Last May, B.A.S.S. anglers Davy Hite and Kevin VanDam were talking after the day-two weigh-in of Bassmaster’s Elite Series tournament on Clarks Hill. Davy had weighed-in back-to-back 20-lb. sacks, and all Kevin had after day two was a pair of 10-lb. bags. Kevin wanted to know just what in the heck Davy was throwing to produce 40 pounds of fish in two days.
When Kevin asked, Davy held up a big, brown jig, made by Buckeye Lures in Martinez. Kevin looked at the jig and told Davy that it looked like a big, brown mop. Buckeye Lures liked Kevin’s response so much that they quickly named the mop-looking jig the Mop Jig.
Davy Hite, who is now sponsored by Buckeye Lures, continued to fish the Mop Jig and went on to win the four-day B.A.S.S. tournament and took home $100,000.
Last month I stepped into a Buckeye-wrapped Ranger with Jeremy Altman. Jeremy and his dad, Roy, own Buckeye Lures and have been supplying Clarks Hill anglers with baits for about a decade.
Jeremy and I were on the water on what we thought to be the perfect day for February fishing. At daylight, it was only about 50 degrees and a big cold front was 12 hours away. We felt like the bass would be up feeding.
We launched at Cherokee and were quickly fishing a big pocket just west of Little River Marina (Pam’s Marina). Jeremy set the boat down about halfway back, and we were quickly looking for our first bite. In February, Jeremy targets 15- to 20-foot ditches.
We were both throwing 1/4-oz. Ditch Blades, a jig head equipped with a spinner, made by Buckeye Lures and locally known as a “Ditch Witch.” Both baits were dressed with white-pearl-colored Tiny Flukes.
“It imitates a shad,” said Jeremy. “Most people throw it down a ditch, let it fall to the bottom and hop it back. Some guys will fish it over hydrilla, and you’ll want to bring it over the tops and bump your rod tip a little bit.”
Jeremy said those hopping and bumping actions give the bait a more erratic action and cause more reaction strikes.
“The Ditch Blade comes in 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-oz. sizes,” said Jeremy. “I like to dress the 1/4-oz. bait with a Tiny Fluke from Zoom, and I’ll use the regular Fluke or a Super Fluke Jr. on the 3/8- and 1/2-oz. Ditch Blades. Pearl works about best on Clarks Hill, but white ice and albino are good colors, too.”
Jeremy and I noticed surface activity about three-quarters of the way back in the pocket.
“That’s too much for me to stand,” said Jeremy.
He cranked up and idled us 200 yards toward the back of a ditch where scattered hydrilla beds filled the shallow, eight- to 10-foot flat.
“The water temperature is only 50 degrees, but since we’ve had three or four days of nice weather I’m not surprised these fish have moved way back,” said Jeremy.
A few casts later Jeremy’s rod was bent over with a 2-lb. keeper that smacked his Ditch Blade, and he quickly brought the fish to the boat.
“This is a pretty good preview of March,” said Jeremy. “Bass will be feeding up before the spawn. You’ll find them actively feeding on shad and bluebacks in ditches. You’ll find them from 20 feet up to eight and 10 feet.”
We continued fishing Ditch Blades around the scattered hydrilla on medium-action spinning rods equipped with Team Daiwa 2500 reels loaded with 8-lb. fluorocarbon line.
“Eight-pound line is about as big as I use when I throw the 1/4-oz. Ditch Witch,” said Jeremy. “I’m not worried about pulling the fish out of any cover since most times you’re fishing the bait in a ditch (and not over hydrilla). Some guys throw the 3/8- and 1/2-oz. baits with 12-lb. line on baitcasters.”
Jeremy added that shad-colored crankbaits can work in the ditches, too.
“A Circuit Breaker, a No. 5 Shad Rap or a Tail Dancer are good choices,” said Jeremy. “Throw them to hydrilla edges, along steep banks and ditches. Lead-headed Flukes with Buckeye’s 1/4-oz. Jighead and Jiggin’ Blades in the ditches also work well.”
Many of Clarks Hill’s pockets and creeks have ditches to chunk baits into. Some of them are subtle, some more defined. Jeremy likes the ditches that have a three- to six-foot drop because he believes fish always want close access to deep water. He also likes a ditch that is surrounded by a big, hyddrilla-covered flat.
“Hydrilla is the key,” said Jeremy. “The bait gets in the hydrilla for cover, and the bass follow them. When we have a few days in March that are in the 80s, the fish will get up on the flats into the hydrilla and chase bait. Three or four days in the 70s or 80s, and you can just crush them.”
Clarks Hill’s hydrilla is dying for the season, although when I was there some of it still had good color. Jeremy said fishable hydrilla will still be very easy to find in March.
“Ditches (with hydrilla flats surrounding them) are all over the lake,” said Jeremy. “One of the easiest tools to help find the ditches is with a Navionics map.”
Jeremy had a Lowrance XIII depthfinder complete with the Navionics software. It shows contour lines and depths for where we were fishing. It was the most impressive piece of software I’ve ever been fishing with.
“The Carolina side up the Savannah has a lot of fairly deep ditches; try Church Cove, Modoc, Owl Branch and the Corp Cove,” said Jeremy. “Up the Little River (Georgia) look for ditches between Fort Gordon up to Raysville. I like to start fishing ditches in 25 feet of water and go all the way until I hit grass. Once the water climbs near 60, you can expect fish to be back into the eight- and 10-foot ditches.”
With fish still sporadically schooling in eight and 10 feet of water, we quickly had four 2-pounders in the boat; three nailed a Ditch Blade, and one hit the weightless Fluke.
“The Fluke is a staple for Clarks Hill,” said Jeremy. “I fish it weightless with a swivel about 18 inches above it. When I throw it into a school, I’ll either dead-stick it or jerk it back.”
By late morning the sun popped out for a few hours, and the fish that were running bait on top went down.
“When fish are down I like to fish the Mop Jig,” said Jeremy.
The Mop Jig, which comes with a Mustad flipping hook, is made with Living Rubber; most jig companies use silicon to make their skirts. A jig made with Living Rubber expands when it gets wet. Most silicon strands lay flat. Buckeye jigs are hand-tied with a wire wrap, so they cost $5 apiece — twice what many silicon jigs run. Anglers don’t seem to mind paying the extra cost for these Mop Jigs. Buckeye has been busy selling them for about a year.
The Mop Jig comes in 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-oz. sizes. Skirts come in black, brown, green pumpkin, black/blue, brown/orange and black/chartreuse. All jigs come with double rattles. We fished the brown, 3/8-oz. jig and dressed it with a green-pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk trailer.
“I like to throw the Mop Jig across a ditch and slowly bring it through the hydrilla and into the ditch,” said Jeremy. “When you bring it just on the outside of that grass wall is when you usually get bit.”
We were fishing a narrow pocket that had some impressive hydrilla walls in 10 feet of water. I chunked my Mop Jig on the edge of one of these walls, and a fish picked it up. I set the hook and put a 2-pounder in the boat.
“My first Mop fish,” I said.
“That’s about the smallest fish you’ll catch on that jig,” said Jeremy. “Mostly you’re going to be looking at a fish in the 3-lb. range and up.”
Late March and early April will be an excellent time to have a Mop Jig tied on; the full moon is April 2, and a segment of Clark Hill’s largemouth will pull up to spawn.
“The Mop Jig is one of the best bedding-fish baits due to its bulk,” said Jeremy. “Fish have to move it out of the bed. The 1/2-oz. bait is the best size to use because the bass can’t blow it out. Also, it is very easy to see in the bed, so it’s easy for anglers to fish.”
Jeremy and I fished ditches from Fort Gordon to just west of the Little River bridge and ended up with eight bass in the 1/2- to 2-lb. range. Although the fishing was pretty decent, expect the number of bites and size of fish to go up in March.
Buckeye Lures are sold in sporting-good stores all over Georgia. For a list of those retailers, go to <www.buckeyelures.com>.
You can also order Buckeye Lures online or call them at (866) GOBUCKEYE.