Friday, April 28, 2023

2023 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes: Robertson Claims Lead!

Canadians: Chris Johnston 15th, Gustafson 48th, Gallant 60th &  Cory Johnston 67th

Matt Robertson of Kuttawa, Ky., is leading after Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes with 28 pounds, 1 ounce. ( Photo:Seigo Satio) 


CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Capitalizing on an early start, Matt Robertson of Kuttawa, Ky., caught a five-bass limit of 28 pounds, 1 ounce to lead Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes.


Coming off a Top 30 finish at last week’s Elite Series event at Lake Murray, Robertson heads into Friday’s second round leading rookie Bryant Smith of California by just over a pound.


Noting that he's fishing the way he likes to fish, Robertson said he focused mostly on postspawn bass. He spent time in Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie and caught bass in two different areas.


“I’m running a shad spawn early and then later in the morning, I’m going fishing for postspawners,” Robertson said. “I was done by about 10:30 or 11.”


Understandably guarded with his details, Robertson said he believes he dialed in a specific pattern that gave him the opening-round advantage. While he declined to elaborate, Robertson said his choice of habitat played a key role in his success.


“I think I’m doing something a little different from everybody, and hopefully it will hold up,” he said.


Robertson used three different baits to amass his big bag. Despite his dominant day, he said his leading limit was surprising.


“I had a bad practice,” he said. “I got a few bites in an area but I didn’t know I was going to catch what I caught today.


“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he said. “I didn’t catch ‘em here the last time (the 2022 Elite at Santee Cooper), so I just went out there and approached it totally different from what I did last time.”


After a calm Day 1, Friday’s forecast calls for windier conditions and possible showers. Robertson said he’s unconcerned.


“I don’t care; I have something for (all conditions),” he said. “I like catching big bass, and I hope we can go out there and do it again tomorrow.”


Hailing from Roseville, Calif., Smith is in second place with 26-15. He spent his day in Lake Marion targeting cypress trees. With countless options, he was able to figure out a replicable pattern that allowed him to pick out three trees with the greatest potential.


“I think the positioning of the trees is important, but we’ll find out tomorrow,” Smith said. “There’s something about the trees that I’m looking for that’s kind of the same deal.


“I’m not really going down big lines of trees; I’m trying to pick out the right trees.”


Smith said a single finesse bait proved reliable Thursday, but he’s not sure if he can back up his Day 1 effort with another solid limit on Friday. Even if his pattern holds, he’s dealing with a lot of fishing pressure in his area, and that’s a notorious bite killer.


“I could get in a bad rotation, so I may have to fish fresh water tomorrow,” Smith said. “I don’t think what I’m fishing is going to reload that well. I just have to keep my head down and keep grinding and hopefully, I can run into five bites tomorrow.”


Smith made a big move by boating a 6-pounder around 3:10 Thursday afternoon.


“That got me going in the right direction,” Smith said. “I just got in a good rotation, pulled up on the right tree and (that fish) was there.”


Paul Mueller of Naugatuck, Conn., is in third place with 25-10. Starting the day with a game plan that included both lakes, he ended up spending all of his time in Lake Moultrie.


“I had a couple of areas where I thought I could get bit and the fish moved,” said Mueller, who holds two career Elite Series wins. “I just moved around, fished new water and I was fortunate to get the three good bites that I got off of new water — places I hadn’t practiced.


“This lake is so big, you can’t just run around. The problem is, I had bites in areas that are so spread out, you have to commit and do one thing and hopefully, it’s the right thing for the weather.”


Stating that he caught his fish on one moving bait and two finesse rigs, Mueller pointed out that he’s seen fish in prespawn, spawn and postspawn modes. This, he said, has created a challenging scenario that he believes will become even more difficult with Friday’s weather.


“I’ve got my work cut out for me tomorrow,” Mueller said. “I’m not sure what that’s going to do, but we’ll take it one bite at a time. At least I got off to a good start.”


David Gaston of Sylacauga, Ala., earned the $1,000 daily bonus for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day with his 8-5 largemouth.


Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 380 points. Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., is in second with 369 points, followed by Drew Cook of Cairo, Ga., with 364, Carl Jocumsen of Queensland, Australia, with 364 and John Cox of DeBary, Fla., with 335.


Smith leads the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 305 points.


Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility. The weigh-in will be held back at the facility at 3 p.m., with only the Top 50 anglers advancing to Semifinal Saturday. Bassmaster LIVE coverage starts at 8 a.m. on, Tubi and the FOX Sports digital platforms. 


The Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce is hosting the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes.

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