Top 10 baits from Clarks Hill - Major League Fishing
Top 10 baits from Clarks Hill
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Top 10 baits from Clarks Hill

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A wide variety of baits played in the Invitationals event on Clarks Hill. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
March 4, 2023 • Sean Ostruszka, Rob Matsuura • Invitationals

APPLING, Ga. – Few knew what to expect when the pros headed to Clarks Hill for Toyota Stop 2 Presented by Lowrance. After three days of fishing for the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals event, it seems the fishery is still a head-scratcher for many.

Was the deep bite the way to go this week? It sort of worked for the win for Dakota Ebare, at least in the sense that he wasn’t fishing truly shallow. But some of the biggest bags came in the dirt, and if not for some lost fish that could’ve been the winning ticket.

All we do know is this week tested anglers’ abilities to adapt on a fishery with little recent major-level history. Here’s a look at the lures that helped the Top 10 anglers do just that.

1. While he caught some key fish early in the week up shallow on a vibrating jig and a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Bug, Ebare’s biggest player this week was a Strike King Ocho on a 3/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Shakey Head. He’d toss it around midrange brush for prespawn fish, with some liking it so much he caught one that wasn’t even hooked on Day 3 and an 8-2 giant that bit it twice on Day 2.

2. Arkansas rookie Travis Harriman made a hard charge for the win on Day 3 thanks to fishing as shallow and far away from others as you could possibly get. Fishing way up the South Carolina side of the Little River, he started out the week cranking Lucky Craft LC 1.5 and 2.5 squarebills around bridges. But it was when he moved to a shallow backwater area further up the Little River and put a ¼-ounce swim jig with a Strike King Menace Grub trailer (both white) on the end of a 7-foot, 6-inch Jewel Virtus rod and Quantum reel that he suddenly started catching bigger weights to nearly pull off the win with the biggest bag of the event on the final day.

3. If there’s an offshore bite to be found, rest assured Spencer Shuffield will find it. The electronics master targeted drains and isolated brush near the Russell Dam, using his Garmin LiveScope to see fish and tempting them with a Yo-Zuri 3DB Series Jerkbait SP Deep 110. He threw the jerkbait on a 6-8, medium Ark Reinforcer Series rod with an Ark Gravity 7 reel spooled with 10-pound test Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon. He also caught some key fish pitching laydowns with a wacky-rigged Zoom Trick Worm (watermelon candy with the tail dyed chartreuse) with a 3/64-ounce Ark Tungsten Nail Weight and No. 2 VMC Weedless Neko Hook. He threw the worm on a 7-1, medium Ark Reinforcer Series rod and 15-pound Yo-Zuri SuperBraid to a 10-pound test  Yo-Zuri T-7 Premium Fluorocarbon leader.

4. Ron Nelson can only wonder ‘what if’ after losing some key fish, including a true giant. Fishing shallow wood and a specific shallow bar, the pro found plenty of takers for a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer (black and blue) with a Yamamoto Zako trailer. He threw the jig on a 7-4, 13 Fishing Envy Black rod with 20-pound test Sunline Sniper. Unfortunately, he says he lost many big fish throughout the week, including one he felt might’ve been more than 10 pounds on the final day.

5. While many locals struggled, Sean Anderson kept it simple and excelled. He fished history up on the northern end of the lake, looking for any hard type of wood – logs, stumps, brush – to toss a spinnerbait around. He alternated between a BOOYAH Blade with double Colorado blades and a Lunker Lure Hawg Caller spinnerbait with double willow blades, letting the fish tell him which one they wanted on the day.

6. Tristan McCormick didn’t have to extend himself too much this week or even burn much gas. Though, his trolling motor got a workout. Hanging close to takeoff, the pro put his troller on high and simply roamed around fishing anywhere from 15 to 50 feet staring at his LiveScope. When he saw a fish, he’d toss out a 2.75-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer on a Queen Tackle Live Sonar Tungsten Jighead to catch all of his fish.

7. Did Matt Becker ever really have a plan? That’s debatable, but he was pleased with the result. While he started out far up the lake fishing shallow, he made a key switch to come back down the lake and utilize a ¼-ounce Damiki rig with a 3-inch Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (green gizzard). By Day 3, though, he’d even scrapped that and just went with a jerkbait and Megabass Magdraft to move into the Top 10.

8. Running and gunning was the name of the game for Connor Cunningham this week. Every day he covered “miles and miles” of water just throwing at the bank on the northern end. If he saw a laydown he’d slow down and flip it with a ½-ounce Crock-O-Gator Zapper Flipping Jig with a homemade trailer. Otherwise, it was trolling motor on high chucking a homemade spinnerbait around until he found the next piece of cover.

9. There’s no typical grass in Clarks Hill, but Cal Lane found some nontypical stuff in the form of yard grass that had grown while the water was low. He had four spots with it on the northern end that he said cleaned up the water. So, he fished as shallow as he could – often in inches of water – alternating between a Googan Squad Hummer Buzzbait, River2Sea Lane Changer prop bait and a swim jig around any cover near the grass.

10. Vibrating jigs were key for many top pros this week, but none fished theirs like Tom Redington. Fishing around shallow wood, he used a 3/8-ounce Berkley Slobberknocker (BL special) with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg (green pumpkin party) trailer both as a jig and vibrating jig because he says it comes through hard cover so well. He’d skip it into brush and let it sit like jig just in case a fish was on a bed. If he didn’t get a bite, he’d slow pulse it up over the logs and limbs the rest of the way back. He also mixed in a Berkley Power Blade Compact Spinnerbait in the double willow configuration.