The impoundments along the Savannah River in northeast Georgia offer vast opportunities for largemouth bass, but it takes some hot-weather know-how to tap into this action.
By Ronnie Garrison
September can be the cruelest month for bass fishing. You have been suffering the heat all summer, sweating, swatting mosquitoes, and wondering if all the bass died before you got there. Now, the kids are back in school, you have more free time, and it seems it is time for fall fishing. But the bass don't know that yet.
Early September often offers some of our hottest weather. Water temperatures are at their peak and usually don't begin to drop at all until the end of the month. So you are out there hoping for a break in the poor fishing, yet the bass are still in their summer stupor. What can you do?
Three lakes on the Savannah River offer a variety of kinds of fishing for bass, and all can produce good catches in September. Clarks Hill (72,000 acres), Russell (26,500 acres), and Hartwell (56,000 acres) combine to give you almost 155,000 acres of water in which to find bass.
Although the three lakes are varied, all have similar structure and cover that hold bass. Bass can usually be found on all three lakes in the same kinds of places this month. You can spend all your time on one of the three or travel from one to the other, using similar patterns on the different lakes.
I grew up on Clarks Hill and still have a place at Raysville Boat Club. My wife, Linda, and I used to spend every Labor Day weekend there with family for fish fries, dove shoots and bass fishing. The best pattern we found was to eat all day, shoot doves in the afternoon, and fish at night.
One Sunday night on Sept. 3 a few years ago, Linda and I were sitting on a rocky point in Germany Creek at 10 p.m. It was so dark there was hardly any break between the shoreline trees and the sky. We had gotten to that point just before it got pitch black and had been casting over an hour without a bite.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
"I think I have a bite," Linda announced.
I told her to set the hook.
"It's a big one," she replied as the boat rocked and there was a huge splash. I blindly felt for the net and put it over the side of the boat, wondering what to do since I could not see a thing.
Suddenly, water splashed in my face and there was weight in the net. The 7-pound, 10-ounce largemouth had jumped beside the boat and landed in the outstretched net, due to no planning on my part. That fish was just meant to hang on our wall.
Fishing at night has been a good tactic on Clarks Hill, and it works on Russell and Hartwell in September, too. At Clarks Hill, tie on a 6-inch black plastic worm, Texas rig it with a 1/8-ounce sinker, and head to the riprap around bridges. On the Little River on the Georgia side (the lake forms the Georgia/South Carolina border and there is a Little River running into the reservoir from each state), Raysville Bridge on Georgia State Route (S.R.) 43 and Prices Bridge on S.R. 47 have good riprap. On the main Savannah River arm, the only bridge across the lake is the U.S. 378 span, and it produces fish, as do the bridges on the South Carolina Little River on U.S. 378 and South Carolina S.R. 81.
Fish the worm slowly, bumping it on the rocks and making short hops. The bass move to the riprap to feed on crayfish at night, so make your worm crawl and hop like one of the crawdads to attract a bite. Fish this same pattern on any main-lake rocky points and you can catch bass on them, too.
That same tactic works on lakes Russell and Hartwell, as well. Try any bridge riprap or main-lake points. The clearer water at Hartwell makes it even better at night than at Clarks Hill.
Bobby Stanfill grew up near Russell and Hartwell and has won many local bass tournaments on them. He likes night fishing on both lakes, but his favorite is Russell. His tactics are good on both lakes.
Russell is a very dark lake because there is no shoreline development, with its accompanying lights. No lights means a dark night lit only by the stars and moon. Russell is more peaceful than the other impoundments, but it can be more difficult to navigate, too. If you don't know the lake well you can get into trouble very easily.
Stanfill likes to find points and humps that are 15 to 25 feet deep on top and located near standing timber. There is a lot of timber in the lake, so just about anywhere you find the right depth you are likely to be in a good place. Cover on the bottom, like brush and rocks, or drops in lake floor contours make such places even better. Locate these hotspots in daylight, record the GPS coordinates, or memorize the way to get back to them in the dark.
Stanfill relies on four baits at these spots. He first runs a big crankbait across them; then he fishes a heavy spinnerbait along the bottom. If those baits don't work, he turns to a Texas- or Carolina-rigged worm for a slower presentation.
Stanfill likes to throw a big bait after dark, and he has a box of dark lures in his "after-dark box." He usually rigs an 8-inch lizard or a 10 1/2-inch worm. Colors really don't matter, so he reaches in and gets one without even checking to see what color it is.
The pole channel markers on Russell are on the ends of many points that ordinarily hold fish, and on Hartwell buoy markers on the points also are in good fishing areas. There are also a lot of humps marked with "danger" or "reef" signs that are excellent to fish at night on Hartwell.
Shoreline cabins and docks on Hartwell make it easier to navigate, but finding the good spots during daylight and fishing them at night is still a good idea. On any lake, if you don't know it well, go very slowly at night and keep your running lights on even when you're anchored so that others can see you.
Bobby Ferris sells boats at Piedmont Outdoors in Covington on Saturdays, and he fishes a lot of team and club bass tournaments. He is on the Triton State Fishing Team and has caught a lot of bass at Clarks Hill and Russell over the years. He has specific ways to find and pattern bass on both lakes in September.
There is a seasonal movement of shad on all three of the Savannah River lakes. Ferris looks for those baitfish and the bass feeding on them. Early in the month, baitfish and bass are near the mouths of major feeder creeks, and they move farther back as the water cools. Tie on a lure resembling the baitfish the bass are eating and throw it in the right areas and you will catch fish.
On Clarks Hill, Ferris focuses on Little Hart, Big Hart, Germany, Grays and Lloyd creeks. He starts at the mouth of the creek early in the month and works back, starting farther back as the month progresses until he locates the fish moving in.
First thing each morning, Ferris throws a chrome and blue chugger-type topwater lure on points in the creeks. Bass that have moved in overnight to feed are often still there, and others move up to feed at first light. Make long casts across the points and humps, then work the bait back fast to draw bass to it.
Watch for swirls in the water and try to hit those spots as quickly as you can. Have two rods rigged and cast blindly with one, but drop it and cast to a swirl with the other to avoid the delay caused by reeling in.
A crankbait is a good "search" bait to find the fish, since you can use it to cover a lot of water. Ferris likes the shad- or natural-colored lipped lures with built-in rattles. He throws these lures on shoals formed by sunken ridges or on points as he works up the creek, trying to find feeding largemouths.
When you're employing this pattern, fish the crankbait at different depths until you start catching fish. Once a depth is determined, target that level on other points and humps. You can also cast parallel to other portions of the bank, keeping the lure in the strike zone longer.
If some wind is blowing into the points and shoals, Ferris changes to a spinnerbait, throwing it into shallow water and then working it out into deeper areas. The wind pushes the algae shallow, and shad follow their food source. In turn, the largemouths follow the shad to the same places. The spinnerbait should also be worked at different depths until the hungry bass are located.
Use silver blades and a white skirt in clear water, but add some chartreuse in the skirt and a gold blade if the water is stained. Ferris likes to use smaller blades, but try to match them to the size of the shad that are present. Two small willow-leaf blades are good matches for the autumn threadfin shad.
If the bass don't seem to want a fast-moving bait, Ferris next tries a soft-plastic jerkbait in an albino color. He works it fast and then more and more slowly until the fish show what they want. Cast it shallow, but work it back over deeper water, too.
Also try a Carolina rig in these areas. Ferris rigs a 3/4- or 1-ounce sinker with a 36-inch leader and hooks on a watermelon or green pumpkin lizard. The lizard should be worked at different depths as you try to determine where the fish are holding. Again, once the fish are located, that depth should become your target.
On Russell, Ferris uses these same tactics in Beaverdam and Coldwater creeks and in the Rocky River. The channel marker poles can guide you to some good points at the mouths of the creeks, and you should also look for long points or shallow spots farther back in the creeks.
Remember to move farther back into the tributaries as the month progresses, because those are the areas the bass follow the shad to. If you catch bass halfway back in one of these creeks, that should be the region you concentrate on in the other creeks, too.
There is a lot of riprap on Lake Russell, and Ferris never overlooks it in September. When water is being pumped back into Russell from downstream Clarks Hill, or when power generation at the dam has water moving the other direction, a current is created that flows along the rocks. This turns on the bass, and they begin feeding anytime of the day or night. Try crankbaits and soft-plastic jerkbaits around the rocks anytime the water is moving.
According to Ferris, there is one good pattern that is specific to Clarks Hill in September. The appearance of hydrilla has offered a new way to fish the lake that is worth checking out. Find a hydrilla bed on a main-lake point and you can catch a lot of big bass. Look for these grassbeds around the mouths of the creeks that were mentioned earlier and on the main course of the Little River on the Georgia side.
First thing in the morning, try a floating worm or soft-plastic jerkbait around the grass. Watermelon or green pumpkin worms are good, and Ferris sticks with the albino jerkbait. Cast them to holes in the vegetation and around edges of the hydrilla.
As the sun gets high, use the same baits on a Carolina rig, but add a light 1/4- or 3/16-ounce lead and a long leader. Work this rig around the grass, letting it sink, but the plastic lures should stay up on top of the sunken grass clumps.
Also try a chrome-and-blue lipless crankbait along the grass edges. Those fast-moving plugs often draw strikes from bass holding in the grass. This tactic can be good all day, but if a breeze is blowing into the grass it is even better.
Ferris also has a "big bite" tactic that may get you a lunker bass. He works a buzzbait or popper-style topwater lure along the edge of the grass, fishing slowly and hoping for a big fish. Again, a slight breeze blowing into the grass helps, and you can fish these topwater baits all day long. Don't expect a lot of hits, but hold on when you get one.
All three of these lakes now have blueback herring in them, and the presence of these baitfish produces a pattern that works on any of the reservoirs this month. The topwater bite can be exceptional, and big bass are often caught on it.
Tie on a stickbait, jerkbait or other topwater lure. Also have a soft-plastic jerkbait rigged. Be on the water around bridge pilings or main-lake points early in the morning and watch for schooling fish. Cast around such locations for some heart-stopping strikes on top.
You may not see a big school of bass, but rather spot single fish hitting herring on top. When you sight a splash, throw your bait to it immediately. Work it fast to imitate a fleeing herring and be ready to set the hook.
On Hartwell, fish the I-85 bridge over the Tugaloo River and bridges over the feeder creeks. Also try main-lake points, keeping your boat in deep water and casting up toward the shallows. If you see fish hitting on top, throw to them, but fish the points even if bass are not showing themselves. Also bear in mind that largemouths often hold in treetops and come up for a bait worked over them.
On Russell, try the S.R. 72 bridge on the lower end of the lake and the Seaboard Coast Line railroad trestle just upriver from it. Also fish main-lake points from that area downstream to the dam. There are a lot of standing trees off the points and humps here, and you can catch bass on many of them.
All the lakes on the Savannah River along Georgia's eastern border can offer some good fishing this month. You may have to change the way you fish, learn some new tactics, and target different structure, but the bass can be enticed to eat the lures offered to them.
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