CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Matt Robertson was crystal clear about his goals. He’s fishing for big bites and he’s in it to win it.
Sticking to his guns, the third-year Elite from Kuttawa, Ky., powered through a dry spell Friday and retained his lead at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes with a five-bass limit that weighed 21 pounds, 13 ounces. His leading two-day total is 49-14.
Robertson set the opening mark Thursday with the current VMC Monster Bag of the Week — a 28-1 limit.
“I feel pretty good about it,” said Robertson, who holds nearly a 4-pound lead over South Carolina pro Brandon Cobb (45-15). “I’m just going out there and fishing how I like to fish.
“I had a bad four hours on the boat today, but I don’t think I said a cuss word all day.”
Prior to his midday dry spell, Robertson kicked off his day by mirroring the game plan that anchored his opening-round effort — hitting the shad spawn in Lake Marion with a giant swimbait.
“You have options for a shad spawn, but we’re on a lake with big fish so we’re fishing for big fish this week. We’re going to try and win this thing,” Robertson said. “Yesterday, I spent about an hour and a half on the shad spawn. Today, I only spent about an hour on it.
“If I had more places to run, I’d like to spend more time on (the shad spawn), but I just don’t have that many places where the fish are shallow. There are a lot of shad spawning, but there’s not a lot of fish around them.”
After the morning pattern tapered off, Robertson ran to Lake Moultrie where he targeted a large eelgrass flat with a topwater bait. Using a fast retrieve to trigger bites, Robertson tried to pinpoint the more productive areas.
“The wind direction was a little different today, so I don’t know if (the wind) caused the dry spell,” Robertson said. “I’m learning more about the area. Some of it is the density of cover. But where I’ve been catching my big ones the last couple of days, the grass is not that dense — it’s more isolated.
“I think I’m going to have to concentrate on that more dense grass tomorrow.”
After placing 11th on Day 1 with 21 pounds, Cobb put himself within striking distance with a second-round limit of 24-15. Anchoring his Day 2 bag with a 7-11 Santee Cooper tank, Cobb said he enjoyed a special day where everything seemed to go right.
“Here’s an example of how good things have been going the last two days: That big one bit a bait that was hung on a tree,” he said. “I was popping my line to try and free my bait and the fish sucked it off the tree and I caught it.
“I’m not catching very many fish. I caught seven today and seven yesterday. It does not look tough with 21 and (nearly 25) pounds, but it’s hard to catch a limit. They’re just really, really big ones.”
Keeping with what produced on Day 1, Cobb caught his bass on a wacky-rigged Zoom Fluke Stick. Two late-day culls helped greatly.
Luke Palmer of Coalgate, Okla., who is in third with 44-12, bolstered his Day 1 limit of 21-3 with another limit that went 23-9.
Palmer attributed his success to a mental shift.
“I quit being dumb,” he grinned. “I finally went and did what I like to do. I picked up the big rod with 20-pound line and started swinging. I caught them exactly how I caught them last year. I’m using Falcon Rods and Sunline fluorocarbon, and I’m cracking them as hard as I can.
“I thought the eelgrass was going to work with the ChatterBait. I caught some big ones doing that in practice, but I haven’t been able to get it going in the tournament. When the sun comes out, those fish go to the trees.”
Finishing fourth in the 2022 Elite at Santee Cooper, Palmer caught his bass by flipping a Texas-rigged YUM Wooly Bug with a 3/16- to 5/16-ounce weight near cypress trees. He’s looking for specific scenarios that welcome the late spawners that are still pulling up.
“It has to have grass and they have to have that void between (tree and grass) just like it was last year,” Palmer said. “If there’s a void, it’s game over.
“They’re all spawners. There’s two to four fish on each tree.”
Cobb’s 7-11 largemouth earned him a $1,000 bonus as the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day. But David Gaston of Sylacauga, Ala., still holds the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with the 8-5 he caught on Day 1.
Cobb leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 389 points. Drew Cook of Cairo, Ga., is in second with 366 points, followed by Carl Jocumsen of Queensland, Australia, with 364, Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., with 360 and Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., with 337.
Gaston leads the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 300 points.
The Top 50 remaining anglers will take off at 7 a.m. Saturday from 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 10 anglers advancing to Championship Sunday with a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize. FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday from 8-11 a.m. Live coverage will transition to Bassmaster.com afterward.