The never-ending heat wave was back. With temperatures tickling triple digits and not a cloud in the sky, eight hours on the deck of a boat had Clarks Hill feeling a little like Clarks H-E- you-know-where. However, two key variables turned less-than-ideal fishing conditions into a pretty good day on Georgia’s largest lake. First, a steady breeze put a nice chop on the water most of the day. More importantly however, I was fishing with Bill Crompton of Evans, who has spent the past 25 years chasing bass on the 71,000-acre Savannah River impoundment.
Bill and his wife own Bottom Line Lending, a mortgage-finance company in Martinez, and he spends 10 hours a day working. Whenever he has the chance though, Bill puts his Ranger boat in the water and fishes Clarks Hill.
“I get out once or twice a week,” Bill said. “The great thing is, the coming months will provide some of the best fishing of the year.”
Bill knows the lake and relies on his experience when he fishes with the Outcast Bass Club. In addition he actively raises money each year to sup- port a tournament hosted by the Paralyzed Veterans Association (PVA). During the tournament he serves as a boat captain.
“They have a two-day tournament once a year, and on the first day I’m not allowed to fish,” Bill explained. “The second day, we fish with the vets. It’s a great way to put a smile on somebody’s face and give something back.”
Two years ago during the event, Bill put a big smile on one veteran’s face so early in the tournament his partner couldn’t believe it. It speaks volumes about how much he loves the tournament and how his knowledge of Clarks Hill pays off.
“We just ran around the corner from Wildwood, and I handed him a spinning rod with a little crankbait tied on, and he started fishing a point,” Bill said. “He made four casts and had 13 pounds in the livewell, and there were still boats coming by from the blast off. I looked back there and this big ol’ guy was sitting there laughing so hard he had tears rolling down his face.”
October will provide cooler temperatures and fishing conditions similiar to those Bill’s partner experienced as Clarks Hill bass begin schooling — feeding on giant pods of blueback herring — the lake’s primary food source for predatory fish.
“There are some shad in the lake, but the bass really key on bluebacks, and we have a good population of fish that are very healthy,” Bill told me as we began our trip.
This month Bill will rely on several key techniques for targeting bass, including throwing a weightless Trick Worm on wind- blown banks and fishing flukes, Spooks and Sammys offshore when he locates big schools of aggressively feeding fish.
The day started shortly after daylight on the same point where Bill’s partner in the PVA tournament loaded up early a couple of years ago. While we saw a few fish busting herring on top, there weren’t big schools coming up and we headed to a new spot. Bill picked up a rod rigged with a yellow Zoom Trick Worm. Bill rigs his floating worms on 6-lb. test line to which he secures a 1/0 Gamakatsu worm hook with a loop knot. Bill threads the worm on weed- less style, but he runs the hook eye down into the soft-plastic bait almost to where the eye comes out of the body of the worm.
Bill dropped the trolling motor and started working along a wind-blown bank as he explained how he fishes the Trick Worm in October.
“If I’m not seeing schooling fish early, I’ll go with the floating worm,” Bill said. “I look for main-lake banks and short pockets where the wind is blowing in. This lake is full of hydrilla, and the fish will hold in it and grab the worm as it comes by.”
Bill had worked all the way around a pocket without a strike before a bass sucked the worm in, and Bill made a quick hook set on a nice fish. Around the end of the short, round point, another bass struck, and Bill had bass number two in the boat. One missed fish later, and I was convinced, picking up another of Bill’s spinning rods and whipping a floating worm toward the bank.
“Yellow is a good color on Clarks Hill early in the fall,” Bill related. “Later in the fall, merthiolate works well.”
I made a few casts, working the worm back to the boat with a series of quick twitches when I saw a bass materialize from the hydrilla, which from the deck of the boat looks like the boughs of giant Christmas trees under the clear, green-tinted water. I stopped the worm for a split second, and the bass vanished.
“On this lake, you’ve got to keep the bait moving or the fish won’t hit it,” Bill instructed.
Across the lake we started along another bank when Bill tied a small, slender crankbait on a spinning rod spooled with light line, and I began making casts and steadily retrieving the plug right over the top of the hydrilla. Within five minutes, I felt the line load up and reeled in a short fish, my first bass of the day.
As the sun got higher on the water the temperature went from pleasant and cool to hot and muggy in no time. Bill said the sunny conditions might put the fish closer to cover or down deeper in the hydrilla. And while we consistently threw different baits at the bass, the Trick Worm kept on producing. Bill and I had moved to another spot in the middle of the day when he explained how he fishes Clarks Hill on October days.
“I’ll use the floating worm in the morning, and about lunchtime I’ll start looking for schooling fish over deep water,” Bill said. “I always keep rods on the deck so if schoolers start coming up close by I can cast other baits to them.”
We were having a ball, talking about Bill’s success as a skeet shooter growing up in North Carolina, his start in hunting, which included a pack of beagles, a double-barrel shotgun and two shells per hunt, and deer hunting, when a nice fish slammed my Trick Worm.
“Even on days like this when you are fishing hard for every bite, the floating worm works,” Bill said as I unhooked the fish and returned it to the water. “You have to be patient, but over the course of a trip, it will produce fish and it will only get better as the water temperature cools off and fish get a little more active.”
For several hours Bill and I threw floating worms with some success, but after a while he took me up the main lake to show me another technique that will be a blast on Clarks Hill this month. Bill made a relatively short run and set the boat down way off a point and motioned to the depthfinder on the bow.
“We’re sitting in 30-plus feet of water right here,” Bill said. “Some guys won’t fish this way, but on Clarks Hill it is deadly to fish deep water when fish are schooling.”
Bill pointed to a nearby saddle between two raised spots of land on the bank, which was a couple hundred yards away. On Clarks Hill, anglers know those spots as blow-throughs, and fishing them when bass are schooling can be a sure-fire way to catch bass after bass. After this year’s blistering drought conditions, however, many such areas are out of the water.
“The blow-throughs are really great, but unless we get a lot of rain, I’ll look for different features,” Bill explained.
Bill doesn’t just look for 30- and 40-foot depths on his graph. He looks for those depths where long ditches or points coming from the bank connect to the main channel. Those spots provide areas where bass congregate and ambush baitfish that move along in or just outside the channels or ditches.
“I watch the bank and look for where ditches come in or where long points run out under the water,” Bill said.
When Bill targets his favorite areas to catch schooling fish, he’ll be fishing a fluke, a Zara Spook or a Lucky Craft Sammy. He sticks with basic colors such as clear or white baits for the hard plugs and throws ivory- or ice-colored flukes. One of his favorites is an ivory fluke with a chartreuse tail.
“Early in the day and when it’s cloudy, that ivory with the chartreuse tail seems to work well,” Bill said.
Again, Bill rigs these baits with a loop knot. On his flukes, he uses a straight-shank hook with the point exposed, and he pinches on a small split shot just below his knot to give the bait a little casting weight and to give it a slightly more erratic darting action. He ties a barrel swivel at the end of the line and adds a 2-foot fluorocarbon leader. On the Spook and the Sammy, the loop knot allows the bait a little more room to swing and makes it easier to work the right way. Also keep in mind that leaving just a little slack in the line will allow the bait to walk back and forth a little more freely and likely draw arm-breaking strikes.
Bill says fishing on top for schooling fish requires enough wind to move the water, breaking up the outline of his lure so wary bass can’t see it as well.
“You have to have wind or you’re wasting your time on top because the fish can see so far in this clear water,” Bill explained.
Getting into big schools of bass that are chasing herring to the surface and knocking them plumb out of the water doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, Bill says the action can be frenzied.
“A couple of years ago a partner and I fished until 2 o’clock and had one keeper in the boat, so we went to one of our favorite schooling spots, and the fish were coming up,” Bill recalled. “By 2:30 we were culling fish.”
Bill explained that when bass coming to the surface are few and far between, they can be picky. Later in the fall the schools of bass can be huge. Think of 100 yards of exploding water where bass are ravaging bait.
“When they come up in areas the size of a football field, I believe you can throw just about anything in there, and they’ll kill it,” Bill said. “You can have a limit of fish in just a few minutes when they start schooling like that.”
Bill and I didn’t have any luck on schooling bass on the September day we spent on Clarks Hill. However, more pleasant nighttime temperatures should have the water cooling off and the bass getting ready to do their thing. Besides, even with blistering temperatures and no clouds to help block the sun, we had a reasonably productive day on Trick Worms, boating nine fish over the course of our trip.
After a few minutes of trying to get into some schoolers to no avail, Bill and I were back to working worms over big hydrilla beds on wind-blown banks. Bill says while schooling action can be great in the fall, there will be bass in shallow water, thus his reliance on the floating worm. Bill said anglers will have to try beating different sections of bank with floating worms to see what’s working that day.
“Sometimes the fish are on wood, and sometimes they’re on rock, so you have to figure out which they are holding on better and look for similar places,” Bill instructed.
We only had a few minutes left to fish, and Bill and I were still working for every bite when my worm came to an abrupt stop. I could still see the yellow worm but no fish as I set the hook hard. Momentarily, a tiny bass launched from the water shaking its gills like a lunker. I had to admire the little guy’s ferocity, striking a worm that was almost as long as he was.
“Whoa, it’s a world record,” I hollered as Bill laughed.
Down the bank a little way, Bill’s worm was inhaled by another fish that didn’t quite measure. However, no matter how big the fish Bill and I caught were, every strike we got on Trick Worms was a crusher, leaving no doubt as to the fish’s intentions. Imagine how good they’ll bite when the water gets below the boiling point.
In all, Bill and I averaged one fish per hour during our trip. By targeting windy banks with a Trick Worm and following up with flukes, Spooks and Sammys on schooling bass, the action should only get better for anglers heading to the Hill in October. Get your boat in the water, have your rods ready with the baits Bill recommends and you’re likely to have one of your best days of fishing ever on Clarks Hill this month.