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Catching Clarks Hill Bass Related to Deep Herring Schools

  • by Jay

Pro Keith Williamson Offers Tips from the September 2009 FLW Series Event on Clarks Hill

In last weekend’s Walmart FLW Series Event on Clarks Hill (Lake Thurmond) Keith Williamson of Lincolnton, Georgia finished in 3rd place and netted $38,803 – a successful day at work by most anyone’s standards! He did it by chasing bass following the roaming schools of blueback herring, and was kind enough to share some of his tricks with SCFishingReport.com.

Some bass can be found around the banks on Clarks Hill even in the heat of late summer and early fall, as the 8th place finishing professional Vic Vatalaro from Ohio proved, but locals know that all things being equal bass would prefer to eat blueback herring instead of shad or bream. The fattest, healthiest bass will usually be found relating to the herring schools, and in the summer that means looking in deep water for the fish.

In the spring herring spawn on shallow points and flats, and after bass come off the beds they will gorge on the spawning blueback herring in these areas. By the end of May, however, the blueback herring spawn is mostly completed and the herring will return to deeper water. Since herring are actually ocean fish Keith says that they naturally prefer to inhabit open water.

By early summer the blueback will be relating to deep water structure such as main lake humps, points, and drops. By middle and late summer when the water has warmed even further the herring (and largemouth bass following them) will still be around the same type of structure, but they will usually be even deeper. If the blueback herring are being chased up onto points they may come as shallow as 10 feet, but they will more typically be over deeper water 30 or 40 feet deep. Even if the herring are in water 30 or 40 feet deep the largemouth will often be suspended nearby only 15 or so feet down, and so they will often be willing to come to the surface to take a topwater lure.

Many anglers are aware that on lakes with a significant herring population the choicest tournament fish will often be following the blueback schools, but more difficult than knowing the pattern is finding the right spots to fish. At times bass will push the herring to the surface and be readily visible, and during the FLW Series tournament Keith reported seeing occasional swirls on the surface. However, Keith believes that one reason local anglers fared so well in this event was because of the relative absence of easily visible schooling fish on top – anyone can find a school of bass feeding on the surface. A prized commodity in tournament bass fishing is knowing the location of a school of feeding bass that is invisible to other anglers, and locals were more likely to find such fish in this tournament.

Keith acknowledges that his fish finder is useful in locating otherwise concealed schools of herring and bass feeding on them, but he says that his GPS unit is more useful. Instead of riding around and looking for schools of fish he has a good idea where they will be and heads to those locations. Because he is fishing over deep water he often has no idea what type of fish will be there until he starts casting, and at times it is common to catch striper and hybrids while targeting deep water bass relating to herring schools. However, this summer and early fall he has not picked up very many striper and hybrids.

In addition to looking for good structure in time tested locations Keith also likes to be near the hydrilla when looking for blueback herring schools. Hydrilla provides cover to the herring, and even though Clarks Hill water levels were down for an extended period there is still a good amount of hydrilla in certain areas. At this time of year Keith’s favorite part of the lake to fish is from the dam half way up both rivers; there is clearly a lot of good water to cover.

Choice of lures is important, and for much of the recent tournament Keith threw a Zoom Super Fluke. His preferred colors were Pearl, Glimmer Blue and White Ice. When the situation required a topwater lure he would usually throw a Sammy 100 or 115 in Clear, Ghost Minnow or Chrome, or a Lucky Kraft Gunfish.

While shallow water fishing in the summer often involves getting bites early in the morning and then having the bite shut down once the sun comes up, targeting deep herring schools is very different. Keith found that the best part of the day was often in the middle of the day when baitfish were most active, and he had some of his best bites around 2:00 p.m. By October the striper and hybrid will be a bigger by-catch than in late summer and early fall, but they are most likely to be feeding early and late in low light periods.

As the season progresses into late fall, when the water temperatures cool significantly, Keith says the herring schools will start to move shallower, like most species. They can then be found in shallower coves. By the winter Clarks Hill herring schools will move again and seek refuge in ditches, runoffs and deep coves. These locations will generally be slightly warmer than surrounding areas and will often have sandy bottoms. While they could be as shallow as 5 feet the fish will generally be from 12 to 20 feet deep.

Despite Keith Williamson’s success last weekend this is still a very difficult period on Clarks Hill. Only two anglers weighed in five fish on Day Four (Saturday), only one fisherman weighed in exactly four fish and one angler weighed in no keepers on that final day. Over full days of hard fishing Keith caught only 6 fish the first day, 8 the second day, 4 the third day and 8 the final day. However, one of the advantages to pursuing the blueback herring bite is that the bass are generally good sized. Kieth’s big fish was 3 pounds 8 ounces, but he lost a 5 pounder that attacked his Fluke and a 4 pounder that jumped and threw the bait. The smallest fish he caught was 1.5 pounds, and most were at least in the two pound range.

Targeting deep largemouth bass relating to herring schools may not feel natural to many bass fishermen who are more used to fishing around structure and cover that they can see. This is especially true when the bass are suspended and not visibly attacking bait on the surface. However, as Pro Keith Williamson showed in the September 16-19 FLW Series Event on Clarks Hill, it can be a successful strategy. At least for Keith there were 38,803 reasons to fish that way!

My thanks to Keith Williamson for sharing his tips for catching bass on Clarks Hill with SCFishingReport.com’s readers. We look forward to following his success in the future.

Guide Rob McComas shows off a nice Jocassee winter smallie
Guide Rob McComas shows off a nice Jocassee winter smallie

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