Calling Up Clarks Hill Linesides
When Clarks Hill guide Buddy Edge goes fishing for hybrids and stripers, he calls the fish to his boat - and it works!
The planer board closest to the boat on the right-hand side had been quietly cutting a wake through the smooth surface of the Little River. Suddenly it lurched backward, then accelerated away in reverse.
Steve grabbed the rod from a rod holder and swept back, setting the hook and putting a nice bow in the rod.
The fat striped bass on the other end of the line ran straight away from the boat, then came up swirling on the surface.
Then a freeline without a planer board behind the boat was hit. Buddy pulled that rod up and set the hook.
Two fish on!
On January 14, I was on Clarks Hill a mile up Little River above the Hwy 43 bridge, with hybrid- and striped-bass guide Buddy Edge of McCormick, S.C. and his neighbor and linesides fisherman Steve Flemming for a look at wintertime striper fishing.
It didn’t take long to get on fish. Ten minutes after rigging up, we lost our first striper of the day at the side of the boat. Ten minutes later, Steve and Buddy doubled on a pair of stripers that weighed about eight pounds apiece.
“The fishing has been good this winter,” said Buddy. “We have been catching a lot of fish.”
On a guide trip a day earlier, Buddy’s clients had boated 10 stripers that weighed between eight and 15 pounds.
“You can catch more fish during the summer when the fish are stacked up,” said Buddy. “But this is a real good time of year to catch a big one.”
Buddy has been fishing at Clarks Hill for 25 years. He began guiding in 1986 — and he still enjoys catching big fish. He started out as a bass fisherman, then got hooked on striped bass.
“The thing about striper fishing is that you never know how big a fish you are going to catch,” he said.
Steve has some personal experience with big fish. He has caught a boatload of striped bass in the 30- and 40-lb. range, and his personal best is a 57 1/2-pounder that he caught from Lake Russell (a weight that exceeds the official lake record, but the fish wasn’t weighed on certified scales).
Catching the big stripers is something of a specialty.
“If you are going for big fish, you need to be out at daylight ahead of the traffic, because the big ones spook so easily,” said Buddy.
When he is targeting trophy-class stripers, Buddy selects the biggest baits he can get — herring up to 10- inches long, if he can find them.
“You won’t get many bites, but when you do, it will be a good one,” he said.
When you hook a big one (over 30 pounds), all you can do is hang on, he says.
“You want to hold the rod tip straight up to try to elevate his nose so he won’t go down and get tied up in the timber. If you try to stop him, he’s going to break off. But once he makes that first run, you can usually get him on in. They burn themselves up pretty fast. The 20-pounders are better fighters.”
Working behind the deep gunnels of Buddy’s 20-foot Glassmaster boat, Buddy and Steve had started the morning by putting out eight lines; six on planers, a freeline directly behind the boat, and one downline beside the boat. The Yellow Bird planer boards, three on a side, were let out in sequence, one running behind the other 10 or 15 yards apart.
“I’m trying to make it look like a little school of bait,” said Buddy. “If the first bait doesn’t get him, maybe the second or third one will.”
Live herring from Buddy’s 40-gallon tank were hooked through the hard spot just behind the nostril on 1/0 bait hooks.
“The big stripers will almost always take the last bait, the one the greatest distance from the boat,” said Buddy.
The lines get tangled a lot less than you would think. We caught several fish up to eight or nine pounds and did not have a serious tangle. While playing a fish, Buddy or Steve would thread rods over and under other lines to keep the fish from tying the lines in knots.
“If you get a strong fish on, you don’t worry about tangling the lines,” said Buddy. “You get the fish in the boat and straighten the lines later.”
We were targeting big stripers by pulling live, freelined herring back-and-forth across the river channel. There was plenty of bait in the area, a good-sized cloud of gulls working the bait, and, we hoped, some big stripers up shallow.
Winter is a good time to hook a big striper for a couple reasons. First the fish are back in the creeks chasing bait, and they are more accessible.
“Early in the morning the fish will be up in less than 10 feet of water feeding, and they are easier to catch,” said Buddy.
Too, when you catch one you have a better chance of getting him to the boat.
“In the summer, the fish are deep on the main lake,” said Buddy. “You may hook one, but you have to be lucky to keep it from tying up in the timber.”
We eased along, dragging the planer boards behind us catching an occasional striper or hybrid. When word gets out that the stripers are hitting in a particular area, you can expect company. By 9 a.m. there were seven or eight boats in sight. Mostly the others were live-bait fishing, but a couple of anglers in bass boats were casting bucktail jigs. Live-bait fishermen seemed to be doing most of the catching.
We regularly passed over areas where the graph marked stacks of hybrid-sized arches.
“We could probably stop and catch those fish,” said Buddy. “But our chances of a big fish are better on the freelines.”
By mid morning the sun was high and the shallow, freeline bite had slowed. Buddy brought in all but two of the planer boards to re-rig. He added a 2-oz. weight above a barrel swivel, a yard-long leader and then a 1/0 hook.
Buddy fishes 7- or 7-1/2 foot rods with Shimano Small-Ocean reels spooled with 20-lb. line. In extremely clear water he may drop back to 12- or 16-lb. line.
The freelines were quickly converted to downlines, and shad were soon dangling 20 to 25 feet beneath the boat. The graph showed an array of big, lineside-sized arches lurking along the edge of the channel in 26 feet of water.
That’s when Buddy pulled out an old piece of shovel handle about four- feet long. I didn’t pay any attention to him at first. With the handle upright, he began to tap on the bottom of the boat with the stick — taptap… taptap… taptap.
A linesides guide’s nervous tick, maybe?
“What are you doing?” I said.
“Getting the fish’s attention,” he said.
According to Buddy, calling linesides up by tapping on the hull of the boat is a trick that started at Clarks Hill.
“I have never heard of anyone doing it anywhere else,” said Buddy. “They all think you are crazy — until the rods start bouncing.
“Stripers and hybrids feed coming up. The tapping makes them curious, makes them look up. You want to make just enough racket to let them know you’re here, but not enough to spook them.”
Buddy continued his intermittent drum beat on the floorboards while he watched his graph.
“Taptap… taptap… taptap.”
“Come on, baby,” he said as he watched a stack of big arches appear on the graph.
“You have to talk to them, too,” he said, grinning.
“Taptap… taptap… taptap.”
Maybe two minutes of tapping passed, then — “Here they come, Steve,” said Buddy, watching the graph, and within five seconds the rod on the back of the boat bounced, then the tip slammed into the water. Steve grabbed the rod from the holder, and the fight was on. Moments later, a rod on the right side bounced, but there was no hookup.
Steve played a hard-pulling, called-up, 8-lb. striper into Buddy’s net.
“It works sometimes,” he said.
The striper went back into the lake, and while he was re-rigging, another line slapped down. This time a hybrid pushing nine pounds that had hit a herring.
A half-hour later another boat eased by pulling live bait.
“Catchinafew,” they reported.
Someone sitting in that boat was tapping a tune on their hull.
If you have never been striper fishing at Clarks Hill, the gulls will be your guide to where to fish. Feeding linesides will push baitfish to the surface where the gulls will attack from the air. If you see a wheeling flock of gulls low over the water and diving, that’s your “where-to-fish” indicator.
However, Buddy stresses that you need to approach feeding birds quietly.
“If you blast right up to the birds on the big motor, all you are going to do is drive the fish down and run the birds off, too,” he said.
He recommends shutting down the big motor at least 100 yards from the birds, rigging up freelines and/or downlines and then slowly approaching the area with your baits in the water. The guy who roars into the middle of the gulls ruins the fishing for everyone, he says.
Right now the linesides are up in the creeks — Lloyd, Germany, Little River, up the Savannah. Gulls will be your guide to finding them. This freeline and downline live-bait pattern should hold up until May when the fish will move out to deep summertime haunts on main-lake points.
Live herring are available from bait shops around Clarks Hill. With a 1/0 hook on a Carolina rig with a 2-oz. weight, you are ready to fish a downline. And you might want to bring an old shovel handle along, too.
If you would like to set up a fishing trip for hybrids and striped bass on Clarks Hill with Buddy Edge, his guide service can be reached at (803) 637-3226.
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