Spencer Hodges and Robert Carter win inaugural Black’s Camp Big Cat Shootout on Santee Cooper
“Gimme’ your best two . .”
With an emphasis on catfish health and conservation, the first Black’s Camp Big Cat Shootout was a great success. Thirty-one angler teams paid the $500 entry fee to fish some of the best catfish waters around – Lakes Marion and Moultrie (Santee Cooper). The weather was variable, but the Santee Cooper lakes produced. The biggest challenge was the wind, but in never quite blew the fishing out.
Based out of Black’s Camp and Restaurant, the November 17 and 18, 2017 catfish tournament allowed catfish anglers to fish from Pinopolis Lock up to the Rimini Railroad Trestle. Given the size of these waters anglers are often fishing without another boat in sight.
Santee Cooper’s growing in reputation as a big catfish destination will grow some more when the photos from this contest hit the social media pages. Both the lower and upper lakes are prime catfish waters and this tournament proved that. It’s a bucket list destination.
Kevin Davis, owner/operator of Black’s Camp, was inspired by a tournament held earlier in the year, based out of his facility. The professionalism of the tournament directors, the sponsors, and the anglers involved with that tournament impressed him enough to form his own tournament.
That earlier tournament was the Santee Cooper Monster Cat Quest put on by Chris and Mandy Gains, and Jimmy and Layla Dylyska Holbrook. It was a well-run and successful tournament that is scheduled again in 2018 on April 12 through 14.
The Shootout is a high stakes, 100 percent payout tournament. Anglers were allowed to weigh only two fish per day. The heaviest total weight after two days of fishing wins.
This first year the Shootout paid the top three teams and an optional big fish pot. The total payout was $17,400. The first-place team earned $7,750; the second place team earned $4,650; the third place team earned $3,100; and the Big Fish pot paid $1,900.
At the end of two days of competition it was Spencer Hodges and Robert Carter that snatch the gold ring. They weighed in a two-day total of 145 pounds to earn the inaugural Shootout title. Consistency helped them to the top. They weighed 71.3 pounds on day one and 73.7 on day two. That is an average weight of 36.25 pounds.
Hodges pointed to the weather as a significant part of the two-day event. Everyone was expecting more wind and weather than occurred. The wind was bad, but the timing was not as forecast.
“The fact that the front did not arrive until after the fishing was over was significant,” offered Hodges. “The pressure didn’t change and the fishing stayed consistent. We found fish the first part of the week and they were still there for the tournament.”
“Prefishing allowed us to find where the fish were,” added Hodges. “While prefishing we had an 82 pounder, several in the 40’s and a couple in the 50’s. There is nothing we would do differently. We had a game plan and stuck to it. It worked out in the end.”
Team Hodges/Spencer fished the traditional Santee Cooper dragging method to catch their fish. They used gizzard shad for bait.
Robert was asked if anything significant happened during the tournament.
“A wave broke over the motor,” joked Carter. “That wind makes it difficult to anchor in three foot of water. We caught our first fish in three foot of water, but out last fish was in 15.”
“We had one fish pretty quick here on day two,” added Carter. “We struggled pretty good for the rest of the day to catch our other fish. We caught a bunch of fish this afternoon, but the final weigh-in fish we caught just 10 minutes before we left.”
The second place team of David Stanley and Travis Tilley had a little different story. In fact, it was a comeback story. They did not catch the numbers that some other anglers did, but they had a kicker that others wish they had. They had a strategy to fish deep water and they stuck to it.
“Fishing was rough,” reported Stanley. “We did not catch a fish today until after lunch. It was 1:30 before we caught one, and it was the big one.”
That “big one” weighed 72.9 pounds and earned Stanley and Tilley Big Fish honors and an additional $1,900 to go with their second place finish. Their total winning are $6,550 for a four fish bag of 140.5 pounds, for an average weight of 35 pounds.
“We caught two fish yesterday and two fish today,” continued Stanley. “We caught four fish for the tournament and it was only two 15 pounders yesterday. We was struggling. We did not think we would be placing today. At 1:30 Travis caught that big one. We picked up and drifted the same area again and picked up the 36-pounder. After lunch we thought about going shallow, but we didn’t and it paid off.”
“David has fished Santee Cooper since he was a kid,” added Tilley. “I’ve only fished the lake about four times. He put me on some good spots. We was drifting with Easterlin Drift Socks in deep water.”
“Wow, that big fish was an experience,” said Tilley. “It started out by getting on some white perch, some nice white perch. We cut em’ up and got em’ out there.”
Santee Cooper paid off big for Tilley.
“I actually got two personal bests (PB) in 48 hours,” reported a smiling Tilley. “I caught a 43-pounder pre-tournament to set my previous PB. Then, today I caught the 72 to set a new one.”
Kelly Godbolt and Dustin Smith claimed the third place spot with 139.3 pounds for an average weight of 34.82 pounds. Their four fish bag earned them $3,100. They used white perch for bait.
“The hard part was finding the fish,” reported Godbolt. “They were hard for us. We had not been on any good fish all week long. We finally found them today. We decided to move to a totally different area that we had been fishing, and it payed off.”
“If we had it to do over, I would have moved earlier,” said Godbolt. “We should not have stuck to that area so long. When we did find them they were on a flat in medium deep water, maybe about 15 feet.”
Godbolt’s teammate, Dustin Smith, described himself as an catfishing apprentice.
“Every time I catfish I am with Kelly or Ron Howard,” explained Smith. “I’m in training. I felt a little stress starting day two only 25 pounds out of the lead. In reality you just gotta’ go out there and fish. Either you are gonna’ catch em’ or you’re not.”
The Remaining Top Ten
4th Place – Capt. Gray Brookshire – 138.7
5th Place – Capt. John Terry – 138.4
6th Place – Capt. Mike Passmore – 138.1
7th Place – Capt. Rodney Locklear – 136
8th Place – Capt. KC Nelms – 134.1
9th Place – Capt. Steve Turner – 132.2
10th Place – Capt. Richard Chaplain – 117.3
Davis places catfish conservation high on his list of priorities. “Tournament catfishermen should be staunch conservationists,” stated Davis. “Especially with trophy fish.”
That guiding principle was one of the reasons Davis chose a two fish per day tournament.
“It is easier on the fish,” offered Davis. “They are not crowded up in a livewell that is losing oxygen and stressing the fish. It also makes the weigh-in go faster, which also reduces stress on the fish.”
That same conservation principle led Davis to set up the weigh-in right on the water’s edge. Boats coming in from the water could remove the fish from the livewell and be at the scales within a minute. The fish were weighed, walked to the end of the dock, photo’d, and released in deep water. The same thing was true for the anglers that trailered to the weigh in site at Blacks Camp. The fish were never out of the water very long.
“Our sport of catfishing is growing by leaps and bounds,” concluded Davis. “I would like the Shootout to be a platform that will help the sport grow more.”