June 1, 2010
Clarks Hill Reservoir is a large manmade impoundment located just northwest of
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Practice Makes Perfect
Each morning of practice I began by running shallow points using various topwaters. On this lake, speed and efficiency are critical, as schooling is usually random and scattered. If your timing is right, you can score well. But if it’s off, you can come up empty handed.
After trying a number of familiar points and shoals, I quickly determined that the herring spawn was about over with. Instead of bass chasing 8 to 10-inch herring, I found them keyed on pods of small shad.
A variety of topwaters normally work well on Clarks Hill bass, especially when they’re actively busting on the surface. Pencil Poppers, Gunfish, Spooks, and SkitterWalks are among the favorites. But because the bass were selectively feeding on small shad, I downsized to a small SkitterWalk. With the right lure profile, it’s only a matter of getting the bait into the fray when the feed is on. When the schooling stops, slower bottom presentations seem to work best, including a Carolina rig, drop shot, shaky head, or the local favorite, a mop jig.
I found very few productive areas the first two mornings of practice. Schooling activity seemed weak at best. On day-2 I went all the way to the headwaters below the dam, and up several large tributaries, hoping to find something different. In one pocket near the dam I found some shallow, shoreline cruisers. One was a 6-pounder that wouldn’t leave the edge of an emergent grassbed. Nearby I found a 2-pounder and some small keepers swimming the edge of another grassbed. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Guntersville, and that fish of this class may become valuable. So, I marked the spot and moved on, not knowing how crucial those fish would ultimately become.
On day-3 of practice I decided to start in the take-off creek on the lower end of the lake. As I idled out of the no-wake zone at
Close by, I recognized another angler. It was Aaron Martens. He too, noticed the commotion. Fortunately, I get along well with Aaron. So I figured if I had to share them, at least it would be with a competitor I could work with.
From there I ran other flat points in the area. And again I found fish, but not in the same numbers. When the bass weren’t visibly feeding, I coaxed them into biting a
Hurry Up and Wait
With a late draw in the take-off order, I watched anxiously as sixty other boats idled away from
Finally my number was called, and I went directly to the flat. Surprisingly, Aaron had chosen the inside corner away from the area I liked best. He was about 75 yards away, casting in the opposite direction. I couldn’t believe it. I eased up, dropped the trolling motor, and commenced to put on a clinic with a Rapala SkitterWalk. After about the third fish, Aaron was bumping rails with me, trying to get a better vantage on the school. I kept it friendly. I knew the tables might turn later, and that I might need the same access I granted him.
My fourth fish was a stud 4-pounder. When I boated that fish, Aaron started to whine. In another few minutes I caught a fat 2 1/2-pounder. It was fun. In less than an hour I had a nice limit of bass on a lake that had proven ultra-stingy all week. I knew I was in good shape, with lots of fishing time remaining.
As the morning wore on, Aaron finally caught a limit on his patented Scrounger. In fact, the bait was working better as the sun got higher, so I asked him for one. He obliged, and while digging in his tackle, a school of 2-pounders erupted just yards from his boat. With our gunnels side by side, I had no choice but to cast through his boat to intercept the school. With Aaron buried in baits, I fired a cast directly in front of the lead fish. It struck immediately. Aaron’s marshal dropped to his knees as I raised my line high over his head, back-peddling with the trolling motor on high. Aaron reached for a rod, and in a frenzied cast, backlashed his reel into oblivion. It was comical, but costly. The school vanished as I lifted the 2-pounder into the boat. Both marshals and I were laughing as Aaron mumbled unintelligibly, frustrated by the missed opportunity. I felt bad. If not for asking him to loan me a Scrounger, he could have scored as well.
Little did I know at the time, Aaron would get the last laugh.
Day-2 was different. I started on the same spot and quickly scored a 1 ½-pound keeper with the SkitterWalk. But right after that, things got tougher. The surface activity dropped off dramatically. I switched to Aaron’s Scrounger, and then to a
This day belonged to Aaron. I watched helplessly as he scored three quality fish with his Scrounger, one of which was nearly 4 pounds. A little later he added his fourth keeper, and soon the schooling stopped altogether.
I told my partner to put on his life-jacket. I had had all I could take.
With little to show for the morning effort, I headed for a main-lake point that yielded several bites in practice. I began with the topwater, but quickly dismissed it for a
Finally, at 12:45, I caught my third fish, a decent 2-pounder. When I placed her in the livewell, I could see that the fish I caught earlier was upside down and motionless. It made me sick…the 8-ounce dead-fish penalty would reduce that fish to about 10 ounces of total weight.
By 1pm, the bite quit altogether. Strangely, a voice inside me said run to the dam—not the one close by, but the one nearly 40 miles upriver! I dismissed it at first, but the voice kept pounding inside me…”GO, GO NOW!” It was 1:15pm, and I had a 3:30 check-in time. It was crazy, but I told my partner to pack his stuff, that we were going to make a long run.
All the way up the river I questioned the call and how foolish the move was. Several times I nearly turned back, but something inside me said keep going.
After a 38-minute run at top speed, I finally approached the dam. Rounding the corner into the cove where I’d seen the cruising bass in practice, I decided to start on a grassline on the left bank. On my first cast with a SPRO frog, a 2-pounder swiped at the bait, missing it completely. I worked the lure meticulously, but nothing. A repeat cast yielded the same. Just as I was changing lures, a boat rounded the corner and headed straight for the area that held the 6-pounder. It was Pete Ponds, and he obviously had seen the same fish in practice. I was disgusted. Not only did I miss the frog bite, now the fish I actually came for was going to another competitor. The long run appeared to be a complete waste of time.
Just minutes later, Pete pulled his trolling motor and planed off. I told my marshal he either caught the six, or it wasn’t there anymore. I continued fishing down the shoreline toward the back of the cove, hoping to intercept a cruising keeper, but there were none. I never saw a single fish swimming the bank. I went to the spot where I saw the 6-pounder, just to be sure, and it too was gone. I told my marshal to put on his life-jacket, that we were moving again.
As I planed off, the voice hit me again…”Go back to the fish you missed!”
So I eased off the gas and coasted just shy of the starting spot. I studied my rods, trying to decide which lure might work. I selected the drop shot and made a long pitch to the edge of the grass where the 2-pounder missed my frog. Immediately the line raced for deep water. I swung and a 13-ounce keeper came boatside. Not what I wanted, but it was a keeper, and that made four. After dropping him into the livewell, my marshal asked, “Is that other fish alive?” Puzzled by the question, I lifted the lid to see, and miraculously, the dead fish was upright and breathing.
Stunned by the quick turn of events, I made another pitch to the same spot, and again, the line raced off. This time it was the 2-pounder that missed the frog. After a short battle, I lifted the fish into the boat and told my marshal to get ready to leave. We had only 40 minutes to reach weigh-in and I didn’t want to be late.
All the way back I juggled numbers in my head—did I have enough? Would I make the cut? Would we be on time? It was 40 miles of mental torture!
Back at check-in, we heard the weights had fallen off considerably. Day-1 cut was set at just over 9 pounds, and I weighed more than eleven. If the weights were off enough, perhaps the 2-pound cushion might carry me.
It was enough, but not by much. I made the cut by less than a pound.
Day-3 was even tougher, but I managed five keepers for about 7 pounds, and actually moved up 2 spots in the standings. The finish was worth $10K.
Often, you hear phrases like, “I had a gut feeling” or, “a voice inside me said”. All I can tell you is this: go with it. If the voice is clear and decisive, listen! In my experience, following that voice, or feeling, can change the outcome dramatically. I left Clark Hill convinced a greater force had improved my finish in this event.