Luke Palmer removed all drama from the Santee Cooper Bassmaster Elite Series final-day weigh-in when he showed the crowd two bass that weighed more than he would need to win the $100,000 first prize. When Palmer set his five-fish limit on the scale – needing 11 pounds, 12 ounces to win – the scale read 25 pounds, 15 ounces. His four-day total of 96 pounds, 14 ounces put him 14 pounds, 3 ounces ahead of second place and 22 pounds, 5 ounces ahead of third place.
Palmer, a fifth-year Elite Series pro from Coalgate, Oklahoma, anchored his final-day limit with a 7-pound, 5-ounce bass, which was the biggest fish brought to the scales on that day. The final day delivered challenging and continually changing conditions, and only two anglers caught a limit, but Palmer found early success, filling his limit at 10:05 a.m.
Palmer fished primarily with a YUM Wooly Bug in the color Virgo Red, which has a very dark base and a heavy dose of glittery red flake. He noted on stage that anyone who followed last year’s Elite Series event on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Lakes might have already known how he was fishing because he used the same bait and set-up for a fourth-place finish last year.
“The Wooly Bug is my go-to bait for flipping and pitching because of how the bait falls,” Palmer said. “It glides, rather than falls straight down, which really entices those finicky fish, especially when they are bedding fish.”
He Texas rigged the YUM Wooly Bug, using 3/16-, 1/4 and 5/16-ounce Rougarou Tungsten weights in different situations, and fished the rig on a 7-foot,3-inch heavy action Falcon Amistad rod with a high-speed reel spooled with 20-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon,
Palmer focused on cypress trees that had bass spawning beside them in Lake Marion, which is the upper lake in the 170,000-acre Santee Cooper system. He had found the fish staging in nearby eelgrass during practice, and about halfway through the first day of competition he figured out they had moved up to the trees.
Palmer concentrated on trees that were closest to deep water, knowing it was late in the spawn at Santee Cooper and believing those trees provided the best habitat for late spawners.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to hear you say that,” Palmer told Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer after Mercer announced him as an “Elite Series champion.” “I was so close to doing it last year, to finally get it done — I wanted to break 100 pounds, but I’ll take 96-14.”