Cook clobbers Santee-Cooper field with a wire-to-wire win and a Century Club performance.
Drew Cook admits he's struggled with getting off to a tough start in Bassmaster Elite tournaments, but he broke that trend in a big way by grabbing the Day-1 lead and riding it all the way to victory with a four-day total of 105 pounds, 5 ounces at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes.
Hailing from Cairo, Georgia, Cook set the pace with a Day-1 limit of 31 pounds, 13 ounces, then followed with limits of 24-12, 24-3, and 24-9. For his effort, the fourth-year Elite pro won the $100,000 top prize.
"I have always shot myself in the foot on Day 1, but this week, we came out swinging," Cook said. "I had so much fun this week. The first day of the tournament was probably the funnest days I've ever had on the water."
Along with his first Elite trophy, Cook entered the Bassmaster Century Club, which recognizes an angler for catching 100 pounds of fish in a 4-day event.
Cook, the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the year, faced a slow start on Day 4. A severe storm system that postponed the event's third day from Saturday to Sunday left considerably cooler morning temperatures. Fortunately, his early momentum carried Cook through the challenging period.
"I told my marshal on Day 1 'If it keeps going like this, we're going to win,' and it did," Cook said. "At 1 o'clock today, I had two bass but I got it done."
Where He Fished
Named for their connected rivers, the Santee-Cooper Lakes comprise lakes Marion and Moultrie. Cook committed all four days to the former and parked in relatively small area of Potato Creek where he targeted bed fish amid lily pads and on an open flat.
"The area where I caught pretty much everything I weighed was very special," Cook said. "Because it had deep water that went all the way to the back, it reloaded every day.
"That really did surprise me. I didn't know that was going to happen, but having 6 feet of water all the way up against the bank in the back is the reason why those fish kept coming in there."
How He Caught 'Em
Bass anglers know it's extremely difficult to make a sight-fishing strategy hold up for four days, but with a brief exception, Cook did just that. In fact, he said he caught the majority of this fish with his "absolute favorite" technique: flipping shallow cover.
"I caught (most) of them on a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog in the tilapia magic color," he said. "I used a 1/4-ounce weight and a 4/0 Gamakatsu G-Finesse hook with the 4-inch Fighting Frog and a 3/8-ounce weight and a 5/0 Gamakatsu G-Power hook with the 5-inch frog."
Cook also caught two of his keepers on a Big Bite Baits Scentsation stick bait, wacky rigged on a No. 1 Gamakatsu Weedless Stinger hook. This rig produced his first keeper of Championship Monday—a 3 3/4-pounder—but Cook would face a stressful final round.
With Kuphall reaching 100 pounds by about 1 p.m. and then making two significant upgrades, it appeared the victory was slipping from Cook's grasp. However, around 2:20, Cook ended the day in dramatic form by boating a 7-12 that pushed him into the lead. Adding another cull 20 minutes later sealed the win.
"There was a sense of peace after (the 7-12) and I was like, 'Win, lose, or draw, I'm good with it,'" Cook said. "At that point, I guess, I had actually won it."
Rest of the Best
Caleb Kuphall of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, finished second with 103-1. Despite falling short of his second Elite title (Kuphall won last year on Lake Guntersville), the third-year pro wrote his name in the Bassmaster record book as the first angler to break 100 pounds with fewer than 20 bass. Catching only four fish on Day 2, Kuphall's daily weights were 29-10, 13-0, 31-4, and 29-3.
Spending most of his time on main lake islands at Marion's lower end, Kuphall flipped cypress trees in depths of 3-4 feet with deeper water close. His main bait was a 1/2-ounce homemade green pumpkin jig with a 2.75-inch LurePartsOnline salty craw chuck trailer.
Kuphall also caught fish on a 3.8-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait with tandem Colorado and willow-leaf blades.
Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, took third with 98 pounds. Two years after winning the previous Elite tournament on Santee-Cooper, Palaniuk caught limits of 26-2, 22-13, 27-7, and 21-10.
Fishing Lake Marion, Palaniuk caught fish on a Rapala jerkbait and a Rapala OG Slim crankbait.
Luke Palmer of Coalgate, Oklahoma, finished fourth with 95-7. Cory Johnston of Cavan, Ontario, Canada, was fifth with 88-9.
Pat Schlapper of Eleva, Wisconsin, won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 9-10. Schlapper also won the second daily Big Bass award of $1,000. The other daily awards went to Todd Auten of Wylie, South Carolina, (Day 1, 8-15), Palmer (Day 3, 9-4), and Cook (Day 4, 7-14)