All options open on Clarks Hill - Major League Fishing

All options open on Clarks Hill

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Day 1 at Clarks Hill got off to a nearly perfect start. Photo by Jody White.
February 27, 2023 • Sean Ostruszka • Invitationals

APPLING, Ga. – What do you get when you combine massive amounts of water, limited history and seemingly perfect conditions? We have no idea, and it seems neither does anybody else. Yet, to say anglers are excited for the Toyota Stop 2 Presented by Lowrance at Clarks Hill is an understatement.

The second event of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season looks primed for an absolute catchfest, with spring hitting the area hard and bass rushing the bank.

Word is everyone has been catching them in practice, and from all depths and areas of the massive impoundment. Needless to say, this week is looking like one with no shortage of surprises in store, outside of a lot of sore hands.

About the fishery

Clarks Hill is big, like really big, at more than 70,000 acres. Yet, while its sister lake above it on the Savannah River chain, Lake Hartwell, has seen plenty of tournament attention, this will be the first time MLF or FLW has fished the lake above the FLW Series level.

And while some large impoundments still fish small (Kentucky Lake, Lake Okeechobee, etc.), Clarks Hill supposedly fishes to its size, as even local anglers like pro Brian Latimer have said there are whole areas of the lake he’s rarely explored despite growing up fishing it.

While the lake used to have grass, that’s long gone. Instead, anglers will focus on ditches, timber and docks similar to Hartwell. Yet, while Hartwell’s spotted bass are big players, that’s not the case on Clarks Hill. It will be all about the largemouth this week.

Some feel the conditions may parallel the 2020 Pro Circuit event on Lake Martin that saw big catches on the bank and deep.

Current conditions

Few areas of the country seem to set up better for bed-fishing derbies than the Carolinas. Well, we might just have another on our hands.

With such a warm spring, Clarks Hill’s bass have been “dirt shallow” according to pro Joshua Weaver. Yes, a minor cold front earlier in practice knocked them back a bit, but make no mistake, these fish are pushing to be shallow.

“There’s definitely already some fish on bed,” Weaver said. “The clear end has water temperatures of 58-61 degrees, and up the river I’ve seen 66. So, they’re definitely wanting to be on the bank, and the fact we’re going to have sunny weather for most this week is only going to make them want that more.”

That’s going to make bed-fishing experts like John Cox and Ron Nelson quite happy. Yet, Weaver still thinks this tournament will favor the anglers focusing on prespawn fish.

“I think you’re going to see guys doing really well using forward-facing sonar for those fish waiting to pull up,” Weaver said. “And then you’re going to have guys like me burning the bank. You can catch fish in 40 feet or in a foot of water.

“What I like, and I think a lot of other guys are going to like is, coming off Okeechobee where you were fishing around everyone in a circus, if you fish around others here it’s your own choice. There’s a lot of free water to get away from everybody. I’ve been mainly up in the river, but even on the lower end, in full day you only see 10-15 boats. It’s like, ‘Where is everyone at?’”

Critical factors

  • Lack of knowledge – With so little history, pros will need to adapt and fish to their strengths, which they should be able to do.
  • Spawn – If the fish hit the beds hard as predicted, you’re going to see weights go up dramatically. However, bed-fishing derbies are notoriously fickle.
  • Close or far – Some pros will opt to run far up the river to get in the stained water, while others will hang close in the clearer water to maximize fishing time.

Dock talk

It seems there have been plenty of debates going this week in practice.

Everyone says they’re catching fish; that’s not up for debate. Where and how much, though, seem to be the predominant topics according to Weaver.

“Some guys are saying the forward-facing sonar guys are really going to blow this thing out,” Weaver said. “There’s supposedly a lot of fish still out there. I think it will be won up shallow, though. There’s just too many fish coming to us shallow guys from what we’re seeing.”

And as for weights, again, it’s all over the map. Most say 13 pounds a day will get you paid, but to contend for the win, who knows?

“I think I’d feel really confident in my chances with 18-19 pounds a day,” Weaver said. “But I was talking with (Ron Nelson), and he said he thought you had to be in the low 20s every day to win. If that’s the case, he’s seeing some big fish on beds, and you’re going to see him, (John Cox) and guys like that really run away with this thing.”