Big kicker lifts Hutson to lead at Bassmaster Open on Santee Cooper Lakes

It took him most of the day, but when Mark Hutson sacked up half of his weight on consecutive casts, the Moncks Corner, S.C., angler pulled the plug and headed to the scales with a limit of 30 pounds, 6 ounces. That was good enough to lead Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes presented by SEVIIN.

Anchoring his bag with a 10-3 — the day’s only double-digit fish — Hutson heads into Day 2 with a lead of 2-9 over William Holmes, who also hails from Moncks Corner.

“I didn’t realize that big fish was a 10-pounder until I got my hand on it,” Hutson said. “It stayed down, it went under the boat. When I got my hands on it, that was special.”

Spending his day in Lake Marion, near the Diversion Canal linking the upper lake with Lake Moultrie, Hutson targeted prespawn staging areas in 2 to 10 feet.

“I started catching fish around 9 o’clock in key areas of the lake and started picking them off one after another,” said Hutson, who caught a dozen first-round fish.

A little before 2 p.m., Hutson made the cast that yielded the 10-pounder. Moving to his next target, he ran about 100 yards down the lake and wasted no time pushing his total past the 30-pound mark.

“I went to my next spot and made one cast and caught a 5-pounder,” Hutson said. “After that, I stopped fishing to save some for tomorrow.”

Hutson caught some of his bass on a spinnerbait, but an unspecified worm rig produced his better catches, including the 10-pounder. Hutson said he fished a mix of structure and relied on his local knowledge to guide his search.

“Being from here really helps; knowing some offshore structure,” he said. “They all came off of different stuff. There wasn’t really a pattern, but it worked out today.

“I was in and out between (shallow and deeper spots). I was just trying to put something together. I got on a good pattern yesterday in practice and that helped.”

Despite the day’s impressive results, Hutson said the mild front that brought torrential rains right before the event likely had the bass in a less-than-aggressive mood. The bites were subtle and required his full attention.

Surprisingly, even his big fish sucked in a worm with a barely perceptible peck.

“They weren’t biting very aggressively today,” Hutson said. “The other day, they were very aggressive. Today, it was a very light bite. You really had to pay attention.”

Hutson said he will return to the same area on Day 2. He’s confident it still has plenty of potential.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t fish, so hopefully tomorrow I can fish some of that stuff,” Hutson said.

Holmes is in second place with 27-13. Owing his success to a last-minute decision, he fished Lake Moultrie and had his weight within 45 minutes of reaching his spot.

“I caught all of those fish on a spot where I caught one 5-pounder two days ago,” Holmes said. “The area where I really caught them (in practice) was really busy and takes about 30 minutes of idling to get into.

“I looked into the spot where I caught my fish and there was no one in there. I fished there for two hours and never saw another boat.”

Noting that he caught his fish on reaction baits, Holmes said he had three main areas targeted. Thankfully, the seasonal progression brought what he needed within reach.

“The big mamas showed up today,” Holmes said. “They’re in a foot and a half of water. I think they’re really close to spawning. I was finding them in little depressions with lily pads.”

Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, is in third place with 27-6. Making his first trip to Santee Cooper Lakes, Ebare said he worked diligently to break down a lot of fishy-looking water and identified a sustainable pattern.

Fishing a mix of baits to thoroughly cover his key spots, Ebare said he made a strategic decision to position himself for a run at the title.

“Today, I fished all new water,” he said. “I had some areas that I thought would be good that I wanted to save for Day 2, because I’d have a shorter day. So, I practiced as much as I could today.”

Hutson is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 10-3.

Wendell Causey Jr. or Irmo, S.C., leads the co-angler division with 15-11. He also holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 7-1.

The full field will take off at 6:30 a.m. ET Friday 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 co-angler title will be decided, and the Top 10 boaters will advance to Championship Saturday.

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.