Mix It Up For Clarks Hill September Bass
Bill Harvey said schooling fish will be his main focus in September, but plenty of techniques will work as bass key on bait.
One of the most exciting things in bass fishing is watching a largemouth slam a topwater bait. The anticipation of the strike keeps you on edge during the retrieve, and it is almost impossible not to flinch when the spray erupts around the moving bait as the bass hits. The only thing that beats it is when several fish try to beat each other to the bait. And that is what is happening right now on Clarks Hill.
This giant reservoir of more than 70,000 acres, on the Georgia/South Carolina border near Augusta, is well known for schooling fish. And while the month of May brings arguably the best schooling activity, September and October aren’t far behind.
I fished Clarks Hill with Bill Harvey in mid August. We were a little early for the best fall action, but the morning schools were already beginning to show up.
Bill, from Grovetown, is a tournament bass angler, who fished the B.A.S.S. Eastern Invitationals in the 1990s, FLW and BFL circuits. Bill has owned the Southern Anglers Challenge Tournament circuit since 1999. Designed to be a regional competitive venue for the weekend angler, the organization runs 11 divisions across the Southeast. Division winners compete in a championship at the end of the season.
Clearly a dedicated bass angler, Bill has been fishing Clarks Hill for about 30 years, and he is on the water at least five or six times per month.
We launched Bill’s Skeeter at the Lake Springs ramp, near the dam, at about 6:30 a.m. and literally idled to our first fishing spot. Bill shut the big Yamaha outboard down before even getting up on plane.
“This cove is a great spot for surface action this time of year,” said Bill. “There is usually a lot of bait in the area, and bass and stripers all show up for the feast.”
We were right in the middle of the cove within about 500 yards of the ramp. Bill had us rigged up with casting reels mounted on stout 7-foot rods with quick tips for long casts. His reels of choice were Abu Garcia Revos for their smooth actions, again with long casts in mind. At the terminal end of the rigs were buzzbaits, Pop-Rs and Zara Puppys. The reels were spooled with 14-lb. test monofilament line.
At first we didn’t make any casts but just waited and scanned the area. Bill told me we should soon see fish breaking the surface and blasting baitfish. He and a partner had been in this cove the day before and had caught largemouths, stripers and hybrids, so he was pretty sure the fish should still be there. In addition, the graph showed there was a lot of bait in the area, so it was very likely the bass would hang around.
“Right now the bass are still in small schools I like to call ‘wolf packs,’ said Bill. “There will typically be less than a dozen fish in the pack, and they cruise around looking for food.”
Bill said when the bass locate a school of bait they herd the small fish to the surface and slam into them, often knocking them out of the water.
It didn’t take long for Bill’s prediction to play out. At about 7 a.m. we heard fish breaking the surface nearby, and then it was like someone threw a switch. Small pods of bass started attacking bait all around us.
“Wait ’til you see surface action, and cast to it,” said Bill. “With these small schools, you need to be right on target with your cast or you aren’t likely to get bit.
Bill was the first to hook up with a Pop-R and soon landed a small striper. It was quickly obvious that while there were a lot of bass in the area, they were less interested in our plugs than the natural bait. We had quite a few small linesides slap at our baits but not grab them.
One of the stripers we did land gave us a clue as to why. The linesides were feeding on extremely small threadfin shad, about an inch or so long. Our baits, even as small as they were, could have been just a little too big to tempt the stripers.
Toward the side of the cove, near a long point, we saw some bigger fish working the surface, so we moved over quietly with the trolling motor. In a few casts, we hooked up with a keeper largemouth that inhaled a Zara Puppy.
The surface activity continued until about 9 a.m. and then shut off as abruptly as it had started.
Bill suggested we switch to sub-surface lures and work the same area. On one rod we had a small crankbait, and on the other a 1/4-oz. Buckeye Lures spinnerbait. But we kept the topwater tackle ready because the surface action could have turned on again at any time.
We worked the Lake Springs area for a while without much success, and then tried “Bass Alley” and the mouth of Georgia Little River. In each case we were targeting the mouths of creeks near points and humps with deeper water nearby. We caught a few fish below the surface and had some more surface activity at Little River, but the fish just weren’t feeding aggressively.
“Through the month September the schools will get bigger and the bass more aggressive,” said Bill.
Bill suggested that during September to start off in the mornings throwing a buzzbait. On overcast days the buzzbait or other topwater lures will usually work throughout the day. Other topwater baits Bill recommends include a Lucky Craft Gunfish, Zara Spook, Zara Puppy or a Pop-R.
On sunny days the fish go down, and you need to follow them with a crankbait or spinnerbait. If things are really tough, you may even need to go to a worm.
Bill’s crankbaits of choice include the Lucky Craft Flat CB, Shad Rap, and a Suddeth Little Earl. Couple that assortment with a small spinnerbait from Buckeye Lures and a Carolina-rigged worm, and Bill is pretty much set for the day.
When working these lures in the fall, Bill prefers to target grass. Grass provides a good ambush point for the bass and also can attract bait as they, too, use the grass for cover.
“Make sure you work both the inside and outside edges of the grass,” said Bill. “The fish will likely be moving around a lot, so they could be anywhere on the grassbed.”
Bill said he will even throw a spinnerbait directly into the middle of the grass, particularly if a front has come through recently. With significant weather changes, bass will often burrow deep into the grass, so you have to go in and get them out.
One of the great things about Clarks Hill in September is the fish are beginning their fall migration, so an angler can find them in almost any water depth and be successful with just about any style of fishing. Of course you have to take advantage of the topwater action early in the day. But your favorite style of fishing is also likely to produce. Bill is a power fisherman, so he likes relatively shallow water and fast-moving baits. He looks for grass on humps and points that suits his fishing style.
Some of Bill’s friends are more comfortable fishing soft plastics around wood and are also successful with that method.
So Bill recommends you, “mix it up a little” in September. “Experiment, and see what works,” said Bill. “The fish will be feeding aggressively, so this is a great time to work on a new technique.”
Depending on the weather conditions, you may find bass in less than 10 feet of water or suspended at 30 or so feet in water as deep as 30 or 40 feet. So keep an open mind, and be prepared to experiment. Use something just a little different.
As far as areas of the lake to fish in the fall, Bill prefers to fish from mid lake down. Many of the bass have been hanging out in the deep water during the heat of summer, and there is just more of it on the lower end. As the bait starts to move into the creeks, the bass follow. Early in the month Bill will work the creek mouths. He’ll work his way back in the pockets and creeks as the fall progresses.
Even though he likes to target grass, Bill doesn’t ignore wood and blowdowns. Remember, a wide variety of patterns can work in the early fall because of the transition in the weather and surface temperature.
One thing is consistent, however, always look for bait in the area you are planning to fish. Bass are following bait schools this time of year to fatten up in preparation for the winter. If there is bait in a creek mouth, you can bet the bass are there or will be soon. If there isn’t any bait, you are probably wasting your time. Move deeper into the creek or on to the next one.
And don’t forget to keep that topwater bait handy. Schools will often blow up right in front of you, so you need to be prepared. But don’t expect to always catch a largemouth. Many times there will be stripers and hybrids mixed in with the largemouths. And you might get a big surprise if a chunky striper blows up on your bait.
Head out to Clarks Hill this month for some excellent bass action. Get there early for the morning bite, and follow Bill’s advice on location and technique.
And don’t forget to mix it up. Try that bait you haven’t used for a while. Anglers tend to get in ruts and stick with just a few favorite baits. September is a good time to experiment and add to your arsenal.
As you move into October, the schooling action will continue and get even better. You should still be able to catch topwater fish well into November until the water temperature starts to drop into the lower 60s.
When the schooling action is at its peak, fish are feeding so aggressively it isn’t all that important what you throw. The strike is basically a reaction strike, and they’ll hit pretty much anything you put in front of them.
Chasing schooling fish can be frustrating. The fish will often come up some distance from the boat and about the time you get to them on the trolling motor, they will disappear. It’s important to be able to make long casts to actively schooling fish. It can save a lot of chasing time, not to mention the frustration.
If you are a weekend angler and would like to try your hand on a tournament trail, give Southern Anglers Challenge a try. It is a tournament trail designed for the weekend fisherman.
For more information, go to <www.southernanglerschallenge.com>. Or ask Bill about his trail when you see him on the lake. You can bet he’ll be out there “mixing it up” for September Clarks Hill bass.
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