Sunday, April 30, 2023

2023 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes: Luke Palmer Claims Day 3 Lead!

Canadians: Chris Johnston 23rd, Gallant 31st, Gustafson 42th 


CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Building on the momentum he established through a Friday adjustment, Luke Palmer stepped on the gas to sack up a Semifinal Saturday limit of 26 pounds, 3 ounces. He took over the lead at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes with a three-day total of 70-15.


A fifth-year Elite from Coalgate, Okla., Palmer holds a lead of 3-8 over South Carolina’s Brandon Cobb (67-7) heading into Championship Sunday with a $100,000 first-place prize on the line.


“It has been a week; things have finally gone right,” said Palmer, who finished fourth at last year’s Elite at Santee Cooper. “I’ve never led one. It dang sure feels good, I’m not gonna lie about that.”


Palmer placed 10th during Thursday’s opening round with 21-3 and then moved into third with a Friday limit of 23-9.


Friday’s round saw Palmer abandon a bladed jig in favor of flipping a Texas-rigged YUM Wooly Bug with a 3/16- to 5/16-ounce weight. On Saturday, he did most of his work with that bait, along with a YUM Bad Mamma on the same rig.


“Even when you’re struggling, it’s one flip away here,” Palmer said. “I’ve gotten to put those Falcon Rods to work. I’ve gotten to do it my way and I’ve gotten to enjoy it.”


Fishing the southwest side of Lake Marion, Palmer was mainly looking for spawning bass around cypress trees skirted with eelgrass. Gaps between a tree and grass were the most consistent, but Day 2 showed him the need for specificity.


“You gotta find the sweet spot,” he said. “When you find that sweet spot, it’s over. My biggest one this morning, I spent 25 minutes on her. I finally figured out the spot and the angle and once I did, it took me five minutes to catch her.”


Palmer said Sunday’s game plan could find him running new water, with the idea that the fish he caught Saturday were spawners.


“The trees I’m fishing are kind of sporadic,” he said. “I caught one of my fish today off a tree I’ve never fished in my life, and I’ve fished here for four years. I think I need to move around more tomorrow and come across new pairs (of spawning fish). I didn’t move around enough today.”


After two days of mostly dimmer skies and breezy conditions, Day 3 brought a sunny, calm complexion that seemed to favor Palmer’s plan. Despite the ideal setup, Palmer said a slow period prompted him to throw a jerkbait and a drop shot with a YUM Finesse Worm.


“I caught three or four fish (on those baits), so that was crucial for me — one of them was a big one,” Palmer said. “I had a big one come up on the jerkbait and if I could have caught her, it would have been (a big help). Hopefully, that fish is there tomorrow.”


Looking ahead to Sunday’s forecast for thunderstorms and strong winds, Palmer believes his positioning could protect him. Nevertheless, he’s prepared to make a key adjustment to overcome any weather interference.


“We’ll see how it’s going to pan out tomorrow with the wind that’s forecast,” Palmer said. “I might just throw a heavier weight so I can crack ‘em harder.”


Cobb remained in second place after adding 21-8 to his previous two bags that went 21-0 and 24-15.


Having earned Top 10 finishes in the previous three Elite Series events — including a third place at the season opener on Lake Okeechobee — and placing 20th at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, Cobb is riding an unparalleled wave of momentum.


“This is my 10th year of professional fishing and I’ve never had a start like this,” he said. “Everything is going right and when you get on a streak, you have to keep riding it. I’m enjoying every minute.”


Cobb is committed to throwing a wacky-rigged green pumpkin Zoom Fluke Stick around cypress trees. Same as Day 2, he said he only got eight bites, but he’s obviously around the right quality.


“Every day, I think I’m out of fish and then I end up getting two or three big bites,” Cobb said. “I get to go again tomorrow, so hopefully there are at least five big bites to catch because it’s going to take a big bag to win.”


Drew Cook of Cairo, Ga., who won last year’s event, is third with 62-13. He’s had daily weights of 21-13, 17-12 and 23-4. Anchoring his Day 3 bag with a 7-pounder, Cook has spent most of his time sight fishing — the same way he won in 2022.


When Bassmaster Emcee Dave Mercer asked Cook if he believed the general consensus that the Santee Cooper sight-fishing game was virtually done, Cook’s response was emphatic.


“It ain’t over until I say it’s over!” Cook quipped. “There are five left out there — I know, but they’re few and far between.


“I did a whole lot of trolling today and don’t have a whole lot to go to tomorrow. I was fortunate enough to find a 5- and a 7-pounder today. I love this place.”


Cook, the 2019 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, caught his bass by flipping a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog and the Big Bite Baits Quarantine Craw that he designed.


Paul Mueller of Naugatuck, Conn., earned the $1,000 daily bonus for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day with his 7-10. David Gaston of Sylacauga, Ala., leads the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week — an honor that pays $2,000 — with the 8-5 he caught on Day 1.


Matt Robertson of Kuttawa, Ky., had his toughest day of the week with only two bass that weighed 4-6, falling from first place to ninth. But he still leads the race for VMC Monster Bag of the Week with his 28-1 limit from Thursday’s opening round.


Cobb leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 389 points. Cook is in second with 369 points, followed by Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., with 349,  Carl Jocumsen of Queensland, Australia, with 335 and Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., with 333.


Gaston leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 299 points.


The Top 10 remaining anglers will take off at 7 a.m. ET Sunday from John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility. The weigh-in will be held at the facility at 3 p.m. FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders from 8-11 a.m. Live coverage will transition to afterward.


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

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