Herring Will Be Key to Clarks Hill BBT Victory

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Herring Will Be Key to Clarks Hill BBT Victory

By Pete Robbins

The bass spawn may be nearly over on Clarks Hill, but that doesn’t mean that the lake’s many big fish won’t be keyed in on reproduction of another sort leading up to the early May Big Bass Tour event. After a long winter and a short spring, this week promises lots of 80-degree warmth, and that should keep the prolific blueback herring moving into their own spawning phase, and the bass will be right behind them.

That’s the opinion of three-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and Clarks Hill expert Marty Robinson. “Most of the bass are finishing up spawning,” he said. “Although with a full moon this weekend you could probably still catch a few off of a bed, the herring spawn is going to get going real strong. That’s what I’d focus on.”

Historically, the best areas to chase the bass gorging on the bluebacks are the long, flat points on the lower end of the lake. Those points will certainly be in play, but with the lake close to full pool, Robinson said that there’s “lots of flooded dog fennel, or what I call straw grass, just like at Hartwell. There were a lot of herring in the pockets last week and there should still be a lot next week.” Accordingly, that means almost the entire lake will be in play in terms of producing big fish. On Robinson’s many fun fishing trips on Clarks Hill he tends to focus on certain creeks and pockets because they’re near where he launches, which drives home the point that you needn’t run far to earn money in this event. The key is to stay focused on quality habitat rather than making a many-stop milk run.

Robinson’s top two recommended tools for catching big bass are Clarks Hill staples, and certainly not secrets: A big topwater pencil popper and an extra-bulky mop jig. Specifically, he’d use a Buckeye Lures Mop Jig, “the only one I throw. Just regular old brown round rubber, with a Zoom Super chunk for a trailer. Those big flappers contribute to a big profile.”

If those two lures aren’t in your wheelhouse, Robinson would encourage you to throw a buzzbait or a frog in the flooded cover. Those two baits allow an angler to cover water and trigger reaction strikes, but while moving fast may work, he’d recommend covering a limited area repeatedly. “Key on the areas where the bluebacks are,” he said. “Keep running those areas again and again even when they’re not chasing bait or blowing up on them.”

Of course, heavy boat pressure can put even heavily-feeding bass into a tentative mood. If anglers don’t get the number of bites they expect, or if they experience numerous short strikes, he’d recommend switching to a Luck E Strike jerkbait in the same places.

Historically, it has taken at least a 6-pounder to squeak into the Top Ten in a Big Bass Tour event on Clarks Hill. In 2015, top dog was an 8.10-pound monster, with six more over 7 pounds weighed and 6.88 claiming 10th place. In 2016, the top ten ranged from 6.25 pounds to 7.57 pounds, with three over 7 pounds hauled to the scales and released alive. Those two events were both in late March. Last year’s tournament winner was 7.18 pounds, and a 6.05 made it into the top 10. The high water, though, has kept tournament weights high later into the year in 2018. Robinson attended a high school tournament on Clarks Hill last week where an 8-plus was weighed in. Anglers should expect winning weights to be closer to those from 2015 than those of 2018, and they should monitor the hourly winners to avoid “wasting” a monster when it won’t claim top dog hourly status.

Even those who don’t manage to capture a 6-plus shouldn’t give up hope, though. Clarks Hill has historically produced an exceptionally wide range of hourly winners. In 2015, for example, a 1.13-pound line-burner earned an angler money, but during another hour it took 3.34 pounds to claim a prize. Once again, it is critical to monitor the live scoreboard to ensure maximum earning possibilities.