By: Mark Lassagne with Jason Williamson
Jason Williamson “Jwill” uses home field advantage to top the field of 100 Bass Master Elite anglers on Clarks Hill Reservoir.
“A few weeks earlier and it would have been anyone’s game,” Williamson said.
There are only a few places where the big ones bite this time of year and Williamson is one of the few who knows where they are located. Time and time again, we’ve seen local anglers fail because they actually know the lake too well, but this is one of those few times where local knowledge actually paid off.
Jason Williamson from Wagener, South Carolina, was a local terror around the Carolina’s doing well fishing the BASS opens and other pro events. During one of the BASS events Williamson met up with Elite angler Boyd Duckett (Duckett Rods) they became good friends, helping each other in various events, after a Williamson had a particularly great season Duckett, convinced him to fish the Elite tour. It’s not every year you can qualify for such a prestigious circuit Duckett told Williamson. After some coercing and a lot of help from Williamson’s father and family, he took the plunge. After a few short years Williamson has won two events and netted more than $500,000.
By the end of May at Clark’s Hill, most anglers are certain the herring spawn has ended. However, Williamson knows a few areas where the spawn lingers a bit longer. This year is different than years past, it had been a long winter and then the heat came all at once. The late winter prolonged the herring spawn just long enough for Jason’s key spots to play a major roll.
Herring, for those of you who thought this was a little silver critter that roamed the open sea and served as food for salmon, you’re right, but not completely. Herring in Clarks Hill and surrounding areas are Blue Back Herring that were most likely transplanted by a striper fisherman several years back.
Herring are to a bass is like a filet Mignon is to a bass angler.
“A bass will pass up a crawfish, bluegill, shad or anything else to get a herring,” says Jason.
Blue Back Herring is a small fish that can live in salt or freshwater, found in many inland lakes across the East. They reach a maximum length of 16 inches and about seven ounces. Their diet consists of plankton, small insects and fish eggs. Herring suspend in open water about 75 percent of the time then move shallow when the water hits 70 to 72 degrees to spawn. They spawn on a hard bottom: gravel, plants or wood where there is not much silt.
“Unlike bass, herring don’t spawn all the way back in the coves they usually go about half way during the early part of their spawn then the last wave will spawn on main lake points,” Jason said.
During the herring spawn, anglers should focus primarily on the herring if they want to have any chance of doing well.
“It’s key to find the herring in practice then concentrate on those areas,” Williamson said, “which is not always easy since herring can be somewhat nomadic.
“What I do is put the trolling motor on high and search as many, hard bottom, main lake points as I can during practice then mark the ones where I find herring. Once I locate the points holding the herring I’ll make a milk run of those areas, hoping to catch one or two spots at the just right time.”
Clark’s Hill is the largest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project east of the Mississippi River and one of the largest inland bodies of water in the south. Clark’s Hill Lake is located on the Georgia and South Carolina border and stretches 39 miles up the Savannah River, 26 miles up the Little River in Georgia, and 10 miles up Little River into South Carolina. The lake has three dams, 1,200 miles of shoreline and more than 250 islands with a mix of hardwoods and pine trees.
During the practice days, utilizing his local knowledge Williamson searched specific areas on the lake looking for herring. Fishing in the main lake he found areas where he could catch a number of average sized bass. Traveling up river just below the Russell Dam Jason he found the fish scarce, but the bites he did get were big-uns. Williamson took note that the water was eight degrees cooler below the dam and they were pumping water uphill from Clarks to Russell. The cooler water meant the herring spawn would last just a little longer.
On day one, he opted to fish the main lake anticipating culling up to a good limit, Williamson fished just a few points, managed 12 bites ending the day with slightly more than 12 pounds. The problem with his main lake spot is he had to share it with two other anglers cutting down the odds of getting a good limit every day. Sitting in the middle of the pack and the odds of winning slim in the main lake, Jason decided to gamble and head up river to the Russell dam hoping to land a big bag.
On the second day of the tournament, Williamson decided to make a long run up river and the decision paid off, he caught 14-07 moving him into fifth place.
The third day of the tournament Williamson caught the same quality except his limit was anchored with a seven-pound 12-ounce kicker, making his day three limit 19-02 propelling him to a four pound lead over second.
On day two and three Russell dam was pumping water out of Clark’s Hill creating a current around the dam and bass were feeding. Sunday, the final day of the tournament, is the only day they don’t pump water at Clark’s Hill. Williamson knew they would not be pumping water but with a sizeable lead he felt he only needed a couple good bites or one big one to win. Williamson landed a couple fish at the dam, but not the same quality as before, the lack of current had killed the bite. He managed only one big fish on a Buckeye Mop Jig, the bait he relied on the entire event.
Instead of leaving the river Williamson downsized and began grinding it out. Pulling out the spinning rod a 3/16-ounce Buckeye spot remover shakey head fitted with a six-inch Zoom trick worm he slowed down and concentrated on the five points he relied on the last two days. He managed only seven pounds on the last day but it was enough to edge out Cliff Crochet.
Winning Strategy: Williamson told BASS ANGLER he had to work the entire lake during practice to find a few key areas holding quality bass. He found these areas by running his trolling motor on high to locate areas where Blue Back Herring had moved up shallow. Then when retuning to these areas (all points with hard clay bottom) he would start with a pearl white Zoom Super Fluke rigged on a Trokar TK100 hook with 15-pound McCoy fluorocarbon line and pick off the active fish. After picking off the easy ones he switched to a crawfish matching brown Buckeye Mop Jig ½-oz with a green pumpkin Zoom super chunk trailer with 20-pound McCoy fluorocarbon line.
On day one, four of the five fish weighed came on the Mop Jig, day two he caught three on the jig and two on the fluke. On day three every fish came on the jig, including a seven pounder. Day four, when they shut the water off, only one came on the jig then the last four were caught using a Duckett spinning rod with a 3/16 Buckeye spot remover shakey head and a six inch zoom green pumpkin trick worm on eight-pound McCoy fluorocarbon. Over the four days Williamson kept to his plan, repeatedly fishing just five small areas.
Note: When the herring would leave an area the bass would remain for a while feeding on crayfish and that’s when the Mop jig would really shine.
Equipment: Buckeye Mop jig: 20-pound McCoy fluorocarbon, Duckett Rod 7.6 Heavy DFMM76H-C with a BPS Gold Series Reel bait caster.
Super Fluke: Fifteen-pound McCoy Fluorocarbon, Duckett Rod 6.9 Medium Heavy DFMM69MH-C with a BPS Gold Series Reel bait caster
Shakey Head: Eight-pound McCoy fluorocarbon, Duckett 7.0 Spinning Rod DFMM70M-S with a BPS Gold Series spinning reel.
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