of the tournament at 60 pounds.
The team fished the King Kat on Santee last year and finished 3rd with 111 pounds just out of first by 8 pounds. They had trouble finding their unders last year and it cost them the tournament. So, they came in this year knowing that they would have to find some good unders to have a shot.
“I came down to Santee and prefished the weekend before the tournament,” reported Jim. “We found some good overs with 5 or 6 fish in the 40- and 50-pound range. The big fish were holding tight to structure in around 20 feet of water with small schools of baitfish.”
He also found some good unders in the 17- to 20-pound range hanging out under big schools of bait in about 25-30 feet of water. They found that if they went any deeper the fish seemed to get smaller so they had the info they needed to make a strategy.
“I left last weekend with a good game plan,” continued Jim. “The plan was to come back the following Friday to prefish one more day before the tournament. The weather had different plans as 30 mph winds and torrential rains kept us off the water. We came back on Friday evening for the captains meeting and decided to stick with the game plan I had established from the weekend before.”
Jim felt like the fish were not pressured too much from the weather conditions and should still be in about the same pattern if the bait hadn’t moved. So, they fished the lower end of Lake Moultrie targeting ditches and humps. They used gizzard shad from Midlands Outdoors, LLC as bait.
“Tournament morning confirmed our expectations,” recalled Jim. “We marked some good fish staged up around structure and baitfish in 20 feet of water. We anchored up on them and the first rod down was the big fish of the tournament. He hit hard pulling drag around 6:45 am. When we landed the fish, we knew he would at least be in the 50- pound class.”
Their heavy scales were not working so they put the big fish on a backup set that only went to 50 pounds. It would go up to 50 and then say fail. So, they didn’t know exactly how much the big fish weighed until they got to the scales. They caught several more fish in the high 20’s and low 30-pound class.
“We culled close to 120 pounds for being over the 36-inch rule,” reported Jim. “We culled a 26, 28, 29, and a 32. We kept a 35 for our second over. We bounced around the same area targeting fish holding tight to structure until around lunchtime. We only had 3 keepers in the boat, the 60, a 35, and a 21-pound under.
Knowing there was a good bite with all the water flowing through the lake from the heavy rains and wind the team needed two more good unders to have a chance at the win. They made the hard decision to leave biting fish to go find the unders they needed.
“We made a run across the lake close to Pinopolis,” explained Jim. “I had caught decent unders there before by drifting in deeper water holding bait. We marked some fish holding all along a ledge in about 30 feet under huge bait schools. We made about a two-hour drift but only picked up one fish. It was a perfect size under at 35 1/2 inches and weighing 24 pounds.”
With only 4 weighable fish at 2 pm, they had to make another move. They decided to go back across the lake and see if they could target smaller fish that may have moved into the area they fished in the morning.
“I marked a good group of smaller cats,” reported Jim. “They were holding in a small ditch between Bonneau and Russellville in about 25 feet of water. We anchored up on them around 2:30 and downsized all our baits. We caught our last under of 18 pounds at 2:55 pm. Talk about coming down to the wire!”
“The good Lord looked out for us today, putting us on a solid bite,” concluded Jim. “We caught around 280 pounds of fish with 120 pounds going back over the side as culls. We had a blast fishing with some of the top teams in the country and look forward to the next one.
I would like to think Cabela’s King Kat and Kevin Davis from Blacks Camp for putting on an awesome tournament. Santee is a great fishery for any size catfish from eaters to trophy-class fish up in the triple-digit range. I encourage anyone wanting the chance to hook into a fish of a lifetime to give it a try or book a trip with many of the great guides this lake has to offer.”
The runner up spot went to James Wesney from Somerset, OH and Craig Shirey from Baltimore, OH. They teamed up to put 142.2 pounds of Santee Cooper cats in the boat to win second place.
Wesney and Shirey didn’t get to the lake until Friday. All their prefishing was done on a map and the rest of the time was used to get bait.
“We had one spot that we fished last year which was our first time on the lake,” recalled Shirey. “We also picked out two other spots we wanted to fish. We started on a shallow spot which didn’t pay off after two hours. So, we moved to the area we fished the previous year and had no bites after thirty minutes. So, off we go again to spot number three.”
It was third time charms for the Ohio team. The spot they picked from the map started producing fish right away. They caught about 15 fish on the day.
“We started catching fish,” concluded Shirey. “At one time we had a 43, 47 and a 20-pound fish on at the same time. It was about forty feet of water using fresh cut shad. I really thought we had the win because we crushed last year’s weight. But with just a couple of boats left to weigh we got bumped by a huge weight. We are still happy with the results, especially for only being the second time fishing on the lake.”
Finishing in third place was David Kingsmore from Prosperity, SC and Mark Coburn from Conway, SC. Kingsmore and Coburn brought in a weight of 132.7 pounds in what turned out to be Coburn’s first time in the top three.
Coburn normally fishes with his mom, Alice Coburn, in tournaments. He describes his tournament fishing with his mom as a way to promote the Santee Lakes Catfish Club where he serves as weighmaster and promotions director.
In fact, this is the first year that Coburn had fished a Cabela’s King Kat USA event. He teamed up with David Kingsmore, a former Crappie USA National Champion. It was the first time for the pair to fish together. They prefished separately in order to cover more water and make a plan of attack for the tournament.
“Through our prefishing we were able to quickly determine that the 23- to 28-foot depth seemed to be key in finding the best numbers of fish,” reported Coburn. “We decided to go ‘all in’ at that depth. With the wind blowing directly into the Bonneau area of Lake
Moultrie, we decided to head that way where we made a long drift from north to south with ‘lines-in’ beginning at 6:30.”
The team focused their drift in a heavily contoured area with the water depth that they determined in prefishing. That first drift produced nothing.
“Once the winds subsided, we moved,” stated Coburn. “We went a little further north to drift a flat area in 26 feet of water that David had found. In a span of 90 minutes, we had boated 16 fish. Fourteen of them were under fish. We kept our best three for about 66 pounds.”
“When the wind stopped the bite turned on,” confirmed Kingsmore. “After that, we caught a lot of fish.”
The team had 2 small overs at 11:30 am. They decided to use the next 4 hours to focus on nothing but overs.
“We moved to deeper water for the next several hours,” continued Coburn. “We only managed to increase our overs to a 38- and a 28-pound fish. In the end, it was luck and the focus on the unders that gave us a shot. David is an extremely talented angler. His extensive tournament experience and ability to formulate a plan was the key. It gave us an opportunity to compete in the field of elite anglers that Cabela’s is able to produce.”
“I feel I am an extremely blessed individual,” concluded Coburn. “I have gained acceptance and friendships from many in the catfish world through my years behind the camera. Now as a weighmaster and tournament promoter, I am able to take part in some of these wonderful events. There’s no better place to do it than Santee Cooper, SC.
Larry Mazalatis from Summerville, SC and Chuckie Ouvry from Goose Creek, SC, drifted the Rocks Pond area using perch and shad to catch 5 fish that weighed 132.2 pounds and earned them fourth place.
Rounding out the top five was Wayne Estes and Alan Kerley from Statesville, NC. They drifted in the middle of lake Moultrie at various depths using cut baits to bring in a weight of 128.4 pounds and earn the five finish.
The Remaining Top Ten
6th Place – Danny Chappell and Bobby Chappell—126.5 pounds
7th Place – Jeff Outz and Kenneth Sudderth —122.9 pounds
8th Place – Clay Henderson and Gary Morton—118.80
9th Place – Mark Stanley and Bill Bristow—117.60
10th Place – Paul Blackwell and Tyler Lockridge—116.60
Once again, the catfish infested waters of Santee Cooper produced a monster weigh-in at Black’s Camp and Restaurant. Know as Santee Cooper Country, there are many welcoming fish camps, restaurants, and other amenities in the area to accommodate anglers and their families. For more information on the area visit the website at www.santeecoopercountry.org. Santee Cooper is definitely a bucket list destination for trophy catfish.