April 23, 2006 by Rob Newell
MANNING, S.C. - Bryan Hudgins of Orange Park, Fla., put an exclamation point on his Santee Cooper sight-fishing prowess today by bringing the biggest five-fish limit of the day, 21 pounds, to win the Stren Series Southeast event by over 3 pounds with a two-day total of 40 pounds, 7 ounces. He took home $53,000 in cash and prizes for his first Stren Series win. "This helps make up for losing the BASS Tour event here several weeks ago," said Hudgins, who finished fourth in that event. "I had a 10-pounder come off that would have easily won that one for me, and I've been sick ever since. So this definitely eases the pain." Hudgins strictly sight-fished all week. "I stayed on the trolling motor the entire time and never quit moving and looking," he said. "The key for me was to never stay on a fish for more than 20 minutes. No matter how big it was, if it didn't want to play, I left it and went on to fish for one that would bite. It's too easy to get hung up on fish that won't bite here - you can waste a whole day that way." His key baits were Zoom tubes in pumpkin-seed and grasshopper colors weighted with a 1/4-ounce worm sinker and tied to 15- and 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene. Hudgins fished on both lakes during the week, but noted that most of his fish came out of the lower lake. "I fished all over the place," he said. "You can't even see the map on my GPS because it's so covered up with my tracks." Ellis comes up short Ken Ellis of Bowman, S.C., finished second with a two-day total of 37 pounds, 1 ounce worth $10,000. "It just wasn't meant to be this time," said Ellis, who was looking for his second Stren Series win. "I've finished second here before as well, and it's not as painful this time. The last time I finished second, I lost it by ounces, and it really stung. It makes it a little easier to swallow when the deficit is a bit larger." All week Ellis targeted spawning and postspawn fish on particular cypress trees, underwater stumps and brush. He has fished Santee Cooper for the better part of 30 years and has come to know certain trees and stumps that quickly replenish with new fish this time of year. Ellis fished both lakes during the week and reported catching most of his bass from the lower lake the first two days and then the upper lake the last two days. His three primary baits were a Zoom Trick Worm, weightless, fished on 6-pound-test line; a Senko fished on 8-pound-test line; and a 4-inch Zoom lizard with a tiny 1/16-ounce weight fished on 10-pound-test line. At times he wacky-rigged the Trick Worm with a small khale-style hook that featured a weed guard and a tiny weight on the shaft. "I mixed the plastics up each day, but I mostly used the Trick Worm on trees, the Senko on stumps and the little lizard in brush," he said. "Right now this lake is low, extremely clear and has been under a ton of fishing pressure, so the key for me was to downsize and lighten up my lures and line for more bites." Crafton moves to third Previous Santee Cooper winner Roger Crafton of Boca Grande, Fla., finished third with a two-day total of 27 pounds, 2 ounces and collected $8,800. On Saturday, Crafton continued his pattern of fishing green-pumpkin Zoom Horny Toads and June-bug Senkos on lily pads in the upper lake. "There seemed to be a few prespawn fish filtering into this area," he said. "But I think a majority of them were done spawning and moving back out to the main lake." Carter fourth Kip Carter of Oxford, Ga., finished fourth with a two-day total of 26 pounds, 2 ounces and collected $7,300. Carter strictly sight-fished all week in the upper lake, using a Zoom Critter Craw in both June-bug and green-pumpkin. Couch winds up fifth Tony Couch of Buckhead, Ga., finished fifth with a two-day total of 25 pounds, 10 ounces worth $7,300. Couch alternated between two patterns on both lakes all week. One pattern centered on flipping cypress trees with a green-pumpkin Zoom Z-Nail on 20-pound-test line, and the other was split-shotting a green-pumpkin Trick Worm around shallow bank grass on 10-pound-test. "I was pegging a tiny 1/16-ounce weight about 12 inches up the line with the Trick Worm," he added. Rest of the best Rounding out the top 10 pros at the Stren Series Southeast Division event on Santee Cooper: 6th: James Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., two-day total of 25-8, $6,300 7th: Ron Klys of Gainesville, Fla., two-day total of 22-6, $5,300 8th: Joseph Kremer of Osteen, Fla., two-day total of 18-10, $4,800 9th: Koby Kreiger of Okeechobee, Fla., two-day total of 13-0, $4,300 10th: Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C., two-day total of 11-15, $3,800 Points winner With the Stren Series Southeast Division now complete, it's official: Timothy Little of Acworth, Ga., is the Southeast Division points winner with 760 points. Little enjoyed a phenomenal Stren Series season, which included an 11th-place finish at Okeechobee, a seventh at West Point, a fourth at Eufaula and a 22nd at Santee Cooper.