Clarks Hill is perhaps my favorite event on the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Invitationals schedule, I’ve been excited to pick for it since I started to dive into the preseason process. For this event — with water temperatures likely in the 50s — I suspect a ton of patterns will be in play. I reckon there will be some old-school crankbait and spinnerbait action, plenty of ‘Scoping, finesse and brush stuff and maybe even a fun swimbait or two.
With that in mind, you can go a lot of ways with your picks as the lake could fall in the wheelhouse of about half the field. Plus, there are some very intriguing locals that should be on a lot of teams.
So, here’s who’s on the squad for this one.
There are a lot of good-looking picks for this event, but I found Flight 1 to be particularly stacked. In the end, I went with Spencer Shuffield, Michael Neal, Marshall Robinson, Nick Hatfield and Casey Ashley, though I bet I’ll change my mind between registration and takeoff.
If you’re looking for folks that know how to fish in the Carolinas, then the duo of Marty and Marshall Robinson should be on your radar. Both are coming off good events in Florida and they both have plenty of time in on Clarks Hill.
Marty in particular has some good finishes there, and in other big events in the Carolinas, back when he fished more Bassmaster events. In fact, five of his 25 Top 20s with Bassmaster came in either South Carolina or Georgia.
I ended up going with Marshall, not for any particular reason, but because I’m getting a youthful vibe this season and I’m sorta hoping to see him, and maybe Shuffield and Kyle Hall duking it out in a LiveScope battle on the final day.
I was a little hesitant to start Hatfield in Florida, as his history has been a bit hit or miss in the Sunshine State. Happily for Hatfield, that was not a great call. I have no such qualms the rest of the way, and I suspect that his East Tennessee skills will serve him well at Clarks Hill. Between his excellence offshore with electronics and his comfort on the bank with a blade or a crankbait, I could see Hatfield excelling in this event and starting his sophomore season off right.
There might be nobody with a better prespawn record in the Carolinas than Ashley. With a Classic win under his belt, he also has a super impressive FLW Tour win to his credit on Hartwell when he torched Andy Morgan by more than 10 pounds for the win in 2014. On Bass Talk Live, Ashely said, “This whole winter break I’ve burned so many gallons of gas on Clarks Hill it’s not funny.” How can you not pick that?
Because I think there are so many good options in this event, and this flight particularly, I wanted to draw attention to a few other anglers that interest me. One of them is Tristan McCormick – coming off an abysmal start to his season at Okeechobee, the young Tennessean could be well placed for success at Clarks Hill. His boat is covered with graphs, and they’ll help him a lot more at Clarks Hill than they did at the Big O.
Mike McClelland is also very intriguing, for one, because I suspect Missourians will be comfortable there, and also because he has a 2007 Elite Series win there. This also feels like a good event for Drew Boggs, who seems to do great whenever there isn’t grass. If you’re thinking ‘Scope, then you’ve got to think Hall, who is one of the foremost ‘Scopers in the game. Also, Joshua Weaver said he was more excited for Clarks Hill than any other event on the schedule, and he’s pretty clutch on water like it, in addition to his Florida prowess.
I found Flight 2 to be easier picking than Flight 1, likely because there are some real standout anglers in this group that I pretty much needed to just lock into the roster. For this flight, I went with Ron Nelson, Shin Fukae, Brian Latimer, Jacob Wheeler and Dakota Ebare.
Since coming over from Japan, Fukae has mostly based out of Texas and fished nationally. Now, he calls Georgia home and lives very close to Clarks Hill. Historically, Fukae has done well with extended practice periods, and I suspect he’s put some time in on the local pond with this event in mind. Plus, he’s a great finesse fisherman, and that always seems to play in the Carolinas.
Clarks Hill is one of the lakes that Latimer cut his teeth on in his club days, and he’s got the skillset to fish it old-school as well as anyone. Plus, he’s got a couple Phoenix Bass Fishing League Top 10s to his credit there from 2005 and 2011 (we’re all old now). An FLW Tour winner in 2019, I don’t think Latimer comes in under the radar so to speak, but this is a good opportunity for him to earn a signature win on his home turf.
If Flight 1 gets a second section, it’s only fair that Flight 2 gets some extra love as well. Here, I think Jacopo Gallelli is worth a mention – he’s sneaking his way into the category of angler that you just leave on the roster. I also think that Martin Villa and Derik Hudson are intriguing choices in here – both have a lot of Virginia experience, and that can translate well to South Carolina. Hunter Eubanks is also a notable local in this case – he’s got a lot of very up-and-down BFL experience on Clarks Hill, but he doesn’t live very far away and has been fishing very well of late.