Savannah River Bassin’ Gets Right In April
Patrick Brown just made the GBCF State Team, and he’s points leader in a Bassmaster Weekend Series trail, but in April he’s focused on big largemouths in the Savannah River.
The Savannah River chain of lakes has stolen the spotlight in recent years, with the Bassmaster Classic held on Hartwell and frequent stops at Clarks Hill by the B.A.S.S. Elite pros. With all the glamour of the upstream giant lakes, the ribbon of river between Augusta and Savannah is often overlooked by touring pros and out-of-state anglers. But, local anglers know of the quality bass residing in this stretch of flowing water. I had the privilege of fishing with one such “local,” Patrick Brown, during mid March. Patrick lives in Swainsboro but fishes the entire Savannah River regularly.
Anticipation made the last 10 miles from Springfield to Clyo heading toward Tuckasee King Landing seem like an eternity. Adding to the normal anticipation of a fishing trip was the fact that Patrick had added another feather to his angling cap just days before by finishing second in the Georgia’s Bass Chapter Federation Top Six on Clarks Hill and returning to the state team. His cap was already quite full with two previous trips representing the state of Georgia and once making the national tournament representing the Southeast. Patrick also made the Elite 8 in the 2007 Skeeter Eliminator Series, GON’s head-to-head fishing competition that sees some of Georgia’s very best bass anglers face-off.
As we loaded my equipment into his Ranger 520VX bass boat, we discussed the prospects for the day. He was not terribly optimistic with falling water levels, but he planned to run to several “lakes” to look for prespawn fish. He expected the fish would not be on the beds quite yet but would be staging close to spawning areas.
Tuckasee King Landing is located about three-quarters of the way downstream from Clarks Hill dam to Savannah, but plenty of fishable water exists in either direction from the ramp. We fired the big Mercury outboard and roared downstream. Our progress was impeded by intermittent fog banks, so we slowed to barely fast enough to plane the boat each time before revving the engine back to full song. My insulated bibs were worth their weight in gold during the brisk, first-light run. Patrick’s fishing companion, a little Jack Russell Terrier named Snoop, even dove for cover under his step during the ride. We dropped off plane at the entrance to one of the many oxbow lakes on the Savannah. As we idled into the mouth of the lake, a gobbler flying down from its roost interrupted our conversation. I mused that the poor boy would spend the next month and a half trying to avoid the business end of a 12-gauge during turkey season.
Patrick pointed out the band of dampness on the tree trunks, indicating that the water was falling fast. He said this was a less- than-ideal situation, with a slow rise usually being the best condition to spark a good bite. When pressed further about water levels, Patrick noted that the Clarks Hill dam upstream produces pulses of water during generation that sometimes turn on the bite. Some anglers try to catch this pulse upstream and run-and-gun their way downstream, trying to stay within the pulse where the bite is still going on.
With less-than-ideal water conditions during our day, my enthusiasm was still not dampened, as it was a gorgeous morning on a beautiful river. Patrick killed the motor, and we drifted toward a cypress-lined bank. He grabbed a rod rigged with a Luhr-Jensen Nip-I-Diddee, one of his favorite April baits.
“It’s a little early for topwaters, but I’ll give it a try first thing. When you see alligators out and about, it is warm enough for a topwater,” he said.
When water temperature stabilizes above 60 degrees, it becomes his favorite time to throw topwaters lures. The Luhr-Jensen Nip-I-Diddee and Smithwick Devil’s Horse are two of his favorite baits, and his color preferences are silver/black back or shad.
“In April, big bass will annihilate a topwater just sitting at the base of a cypress tree,” he said.
Patrick flung a dozen casts with the topwater to no avail. He picked up another of his favorite April baits, a 5- inch Yamamoto Senko in a watermelon lemon laminate color rigged wacky-style and cast it toward cypress trees. Heusesa No.1 or 1/0 Owner Mosquito Hook and crimps a small split-shot to the shank of the hook. The weight causes the worm to fall a little more quickly and wiggle even more enticingly than an unweighted hook. He hooks the worm right through the middle.
“I like to bury the point in the worm at first to reduce hang-ups until I know there are fish around, then I’ll go ahead and expose the hook for better hookups,” Patrick said.
He tossed the Senko to the base of each cypress tree and gave it a very subtle twitch and just let it sit. He repeated the twitch several times and then reeled it in to pitch to the next tree. After several-dozen unsuccessful casts and a glance at the 57 degrees on his thermometer, he admitted the bass were not yet in the April pattern.
His next choice was a chartreuse Stanley Wedge spinnerbait with a single gold Colorado blade. Meanwhile, I opted for a junebug Bass Assassin 4-inch worm rigged Texas-style, a lure with which I have had great success on river bass. I drew first blood with the worm, a fish just shy of being legal. Several casts later, Patrick duped a fish with the spinnerbait and swung a 1 1/2-pounder over the side.
Another small keeper ate Patrick’s spinnerbait before a jig came out of the box. Jigs are another of Patrick’s favorite April lures, although he does well with them all year long. Off and on throughout the day, we fished a 3/8-oz. Mop Jig and a 3/16- or 1/4-oz. “Savannah River Special” jig that I custom tie. The jig of the day was a 3/16-oz. Savannah River Special version with a single rattle and a sapphire blue twin-tail trailer. It sports a green pumpkin and black-blue flake skirt with a few strands of chartreuse. It is constructed of super-fine cut silicone, so it has a lot of action compared to the thick silicone rubber. The rest of the fish for the day were caught on this minuscule offering, including our biggest, a 2-lb., 5-oz. bass.
I got a kick out of Snoop, the calmest and most personable Jack Russell Terrier I have ever met. He stayed at Patrick’s feet the entire day, watching each precisely placed cast. At times, I even forgot there were three of us in the boat. We ended up with eight bass, including six keepers, which weighed a total of 8-lbs., 6-ozs. It was a slow bite but a respectable day.
“The catch rates on the Savannah are not terribly high compared to many of the lakes, but big fish are common, especially in spring,” Patrick said.
His most notable example was a tournament where he brought an 8 1/2 pounder to the scales to finish third in the big-fish pot. If you can figure out which area of cypress trees the fish are staging on, you can bring in a big limit of fish during spring. Patrick’s largest bass from the river is a 9-lb., 6-oz. hawg.
Patrick uses baitcasting gear almost exclusively because of the big fish you may encounter and the heavy cover from which you have to extract them. He prefers All Pro Rods and noted they are one of the sponsors of the state team. Medium-heavy is the action he most frequently uses, although he sometimes fishes his topwater lures on a medium-action rod. He pairs his rods with Shimano Curado or Chronarch reels. High-speed reels are a must so you can quickly retrieve a lure to make another pitch and also to quickly take up slack on the hookset. His line choice is 14- or 17-lb. test Sufix Elite monofilament for its great castability.
“I’ve tried fluorocarbon, but mono works just as well in the stained river… without breaking the bank,” he said.
He checks his line often and reties when it gets abraded or nicked. When fishing the heavy cover in the river, he recommends changing line frequently, another reason why monofilament line is more economical. Line management is very crucial in tournament fishing, as one break off could be the difference between a big check and heading home empty-handed.
When fun fishing during the week, Patrick fishes the oxbow lakes all day because the boat traffic is generally light. With the heavy fishing pressure on the weekends, though, when fishing tournaments, he fishes his best stretches of bank back in oxbows first thing in the morning before they get beat. He then moves to the main river the rest of the day, targeting subtle slack-water areas that do not get hammered as hard. This tournament strategy has paid off handsomely for Patrick on the Savannah River over the years.
Patrick grew up fishing all the south Georgia rivers but has only been fishing bass tournaments since 1994. He fishes regularly with his club, the Bulloch Bassmasters, and fishes open tournaments, as well. Two days after our trip, he finished second in a Bassmaster Weekend Series event, the second event of the year. He won the first tournament on Lake Seminole, so he is currently leading the points standings for the Georgia Central Division.
His dad, James, his wife, Kimbie, and he run Brown’s Hunting Camp, a pay-by-the-day operation specializing in deer, turkey and hog hunts. His allegiance will be split during turkey season, but do not be surprised to see him on the Savannah River. To learn more about hunting opportunities on his land, visit the website at www.brownshunting.com.
Because the Savannah River is the border between Georgia and South Carolina, you will need to know the license requirement and other regulations. Check each state’s webpage or fishing regulations for the details. For access points along the Savannah River, visit the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division website at www.gofishgeorgia.com, and click on “Boating.”
Catching big bass in a river is a special angling feat. I caught my largest bass, a 10-lb., 1-oz. trophy, from a river, and Patrick routinely tangles with 8- and 9-pounders. April is your best chance to catch one of these river behemoths, and the Savannah is a great bet.
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