Map To Clarks Hill Herring-Spawn Magic In May

The new Top Six champ marks our map on the lake where he won his title. Find nervous water for explosive bassing action.

Ronnie Garrison | May 1, 2008

Tony Green was crowned as the new state champion bass-club angler last month during the Top Six at Clarks Hill. But he likes Clarks Hill even more this month when the herring spawn and the postspawn bass feed heavily.

May fishing is good anywhere you go in Georgia, but blueback herring have made Clarks Hill one of the best bets in the state to catch big largemouth this month. Fueled by spawning her- ring, postspawn bass are hitting on top, the most exciting way to catch bass. You can’t go wrong with a trip to Clarks Hill in May, especially with the reigning Top Six champion from Clarks Hill marking your map.

Clarks Hill is a 72,000-acre lake on the Georgia/South Carolina border. Built in the early 1950s, it has 1,200 miles of shoreline and is full of islands and humps. There is good access all over this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake even with the water level down 6 to 8 feet this year.

Tony Green was born in South Carolina but moved to the Macon area when he was 3 years old. While grow- ing up, he went to Clarks Hill a lot, camping and fishing with his family. They caught crappie and bass on those trips.

About eight years ago Tony joined the Procasters Bass Club in the Macon area and got into tournament fishing. He has made the club’s state team most years and enjoys the competition and the chance to learn more about bass fishing by being in a club.

Tony has also fished the HD Marine trail for several years, and you can find him entered in many Berry’s and R&R tournaments. He fishes some pot tournaments and a few BFL tournaments in the area as well.

This year in March Tony beat out 417 other club fishermen in the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Top Six tournament at Clarks Hill to win first place. His eight bass weighing 30.4 pounds beat out second place by more than 3 pounds.

Tony loves Clarks Hill in May and tries to make several trips to the lake this time of year. His club also tries to schedule tournaments on Clarks Hill or Hartwell in May to get in on the great fishing both lakes offer. The herring bite is similar on both lakes and can be some of the fastest action of the year.

The pattern is fairly simple in May on Clarks Hill. Bass have mostly finished spawning by the first of May, and they have moved out and are feeding heavily. Find the herring spawning on main-lake structure, and you will find big bass nearby. The herring spawn on hard bottoms near deep water, and they like long points, humps and blow- throughs.

A blow-through is a saddle or dip between the main bank and an island, or between humps or islands on big water. Wind blows through these shallow areas, and the waves wash away the soft soil, leaving gravel, rocks and hard clay the herring like. The same wave action clears soft bottoms away leaving the hard stuff on long points and humps, too.

Tony will have three rods rigged and ready to take advantage of the herring-spawn bite. His first choice is topwater — either a big Zara Spook or a Sammy on an outfit he can cast a long way. Early in the morning, the topwater plug is worked as fast as Tony can move it, fishing water from a foot or  less deep to about 10 feet deep. Topwater baits are better first thing in the morning.

As the sun gets on the water, Tony will usually switch to a Zoom Super Fluke and fish it over water 3 to 6 feet deep. The sun moves the bass a little deeper, but they will usually still come up to eat something near the surface. Herring like the sun and will usually be near the top on sunny days.

A Fluke fished very fast is a great way to draw strikes from big Clarks Hill bass that are gorging on herring.

After the sun gets bright, Tony thinks the bass move a little deeper and are less likely to come up, so he will drag a big Carolina-rigged lizard along the points and breaklines in 6 to 10 feet of water. He likes to use the bigger lizards to attract bites from bigger fish.

Before a tournament Tony will try to be on the water at daybreak and ride, looking for places the herring are moving and where he can see surface activity. During the day he might throw a spinnerbait or crankbait around spawning areas and watch for herring following the bait back to the boat. If he finds the herring near a spawning area, he knows the bass will be nearby and he can go to his three go-to baits.

Tony is always looking for “nervous” water while fishing. Any small movement on top indicates herring, and bass will usually be following them. He will move toward any activity he sees and cast to it. That is why it is helpful to use a rig you can cast a long way.

Although the water is down this year, the herring will still spawn near the same spots they have used in the past when the lake was full. Tony thinks the low water may actually make the herring bite better this year because low water may push the bass out of the creeks to the main lake even faster.

The following 10 spots have all produced fish over the years during the herring spawn. You can check them out to see what Tony looks for, then find others. With the lake low, you can see exactly what the structure looks like and get a good picture of it for when the water comes up and covers it.

No. 1: N 33° 41.329 – W 82° 17.915 — Mims Branch just down- stream of the Hwy 47 bridge has Fort Gordon Recreation Area in it. The downstream point of this creek is an excellent place to find herring spawning and bass eating them. The point is rocky with some sand and clay, so the hard bottom attracts the herring. Two smaller side points add to this point’s attraction to the herring. It is near deep water and runs way out into the creek, making the point even better.

The point you want to fish runs out toward green channel marker L15. There is a hard drop on the upstream side of the point. If you see a tall light pole on the point, you know you are in the right place. Start on the down- stream side out from the light pole, and work all the way around the point. If you get here at first light, keep your boat out as far as you can and make casts with your topwater baits right on the bank. Sometimes the bass will be extremely shallow and will be looking for herring in a few inches of water, so start really shallow.

Work around the point to the upstream side, working your topwater baits back to water about 8 feet deep then reel in and make another cast. Work your bait fast. You can not take a topwater bait away from a bass that wants it, and they seem to like a fast moving bait. Fishing fast also allows you to make more casts in the short time before the sun gets on the water.

As the sun comes up, fish back around the point, staying out a little deeper and working water 3 to 6 feet deep with a Fluke. Then fish back around the point even farther out, dragging a big lizard along the breaklines in 6 to 10 feet of water.

No. 2: N 33° 42.251 – W 82° 17.560 — Across the lake, a long arm of land runs out on the north side of Bussey Point, and there is an island off the upstream end of it. A shallow point runs out on the upstream side of the island, and there are also several humps around the point. This is an excellent place to find a lot of bass and herring.

One of the small humps had a danger marker lying on its side on the hump right at the water line when we fished. The water was right at 8 feet low that day. Start fishing out from that danger marker, and work the entire area. You will see some of the high spots just above the water, and there are others all around. Work from the end of the point around all these high spots.

Always watch for any surface disturbance, and cast to it. Tony’s description of “nervous water” gives you a good idea of the little ripples the herring will often make on the surface. If the herring are there, the bass will be nearby. Cast to any swirls you see, too.

No. 3: N 33° 41.733 – W 82° 18.848 — Back across the lake, on the upstream side of the long point on the upstream side of Mims Branch, you will find a long, shallow point running out toward green channel marker L 21. There is a big, round cedar tree on the point that stood out a few weeks ago but might blend in more now that the
trees have more leaves on them.

Start on the downstream side of the point, and fish upstream, keeping your boat close on the first pass so you can almost hit the bank then fishing farther out on your next pass. This flat runs way out, and there are a lot of rocks on it that are normally about 8 feet deep at full pool. There are some stumps and brushpiles on this point that help, but the hard bottom is more important for the herring spawn.

No. 4: N 33° 41.568 – W 82° 19.397 — A little farther toward the bridge on this peninsula, on the upstream side of Mims Branch, is the swimming area. There is a small island just downstream of the swimming area, and a point runs out there. You will see the bathhouse on the bank and some lights and benches on the point.

Start fishing near the downstream side of the little island and point, and work around it. If you fish fast, you can hit this point and two more before you get to the swimming area, throwing topwater before the sun gets on the water. Then work back around them. All three parallel points hold bass and spawning herring, so watch all three for activity as you fish.

This area and the others are even better when some wind blows in on them. You won’t be able to see the surface activity as well, but wave action will help the bite. Waves seem to dis- orient the herring and make them easier prey, and waves also break up the light making it a little more difficult for the bass to tell your bait from a live herring.

No. 5: N 33° 42.159 – W 82° 20.318 — Across the lake on the upstream side of the cove where Cherokee Ramp is located is a marked hump. It is way out of the water now, and you can see how it has a big pile of rocks on the downstream side and tapers off toward the bridge. It drops fast at first down to about 6 feet deep at full pool but then flattens out. On the downstream side are three small high spots.

These high spots hold bass and herring. The downstream side of the marked hump seems to hold more bass. Start out in front of the hump about even with the rock pile, and work around it toward the ramp. Cover this area with all your baits. Watch your depthfinder to note the contours since it changes a lot around this hump. You don’t want to get in too close, especially after the sun gets on the water.

All the tournaments held out of Cherokee Ramp make this an even better spot. The bass population is constantly supplemented by released bass, so the concentration in this area is high.

No. 6: N 33° 41.910 – W 82° 20.829 — Go under the bridge, and head toward the right bank. Not far out from the rip-rap you will see an island that is usually not much more than a hump before you get to the bank. It has a danger-marker sign on a pole and a lot of rock out of the water right now. Some cypress trees have been planted on top of it.

Fish the outside of this hump, starting on the end toward the bridge and working to the upstream end. That side gets most of the waves, has a hard- er bottom and drops off faster. Work it with all your baits before leaving the area.

No. 7: N 33° 40.428 – W 82° 21.766 — Cliatt Creek is the one with Mistletoe State Park in it. There is an island on the downstream point of this creek. Go in on the downstream side of this island, and you will see some humps and points running way out toward the lake. All are good for the herring spawn. The river makes a big bend right here, and the humps and points are on the outside of the bend and that makes them even better.

You can see the rocky humps and points with the water down, and there are stumps and brush on them as well as the rocks. All help make it a good spot. Note the brushpiles while fishing in close, and hit them later with the sun on the water. Bass will often hold in brush and around stumps in 6 to 8 feet of water after the sun gets bright, so dragging your Carolina-rigged lizard through them is a good bet.

No. 8: N 33° 40.555 – W 82° 22.194 — Out off the end of the island there are some good humps to fish. One was barely above the water when we were there, with less than 6 inches of it showing. Be careful in this area if the water has come up above 8 feet low.

You will see a marked hump out from and a little downstream of the island, and the smaller hump is out from it. Again, this is a big area where lots of herring spawn, so watch for activity to tell you exactly where to fish. Also keep an eye on your depthfinder to keep your boat in a good depth. Fish all around the marked hump and the others that are out from it. Make long casts. The water is usual- ly clear in these areas, and longer casts help to not spook the bass and herring with your boat. Long casts with all three baits are best.

No. 9: N 33° 40.278 – W 82° 22.582 — The island on the upstream side of Cliatt Creek, just off the camp- ground, has a rocky point running out on its downstream end. The rocks run out toward the middle of the mouth of the creek. About in the middle of the island a long, clay point runs out toward the middle of the lake.

Start fishing on the inside of the rocky point, and fish around it. Continue upstream, and fish the clay point, too. Fish all your baits on both points and on the hard bottom between them. Keep an eye out for surface activity in the area as you fish.

No. 10: N 33° 40.363 – W 82° 23.734 — Straight across from Mistletoe is a long ridge with a small island on the upstream side. This ridge runs parallel to the river. Go upstream past it, and there is a big island on your right. Upstream of this island is a marked hump. The danger marker was bent over at an angle when Tony and I were there in mid April. We got a bass here that pushed 3 pounds. Start on the downstream side of the marker, and fish around the hump. This area has a lot of high spots that attract herring, and the marked hump is good year-round. It is best for the herring spawn since it is the outside hump of the group, but all will hold fish. Work this area carefully. Watch for changes in the bottom to tell you which areas are best.

These 10 spots are all close to Mistletoe Park and Cherokee Ramp, but there are other similar places on Little River and the Savannah River. Check these out, but don’t limit your- self to this small area of a huge lake. You can find many similar herring- spawning spots that hold largemouth for you to catch all over the lake.

When the sun gets up, Tony will often drag a big lizard on a Carolina rig in the same areas where herring are spawning.

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