SUMMERTON, S.C. – Textbooks, chalkboards, fog delay – what do they have in common? Schooling, and that's just what Ranger pro Ken Ellis delivered in his EverStart Series Southeast Division victory on Santee Cooper Lakes.
Take nothing away from the talented field of finalist against which Ellis competed. But on a day that saw a dense blanket of fog and no wind to usher its departure postponing the takeoff from a scheduled 6:30 start until 11:29, the local legend offered a lesson on how it's done. Entering day three in fifth place after weighing 18-0 and 18-5 on days one and two, Ellis bagged 20 pounds in the final round and won the event with 56-5 and a 7-ounce margin of victory.
Fog delays always create a somewhat tempestuous scenario, as tournament organizers balance the overriding concern for safety with the impatience of anglers chomping at the bit. At times, the point of acceptable visibility may be complicated by local impediments, such as the smattering of day-wrecking stumps that present minefields of navigational nightmares throughout Lakes Marion and Moultrie.
Notably, it was those same stumps that Ellis targeted for his winning catch. With some 30 years of experience on these impoundment lakes, Ellis knew that it was the right time for the stumps in about five feet of water to hold big fish. Postspawners, he said, will either go to deeper grass or deep trees. The latter offers more definitive targets that allowed him to make better use of his time on a short day.
"I've been targeting these postspawn females that get out on the deep trees," he said. "I haven't caught a 5-pound fish all week until today, when I caught one. I had enough fish that I was able to get a limit fairly quickly.
"I fish really light line and there's a lot of vegetation so the fish were getting around a lot of stuff. But I didn't lose any fish today and a lot of times, that's the key. If you lose one or two fish in this crowd, you're backing up."
Ellis caught all of his fish on a wacky-rigged Zoom Trick Worm (watermelon). He fished his baits on light spinning gear. Precision casts and diligent presentations were important to his success.
"It takes a lot of patience, you have to work the wind," Ellis said. "We were fishing in a area that had a pretty good bit of current this afternoon, so you have to know how the current's affecting the bait to get it to fall where you want it.
"Also, you have to be patient when you hook a good one and not try to (horse the fish). You have to let them do what they want to do for a while."
After fishing the previous two days in the lower lake (Moultrie), Ellis stayed in Marion for day three. That turned out to be a good call, as the afternoon saw a vicious storm pound the lake with high winds, lightning and hail.
"I had some fish that weren't too far away and at 2:15 when (at TV crew) came to do some stuff with me, I said 'I'm ready to go weigh-in now." I had the weight I was going to have. I was fortunate that I saw the storm coming and I got across the lake and actually had a nice ride."
Ware improves to second
Kent Ware, of Wadmalaw Island, S.C. made a good run at the lead when he brought in a day-three limit of 15-14. In the end, Ware would come up just a little short and settle into second place with a tournament total of 55-14.
Throughout the week, Ware caught fish on a jig, a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper and a frog. His key bait was a Texas-rigged Senko. He fished the stickbait unweighted on spinning tackle with 17-pound line and targeted mostly trees and docks. Ware said he had to adjust his plan based on the fog delay and the resulting shorter day.
"My preference was the lower lake, but with the short day, I decided to fish the upper lake," Ware said. "I had found some fish there in practice so it was a little bit of a gamble."
Hutson slips to third
The fog delay was a major impediment for Mark Hutson, of Moncks Corner, S.C. After a seventh-place finish on day one, Hutson led day two but he slipped back to a third-place finish on day three when he bagged just two fish for 9 pounds and tallied 51-9.
"The fog delay may have cost me the tournament," Hutson said. "All my big bites came first thing in the morning (on the first two days). It was crucial to have that early morning bite and when you don't blast off until (nearly) noon it makes it kind of tough. I had what I had and I was lucky to get one of the big ones to bite."
Hutson caught his biggest fish on the same Texas-rigged Berkley Power Worm (plumb) he had been using all week. He used a Bass Pro Shops soft stickbait (green pumpkin) to catch his smaller one.
Costas climbs up to fourth
Lex Costas, of Daniel Island, S.C. reached the final round after making a big day-two move from 33rd place to seventh. He continued his upward movement in the final round by catching a trio of fish for 14-8 and gaining three more spots to finish fourth with 50-1.
Costas spent his day in the upper lake and caught one of his fish on a Texas-rigged Senko and two on a Skinny Dipper.
Riley settles at fifth
Brent Riley, of Ridgeville, S.C. lost even more time after the late start when he experienced motor problems. He managed only two keepers on day three, but their weight of 10-4 kept him in good shape with a fifth-place total of 49-1.
"We have a lot of vegetation that we haven't had in a few years and (the lakes) have really made a comeback," he said. "The last two months have been about as awesome as you could imagine. Everybody's had a blast."
Best of the rest
6th: Currey Holey, of Ridgeville, S.C., 43-15
7th: JT Kenney, of Palm Bay, FL, 42-13
8th: Keith Pace, of Monticello, Ark., 37-8
9th: Jason Smith, of Albany, Ga., 36-4
10th: Troy Gibson, of Eufaula, Ala., 32-6