As fall rolls along, it appears that Kenny Cox of the Summerville Bassmasters is closing in on the season points lead in the club standings.

Cox trails the defending champion, Mark Hutson, by a single point with four tournaments left in the season after a ninth-place finish in the 24-hour-Any Public Water tournament. The top six are separated by only 37 points.

Cox has been catching most of his bass on a Carolina-rigged Power Bait worm, fishing with a big Gamakatsu hook and Shakespeare baitcasting outfit. He feels like his hookset has been a key. He described his technique as a small roll-in with the rod's tip guides almost in the water, followed by a hard jerk, turning almost 180 degrees toward the gunwale behind him. He really tries to yank the lips off any bass that bites.

Cox said that fishermen should be careful on Santee Cooper due to the low water levels. The lakes were approximately 3½ feet low by Labor Day. Stumps are starting to appear at the water's surface, and navigation can be hazardous if a boater is not careful. Fishing-wise, that's translated into tougher days on the water, as many of the shallow areas that bass normally use are once again dry.

Guide parties down, but catfishing is up

Guides who specialize in catching catfish and crappie have been having a lot of success, despite the lower water levels. Catfish guides are reporting fish in the 30- and 40-pound class. As a group, they believe that the more restrictive creel and size limits are helping the blue catfish fishery, with more large, trophy fish being caught.

When they've had parties, guides have been doing well. However, they're noticing a decline in the number of customers and are pointing to the tough economy and high gas prices that are keeping people away.

Guides Brian Thornhill and Dave Broom said that fishermen just aren't driving to Santee from other states to catch blue catfish like they've been doing in recent years. The cost of getting here far outweighs the cost of fishing once they arrive.

Guide Gus Woodham believes that things are starting to stir a little.

"It's picking up, but the more gas is and with school starting, people are interested in other stuff, like high school football," he said.

Capt. Barb "Mouse" Witherell is one of the few female guides working the Santee Cooper lakes. She and her husband run the Cajun Catfish Guide Service. She said that catfish action has been great in the "dead forest," flat-lining cut gizzard shad in five to 15 feet of water. She said the fishing for bream and shellcrackers has been poor with the water levels so low.

Guide Glenn Hood said that catfish action has been good both day and night. He's had blue catfish up to 40 pounds, with many fish in the high teens and the 20s. He feels like the best daytime action has been around 35 feet deep, and the best night-time spots anywhere from five to 20 feet deep.

Guide Keith Legett has had enough down time due to the lower number of visiting parties that he's been fishing tournaments around the lakes.

Legett won the Bell's Marina Annual Charity Catfish Tournament with 135 pounds; Herb Breland, fishing out of Rocks Pond, had the tournament's big fish, a 43-pound flathead.

The tournament is a charitable event that benefits children with cancer. After the competition - which was on a Saturday night - the catfish caught were turned into the main course for a luncheon, with proceeds going to help defray expense for one cancer patient and his family.

"Every penny will help in some form or fashion to improve the quality of life for these children," said Billy Berry, the owner of Bell's Marina, who judged the tournament as a great success.

This 'n' that

Hunters are starting to feel the fuel pinch. As an avid deer hunter who hunts with dogs, I know that the higher price of fuel is affecting how much I hunt - not to mention how much I drive my truck. Many hunters like myself have 4x4s, and since the dogs don't stop when they reach the edge of the woods, most days we drive 30 or miles to catch up with them. That makes for even more miles that hunters have to travel for that big buck.

In addition, hunting products are higher in stores, and grain has really gone up. But when it comes down to it, hunters usually decide that the extra expense will be worth it....

Waterfowl hunters in the Santee Cooper region should notice that season dates and bag limits have been established for 2008-09. Hunters will be able to take three wood ducks per day, up from two. The state youth waterfowl day is Dec. 6 for hunters 17 and under, and the federal youth days are Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2009, for hunters 15 and under....

For boaters, a little preventive maintenance goes a long way. Steve Sexton of Summerville had his ocean-going commercial fishing vessel, the Free Loader III, sink in the Cooper River during a tropical depression this past summer. The boat's battery was weakened by the bilge pump, and with heavy rains continuing, the vessel took on water and sank. Luckily, it went down in only 16 feet water, and on an outgoing tide, recovery was successful. But it proves that a little bit of maintenance can prevent a lot of problems.

Good luck, until the next line is cast.