May 2, 2009 by Rob Newell
MANNING, S.C. - Mark Hutson of Moncks Corner, S.C., loves to sight-fish, and he lives near one of he best sight-fishing lakes in the nation: Santee Cooper.
So each spring, when the big Santee sows get on beds, Hutson is sure to put his money in for any tournaments that come his way. And for the last three years, he has entered the Stren Series event near his home for a shot at winning some big money while doing what he loves.
In 2007, Hutson weighed in some giant sacks of Santee Cooper bass during the Stren Series tournament, but finished runner-up to local legend Ken Ellis.
Last year he posted a 19th-place finish.
But this year everything went Hutson's way, and he did what he set out to do: win the Stren Series Southeast event on his home lake with his favorite technique.
"What a day," Hutson said with relief after putting four bass into the scale Saturday that weighed 15 pounds, 7 ounces for the win. "This feels wonderful. I've been after this for a long time."
Hutson led the event after day two with 34 pounds, 6 ounces and held on to the win today with a three-day total of 49 pounds, 13 ounces worth $21,336.
While Santee's sight-bite was dwindling fast with rising water temperatures, Hutson spent the first two days of the tournament fishing for what might have possibly been the very last females on bed in the lower end of Lake Moultrie, near Hutson's home in Moncks Corner.
"The warmer it gets, the deeper they bed, and that's when I'm at my best," Hutson said. "I look for hard-to-see stumps well out off the bank that others who are scanning the bank might miss. And it's usually some of the last places the fish will spawn before it's over."
But to see such deep stumps and beds, Hutson needs ideal conditions, as in bright skies and little wind. He got that on day one when he weighed in 21 pounds, 3 ounces to start the event in second place. But a waning spawn along with clouds and wind hampered his efforts on day two when he caught just four bass for 13 pounds, 3 ounces.
With even more clouds and wind building this morning, Hutson knew he was going to have to let go of his favorite sight-fishing technique, change gears and do something different.
"It was hard to put the sight-fishing down, but I knew it wasn't going to work out because I couldn't see," Hutson said. "So I decided it would be better to go to some bedding areas with lily pads and throw Senkos."
The backup plan worked, as Hutson's first fish was a 7-pounder. He added three more keepers later in day with the Senko to cinch his first Stren Series win.
Cecil Wolf of Hanahan, S.C., charged up into second place today with four bass weighing 14 pounds, 11 ounces for a three-day total of 45 pounds, 7 ounces worth $8,535.
Wolf spent his week in Lake Moultrie mostly swimming a 1/2-ounce Booyah jig with a Net Bait Paca Craw around pencil grass where postspawn bass were feeding up on bream.
"There were a lot of little bream and baitfish around that grass, and as long as the water is up like this, I think those bass stay up there and feed on those bream," Wolf offered. "That jig looks like a bream around that grass, so that's what I fished most of the week."
Wolf backed that pattern up with a Zoom Fluke skipped to trees, but most of his fish the last two days came from the grass.
Santee Cooper legend Ken Ellis of Bowman, S.C., finished third with a three-day total of 45 pounds, 2 ounces worth $6,828.
True to his style, Ellis stuck with his ubiquitous wacky rig consisting of a Zoom Trick Worm fished on a spinning rod.
Interestingly, though, Ellis changed his normal targets on Santee from cypress trees to docks.
"The fish don't normally get on docks here very good, but it's been a strange year," Ellis explained. "My normal cypress tree pattern I fish this time of year has not been very productive for me, and the docks have been a little bit better. I'm not sure why that is, except that the water has been higher this year, and the bass fry are staying up shallow around the bank instead of gathering around those cypress tree roots for protection. But whatever the reason, the trees have not been near as good for me this time of year as they normally are."
Norm Attaway of Clearwater, S.C., finished fourth with a three-day total of 44 pounds, 13 ounces worth $5,974.
Attaway spent his week on the lower lake as well, throwing Jymsu Sweet Susie's, Swamp Hogs and Trick Sticks to pencil grass and stumps.
"At the first of the week, they were in the grass really good," Attaway said. "But as the week wore on, it seemed like the fishing pressure pushed them to stumps out deeper in front of those grass beds."
Another well-known Santee Cooper local, Chuck Howard of Elloree, S.C., finished fifth with a three-day total of 44 pounds, 9 ounces worth $5,212.
Howard relied on the lower lake, fishing both stumps and docks with a wacky-rigged Zoom Trick Worm in a color called Mardi Gras.
"The first day I caught my fish off stumps," Howard said. "But I really needed the sun to see the stumps. So when the clouds and wind came in yesterday, I switched up and started fishing docks, and that's primarily how I caught my fish today."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Stren Series event on Santee Cooper:
6th: Jason Cordell of Pelahatchie, Miss., three-day total of, 40-6, $4,694
7th: Matt Peters of Roswell, Ga., three-day total of 37-14, $4,267
8th: Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., three-day total of 36-0, $3,841
9th: Brent Riley of Ridgeville, S.C., three-day total of 31-13, $3,414
10th: Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., three-day total of 30-13, $2,987