The last Monday in December I went to my place at Clarks Hill. Tuesday morning drove up to Lake Russell, about 45 minutes north, to meet Trad Whaley to get information for my February Georgia Outdoor News Map of the Month article.
Russell is a beautiful lake with no shoreline development. Sandwiched between Lake Hartwell’s dam and the upper end of Clarks Hill on the Savannah River, it is almost always very clear. The lake is full of standing timber and spotted bass have taken it over.
We caught several spots on the patterns Trad showed me, and he got a nice 3.5 pound largemouth on a pattern he said works good for them after a rain. That pattern is going to the back of creeks with some water inflow and fishing the stained, incoming water.
Stained is a relative term. The water we were fishing that Trad called stained was clear enough to see a crankbait down more than a foot. But it was not as clear as the rest of the lake.
I was surprised to see a dozen trucks and bass boat trailers at the ramp, but Trad told me they were practicing for a big high school tournament that is this weakened. Back at Clarks Hill, I fished a little the next two days. The water around Raysville was muddy, with my plug disappearing about two inches deep. It was very different from Russell.
Each day on the water I saw several other fishing boats. That is a big change there. I spent Christmas Holidays at Clarks Hill for about 30 years starting in 1974. I often went days without seeing another person even at the boat club, and never saw boats on the water back in the 1970s and early 80s.
There were several reasons folks didn’t fish in the winter back in the 1970s. Most of us did not know bass and crappie could be caught in the cold water. Everyone I knew quit fishing when hunting seasons opened.
We didn’t have the clothes for winter fishing. After one winter of trying to wear the warm clothes I wore while hunting and finding them unsuitable, I ordered a snow mobile suit in 1976, maybe one of the first in Georgia.
There were no hybrids and stripers in our lakes. I caught a fish the day after Christmas in the late 1970s on a crankbait and had no idea what it was. It looked a little like a white bass but was bigger and more streamline. I found out it was a hybrid or striper that the DNR had started stocking in Clarks Hill a couple of years earlier. They feed heavily in the winter.
Now most of the boats on the lake are fishing for hybrids and stripers. Guides stay busy this time of year fishing live and artificial baits for them, and they catch a lot.
When I joined the Spalding County Sportsman Club in April 1974, I was told the club had tournaments during the winter. That surprised me. But I won one in October, later than I had ever bass fished, that year. Then in January I drew Alan White as my partner for the Jackson tournament. We still had draw tournaments back then and I agreed to go in his boat since I had no idea about winter fishing.
We took off from Kerseys in the sleet and 30-degree temperature that morning and ran almost all the way to the 212 Bridge over the Alcovy River, a very long cold ride in Alan’s 14 foot Singfisher boat with a 40 horsepower motor and stick steering.
We both had the only baits we really knew to fish in the winter ready. Both of us had chrome Hellbenders tied on and had a couple of Lazy Ikes and Countdown Rapalas ready to fish.
Alan caught three bass and I caught one, all on the Hellbenders. Alan’s three weighed about ten pounds and included a six-pound bass. I was surprised to see such a big bass in January. If that was a surprised, weigh-in was a shock. There were five other bass weighing more than six pounds brought to the scales!
Ray Lisle had one weighing over six pounds he caught on a Countdown Rapala and one other fisherman had one. But Jeff Hobbins had three over six pounds each! He was showing everybody his plug, a new-fangled Rebel Wee R, something we had never seen before. And it was a weird color, bone and orange, now a staple in muddy water.
I caught a few bass at Clarks Hill the first two winters I had my bass boat, but the next year, December 1976, really showed my how well bass bite at times. I kept seeing something a foot off the bottom out on a hump that I knew had a slick bottom. It showed up as a line on my Lowrance flasher depthfinder.
After trying a bunch of baits, including my Wee
Rs, I tied on a Little George, another new-fangled lure, and dropped it down and started jigging it up and down. I landed 22 bass in that one spot that day and the next!
I caught my first eight-pound bass in a 1977 January Sportsman club tournament at Jackson while fishing with Bobby Jean Pierce. It hit a chrome Wiggle Wart plug. Two years later I landed another eight pounder at Jackson in January, this one in a Flint River Bass club tournament while fishing with Cecil Aaron. It hit a spinnerbait.
My biggest bass ever, a nine-pound, seven-ounce fish, hit a crankbait in a February Flint River tournament in 1991 I was fishing with Larry Stubbs. And the last eight pounder I caught hit a crankbait in a January Flint River tournament at Jackson in 2010 while fishing with Jordan McDonald.
Fishing can be good in the winter but too many folks know it. Don’t expect to have the lake to yourself!