Clarks Hill Bass On A Herring Topwater Frenzy

Ten locations for the blueback herring spawn and topwater largemouth.

Ronnie Garrison | May 3, 2016

The herring spawn at Clarks Hill is a great time to fish a great lake. Justin Singleton holds a pair of Clarks Hill bass caught during a trip with the author to mark a map with 10 herring-spawn locations.

A great recipe for bass fishing would be to start with Clarks Hill, add in the month of May, stir in blueback herring, and you have action that is hard to beat. Clarks Hill has always been a spring favorite of bass fishermen, and the introduction and expansion of blueback herring has made the May fishing incredible.

Clarks Hill is our biggest lake at 72,000 acres and 1,200 miles of shoreline. It has long been the favorite lake for bass clubs to hold spring tournaments, since it produces so many keeper bass. About 15 years ago the blueback herring population exploded in the lake, and the largemouth in the lake responded by feeding on them, making the largemouth more of an open-water fish—and making the largemouth big and fat.

Limits weighing 20 pounds or more are not unusual in the spring because there are so many 3- to 5-lb. largemouth in the lake. The bluebacks usually spawn in late April and early May, and the bass certainly concentrate on them. The bass are in predictable places early in the morning, and then you can find them schooling on top all day long.

Justin Singleton lives in Rutledge and is the president of the bass fishing team at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. He started fishing youth tournaments with the Jr. Bassmasters and loves tournament fishing. Clarks Hill is his favorite lake in May.

The Georgia College team was ranked first in the nation in the Cabela’s College rankings earlier this year. They fish against other college teams all over the Southeast and do very well. Justin has learned a lot from fishing youth and college tournaments. One of his favorite memories is his first youth tournament, where JJ Polak was his boat captain. JJ is the creator of JJ’s Magic Fish Attractant Dip & Dyes. JJ has helped Justin learn about bass fishing.

“May at Clarks Hill is all about the herring,” Justin said.

The herring spawn attracts the bass, and the bass key on herring all month long. Most of the bass are postspawn in May, and they are feeding heavily on the big baitfish.

Early in the month, Justin concentrates on main lake rocky banks, long shallow points and blow-throughs, a classic pattern for the blueback spawn. Later in the month the bass will still be in the same areas feeding on herring after the spawn but are more likely to be holding out a little deeper but will still run in very shallow to feed.

Justin keeps his bait selection fairly simple. A War Eagle 3/8-oz. spinnerbait in the blueback herring pattern is a good bait to start with early in the morning. A soft swimbait like the NetBait 5-inch BK Swimbait in albino or silver/blue is a good choice. Also, a Sebile Magic Swimmer hard swimbait in blue and silver works better than the soft bait at times.

A clear/blue back Sammy is his choice in topwater. Topwater is often the best way to catch bass when the herring are shallow and spawning and will also catch fish schooling on top later in the month. Justin says to always keep an eye out for surface activity and cast to it immediately.

Justin does not spend a lot of time on one place. He runs to good spots, makes a few casts to look for active bass, and then goes to the next spot. The following 10 spots are all good right now while the herring are spawning and will remain good all month long as the bass continue to feed on herring after the spawn.

No. 1: N 33º 39.732 – W 82º 16.422 — The point between Keg and Chigoe creeks is very rocky. There are a series of islands between the two creeks, and the point on the last island typically hosts a very good herring spawn. In case you don’t have GPS, there was a cross with flowers and flowers on a tree on this point.

Keep your boat out in 15 feet of water, and cast your spinnerbait right to the rocks first thing in the morning. Follow up with topwater and swimbaits. Justin concentrates on the end of the point and fishes it way out as the sun gets bright. He keeps his boat off the point while casting up on it.

No. 2: N 33º 39.702 – W 82º 15.998 — Petersburg Campground is on the south side of Keg Creek—it’s on the right as you’re going out of the creek. The campground ramp is on a point that runs way out into the lake, and this point is a good herring-spawn spot. There is a mercury vapor light on the point that you will see if you are here early, and there’s a dock just inside the point.

Justin keeps his boat out in 15 to 20 feet of water on the creek side and casts up to the bank with his baits. He usually starts with a spinnerbait early in the morning when the light is low and then follows up with a swimbait when it is brighter. Cover the entire point with your baits, and watch for surface activity.

No. 3: N 33º 41.018 0 W 82º 14.971 — There is a series of islands between Keg Creek and Little River. The biggest gap between them is used as a cut-through for boats leaving Keg Creek and going up Little River. The point on the right as you go through the gap is rocky, and this is a very good herring spawning spot.

Keep your boat in 15 feet of water in the gap, and fan cast to the point with all your baits. Some wind hitting this spot and others really helps the bite. Bass will stay more shallow and feed longer if the surface is broken by wave action, so fish the windy spots as long as it’s not too strong to keep you from controlling your boat.

No. 4: N 33º 40.836 – W 82º 17.343 — Going up Little River there is a big double cove on the left at black channel marker 10. The cove has mobile homes all around both arms. Go into the right-hand arm of the cove, and there is a long, flat, shallow point running way out from the right bank right at the mouth of this cove.

This point drops off very sharp on the creek side, and bass hold on it and feed on herring that are spawning on the rocks on the point. Bass also ambush schools of herring moving across it later in the month, so it is good all month long. Justin says this point is really rocky, and bass love it. Stay on the cove side, and fish across the point with all your baits. Work your topwater bait fast across it even if you don’t see surface activity. That is a good way to catch a quality bass all day this time of year. Also work your swimbaits across it a little deeper for bass not wanting to come to the surface to hit.

No. 5: N 33º 41.696 – W 82º 18.337 — Mims Creek is the last big creek on the left downstream of the Highway 47 bridge. The upstream point of it runs way out and has a small island off the end of it. Justin likes to fish the main point near the pavilion on the bank. He stops downstream of the point and fishes that side of the point and across the end of it as it runs out and forms a saddle going to the island.

Stay out in 20 to 30 feet of water, and cast right to the bank then across the end of the point. With your spinnerbait, run it fast just under the surface in low-light conditions, but slow it down if it is bright. Slow-rolling a spinnerbait near the bottom works best when the surface of the water is broken by waves on this and other spots.

No. 6: N 33º 41.822 – W 82º 18.387 — Go out to the island that is off the point at location No. 5, and stop on the downstream side of the island. Fish all around the island from that side, and then fish the saddle going back to the main point. Herring spawn around the island, but bass ambush schools of them here, pushing them up to the shallows to feed on them.

No. 7: N 33º 41.551 – W 82º 16.209 — Going back down Little River, there is a shoal marker on a hump—it’s not far off the bank on your left near red channel marker 6. There is one small willow tree on it. This is a good herring-spawning spot, as well as a feeding area for bass after the herring spawn. The coves behind it are bass-spawning areas, so postspawn bass move out here to hold and feed.

Justin keeps his boat on the river side and fishes the outside of the hump from one end to the other. Keep your boat in about 12 feet of water, and fish the points on both ends of the hump, but also work the outside of the hump. All your baits will catch fish here.

No. 8: N 33º 41.795 – W 82º 14.930 — Farther downstream, almost to the end of Bussey Point, the big point between Little River and the Savannah River, a marked hump is not far off the bank near red channel marker 2. There are some big willows between the bank and the shoal marker, and they are on the point running out to the marker. It comes up very shallow.

Stop out off the end of the point outside of the channel marker, and fish the end of the point. Also work the upstream side. It is rocky on the upstream side, and that is the best area. Try topwater first for active fish, and then slow down and work your other baits near the bottom all around it.

No. 9: N 33º 41.255 – W 82º 14.210 — Go across the mouth of Little River to the end of the last island between the river and Keg Creek. This small island has a saddle between it and the next island, and herring spawn and school all around it.

Fish around the small island and the hump. Also fish the end of the bigger island where the saddle comes up to it. Bass will stay on this saddle and both points all summer long.

No. 10: N 33º 40.816 – W 82º 14.440 — Going back up Keg Creek right in the middle, on a line from Petersburg Campground and the last island between Keg Creek and Little River, a big hump comes up to just a couple of feet deep. The markers for it were gone when we fished it, but you could see the water color change there. Be careful, it is very shallow.

Justin stops on the upstream end of this hump and fishes it from that end. Cast to the top of it and to the sides, too. Bass will often be surprisingly shallow on humps like this, even in the bright sun. Always cover the very top of humps and points as well as the deeper water around them.

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