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Austin Wins 2024 Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes

Amid the rainy, windy conditions, a late-morning kicker lifted Kyle Austin to a final-day catch of 27 pounds, 8 ounces. That gave him a three-day total of 83-7 and a victory at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Santee Cooper Lakes presented by SEVIIN.

The Ridgeville, S.C., pro said winning on his home fishery was the crowning achievement of his life on the water.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve stood in this parking lot and watched the Bassmaster weigh-ins and watched local tournament weigh-ins, and I’ve always wanted to stand up here on this stage and hold (the winning trophy),” said Austin, who guides on the Santee Cooper Lakes. “I’ve fished against a lot of these guys on this lake and they’ve beat me like a drum.

“To finally stand up here with the trophy is just incredible. There’s no place I’d rather do it.”

After placing 13th on Day 1 with 24-7, Austin added a second-round limit of 31-8 — the event’s heaviest bag — and took over the lead by a 1-pound margin. It was one of only two bags over 30 for the event.

In the final round, the Tackle Warehouse Elite Qualifiers (EQ) angler bagged a limit of 27-8 and secured the win with 83-7 — the second-heaviest winning weight in a Bassmaster Open behind Florida’s Scott Martin, who set the high mark of 90-6 during the season-opener at Lake Okeechobee just over a month ago.

Austin took home the top prize of $49,638 and secured a berth in the 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors scheduled for March 21-23 on Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Fishing the Bassmaster Classic has been a dream of mine,” Austin said. “It’s a dream for a lot of people and it’s definitely possible.”

On a Championship Saturday that was shortened by 1 1/2 hours due to a National Weather Service afternoon forecast for severe conditions, Austin started on the same spot that produced the majority of his weight the first two days.

“That was a super-shallow hard spot with current,” he said. “The key was getting that current to flow the right way to get them to bite.

“This morning, I cast 20 to 30 times and never had a bite. The wind changed and made an eddy and we got right in a hurry.”

Austin caught his current-related fish on a 1/2-ounce Strike King Red Eyed Shad Tungsten 2-Tap lipless crankbait and a 1-ounce locally made spinnerbait with tandem willow-leaf blades. The latter produced his biggest fish on his starting spot.

Around 9:30 a.m., Austin transitioned to a high-percentage strategy of running particular Lake Marion trees in search of big bites. That move would deliver the game-changing opportunity.

“A lot of people get into an area and they fish every tree in the area,” he said. “I pull up and fish two or three of them.”

After a morning of trading the lead with Martin and second-place Laker Howell of Guntersville, Ala., Austin sat a few ounces behind Martin in BassTrakk’s unofficial standings. Pulling up to a tupelo tree around 11:15, he pitched a wacky-rigged stickworm to the base and came tight on a 7-6 ball of green fury that would slam the door shut on Austin’s first B.A.S.S. victory.

“They get on the same trees every year,” he said. “I had the confidence of knowing which ones they get on, so I just kept running them and running them until I caught a big one.”

Despite the day’s increasingly strong winds and the rough ride back to the weigh-in, Austin said the reward more than justified the challenge. Had the final day been cancelled due to unsafe conditions, Austin would have been declared the winner as the Day 2 leader.

“I’m glad we went today; I did not want to win on a cancellation,” Austin said. “I wanted to get back out there.”

Howell placed ninth on Day 1 with 25-5 and rose to third by adding a second-round bag that went 28-7. He gained another spot with his final limit of 26-13 that pushed his total to 80-9.

Committing his tournament to a protected area on Lake Moultrie, Howell targeted shallow grass and caught his bass in a foot and a half of water. Howell relied on a 1/2-ounce ChatterBait JackHammer with a black/blue and green Yamamoto Zako trailer.

Not only did the bait perform well in the grass, Howell said the bulkier trailer and the particular color pattern likely resembled the area’s abundant sunfish. He also noted that dialing in particular sweet spots boosted his success.

“There were three chutes in the grass and that’s how they were coming into the area,” Howell said. “Every time I’d come to one of those chutes, I’d catch a big one.”

Hailing from Clewiston, Fla., Martin turned in daily weights of 25-4, 27-15 and 27-0 to finish with 80-3. Fishing the Potato Creek area of Lake Marion, he focused on bed fishing and caught his bass on a Texas-rigged Googan Baits Bandito Bug — the same bait that produced most of his fish during his win at Lake Okeechobee.

“Practice was tough, but you pick up little clues that help you home in on something,” said Martin, whose father is nine-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and 19-time B.AS.S. winner Roland Martin. “In an event like this, when the fish are coming to you, all you need is a little bit — and that little bit will go a long way.”

Late in the morning, Martin tried to tempt a big bed fish that rejected the Bandito Bug. Following his gut instinct, he picked up a spinning rod, pitched a drop shot with a 6-inch pink worm and caught the 6-10 on his first cast.

Day 1 leader Mark Hutson of Moncks Corner, S.C., won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 10-3 largemouth.

Sixth-place finisher Chad Grigsby of Maple Grove, Minn., won the $1,000 St. Croix contingency award on the boater side. Chad Stahl of Barnesville, Ga., won the $250 award in the co-angler division.

With three of nine Opens completed, Evan Kung of Pickering, Canada, leads the Tackle Warehouse Bassmaster Elite Qualifier standings with 568 points. He is followed by Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas (555), Matt Adams or Oxford, Ala. (529), Mike Surman of Boca Raton, Fla. (504), Easton Fothergill of Grand Rapids, Minn. (501), Andy Newcomb of Camdenton, Mo. (500), Bobby Bakewell of Orlando, Fla. (490), Cody Meyer of Eagle, Idaho (490) and Christian Ostrander of Turlock, Calif. (487).