Austin’s mega sack helps him take lead at Bassmaster Open on Santee Cooper Lakes

Kyle Austin of Ridgeville, S.C., knew what he needed was the “dirty 30” and he wasted no time positioning himself to hit that mark en route to leading Day 2 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes presented by SEVIIN.

After placing 13th on Day 1 with 24-7, the Santee Cooper Lakes guide added 31-8 on Day 2. His two-day total of 55 pounds, 15 ounces gives him a 1-pound lead over second-place Ronnie McCoy of Lamar, S.C. Austin’s second-round bag is the event’s largest catch and one of only two bags over 30 so far in the event.

“When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” Austin said of his banner day. “Going into the tournament, I knew you’d have to have a 30-pound bag to have a shot at it. It’s very hard to catch 24 to 27 a day.

“Having 31 pounds, I’m excited. Hopefully, it goes good tomorrow.”

Austin enjoyed a tremendous morning bite on what he called a “Trap hole” — a place he knows he can almost always catch bass on a lipless bait (often generically called a Trap, after the original Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap). His particular spot, a hard-structure area, benefitted from fish-stimulating water flow, compliments of recent rainfall.

“They (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) started pulling current last week and my spot is current related,” Austin said. “I started there the last two mornings and it’s been lights-out. The morning bite is on fire.”

He said a key adjustment accounted for his Day 2 surge.

“Yesterday, I only had four when I left there and today, I made a bait change and caught two of my biggest ones,” Austin said. “I went from throwing a lipless bait to throwing a spinnerbait today.

“I just knew that there was a good number of fish there, but they just weren’t biting. I had four for like 23. So, at that point, I was like, ‘I’m gonna stick around here to see if I can catch 25.’ That bait change worked out.”

Catching plump prespawn bass, Austin left his starting spot with approximately 27 pounds. After that, he transitioned to his secondary pattern and added another big fish.

“After the offshore deal, I just started fishing outside the cypress trees and caught an 8-pounder,” Austin said. “I fished both lakes, but the big fish came from the Upper Lake (Marion).

“I was fishing big-fish spots. I tried to save some stuff for (Championship Saturday) just in case I need it.”

On Day 1, McCoy tied Kyle Weisenberger for seventh place with 25-13. He gained five spots with a second-round total of 29-2 that pushed his two-day mark to 54-15.

McCoy said he’s fishing an area with a robust mix of prespawn, spawn and postspawn bass. His strategy has involved a little bit of everything.

“You have fish coming and you have fish going and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do,” McCoy said. “Early in the morning, I’m catching fish a little farther out and after that, I’m catching fish farther in.

“As the sun warms up, those fish are migrating into these ditches. They’re moving into these bays to spawn. I’m utilizing both aspects of the (seasonal migration).”

McCoy said he caught his best fish on a 1/2-ounce Berkley PowerBait Spinnerbait. He also caught a few bed fish, but with the muddy water, he had to cast to the barely visible beds and fish through the area.

Laker Howell of Guntersville, Ala., added 28-7 to his first-round limit of 25-5 and rose from ninth place to third with a total weight of 53-12.

Howell’s fishing a large shallow grass flat where he’s targeting prespawn fish in about a foot and a half of water. He’s throwing a ChatterBait JackHammer with a Yamamoto Zako trailer.

“It was just unreal,” Howell said. “I got out there just hoping to catch a limit today and one thing led to another and God just sent them to me. I’m getting like 10 bites a day and half of them are big. It’s very slow. I’m getting about one about every 45 minutes, but when they bite, they lock you up.”

Day 1 leader Mark Hutson of Moncks Corner, S.C., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 10-3.

Wendell Causey Jr. of Irmo, S.C., won the co-angler division with a two-day mark of 28-5. After topping the Day 1 field with 15-11, he added a second-round limit of 12-10. Edging Chad Stahl by 2-15, Causey earned the top prize of $13,827.

Causey caught all of his bass on an unweighted Texas-rigged black/blue Senko.

“I had two good boaters that listened to me about my local knowledge of the lakes,” Causey said. “We fished grass from 6 inches to 2 feet deep. There was a certain type of grass, a mix of grass where I caught them.”

Clayton Lowder IV of Mayesville, S.C., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award in the co-angler division with a 7-4.

The Top 10 remaining anglers will take off at 6:30 a.m. ET Saturday from the John C Land III Sports Fishing Facility. The weigh-in will be held at the same location at 2:30 p.m.

The final day of competition will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 8:00 a.m. ET, with streaming available on, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

This event is being hosted by Clarendon County in association with Santee Cooper Country and the Town of Santee.