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SC’s Santee Cooper lakes live up to reputation, national ranking for bass fishing | Fishing

Santee Cooper ranks among the top 25 bass-fishing locations in the country over the past decade by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.). The lake system, which is comprised of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, lived up to that reputation when the Bassmaster Elite pros paid a visit earlier this month.

The tournament, fished out of the John C. Land III Sportfishing Facility in Summerton and hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, was originally scheduled for the spring spawn when a winning weight of more than 100 pounds was expected. But the event was delayed until October because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winner Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho wasn’t able to reach triple digits but still finished with a healthy four-day total of 72 pounds, 2 ounces. That’s an average of just over 18 pounds per day for Palaniuk, who pocketed $102,000. And Palaniuk’s winning total would have been even higher had he not self-reported that he inadvertently made a cast with six fish — one more than the limit — in his livewell.

The Bassmaster Elite Santee Cooper tournament drew crowds to watch the weigh-in. Provided/Whitney Phillips

The penalty cost him 2 pounds, 4 ounces on the first day, when his bag weighed 21-2. He had weights of 18-13, 9-9 and 22-11 the final three days.

The tournament’s heaviest single-day catch was made by Australian Carl Jocumsen with 25-8 the first day. Jocumsen ended up second in the tournament and won $25,000 with a catch of 64-2.

The tournament’s big fish was a 9-7 bass caught on Day 2 by Jeff Gustafson of Keewatin, Canada.

Those numbers had to be pleasing to the people making their living through tourism on the Santee Cooper lakes.

“The Bassmaster Elite tournament meant a lot,” said Jane Powell, Executive Director of Santee Cooper Country (, which promotes tourism for the five-county area (Clarendon, Calhoun, Sumter, Orangeburg and Berkeley) that touch the Santee Cooper lakes.

“We had fans from all over the country, all over the world watching this event on and ESPN3. B.A.S.S. was telling me that tens of millions of minutes were being streamed by fans around the world. And according to B.A.S.S., the expected economic impact for a typical tournament is $1 million for that community.”

B.A.S.S. each year releases a list of the top 100 bass lakes in the country in an effort to promote bucket-list destinations for anglers. The rankings are based on current tournament data and include catch rates. But that information was not available this year when numerous events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So B.A.S.S. decided to crunch numbers and come up with a top 25 of the past decade.

Clear Lake in California was ranked No. 1 over the past decade. The Santee Cooper lakes came in 23rd. Lake Hartwell, Lake Murray and Clarks Hill/Lake Thurmond made the Best of the Southeast list.

B.A.S.S. wrote of Lakes Marion and Moultrie: “These sister lakes could be considered elderly, as they were created in 1941. But don’t let their age fool you. The production of these fisheries rival any new lake on this list. Just last year (2019) Santee Cooper ranked 9th in the nation on the heels of multiple limits over 30 pounds hitting the scales. Plus, 20-pound limits were not turning heads.

“In 2018, the fishery was ranked 6th in the nation following an 8th-place finish in 2017. So, these sisters have been producing for a hot minute. Had it not been for a tragic showing in 2014 (94th), there is little doubt Santee would have been much higher on this list. Still, the trend is solid for this year to again be stellar.”

In 2014 the publication noted: “”…this lake is blooming late this year. That said, locals expect it to go from zero to hero very soon.”

In 2016 Santee Cooper was ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Professional bass fishing legend Roland Martin honed his skills early on by fishing the twin lakes. And the Santee Cooper lakes are home to the state record, a 16-2 catch made in 1949 (since tied with a 16-2 catch in 1993 from a private pond in Aiken County).

Of course, South Carolina residents and lots of others know that Lakes Marion and Moultrie are much more than largemouth bass. They are the home of the landlocked striped bass, first gaining fame in 1963 when NASCAR driver Tiny Lund landed the then-world record of 55 pounds.

The striped bass fishery has been somewhat cyclical with the world record now residing in Alabama and the state record coming from Lake Russell. But had it not been for the work of S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologists, who learned how to spawn these stripers, the fishery wouldn’t exist elsewhere.

And today the lakes are known nationally as one of the top catfish lakes in the country. The state record Arkansas blue catfish, 113.8 pounds, was caught from Lake Moultrie in 2019 while the state record channel catfish also came from Lake Moultrie, caught in 1964. The state record flathead catfish, 84-9.6, was caught from the Cooper River which flows out of Lake Moultrie in 2018.

There are numerous other state record fish that were caught from Santee Cooper. But largemouth bass, with the numerous national tournaments, draw the most attention.

The Elite Series was last held on Santee Cooper in the spring of 2006 and Preston Clark weighed a whopping 115-15 to win.

“I would love to have them come back,” Powell said. “Just this past week we’ve seen an increase in the number of requests for visitor guides. We’ve had people send notifications from Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia. All of those people watching these fishing shows want to come here and fish our lakes.”

Warrior Surf Foundation Fishing Tournament

Folly Beach-based nonprofit Warrior Surf Foundation will hold its inaugural Keepin’ It Reel Fishing Tournament Oct. 24. Fishing hours are 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Participants ages 13-16 (youth) and 17-plus (adult) can launch from any dock or public landing in Charleston to catch sheepshead, redfish and flounder. Entry fees are $25-$40 in the youth division and $50-$65 in the adult division, depending on which categories you register for. There’s also a “You’ve Been Schooled” category for participants who must use a child’s pole. All entry fees will go towards WSF’s 12-week program to help Veterans struggling with PTSD, transitional issues and other mental health challenges. For more information, and to register visit

CCA Banquet and Auction

The East Cooper and Sea Island chapters of CCA South Carolina will hold their joint “Celebrating Conservation” Banquet and Auction at 6 p.m. Oct. 30 at Omar Shrine Auditorium, 176 Patriots Point Rd., Mount Pleasant. Contact Jay Brown at 843-224-0028; J.R. McCroskey at 843-906-2431 or the CCA State Office at 803-865-4164 or email or visit

America’s Boating Club

America’s Boating Club Charleston will hold a boating safety class on Nov. 7 at 1376 Orange Grove Road, Charleston. The class begins at 9 a.m. and ends around 4 p.m. Successful participants earn the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Boater Education Card. The cost is $25 for adults and youth 12-18 are free. Call 843-312-2876 or email

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