The 2021 Santee Cooper Monster Cat Quest showed off again in this 5th year since being started by Chris and Mandy Gaines, Jimmy Holbrook, and a host of volunteers. Their goal was to create a great tournament with a focus on the anglers and the Monster Cat Quest has certainly achieved that goal.
This year, Ralph and Tonia Wiley carried out the director’s duties and brought yet another exciting tournament out of Black’s Camp. One-Hundred twenty-nine boats representing 320 anglers registered to compete in the highly popular tournament.
Two pre-tournament Big Fish competitions added to the excitement and had some great fish coming to the scales. Tuesday’s pre-tournament tournament was held out of Canal Lakes Fish Camp Marina, Cabins, and RV Sites. Twelve boats weighed fish, with Mark Lawson winning the day with a 42.3-pound blue.
Wednesday’s pre-tournament competition was held out of Hill’s Landing. The All for One Outdoors team won the event with a 54.55-pound blue cat. The team was made up of Michael Shannon Anderson, Michael Pridgen, and John Phillips.
As regular anglers on Santee Cooper know, a little wind can make big problems for anglers. A lot of wind, as they had over the weekend, creates big challenges but most anglers fought through the inclement weather to fish on.
“We had 129 teams and more than 300 anglers,” confirmed weighmaster Mark Coborn. “The tournament weigh-in ran very smoothly as we got the teams weighed and all the fish released healthy and successfully. It was an honor to draw such a tremendous crowd and to help entertain the fabulous hard-working anglers that came from all over our great nation to Black’s Camp.”
After two days of competition, it required more than 200 pounds in a four-fish limit to earn the first-place prize.
Mike Durham, Brad McCall, and Vern Reynolds of team Catastrophic Failures brought a whopping 219 pounds to the scales to claim top honors.
“The weather was pretty much normal for a Santee tournament,” joked Durham. “Regardless of the season, this lake can get rough. Looking at the forecast, we knew we needed to practice on the north and east sides of the lower lake.”
The team caught fish using a couple of different methods. They found some good fish in a ditch. At 8-feet deep, they were just right to anchor on. The team also used their electronics to find some fish in the 20-25 feet deep range that made for good drifting.
“We expected the cold front to shut the shallow fish down at some point,” reported Durham. “But we hoped the deeper fish would hold up. Friday morning we got to our anchor spot around 6:45 and had our first fish in about 15 minutes. We had a limit shortly after that.”
They managed another fish about 9:30 but that was the last bite of the day. They caught a total of five fish on the day, all on cut gizzard shad.
“Saturday we arrived at the ditch,” continued Durham. “Another boat was trying to anchor about one-hundred-fifty yards away. They were not right where we wanted to be but close enough that we didn’t want to intrude on them.”
The team made a decision to check out a couple of places similar to the shallow ditch but close to the deep fish they had found.
“Our first set was unproductive,” explained Durham. “Then we found some fish around some stumps in 12 feet of water. A two-hour wait yielded a good under fish. From there we went to drift the deep fish.”
After two drifts they hadn’t got a bite, but they were still marking fish. Knowing that the cold front probably shut them down, they decided to just keep the bait in the water around the fish and hope for the best.
“Normally when a big front is passing through the barometer drops and fish turn on,” explained Durham. “But behind the front, the pressure rises pretty quickly. High pressure is not great, to begin with, but rising pressure seems to really make them want to pull close to cover or bury in the mud until it stabilizes. After 2-3 days of steady pressure, the bite usually gets back to normal.”
Expecting the bite to be tough and exercising some patience paid off for team Catastrophic Failures as they made every fishing moment count.
“Around 1:00 we boated another under,” concluded Durham. “On our next drift, at about 2:40 pm, the 59-pounder bit. Then as we started reeling in the rods at 3:25 our fourth fish of the day bit. Every fish this weekend was caught on cut gizzard shad. We tried perch and river herring without any bites.”
The runner-up spot went to team FLATN2THABLUES. Mark Ghent, Matthew Whitley, and Gary Small also topped two-hundred pounds. Their two-day weight was 210 pounds and earned them second place honors.
“We fished the upper lake both days,” reported team captain Mark Ghent. “Our fish came out of three different places and we fished on the rope each place.”
“We caught all our fish in shallow water,” continued Ghent. “We caught more fish on Friday but caught the big fish on Saturday. We used both shad and perch.”
After hearing some talk of changing the scheduled date for Monster Cat Quest, Ghent wasn’t for it. Some anglers were arguing that March is just too windy.
“I love it like it is,” argued Ghent. “It’s Santee. The wind can blow hard anytime. I would leave it just like it is. MCQ is a great tournament. It would be too hot any other time. I would love to see them add another tournament in September though. Call it the Monster Cat Quest Fall.
Team Thundercats pulled down the third-place win with 199 pounds. Wesley Harwell, Luke Wallace, Andy Kirkwood, and David Erskine made up the Thundercats team. They arrived on Wednesday before the tournament to load up on bait. They had good success catching fresh bream and perch on Moultrie.
“We originally had a game plan to anchor and fish shallow in the mornings,” recalled Harwell. “Then we planned to drift through lunch until the end of the day. We executed that plan on Friday and by 8:30 am we had two in the boat for 37 pounds.”
They then moved to the deepwater edges. A long drift did not produce any fish and the waves were beating hard on the SeaArk ProCat 240. Maybe it was time to go shallow again.
“We made the call at 2:30 pm to move back to the shallows,” explained Harwell. “It was a spot that I found last summer. After getting anchored we quickly put 4 fish in the boat and culled one leaving a total of 84 pounds. This last-minute decision put us in 22nd place on Friday.”
On Saturday the team focused on that one spot. By 11:30 team Thundercats had 4 fish weighing 115 pounds. The biggest went 42 pounds. But the action stopped when the sun came out and the pressure dropped.
“We spent the rest of the day with our fingers crossed,” concluded Harwell. “But we didn’t net another keeper. I want to thank my team for how they performed through some tough fishing conditions and for keeping spirits high. Also, I have to say a huge thank you to everyone involved with the fantastic work involved in getting this event put together.”
Travis Bradshaw with Pig Pen Guide Service put an 80-pound Arkansas blue in the boat to earn the Big Fish honors.
“I was in 15 to 20 feet of water,” reported Bradshaw. “I was pulling planner boards and Dragging baits. I was working a ledge when she hit on a piece of cut shad.”
The weather didn’t bother Bradshaw at all. He is known for liking the rough conditions that Santee sometimes dishes out.
“Because of the cold front, I kept the boat slowed down so I could pull the baits slowly,” concluded Bradshaw. “I like the rough days and often have good luck on big fish. I think it has something to do with the water being churned up.”
Regular Santee Cooper anglers know that the lakes can get up and rolling pretty good when the wind blows. The 2021 Monster Cat Quest anglers were certainly challenged by the winds and also by the cold front that made an appearance.
“The bite was slow this weekend,” confirmed tournament director Ralph Wylie. “Due to the cold front that pushed through this weekend, the bite was slow, the winds were rough, and the temps were cold. It was a tough tournament for many of the anglers. Even some of the most experienced teams struggled to produce at the scale. Those that did showed out though! Overall, I think the tournament was a big success. I just wish the Santee Lakes and the catfish had been a little more welcoming to the anglers, myself included.”
To keep up with Santee Cooper Monster Cat Quest activities follow them on Facebook as they prepare for the 2022 Santee Cooper Monster Cat Quest.