One of the unknowns on the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Invitationals schedule, Clarks Hill Lake hasn’t seen much high-level tournament action recently, but there is plenty of Phoenix Bass Fishing League (BFL) history there. If there’s one thing that history shows, it’s that the end of February is the perfect time to head to the Georgia/South Carolina border for Toyota Stop 2 Presented by Lowrance.
Feb. 28 – March 2, 2023
Hosted by Columbia County, Georgia and Thomson-McDuffie County CVB
A really gigantic lake, Clarks Hill rings in at over 70,000 acres and sits below Lake Russell on the Savannah River chain. Oddly enough, this will be the first time MLF or FLW has fished the lake above the FLW Series level, which just about guarantees an interesting event.
“It’s really big – it’s pretty much a home lake for me, I grew up fishing club tournaments there and it’s so big there’s a whole half of the lake I know nothing about,” said Belton, South Carolina, pro Brian Latimer. “The whole Georgia arm, I’ve fished about twice.
“The lake is very diverse, it used to have grass in it, it’s not there anymore,” Latimer said. “Everything is going to play in that tournament, it has the potential to be a forward-facing sonar tournament because the fish get in the ditches. There’s a strong offshore bite there, so the potential of it being a LiveScope tournament is extremely high.
“Also, depending on the weather, it could be snowing, or it could be 70 and the fish moving up to spawn,” he said. “There’s always the potential to catch them shallow on Clarks Hill, because you have so many water clarities. You’re going to have extremely clear water, you can go in the creeks and it’ll be muddy, you can get in between in a nice pretty strain. There’s timber, there’s docks, it’s just got a lot of different options. Everybody is going to spread out and probably have something that’ll fit what they like.”
Unlike Hartwell or some other lakes on the chain, heavily targeting spotted bass is unlikely to be a big factor. Though they exist in the lake, the largemouth bite is still king.
While the upper-level history on Clarks Hill is limited, the BFL stats are pretty revealing. Notably, it took more than 20 pounds to win two of the last five events, with Bobby Stanfill knocking out 20-15 in June of 2021 and Adam Wood catching 21-3 in May of 2019. The biggest winning weight over the years came back in 1997, when Majors Hamby walloped 24-14 at the end of April.
One thing is for sure – this event is scheduled at a prime time for big weight. March and February have produced by far the most consistent weights on Clarks Hill over the years. So, while the potential to pop a really big bag is there during the spawn, we’re likely to see really good fishing for the Invitational.
Latimer says to look for a winning weight around 60 pounds and thinks that a banger of a prespawn event is in the works.
“There’s timber, there’s docks, it’s just got a lot of different options,” he said. “Everybody is going to spread out and probably have something that’ll fit what they like. If I had to guess, I’d say it’ll be a heavy prespawn tournament, if I had to put my money out there.”
Between the size and variety available in the lake, there’s the potential to see a lot of techniques. But, this might be a tournament to skip if you’re a Randy Blaukat disciple.
“There’s so many things to do,” Latimer said. “A lipless bite, the ditch bite. I haven’t competed there since the forward-facing sonar phenomenon, but I’m pretty sure that’s going to play pretty heavy. Reason I say that is because of how we used to fish for them back in the day. We used to fish the birds, we’d just look for the birds in the middle of the pockets.”
Still, given a little warm weather, there’s a chance the old-school could really play, with big largemouths moving up to docks and other shallow cover.
“They move up a little quicker on Clarks Hill than they do on other lakes,” Latimer said. “It’s a little flatter, so it warms up quicker. You get that initial push pretty fast. I can’t imagine it not being a good tournament.”