Where to fish big question for anglers in first Carolinas Bass Challenge tournament on Cooper River

Jason Reinke has a problem. The first tournament in the brand new Carolinas Bass Challenge will be held on the Cooper River the second Saturday in February, but contestants will also be allowed to lock through the dam up into the Santee Cooper Lakes.

The problem is: where to fish?

Does he practice in the Cooper River where experience has shown he is very strong? Or does he concentrate on the lakes where the chances of catching a limit of larger fish might be possible?

There is no question that Reinke, a Wisconsin native stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Charleston, is a dominant angler on the Cooper River, but he is also a proven winner on the lakes. He led the Cooper River Bassmasters to victory against 39 other state teams in the annual 6-Man Tournament on the Santee Cooper Lakes in October, weighing in 31.55 pounds total to take first place individual honors.

But he is also at home down in the river, adept at reading the tidal waters.

“The biggest bag I have weighed in the river came in February and it was 27 pounds,” he said. But, he added, he has not found the right strategy so far this year.

“For me, the flipping bite usually rules this time of year, but I can't seem to get it going. It seems like the flipping bite is off for a lot of guys. Fishing the grass mats down there is probably the best chance to get a big bite, but the problem is I don't feel like I can go out there right now and get that big bite.”

It could be an even bigger problem for an angler not familiar with the river, he said.

“The tidal water can be tough for guys who don't fish it, but the river has tons of fish. It's got grass, hydrilla, alligator grass, primrose, with a lot of logs laying on the banks and it's got a lot of old logs in the main river channel.”

There are also a lot of keeper fish in the river, he noted. But the 12-inch legal minimum for bass in the Cooper River is extended to 14 inches for the tournament because the minimum in the lakes is 14 inches.

But, there are also some really big bass in the Cooper River and one 9- or 10-pounder could go a long way in making a contender out of a catch of otherwise small fish.

“Somebody catches an 11-pounder down there every year and they say there will be a 10-pounder weighed in this tournament,” said Brett Collins, tournament director for the Carolinas Bass Challenge who also operates the popular Carolina Anglers Team Tournament series on the lakes across the Carolinas.

“There are some big fish in the river,” Reinke agreed. “In a tournament last weekend a guy caught one 9 pounds and I know there was a 25-pound bag weighed in a tournament down there two weeks ago.”

Anglers who stay in the river should not have a problem filling a limit, he said, adding that the dark horse in the tournament is the inclusion of the lakes above the dam.

“Down the river you might catch 10 fish from 1 ½ pounds to 2 pounds. Up in the lake they might average 3 to 4 pounds. Brett ran a TOMCATT Trail tournament up there a couple of weeks ago and it took 23 pounds to win,” Reinke said.

But, he added, the problem is that the fishing can be very sporadic in the lakes.

“Fishing is pretty tough in the lakes right now. I was up there last Sunday and only caught a few fish,” he said. “The other problem is you just waste so much fishing time going through the locks. And if the wind blows you might as well forget it – they won't open the locks, so you will be confined to the river.”

Reinke has just about a week to find the answers to all these questions, but it will have to come without being on the water after this weekend as the tournament waters go off limits the Monday-Friday before each tournament, Collins said..

Meantime, Collins has few questions about the potential for the new Carolinas Bass Challenge.

“We've got almost 50 boats registered so far and there are almost two weeks left, so we are expecting a big crowd. I'd love to have 80 boats in this tournament,” he said.

“There are a lot of new people entering, people I've never heard of, and not all from down there, either,” Collins said. “They are from all around.”

The Carolinas Bass Challenge is a two-division series promoted by Skeeter Boat dealers Marshall's Marine in Lake City, S.C., Foothills Marine in Morganton, N.C., and Palmetto Marine in Greenville, S.C.

The schedules for the two divisions include:

North Carolina DivisionFeb. 18, Lake Norman, Pinnacle Landing; March 24, Lake Wylie, Ebenezer Park; April 21, Lake Norman, Pinnacle Landing; May 19, Lake Hickory, Whittenburg; June 2, N.C. Divisional Final, High Rock, Tamarac Marina.

South Carolina Division – February 11, Cooper River, Cypress Gardens; Mar 31, Lake Murray, Dreher Island State Park; April 28, Santee Cooper, John C. Land; May 12, Lake Wateree, Clearwater Cove; June 23, S.C. Divisional Final, Lake Wateree, Clearwater Cove.

The Carolinas Bass Challenge Championship will be held on Kerr Lake October 27, 2012.

The entry fee is $200 per team and each team member must pay a $35 membership fee. First place in each qualifying tournament is $5,000, with $1,000 for big fish. Teams may fish three of four qualifiers in a state division to make the Divisional Final and Championship or they may fish a combination of three qualifiers across divisions and make the Division Final and Championship. The team that wins the points in each state division will win $1,000.

The winning team at both the South Carolina Division Final and the North Carolina Division Final will win a Skeeter TZX190/150 with a Yamaha 150HPDI. The winning team in the Championship on Kerr Lake in October will win a Skeeter ZX200/200 Yamaha SHO.


Carolinas Bass Challenge - South Carolina Division

Sat, Feb 11, 2012

Cooper River

Call Brett Collins 803-413-7521


Email: [email protected]