Matt Baker leads the top group in Stage 2 of the Suzuki Fishing Major League on Santee Cooper Lakes

Matt Baker leads the top group in Stage 2 of the Suzuki Fishing Major League on Santee Cooper Lakes

Provided by Major League Fishing

CLARENDON COUNTY – Dominant Angler of the Year (AOY) Matt Baker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, hooked 12 scoreable bass Tuesday, totaling 45 pounds, 8 ounces, to jump to an early lead in the Group A qualifying round at Suzuki. The second stage was presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lake in Clarendon County.

Just 4 pounds, 3 ounces behind Baker in second place on the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard is Hot Springs, Arkansas, pro Dylan Hayes, who caught 10 bass for a 29-11 total. Alton Jones Jr. of Waco, Texas, sits in third place, less than 6 pounds behind Baker with 10 bass weighing 39-10.

The 40 anglers in Pool A will have a day off from competition on Wednesday, while the 40 anglers competing in Pool B will begin their first day of competition. Group A resumes competition on Thursday.

The six-day tournament, hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, showcases 80 of the world’s top professional anglers, competing for a $659,000 purse, including a $100,000 top prize and the Professional Angler of the Year (AOY) award. . points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters and REDCREST 2025 all-star event, the Bass Pro Tour Championship.

Entering the first day of competition in Santee Cooper, Baker wasn’t feeling optimistic. The Bass Pro Tour’s ruling AOY said he had a “horrible practice” amid the muddy conditions that greeted the field on the second stage. He chose the starting location because he had one bite there during the three-day training period.



Within the first 35 minutes of Tuesday morning, Baker turned that one bite into six scoreable bass that weighed a combined 23 pounds, 6 ounces. This wave gave him an early lead over the rest of Group A, and he never relinquished first place in SCORETRACKER®.

“I went to an area where I had one bite — and that’s where I decided to start,” Baker said. “And before I knew it, I had six fish in the boat, and I didn’t even know what was going on. So yeah, it was fast and furious.” the morning. I didn’t expect that at all. “

Baker wasn’t the only one who found the fishing better than expected on Santee Cooper. Although the bass didn’t hit the scales in the same numbers as the first stage at Toledo Bend, plenty of big vocals showed up. Thirteen bass weighing 6 pounds or larger were caught Tuesday, including one over 8 pounds. Fifteen professionals exceeded the 20 pound mark on the day.

“Honestly, everyone — including me — caught them better than I expected,” Baker said. “I didn’t see this coming. I expected it to be a lot harder for everyone. But I’m very happy with the way things turned out.”

Baker burst onto the national championship scene in a big way last year, beating out the likes of Jacob Wheeler, Ott DeFoe and Jones Jr. to claim both Stage 7 awards and Angler of the Year honors at the season finale at Saginaw Bay.

The offseason clearly did nothing to stop his momentum.

Baker began the 2024 campaign with a championship round appearance at Toledo Bend. He then finished 16th in the season opener Tackle Warehouse Invitationals on Sam Rayburn. Now, even in a fishery that, at least on paper, doesn’t suit his strengths, Baker looks like he’s discovered Santee Cooper’s bass.

Baker attributed the strong start to just fishing with confidence.



“It’s definitely a matter of trust,” he said. “I feel so confident in myself now, and every decision I make seems to turn out to be the right one. Like today, for example, I literally had one bite in that area where I started, but my gut was telling me to start there, and I switched to the front.

“I don’t want it to ever end. I want to keep this train moving as long as I can.”

His fast start on Tuesday boosted his confidence. Baker said it made him believe in his area, removing the temptation to fire up his Suzuki outboard and take a time-consuming tour through the treacherous fishery. He spent the rest of the day exploring new waters in the same vicinity as the starting point.

“It kind of slowed me down and allowed me to expand and fish new waters,” he explained. “I had this place where I got a bite in practice, and then I expanded around the area the rest of the day. But having that confidence in getting a couple bites early allowed me to expand and continue to fish new water.”

After a lull, Baker continued to hit the ball overall throughout the afternoon. Midway through the second period, he kicked the ball 6-10. In fisheries lacking in bass populations, releasing big bites appears to be the key to competition. Seven of the top eight SCORETRACKER® anglers caught at least one bass over 6 pounds.

“There are so many big fish out there, it seems like it’s only a matter of time — if you set the hook enough times, it’ll be a 6- to 8-pounder,” Baker said. “So, it’s going to take a number of big fish every day to do well in this tournament.”

Baker didn’t want to reveal too many details about his pattern, but he said he doesn’t rely on forward-facing sonar to target fish. Instead, he aggressively hunts down “previously published classic stuff.” He doesn’t slow down, covering the water with his trolling motor and fishing any cover he comes across — as he puts it, “pretty much just junk fishing in one part of the lake.”

While Becker noted that he only saw one other competitor all day, which piqued his interest, he’s not sure if he’ll be able to ride from the start, or even the general area, to another top-10 finish. He plans to spend the second day. From the qualifying round, explore more of the huge, habitat-rich stadium.



“I feel like I might have burned that area today, but you never know,” Baker said. “It’s spring, and more fish might come in with the warming trend. The sun came out this afternoon, and it was warm. So maybe more fish might come in. But I’ll keep an open mind through the rest of the tournament and try to expand on the second day, and try to fish some water.” New and maybe find something else too.

The top 20 pros in Group A after day one at Santee Cooper Lakes are:

1st: Matt Baker, Ten Mile, Tennessee, 12 Bass, 45-8
2nd: Dylan Hayes, Hot Springs, Ark., 10 Pass, 41-5
3rd: Alton Jones Jr., Waco, Texas, 10 Bass, 39-10
4th: James Watson, Lamb, Missouri, 11 Pass, 37-15
5th: Gerald Spurr, Gonzalez, Los Angeles, 13 pass, 36-9
6th: Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 11 Pass, 34-5



7th: Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, Nine Bass, 33-5
8th: Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 10 Bass, 32-10
9th: Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 11 bass, 26-15
10th: Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kansas, eight bass, 26-10
11th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., Six Bass, 26-8
12th: Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., Five Bass, 23-9
13th: Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., Eight Bass, 22-3
14th: Jesse Wiggins, Alaa Coleman, Seven Bass, 21-4
15th: Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., eight bass, 20-13
16th: Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., Eight Bass, 19-1
17th: Jacopo Galilei, Florence, Italy, four bass, 17-7
18th: Matt Lee, Coleman, Alaa, Five Bass, 17-7
19th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tennessee, Six Bass, 17-3
20th: Shinichi Fuki, Osaka, Japan, four bass, 15-14

A full list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

General Tire professional Brett Myers of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, on Tuesday won the $1,000 Berkeley Big Bass with an 8-pound, 3-ounce big fish that he caught on a deep-diving crankbait with just 10 minutes left in the day’s third period. Berkeley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass in the tournament.

40 anglers in Group A compete in the two-day qualifying round on Tuesday and Thursday – 40 anglers in Pool B on Wednesday and Friday. After each two-day qualifying round is completed, the first- to 10th-place anglers from both groups advance to Saturday’s knockout round. In the knockout round, weights are zero, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to make the top 10 to advance to Sunday’s championship round. In the final day’s Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest single-day total wins the grand prize of $100,000.

Hunters will be released at 7:30 a.m. each day from John C. Land III Landing, located at 4404 Greenall Road in Summerton. A public tire display will be held each day at the park, starting at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and checkout events, and are encouraged to follow the action online throughout the day through MLFNOW!® live streaming and SCORETRACKER® coverage on the MajorLeagueFishing website. .com.

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and JT Kenney will break down the extended event live on the final four days of competition from 7:45am-4:30pm ET. MLFNOW!® will be broadcast live on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Saturday and Sunday, February 24-25, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., MLF welcomes fans of all ages to visit John C. Land III Landing for the MLF Watch Party. Fans can watch the pros live on MLFNOW! Big screen, enjoy free food, enter to win hourly giveaways and cheer on their favorite pros. The first 50 kids 14 and under will receive a free Pure Fishing rod and reel each day. The final 10 anglers on the Championship Round Bass Pro Tour will be on hand at the tournament celebration on Sunday to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies.

Suzuki’s Stage 2 Santee Cooper Lakes presented by Fenwick features the MLF catch, weigh and release instant catch format, where anglers catch the most weight possible each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity on the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament features anglers competing with a minimum weight of 1 pound, 8 ounces for a bass to be considered scoreable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division sets minimum weights for each body of water visited by the Bass Pro Tour, based on productivity, number of bass and expected average size of fish in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features 80 of the world’s best professional anglers, competing across seven regular season tournaments across the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual all-star General Tire Heavy Hitters event and the 2025 Redcrest Championship.

Bass Pro Tour anglers also compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) award and a $100,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game played by over 80 million people worldwide – is an official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and the Phoenix Bass Fishing League.

Television coverage of Suzuki’s second stage at Santee Cooper Lakes presented by Fenwick will be shown in a two-hour episode beginning at 7 a.m. on Saturday, September 21 on Discovery, with the championship round premiering the following Saturday on September 28. MLF episodes premiere every Saturday morning on the Discovery Channel, with reruns on the Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Fishing Clash, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak . Fishing, Nitro, Onyx, Plano, Powerball, Rapala, Star Brite, Suzuki, Toyota, and USAF.

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