Wacky Rigging.  One of my favorite things to do in a small bait, finesse, tough bite, you just need to catch 5 fish and haven’t had a bite in a while style of fishing is wacky rigging.  Wacky rigging is the canary in the coal mine to me at times.  If you can’t get a bite, wacky rigging, you are very likely not around ’em.    My 2012 FLW Everstart tournament on Santee Cooper, started by picking up my boat in Augusta, GA on the way to lake, with a fresh fiberglass patch from the damage it sustained from Seminole.  So, I only had 5 days to prepare for Santee Cooper, and in case you don’t know, Santee Cooper is 2 lakes, connected by a canal, and it HUGE.  I mean, a man could spend a lifetime learning Santee Cooper, and because it has grass in it, which even the types of grasses are constantly changing (and growing and being sprayed or eaten by introduced grass carp), Santee Cooper is a lake that changes often.  Add to that, South Carolina’s real estate on the Eastern seaboard.   South Carolina, goes from extreme mountain trout eaters  in the West, to the lowland black water swamp, palmetto tree + Spanish moss frog, swim jig, skippin’ jigs, buzzbait, 30 pound sack capable water, to Atlantic Coast beaches that people surf regularly ( I scored fun 1-2 foot peelers at Hilton Head one 4th of July circa 2006, 10 foot single fin, 80+ degree water,  and a lot of hootin’ an’a hollerin’!) in the East. Santee Cooper is big fish fishery and it didn’t disappoint.  Look at the weights from the event, lots of 11-15 pound, 3 fish sacks getting weighed in.  Guys on 4-6 pounders pretty good, just numbers hard to come by.   Santee Cooper is on a healthy cycle and it could be a sleeper for an incredible event if scheduling and weather permit.   I wished I’d had more time to practice and explore things, because a bigbait bait there is inevitable.  I threw Slammers, 3:16 Sunfish, 22nd Century Bluegills, and skipped the 6″ weedless Huddie too.   I didn’t have tons of practice, but my gameplan was mostly around catching 4-6 pounders off cypress trees, but of course trying to just go fish and find big ones coming or going or on beds.   I thought I could win with the wacky rig—if I got the bites and got them in the boat, there are just some awesome moments in tree fishing where you can get on ’em good.  I had good bites going, just not lots of them, and it was the same stuff I had done here 3 years ago when I finished 7th place.  I had the bites to win last time.  This time, I didn’t have the bites to win, but I had a shot at it, and I knew I could compete and perhaps win, just like last time, but this time, things didn’t work out quite so well, but I did jump off a big one that cost me a Top 20 or so.  5-6 pounder eats my Senko on the base of tree with sparse grass around it in about 3 feet of water, and rips line off immediately for 10 feet right under the surface just hot and full dig style and when I went to turn and stop her, she reared up and jumped mouth open wide reverse flip backside roll tail grab fakey and spits the hook.  Fudge. Whatever, I’m sitting in 7th place overall in the the SouthEast Division, and had a great tournament and finished 35th place, just solid, nothing great, but I’ll take it because Santee Cooper is tough as she is awesome at times.   I had 3 fish on Day 1 for almost 12 pounds, so fun day getting 2 bigguns onboard, and one 14.5″ keeper.  Big fish on the spinning gear around trees is just exciting and fun.  I kept working and working, and also had a grass pattern going that never panned out, so I felt like I fished pretty damn hard and smart, just didn’t have the next levels of fish I needed.   Look at how few guys caught limits both days.  See Results Here.  Ken Ellis won the tournament wacky rigging a Trick Worm on deep trees.  So, I was on the right track and had the right gameplan, I just didn’t have the trees and the knowledge of what trees.  Finding deeper trees is a key, sparse grass is key, and areas adjacent or near spawning grounds, where the fish are pulling out of their spawning areas and resting up, feeding up and hanging loose on the natural cover/structures in the lake.

The Old South. Santee Cooper is near Charleston, a city rich in old America history, and is two lakes, connected by a canal: Lakes Marion&Moultrie, named after American Revolutionary War 1770s era Generals famous for using the swamps and natural terrain to drive the Brits out. And of course, the first shots fired in the Civil War, happened in Charleston at Fort Sumter. My journey from Atlanta to Santee Cooper literally mirrored General Sherman’s notorious “March to the Sea” campaign, that ended with the Confederate surrender of Fort Sumter and terms being served, where the first shots were fired 4 years prior.   I enjoy that kind of stuff, because I really try to understand the various regions and people of this country that are so different than my own home, and their history.   I like South Carolina for the fishing for sure. I used to do great business in nearby Columbus and I know Charleston is really cool and happening and fun, and yet you can get yourself extremely rural and off the grid in a hurry too.   Perhaps I have a soft spot for South Carolina because my personal best 14.60 largemouth came from South Carolina in 2006. But I think it’s just a killer state of mind and of fishing. The extreme Appalachian to Atlantic old timey Southern feel is highlighted with the weather. You want to talk about hot and muggy? We had low 90s and 100% humidity a couple days. Sweltering heat at times for what feels like ‘early in the year’. I believe in the summer time, Santee Cooper might be the hottest place on earth.  You just feel lowland and can sense the warm ocean offsore influencing things. But then again, as the tournament came around, cool, windy, foggy, really windy, really really windy, rain and volatile weather came, making finesse fishing around trees, a bit more challenging!  I wore my bibs all day on Day 1, that cold you get when you’ve been baked by the sun and then things cool down and you’re just cold because you aren’t baking hot.   Finesse fishing, wacky in particular, is best served up under the above weather conditions, because the smooth water allows you to make precise and long distance skips of your bait to the tree.  Wind creates surface waves which put your bait up in the tree and ruins the distance and accuracy thing horribly, but it isn’t game over, you just have to work that much harder to fish the trees properly.   The calmer, the more finesse you can get, for example, throw a Trick Worm vs. a Senko, because it falls and stalls mas bueno, which is the thing about wacky, it is about fall and stall, which becomes neutral or floating mid water column at some point, which means you can keep your bait suspended or ‘floating’ one foot down, one foot off the tree, in the shade spot on base of cypress tree better than just about anything else.       Stall + Fall = 0

I stayed in Eutawville (“Utah-Ville”) at Bells Marina and fished with my good friend Ron and his son, that I’d met here a few years ago when I was here last.   Ron helped me quickly get a feel for the lake and more specifically, the tree bite.    The best trees tend to be deeper 2.5 to 4 feet of water, and have sparse grass around them, or just be on the ‘point’ or generally favorable position to feed from in a stack of trees.  However, it’s sort of like flipping at some level, where you just have to put your head down and make hundreds of perfect presentations time and time again, and eventually you get a bite.  And where you get one bite, you usually get more bites.   Little flurries, I love you so!   I tried to find good areas of trees in practice.  Which I did. I also tried to find a grass bite, which I did with some help from my man Bobby Wood and Ron Buck.  I practiced with them a day and really did some damage on Skinny Dippers and Swim Senkos around lilly pads, gator grass, and mixed stuff.    With the cool weather we had for the tournament, my grass bite died on the vine.  You just knew they were in the grass and biting for someone, but I had trees and grass to balance, and after starting each morning in the grass and coming up empty both days, I decided my grass bite was dead and didn’t try it afternoon of Day 2, just stuck out the trees, which helped because I got my 5th fish with 10 minutes left and helped me get a paycheck.  I caught all 8 of my keepers on the wacky rig and only missed one bite, but it was a big one.  Wacky rigging is a work in progress for me, and I love doing it.  I love super finesse and super big stuff, opposing poles, positives and negatives, north vs south/ east vs west, natural attractions and relationships between the two ends of any spectrum.  I love how it points out things to my bigbait fishing, because I think my success with bigbaits in a national tournament will be somehow directly or indirectly related to a super small bait bite or understanding of fish and fishing.   For example, keeping it simple, just throw a Senko or a Trick Worm, or just throw a Triple Trout or a Huddleston or Slammer, having the right tools narrowed down for your window and using the small baits to either quickly fill a limit or be there as backup to back fill a couple big ones.

Here’s the deal with Wacky Rigging:

Rod: Shimano Cumara 7’2″ Medium Heavy (CUS72MH)

Reel:   Shimano Stradic 1000 or CI4 Stradic 1000 (small spooled reels handle 10-15 pound braid really well, that line has super small diameter and although I like big spooled spinning reels, smaller spooled small spinning reels are good too. You can throw small and light baits really well, and manage you line nicely.  It all matches up, where you don’t have super thin line on a big spool.

Line:  15# Power Pro connected to a 2.5 foot leader of  10# Yamamoto Sugoi Florocarbon

Hook:  Owner Mosquito Hook, #1 or 1/0, get the 50 packs, because you use these things a lot and you do break off at times because of the exposed nose hook, trust me, this is a good investment.  Use bigger hook size in the wind

Bait:  Yamamoto Senko 5″  Or Zoom Trick Worm (watermelon seed, green pumpkin red, black neon, black blue, or junebug)

Rigging:  Wacky O Tool and O-Rings:  I put an O-Ring around my senko and slide the hook under the ring and just fish away.  Sometimes I criss cross two rings and put the hook under the X, but I a really like the way this one fishes and rigs, it’s not perfect, but I haven’t found one that is!

Braided line + floro leader, Owner Mosquito Hook, O-Ring. I will use 2 O-Rings and criss cross them and put the hook under the X at times, but then again, I will just slip the hook under a single ring and just go fishing. I catch a lot of fish on this rig, and slight variations of it anytime I’m around shallow grass, wood, and rock. Trick worms and Senkos are blue chip baits, make sure you own plenty in various colors black to green. Get a feel for skipping, floating, dragging and stalling side rigged baits. Bait control.

Here is the deal with the Grass Bite:

Swimming Baits:  Skinny Dippers or Swim Senkos or Gambler Big EZ  (black blue, watermelon/green pumpkins)

Frogs/Terrestrials Spro  BronzeEye Frogs or Poppin Frog or Paycheck Transporter Frog or Picasso Shad Walker  (natural colors/black)

Line: 65 or 50# Power Pro

HooksOwner  Twistlock Open Gap (Swim Senko, 5/0 or 6/0 for Skinny Dipper), Owner Weighted Beast Hook (Big EZ, 6/0 w/ 1/4 oz weight)

Some really good fish were caught in the grass. You just had to have grass with bait or just fish in it.  The grass was like the trees, lots to choose from, but most does/do not hold fish and even if they do, you have to be good to catch them, especially for 2 days in a row.  Things change quickly on Santee Cooper.

Santee Cooper Wacky Rigging a Senko
I was getting 1 or 2 fish in the 4-6 pound class a day fishing the trees slowly and thoroughly with wacky rigs. Scattered grass, access to deep water, shade all helped the cause. I figured I might be able to squeak out 15 or 20 pounds a day on the right days. I almost pulled it off, but not quite. No regrets, looking forward to getting back there sometime and getting back to work.  “Fine thanks……………………you?”


  1. Bert Fischer

    They eat Big Swimbaits on Santee but I am one of the few who throw them. Capt.Bert

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