Lakes Marion and Moultrie ranked a paltry 94 in the 2014 Bassmaster magazine rankings of the Top 100 Bass Lakes.
But the Santee Cooper lakes made a big move in the 2015 rankings, which are featured in the July-August edition of the popular magazine.
“Moving 65 places is pretty tremendous,” said Bassmaster Editor James Hall of the lakes’ placement at No. 29 on the 2015 Top 100 Bass Lakes. “It’s the highest the lakes have ranked in the short history of the list.”
Started in 2012, the list first included Marion and Moultrie in 2013 at No. 48.
“That was a decent spot, but no way do I think we deserved to be at 94, ever,” said Nelson Walker, who with Jake Buddin plans many of the bass and other fishing tournaments that frequent the lake in the winter and spring months.
“I think 29 is great. The magazine references the particular tournaments we had this year, along with specific results from the tournaments that the (Clarendon County) Chamber (of Commerce) sponsored.”
“It shows that we’re getting the exposure we’re trying to get,” Walker added. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do: Keep our lakes in the public eye.”
In its decision, the magazine said, “When the fishing is good on these sister lakes, they rival the best in the country.”
“An April 11 Carolina’s Bass challenge event was won with 28.35 pounds; there were 24 limits over 20 pounds and 59 limits over 15 pounds,” the magazine states. “Big fish for the derby was an 11-pounder. Big fish live here; the trick is figure them out when you arrive, which can prove difficult for the non-native.”
“In one tournament, they had some 50 odd top teams weigh at least a 15 pounds of bass, which is a three pound average for a five-fish limit,” Hall said. “That kind of average for that many people screams fertility. Not many other bass lakes have that.”
Hall said he is unsure why the rankings dipped so low for Santee Cooper in 2014, but said there is a “cyclical nature” among bash fishers.
“In doing the research for all these lakes the last four years, it’s fun to watch the cyclical nature of bass fishers,” he said. “Santee Cooper may be the prime example of that.”
Walker somewhat agreed.
“We have about five or six events we’re working on for the next year, and we try to get the same tournaments back and attract new ones,” he said. “But sometimes they might not come to our lake the next year and go somewhere else.”
Hall said another factor in Santee Cooper’s rise to 29th is that the magazine used more spring data in its rankings this year.
“In the past, we’ve run the rankings in our May issue, which forced us to look at a lot of Winter data,” he said. “That could’ve really hurt Santee last year. This year, we were able to
look at a lot of spring data, when most bass lakes show out and show what they’re producing.”
Walker said he’s proud of the lakes.
“There is some politics to the ranking,” he said. “The writers are from different parts of the country, and they have their own tastes and likes. It’s not completely objective. But 29 is a good ranking. I personally believe we still rank, for big fish, in the Top 10 in the country.”
Walker said the Santee Cooper lakes may even be in the Top 5 for big fish in the spring.
“Day in and day out, Santee still has some of the biggest average-size weighs you’ll see across the country,” Walker said.