Oconee Bass Outside The Box

The lake has been hammered to a point where a little bait tweaking is in order.

Brad Gill | March 29, 2019

I enjoy college kids. They look at the world through a whole different set of eyes than I do, and when it comes to bass fishing, they are a good reminder that old tricks aren’t always the best tricks when it comes to catching fish.

Clayton Childs, 21, of Bishop, recently graduated from college, but he is still finishing his collegiate bass fishing season with the University of North Georgia. 

Clayton and his partner Drew Coker qualified for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship in July 2018 on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller. They qualified for that event by winning the Bassmaster College State Qualifier on Lake Lanier in October 2017.

Prior to college, Clayton was the Georgia Junior State Champion when he was in the eighth grade, which qualified him to compete at the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Southern Divisional event on Douglas Lake in Tennessee. Clayton went on to win that tournament.

In his high school and college careers, Clayton Childs has fished all over the country. He’s got April’s Oconee bass dialed in with a pretty simple plan that is tweaked in such a way that it’s different.

In 2012, Clayton started the North Oconee Tight Line Titans bass club at his high school in Oconee County. Today, he still volunteers as a boat captain for his younger brother, Carson.

As Clayton begins to adjust to life after college and figure out his next step in life, he’s been enjoying his weekend time fishing with the Oconee Bass Club. He’s fished a few Berry’s and some miscellaneous tournaments and says he looks forward to returning to the tournament scene on a more regular basis before too long. 

I met Clayton at the Armour Bridge ramp on the Richland Creek side at daylight on Thursday, March 14. In his Nitro Z8 bass boat, I wanted him to lay out a good April plan for Lake Oconee bass fishing, and he was able to do exactly that. Whether Clayton is fun fishing or competing in a tournament, he usually finds himself on the Richland Creek side of the lake.

“I come up to this end because normally you can get away from boats,” said Clayton. “You can find a little bit cleaner water. I like to fish a little bit of stain but not too much stain, like you see on the Sugar Creek end.”

April is generally when the biggest wave of Oconee’s bass move up shallow to spawn.

“I love bed fishing, but on Oconee you’re really only going to catch a fish on bed if it’s in 2 feet of water or less,” said Clayton.

Although Clayton really likes sight fishing clear lakes like Hartwell and Lanier this time of year, he’s steady on the trolling motor in April on Oconee. Even though he’s not sight fishing, he still prefers the cleaner water in the Richland Creek and Granite Shoals areas.

“I feel like I get more bites in April when the fish are actually spawning because they can see my bait better when they’re sitting on the bed,” he said.

Clayton added that there’s so many hidden areas for bass to bed on Oconee that it’s just not worth his time trying to find a bedded bass when the majority of them are out of sight anyway, he says.

“There’s too many docks around,” he said. “I think a lot of these bass spawn under the docks because they are protected. They will  spawn anywhere from the walkway out to the platform of the dock. That’s where you get your most shade and it’s most protected.”

Clayton throws three main baits in April, and he’s proactive about using or tweaking baits that not every bass angler has been chunking. His three baits are a spinnerbait, Speed Worm and a jig.

“When I come in April, if I’m not catching them on a spinnerbait, I’m always going to flip around the boat docks and up around the seawalls,” said Clayton. “I throw a spinnerbait in between the docks, and once I get up to them, I throw a Speed Worm or the jig.”

A gold and sliver willowleaf blade combo works better than any other combo that Clayton has tried. He believes the gold/silver pairing isn’t used as much on Oconee.

Clayton’s blade of choice is a 3/8-oz. War Eagle spinnerbait with a white/chartreuse skirt and a trailer hook. What makes his bait a little more unique is his blade’s color combination.

“I use willowleaf with gold and silver blades,” said Clayton. “That’s just always the color blades I’ve caught them on. I’ve tried the double silver, but for some reason, I think that gold gives it more of a flash and gives it that different look. That’s what I try to go for­­—something different.”

For his spinnerbait rod, he likes a 7-foot Shimano rod (SLXC70MH) matched with a Shimano SLX reel. We slung the spinnerbait some during our March trip and Clayton did manage one short fish. The blade action will pick up significantly in April once a bigger group of bass pull shallow to spawn.

Clayton and I were fishing less than a week after the 205-boat Skeeter Bass Challenge tournament on Oconee, the largest one I can remember in a long time. Plus, there were other big tournaments coming.

“The lake has been pressured a lot in the last couple of weeks, and with that pressure, you have to slow down and give them something different because they have seen everything there is to look at,” said Clayton.

His April focus will be on docks and seawalls in the pockets as fish spawn and then come off the bed.

“I’ve had so much luck catching these fish on a spinnerbait when they are actually spawning,” said Clayton. “I think these fish here spawn sooner than the fish on Hartwell, Lanier, Clarks Hill, those bigger lakes. Once they get off bed, they are ready to eat those shad, and you have a spinnerbait or a Speed Worm coming by their face when they’re eating shad, they can’t help themselves. They have to eat it.”

A Zoom U-Vibe Speed Worm in green pumpkin is a bait most Oconee anglers don’t put as their top-3 in April, but Clayton has experienced good luck with it in the past.

“A lot of people over look it,” said Clayton. “You go to Seminole and Eufaula, and the fish see a Speed Worm a pretty good bit. Not a lot of people think about going to Lake Oconee and throwing a Speed Worm. It’s just something the bass don’t see much.”

Clayton fishes the Speed Worm Texas-rigged using a bobber stopper less than an inch above a 1/8-oz. tungsten weight. He likes an H20 Xpress 2/0 wide gap hook.

“I know a lot of people reel the Speed Worm back, but I throw it up there and just drag it real slow across the bottom, bounce it,” he said. “That’s one reason I use that light weight. It makes me slow down a lot more.”

Lower profile jigs often mean the bass inhale them. Of the half-dozen bass caught on March 14 on the compact bait, they all ate it, like pictured here.

Clayton’s final April bait is a 3/8-oz. Georgia Jig. Lots of Oconee anglers pitch jigs under docks in April, but Clayton tweaks his bait in a way to give it a different look. 

“I like the bait to be more compact, so I’ll trim the skirt so my trailer will stick out more,” said Clayton. “It gives them that smaller, more subtle profile when they are finicky and when they are getting ready to bed. And it also makes it where they can see the tails on the trailer better.”

He uses several different trailers, but one of his favorites is a Gary Yamamoto 4-inch Double Tail Grub in green pumpkin (Color 297) or watermelon flake (Color 194) in most situations. Clayton also likes a Zoom Baby Brush Hog, but he cuts up to an inch off the top of the trailer to give it a more compact profile. Clayton always matches his trailer and jig skirt colors.

“In clearer water I stick with my green pumpkin or green pumpkin with that orange flake in it. It has that crawfish appeal to it,” said Clayton. “Normally this time of year, the crawfish are green and orange or green and red, and I just try to match that jig to that crawfish.

“Trimming the skirt is important, so the twin tail or the Brush Hog stick out more. To me, I think it looks more like a crawfish sitting on the bottom sticking its claws up at the bass. If you don’t trim the skirts on these jigs, you cover up the movement part of your trailer, and it defeats the purpose of having that trailer.”

Clayton will bend the jig hook outward ever so slightly to increase his hook-up ratio.

In addition, Clayton will take the hook of the jig and bend it outward ever so slightly.

“I feel like I get a better hook-up than I do with it tucked in behind the brush guard. I’ve just had luck bowing it out a tad bit,” said Clayton.

We ended our day with 11 fish, which included two keepers. Most of our fish ate the smaller-profile jigs being hopped back to the boat or the Speed Worms being slowly pulled across the bottom. 

About the only thing Clayton will be doing different in April will be moving deeper into the pockets picking up bass in all three stages of the spawn. 

“When these fish are spawning or getting ready to spawn, when they aren’t really wanting to be aggressive and eat, having a bait that they don’t see a lot will oftentimes be the trigger that causes them to bite,” said Clayton.

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