Team Cleary Warms Up On Jackson’s Summer Bass

Ben Cleary is only 16, but he's getting a lot of fishing practice right out his back door.

Brad Gill | July 1, 2006

Ben’s 5 1/2-lb. Jackson largemouth nailed a Texas-rigged Mag II worm deep in brush. After an awesome fight at the boat, Benjie was able to scoop her up for pictures.

HD Marine tournament anglers beware… there’s a young ball of fire  headed your way for the 2007 tournament season. His name is Ben Cleary. He’s 16 years old, and during his summer vacation he has been warming up his bass-fishing skills on Lake Jackson, where he lives.

Besides living on a lake where he can practice, Ben has an advantage that many kids his age don’t have, a heck of a coach — his dad, Benjie.

Right now Benjie Cleary and a fellow named Randy Thompson are in fifth place in GON’s Team Power Rankings list (as of June 21) where they’ve earned points fishing the Berry’s tournament trail on Sinclair and Oconee.

“We’ve really had a great year,” said Benjie. “We’ve won $7,000 since November.”

Benjie has been fishing Jackson for 25 years and is one of the very best tournament anglers on the 4,750-acre, Georgia Power lake.

I met Benjie and Ben at Lake Jackson on a sultry afternoon in early June. When Ben introduced himself to me he came across as a polite, conservative young man, a promising trait for someone looking to play the tournament game.

Maybe this up-and-coming tournament angler could help us with a fish or two for photos, I thought.

“I gave him my old Ranger, so he even goes by himself sometimes,” said Benjie. “He’s a good fisherman.”

Good — word around the lake was the fishing had been pretty tough. It took somewhere in the neighborhood of five pounds to get a check at a recent Berry’s pot tournament.

Another great bait for fish in deep brush is a Jack’s Jig.

We rolled out of the South River headed down the lake and stopped on the first rocky point on the right. There are rocks all over this thing, making it a magnet for summer bass. To better find it, there’s a screened-in boat house off the right-hand side of the point.

Focusing on main-lake, rocky points near deep water is pretty much one of Benjie’s staples for putting spotted bass in the boat from July through September at Jackson.

“The spots here have taken over pretty good, and they’ve gotten better, too,” said Benjie. “I caught several 3-lb. spots last year. Three out of five of the fish you catch on main-lake points is going to be a spot.”

The Cleary boys tied on baits to match the rocky conditions.

“When you’re fishing the main part of the lake below the South River, you’re going to be dealing mostly with rocks,” said Benjie. “You can’t really throw a Carolina rig down here. You’ll end up spending all your time retying. Because of that, I like to fish a jig and a big Texas-rigged worm.”

In the clear water Benjie was fishing a green-pumpkin jig made by Jack’s Jig. In stained water Benjie likes a black/blue jig with a green-pumpkin trailer.

“The next point down is another good one to fish,” said Benjie. “You can fish the point and then go down that rocky bank almost into the mouth of Tussahaw.”

When fishing a jig, Benjie uses 17-lb. Sufix line.

“I use that heavier line just because it’s a jig, and you can expect bites from better fish,” said Benjie. “The last five years Jackson has gotten ultra-clear. You can see four or five feet down. You really have to downsize now. I use 10- to 12-lb. line on about everything else.”

As we fished down the Alcovy toward the dam, we ricocheted back and forth across the lake hitting rocky points and several rock-infested banks near deep water. Benjie stayed with a jig while Ben chunked a Texas-rigged green-pumpkin Mag II worm.

“Die the tail of that thing, Ben,” Benjie said.

Using JJ’s Magic Juice, Ben died about an inch of the tail chartreuse.

The Cleary boys know that boat traffic and the summer heat drives Jackson bass deep into cover. To entice them into biting, Ben Cleary dips a Zoom Mag II worm into JJ’s Magic Juice.

“I’m not a fan about having the tail colored,” said Benjie. “I believe the fish just like the garlic smell. Ben did an experiment for school where he and some buddies fished for three nights in a row and used different scent attractants. JJ’s caught more fish. It’s got a chemical in it that soaks into the plastic. It holds the smell. He made an A on that project.”

If there’s a downside to JJ’s, it’s that you have to keep it cool. Benjie keeps it in a cooler when he fishes.

The scented worm was threaded onto a 4/0 Owner hook.

Dad, get the net Ben Cleary hollers.

Over the course of the next hour, the father-and-son duo started sporadically throwing some of their favorite topwater baits as evening slipped toward nightfall.

“Last year we caught a lot of fish on rocky points with flukes and Sammys,” said Benjie. “I’ve caught them all during the day, but I have more confidence throwing those sorts of baits in the evenings.”

Benjie said this Lake Lanier twist has really heated up in the last few summers now that Jackson is producing a few bragging-sized spots.

“Humps have gotten good, too,” said Benjie. “Shallow ones that top out at 12 and 15 feet are good places, and I like the ones with rock.”

There was one more ingredient he added to his Lanier-like menu.

“A black-and-blue spinnerbait is good, too,” said Benjie. “I like a 3/4-oz. Ol-Nelle with a black willowleaf blade, about a 4 1/2, and a real small black Colorado blade, about the size of a dime. Throw it across the hump, let it sink to the bottom and drag it over the center of it. Usually when you’re coming into deeper water, they’ll hit it.”

My only experience involving a dark night, dark spinnerbaits and big spotted bass was in 1999 while on Lake Lanier with Jody Cordell. Jody, who is now a professional angler with FLW, was helping us film an episode of GON-TV. While filming that show, he made me a believer that big, dark-colored spinnerbaits, slow-rolled through brush and rocks around drops is absolutely deadly. We caught 3- to 5- pounders all night.

On Jackson a great place to chunk a blade after dark is directly across the Alcovy River from the screened-in boat house where we started our evening. There, you’ll find a pretty big cove. At the mouth of that cove is a marked hump that tops out in eight feet of water and drops into 30 feet.

Another rocky place to throw a spinnerbait after dark is 200 yards in front of the DNR boat house, which sits on the right side of the dam. There’s a rock levy that tops out at nine feet and drops quickly into much deeper water.

It was about 8 o’clock, and we still hadn’t put a fish in the boat. Benjie dug around inside his rod locker and pulled out a rod with a Spot Sticker jig tied on, hoping the small-profile jig would entice any-sized fish to bite.

“It’s a great bait to fish down in the rocks,” said Benjie. “I use a 3/16- or 1/8-oz. jig with either a Trick Worm or finesse worm. This is a good bait to fish when the fishing is tough.”

When fishing Spot Stickers, Benjie will downsize to 8- or 10-lb. line and a spinning reel. If fish are deep you can expect to catch a lot of smaller spots on these deep, rocky drops. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a fish to bite.

“They’re just not here yet,” said Benjie.

We headed back up the lake toward the Hwy 212 bridge to fish some of Benjie’s favorite main-lake brushpiles. Probing deep brush up the lake has taken many a first-place check during Berrry’s tournaments.

For an hour we bounced around to  several brushpiles within sight of the Hwy 212 bridge. Benjie used a Carolina rig, which he said helps find the isolated brushpiles we were targeting. When he’d find one, he’d tell us exactly where to throw our Texas-rigs.

“Let’s head down the lake,” Benjie said.

When we came to the powerline area Benjie slowed way down. All three of us perked up at the incredible amount of surfacing shad that we could see in the moon light.

“All of these places are really better to fish when you find shad schooling in the evening,” said Benjie. “If shad are thick, you can catch bass on crankbaits, jigs and worms.”

The powerline is a well-known place to fish for bass and crappie. On the west side there’s a gradual point that runs out toward the river channel, and it’s got brush all over it.

“With all the shad here, we have to stop and fish this,” said Benjie.

Dragging a big Texas-rigged Mag II worm through the brush felt great. We were fishing the tops and sides of the point between eight and 12 feet of water. About my 10th drag through the brush my worm got drilled, but the hook-set came up short.

Two minutes later, the conservative 16-year-old spoke.

“There he is.”

I looked over and saw Ben’s rod high and bent. In the dark, I went fumbling around for my camera.

“Daaaad, get the net,” Ben said.

Tackleboxes, a camera case and a few rods laid across the net, and it was quickly apparent this fish would have to be lipped. The bass jumped five feet from the boat. In the dark, with just a camera flash popping, it was a difficult for Benjie to focus on the fish and then try to get his hand in its mouth. A final tail walk across the dark water had Ben a little worried.

“Grab the fish!”

Dad came through and lipped the 5 1/2-pounder, a fish we were glad to see on a tough night of fishing.

Ben Cleary, a young fireball, soon-to-be HD Marine tournament angler, came through for us on a night where we just needed one fish for a photo. Benjie wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m proud to know Benjie, a guy who cares more about his son’s interest in the tournament world than his own.

“Ben’s ready for HD, he’s excited,” said Benjie. “We’re going to see what we can do. He went down to Oconee Saturday (June 17) and had 15 pounds all by himself.”

Watch out guys, he may be young, but you’ll be hard pressed to find an angler with with more passion and fire about the sport. I believe determination naturally pushes its way to the front.

Since that hot night in early June the fishing has improved. At Berry’s June 20 Tuesday night tournament it took almost 23 pounds to win. Rumor has it that a hump gave up the sack.

If you’re interested in fishing either the Tuesday or Friday night Berry’s pot tournaments, go to <>.

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