MANNING, S.C. Late during Saturday's semifinal round, Mark Davis had time for one last cast. So the former Classic champion made the most of it.
He threw a Yamamoto Senko (green/pumpkin) as far back into a shallow stumpfield as possible and lifted his rod tip. The pressure he immediately felt told the tale.
That cast produced a 7-pound, 8-ounce lunker, the largest bass of the day, and gave Davis the weight he needed to qualify for the Super Six round at the South Carolina CITGO Bassmaster Tour event presented by Busch at Santee Cooper in May.
The next day, despite being crowded out of his best spot by local fishermen, he still managed to bring in 17-3 to secure second place with a four day total of 86-7.
"That big bass definitely made a difference," said Davis. "I lost a number of quality bass throughout the week because the conditions probably the falling water may have made them a little reluctant to bite. They weren't taking my lures very well."
In addition to the Senko, which proved to be his best lure Saturday and Sunday, Davis also used a number of Strike King lures, including a 3X Lizard (watermelon), a 3X Floating Worm, a 4-inch tube and a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait.
His fishing area did not change, however. Davis spent the entire week around a shallow stumpfield in the Hatchery area of Moultrie, targeting not only stumps in the shallow water but also small lily pads and other types of aquatic vegetation. His best spots were the protected sides of stumps where bass could bed. But dingy water and heavy cloud cover during the first two days of competition allowed only limited sight fishing.
"I had to fish very slowly and also make a lot of casts," said Davis. "I could catch them on the spinnerbait the first day, but after that it was all soft plastics."
Davis opened with 19-6 for 29th place in the standings. But he vaulted to eighth in the standings on the next day with a 28-pound limit, despite losing one bass he estimated somewhere between 8 and 10 pounds. That fish hit a small plastic centipede Davis was slowly dragging around the stumps on a Carolina rig with a spinning rod and 10-pound-test line.
"On that day the water was still high and bass were still moving in," observed the Arkansas pro. "Although you couldn't see very many bass, they must have been moving in by the hundreds. If you could see stumps, it was nearly as good as seeing a fish, because there would almost always be one there. Many times, they'd hit the tube on its initial fall, too.
"It was the same in other parts of the lower lake, because everyone's weights increased. Some of the fish had already spawned, but others were coming in. Our timing here was perfect."
After his last-cast big bass on the third day put him in Sunday's Super Six, Davis returned to the Hatchery. Although he said he must have caught over 30 fish in the final round, his best five only weighed 17-3 not nearly enough to catch Rowland. All his bass came on a weedless Senko presented around stumps.
"This morning I caught five bass fairly quickly and left my immediate area to try for larger fish. But an hour later when I came back, five local anglers were on my spot. I absolutely did not have any other place to go either."
Even with the crowded conditions, Davis had a lot of strikes, and lost a 6-pounder.
"You can't blame local anglers for coming into the Hatchery on the weekend," concluded Davis, "because right now it's one of the best spots on Lake Moultrie and everyone knows it. In fact, it's one of the best known areas on either lake, and a lot of tournaments are won there.
"Right now, I'd rate Santee Cooper as one of the best fishing spots in the country."