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St. Croix: Expect Big Bass

Showcasing fierce competition, the 2024 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Series Presented by SEVIIN Reels continues this week at Santee Cooper Lakes, which are in prime condition for giant pre-spawn bass

Clarendon County, SC — At over 160,000 combined acres, South Carolina’s Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are well known for both numbers and size of largemouth bass. Warming springtime temperatures mean the Santee Cooper Lakes’ population of mature, Florida-strain largemouth bass are likely to be found concentrated in predictable pre-spawn staging areas – with some actively spawning – when a full field of boaters and co-anglers begin competition at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by SEVIIN this Thursday. It’s the third Opens event of the 2024 season, and the second of three in Division 1 competition.

Competition takes place Thursday through Saturday, with daily takeoffs set for 6:30 a.m. CT from the John C. Land III Sports Fishing Facility. Anglers will return for weigh-in each day at 2:30 p.m. All registered boaters and co-anglers will fish the first two days before the field is cut to the top 10 boaters on Championship Saturday. The winner will punch a ticket to the 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, provided they fish all three Division 1 events. EQ Anglers (boaters signed up for all nine Opens) will earn points towards the Tackle Warehouse Bassmaster Elite Qualifiers race.


One to Watch

SEVIIN Reels pro, Joey Nania of Cropwell, Alabama is 32nd in EQ points after two events in the 2024 Opens season. Nania won the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Eufaula, Oklahoma last year to earn a berth for the 2024 Bassmaster Classic, scheduled for later this month at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. This will be Nania’s second Bassmaster Classic, and the Santee Cooper Lakes Open stands to be a good warm-up event.

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B.A.S.S. Photo.

“I think my goals for 2024 Opens season are a bit different than a lot of guys fishing the series,” Nania says. “Most have the very specific objective of using the Opens to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series, but I make my living guiding on the Coosa River system, Smith Lake, and Lake Martin in Alabama, as well as fishing the Opens. It’s my life and livelihood. The payouts are really good and I’ve been fishing them for the past 14 years.”

Nania says the most important thing in his life is glorifying God. “He’s given me the Opens and guiding to do that,” says Nania. “So, wherever I’m at – on or off the water at an Open or sharing my boat with guide customers – all I really want to do is connect with people and try to have a positive influence on their lives.”

Nania believes this people-centered approach to his fishing is what actually helps him succeed on the water. “I’ve been very focused on winning in the past,” he says. “But my highest finishes have always happened at tournaments where I’ve placed my attention on helping others instead of spending all my energy coming up with a winning strategy.” One of the ways the SEVIIN Pro has done this, recently, is through Bassmaster Legacy night.

“Bassmaster Legacy Night provides a unique opportunity to connect with folks in the communities where we’re fishing,” says Nania. “A group of us just go and hang out with people from the community and share inspiring stories, food, and a good time… usually at a local church or community center. I always get something meaningful out of it myself, and do my best to provide hope, inspiration, or at least some quality fellowship with others. I mentioned before that the Opens are one of the primary platforms God has given to me, and these Legacy Nights are an important part of that. I always look forward to them.”

Hearing Nania’s goals and priorities, don’t mistakenly think the highly experienced tournament angler lacks opinions or intimate bass knowledge. He does want to win. After all, fishing the Opens is a part of his income.

“The Santee Cooper Lakes Open is setting up to be a showdown with diverse techniques and presentations at play,” says Nania. There are definitely going to be pre-spawn fish out deep with waves of bass headed toward the banks. Technology will obviously play a key role, with anglers scoping the lakes’ abundant artificial reefs and other offshore structure, the trees, and the shorelines. I’ve never been here before, but I’m hoping these lakes fish big… there’s certainly plenty of water. I don’t want to be running around so much. Plenty of guys are going to catch giant ones. I’m just hoping to find a few areas to myself where I can be around them for three days. That’s what it’s going to take to do well here.”

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B.A.S.S. Photo.

Pressed for more specifics, Nania said he’d prefer to find his fish offshore. “I want to use forward-facing sonar if I can,” he says. “I think it’ll be a lot more consistent than the bank, as long as I can find enough concentrations of good fish out there. Locating pockets of big fish on isolated ditches, trees, and grass at the right depth that nobody else finds is going to be key. Then it’s just a matter of making the most of those periods when they’re biting the best. If it’s warmer than expected and I do need to fish shallow, I’ll probably be fishing a wacky rig on a spinning rod with a GSor GX series reel or flipping a jig or throwing a chatterbait with a GF seriesbaitcasting reel. The keys to doing well shallow will be similar… finding the right, unpressured areas that offer multiple options.”


EQ Points Standings

With five of the top-ten finishers from last week’s Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Fork being rookies fresh from last year’s Opens Series – including Bassmaster Elite Angler of the Year and Rookie of the Year co-front-runners, Trey McKinney and Ben Milliken – more eyes in the bass world than ever are on Opens EQ anglers.

The Tackle Warehouse Bassmaster Elite Qualifiers race is incredibly tight going into the Santee Cooper Lakes Open, with just 32 points separating the top nine spots. Georgia angler, Paul Marks, leads the Bassmaster Opens EQ race after the first two events at Lake Okeechobee and Lake Ouachita with 390 points. Minnesota’s Easton Fothergill is second with 384 points, followed by Andy Newcomb in third with 380, Evan Kung in fourth with 376, and Joe Wieberg in fifth with 371 points. Tucker Smith is sixth with 367 points, Emil Wagner is seventh with 366 points, Ish Monroe is eighth with 360 points, and Dakota Ebare is ninth with 358 points.


St. Croix & SEVIIN Rewards Programs

Once again, the St. Croix Rewards Program and SEVIIN Rewards Program will provide the opportunity for additional payouts to any registered boater or co-angler fishing St. Croix rods or SEVIIN reels at the Santee-Cooper Open.
 
Each program pays $1,000 to any registered boater who wins an Open tournament fishing St. Croix rods or SEVIIN reels, or $500 to the highest-finishing registered top-10 boater fishing St. Croix rods or SEVIIN Reels.
 
Similarly, each program awards $500 to any registered co-angler who wins an Open tournament fishing St. Croix rods or SEVIIN reels, or $250 to the highest-finishing registered top-10 co-angler fishing St. Croix rods or SEVIIN reels.
 
Since these are two separate contingency programs, a registered angler fishing both St. Croix and SEVIIN who wins or finishes highest in the top 10 would receive both rewards – up to $2,000 for a boater and up to $1,000 for a co-angler.
 
Anglers must pre-register to be eligible to win these contingency programs. Registration takes place at the St. Croix / SEVIIN tent prior to the start of competition at each tournament.
 
At the last Open on Lake Ouachita, 56-year-old Chad Stahl from Barnesville, Georgia took second place in the Co-Angler Division, earning the St. Croix angler $250 in St. Croix Rewards. “My son Cody is fishing all nine Opens for the second year in a row,” Stahl says. “Last year I decided to travel with him so I could be there and show him my support. I thought, why not fish the co-angler side so I could practice with him, too?” It turned out to be a great decision for Stahl, and not just because it meant he could spend more time with his son. The older Stahl fished all nine events last year and ended up winning Angler of the Year in the Opens Co-Angler Division.

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Co-angler Chad Stahl, the Bassmaster Opens 2023 Angler of the Year, earned St. Croix Rewards by virtue of his second-place finish at last month’s St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Ouachita. B.A.S.S. Photo.

“I’m fishing all nine Opens again this year,” he says.  I love St. Croix rods and have several Mojo Bass models, among others. At Ouachita I spent a lot of time fishing a Damiki rig out deep with my JOS68MXF. This is my all-purpose spinning rod and I use it for a bit of everything! It’s balanced, really comfortable, and sensitive in the hand to me.”


2024 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Presented by SEVIIN Reels Schedule

Division 1
February 1-3, Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, Florida
March 7-9, Santee Cooper Lakes, Clarendon County, South Carolina
October 10-12, Lake Hartwell, Anderson, South Carolina

Division 2
February 15-17, Lake Ouachita, Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 2-4, Logan Martin Lake, Lincoln, Alabama
June 20-22, Lake Eufaula, Eufaula, Oklahoma

Division 3
July 11-13, Lake St. Clair, Macomb County, Michigan
August 22-24, Leech Lake, Walker, Minnesota
September 12-14, Mississippi River, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Follow the Action

The final day of competition at Santee Cooper Lakes will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET, with streaming available on Bassmaster.com, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

Follow Joey Nania on Facebook and Instagram, or through his website, joeyfishing.com.

About St. Croix Rod

Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for over 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Avid®, Premier®, Imperial®, Triumph®, Mojo, and BASSX, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.

About SEVIIN Reels

Wherever and however you fish, the reel in your hand should help create better experiences. Born from St. Croix’s seven decades of design and manufacturing expertise, industry-leading customer service, and unbroken private ownership by the Schluter family dating back to 1977, SEVIIN reels are meticulously engineered and purpose-built to help anglers conquer every species on every piece of water on the planet. SEVIIN focuses on reels and reels only, designing and crafting products that improve the angling experience, regardless of the rods anglers choose. Seven seas, seven continents, seven days a week, SEVIIN reels are fueled by a collective love of fishing surpassed only by a passion to deliver the most reliable reels on the water.

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