Clarks Hill Bass Get Shallow In April
David Matthews couldn’t believe his bad luck. Just minutes into a 150-boater on Clarks Hill, this local boy’s strategy hit a brick wall. In practice he’d found several bass on the bed, including a 4 1/2-pounder by a stump that he hoped would still be locked down and ready to jump on a tube bait. However, early-morning cloud cover mixed with 20-plus mph winds meant David couldn’t see the bed.
“I backed off about 50 yards on a point and decided I would just wait until there was enough light to see,” said David. “I started throwing a leadhead Fluke.”
It was April 2, 2004, and David was competing in the Clarks Hill Committee’s Top-Six tournament. For this annual, two-day tournament, 22 local bass clubs send their top-six guys to fish. David is a member of the Augusta and Savannah River bass clubs.
“All of a sudden fish came up schooling everywhere,” said David. “I was still throwing the leadhead and caught three 4-pounders on three casts.”
Thirty minutes later David found the stump where the 4 1/2-pounder had been and pitched his tube right past it.
“The fish hit it before I could ever get it to the stump,” said David. “Within 30 minutes, I had 16 pounds of fish in the boat.”
At the end of day one, David had 18.9 pounds and went on to win the tournament the next day.
David’s Top Six tournament story describes what you can expect on an April bass-fishing trip to Clarks Hill — bass on the bed mixed with some exciting schooling action.
David enjoys catching spawning bass, but he said there’s no better time to catch bass on Clarks Hill than mid to late April when the blueback herring begin to spawn.
At Clarks Hill bluebacks spawn on blow-throughs, or underwater, shallow ridges that often connect two pieces of dry land. Spawning herring attract postspawn bass and linesides, and it makes for some fast action on topwater plugs.
The schooling action David found when he won the tournament may have been some early spawning bluebacks, but more than likely it was just some random schooling.
“Clarks Hill is a 12-month-long schooling lake, and you never can tell when you’ll get into schooling fish,” said David. “I never leave the ramp without a weightless Fluke tied on.”
The blow-through bite, which usually fires up in mid to late April, produces a consistent topwater bite that can go on for three or four weeks. Last April I joined David to try and hook into a few blow-through fish.
“When the herring start to spawn, your winning stringers will come on Spooks and Flukes,” said David.
This pattern is so strong that David stops beating the banks looking for bass on the bed — even though bass will spawn all month.
“In my opinion the bigger fish that you need to weigh in have already bedded by then,” said David.
We started our day about a half-mile west of the Little River bridge on a small island off the northern bank.
“When the bluebacks are spawning, I’ll fish a weightless Fluke, Zara Spook and a Sammy,” said David. “I’ve also started using a bait from Lucky Craft called the Gunfish.”
David said the Gunfish is similar to the Sammy, but the walk-the-dog wobble is tighter. With the bait stopped, a sharp twitch produces a good splash or dart.
“I’m going to go to every blow-through I can get in,” said David. “I also look for long points on the main lake. Sand or rocks seem to hold fish better.”
Our first stop was unproductive… so was our second, third and fourth.
“This fishing requires a lot of running,” said David. “Not every blow-through is going to have fish on it willing to bite. Once you’re convinced that the fish are on this pattern, you just have to have the patience to stick with it. I wouldn’t stay more than 15 minutes without a bite.”
It was about our 10th stop of the morning before we got into some topwater activity. I was burning a Sammy back to the boat as hard as I could with a fast-retrieve Pflueger reel when a largemouth knocked the Lucky Craft plug a foot in the air. I stopped the bait, and the 3-pounder swirled and missed again. I cranked the handle a few quick times, and the big head missed the Sammy a third time. Again I paused the stickbait, and after the bass’s fourth attempt at trying to annihilate the Sammy, I felt tension on my line and knew it was time to lay back. Fish continued to school, and a minute later David connected with a 5-lb. striper.
“For years if I pulled up on a place and caught a striper or hybrid, I threw my rod down and left,” said David. “I didn’t want to tear up a bait. Don’t do that — the bass are there.”
When David pulls up to a likely spot, he’ll throw a Spook or Sammy eight to 15 times, fishing it quickly back to the boat. If nothing hits, he’ll switch to a weightless Fluke and work it slower.
“If I don’t get a strike, I may throw a spinnerbait with silver blades,” said David. “If the herring are there, they’ll follow the spinnerbait back. If I make two or three casts and don’t see herring, I’m out of there. There are a lot of locals who will work their way away from the blow-through with a No. 9 Shad Rap. I sometimes do the same thing with a leadhead Fluke.”
Luck is involved with a lot of these big, blow-through sacks. David and I only found one more productive blow-through, which resulted in another 5-lb. striper. However, David believes using red hooks on his baits gives him an edge over anglers who just keep factory hooks attached.
“There’s a 90-percent chance that if I’m throwing a plug or a Fluke, it’s going to have Bleeding Bait Hooks on it,” said David. “I think that it can be the difference that makes them bite.”
David only puts red hooks on the front of his plugs.
“If you’ll take the red hook and put it on the front, instead of the back, you’ll have fish with the whole bait in his mouth instead of just hooked with the back hooks.
“I’ve got a little Suddeth crankbait I throw, and 75 percent of the time the fish has the whole bait in his mouth. I’ve convinced myself that the red hooks are worth the trouble to buy.”
The traditional blow-through areas on the lake are from Parksville to the dam and over to Cherokee.
“Most of my fishing is done from Fishing Village south and up toward Raysville, but we always assume we’ll get a bad draw in a tournament so we sometimes practice up the river where most guys aren’t going to fish,” said David.
Several years ago David had some great luck practicing up the lake during the blow-through bite.
“We found fish up around Hickory Knob — it was unreal,” said David. “On one place I caught a 6 1/2 and a five on back-to-back casts. Generally folks don’t look for the blow-through fish that far up, but they are there. The lower end is definitely more popular for the schooling fish and blow-throughs.”
The Hwy 378 bridge divides the lake about in half. It’s nearly 20 miles from the bridge to the dam, and you’ll find twice as many boat ramps on the south end. With gas prices these days, a lot of these boys launching on the south end aren’t running over 20 miles to fish. This may result in some unpressured blow-through fish in April for those who don’t mind the run or are willing to trailer north.
Before the fish begin to pile on the blow-throughs, David will be looking for prespawn and spawning largemouths in the pockets. Leadhead Flukes and spinnerbaits will be two baits that David will depend on during the first two weeks of April.
“Clarks Hill for whatever reason is just not a strong spinnerbait lake, but I will throw it in April,” said David. “When I go into a pocket, I’ve usually got a ditch in the back of my mind that I may fish on the way back out. I’ll usually start fishing about halfway back in the pocket or when the boat is in 20- to 25-feet of water.”
David chunks a 1/2-oz. Buckeye spinnerbait to the bank along any visible structure, and he’s learned a 10 mph wind chops the water just enough where a Clarks Hill bass in clear water can’t tell there’s a sharp hook attached to the “shad.”
In clear water David likes a white/gray skirt with tandem silver willowleaf blades. If he’s going up the lake where there’s often some stain, he’ll switch to a chartreuse skirt with a small silver willowleaf up front and a gold willowleaf in the rear.
While David eases down a bank slinging the blade, he’s looking for a fish on the bed. If he sees one he’d like to try to catch, he’ll let her settle down for five to 10 minutes before he will try to pitch a bait to her.
“For bedded fish I like a Buckeye Spot Remover with a white floating worm — something I can see,” said David. “That Spot Remover is flat on the bottom and because of its design, whatever is attached to it will stand straight up in the bed.
“I start out with solid white,” said David. “If the fish is not aggressive, I’ll dye the tip of it yellow. If that doesn’t work, I’ll dye half of it chartreuse. If that doesn’t work, I’ll dye the whole worm chartreuse.”
Another trick is to put a small chartreuse skirt on the Spot Remover. With the skirt, you may want to try using some sort of a pork trailer.
“Tube baits are good, too,” said David. “I’ve got about every color they make. At the end of a tournament there will be be 25 tubes laying in the bottom of the boat. I’ll pitch eight to 15 times to a fish, and if the fish isn’t aggressive, I’ll switch colors. I like white, watermelon, junebug and green pumpkin. Certain fish just want certain colors.”
If David makes it down a bank without catching a fish or seeing one on the bed, he’ll likely change tactics on the way out of the pocket.
“This time of year you’ll catch bass in 25 feet of water all the way up to a foot of water,” said David. “If I’ve gone down a bank with a spinnerbait and convinced myself there’s nothing there, I’ll fish the ditch with a leadhead (Fluke) coming back out.”
David starts in the back of the ditch and will yo-yo a 1/2- to 1/4-oz. Buckeye Leadhead jig back to the boat. On the jig head, he’ll attach a Zoom Super Fluke in either white or white-ice colors.
If I had to pick one Georgia reservoir to fish in April, it would be Clarks Hill. Known for good numbers of big largemouths and a healthy population of stripers and hybrids, it’s just a fun place to fish when the weather turns nice.
“Clarks Hill is just awesome in April and into the first few weeks of May,” said David. “You can catch them on top, crankin’, draggin’ leadheads, spinnerbaits… no matter what style of fishing you do, you’re going to catch some fish on Clarks Hill somewhere.”
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