Wagner Says Beat the Bank for Bigs at Clarks Hill

Published on 03-07-2024

By Pete Robbins 
Big Bass Tour events at South Carolina’s Clarks Hill Reservoir have always been hard-fought affairs with plenty of big fish, but since moving them back to March starting in 2020, the lake has really shown its mettle. Multiple 7-pounders are always in the mix, and may threaten for the overall top prize, but the element of strategy forces anglers to consider how much bigger they’ll have to go to come out on top. 
For example, in 2021 the winning largemouth weighed 8.85 pounds, and there were four disappointed anglers who weighed in bass over 8. Last year, there were numerous 7-plus-pounders, but they were all dwarfed by the 9.39 pound giant that crushed them all. 
Rising tournament star Emil Wagner, who guides on Lake Lanier but has spent ample time on Clarks Hill, said that the beauty of this event is that it can be won anywhere on the lake. 
“I always fish the lower end, because I spend most of my time there during the herring spawn and later in the year fishing offshore brush, but that’s just because I like the lower end on most lakes,” he said. “I know from my friends that there are some monster bags up the lake – 8, 9 and 10 pounders. You can catch them from one dam to the other. It’s a long run up to the Russell Dam, but there are some big fish up there.” 
The biggest factor in how and where they’ll be caught, he explained, is the rapidly changing weather, but no matter what he thinks it will be won old school. 
“We’ve had a warming trend the last two weeks, so I expect it will be a classic, super-heavy pre-spawn pattern, with perhaps a little bit of spawning action. It could happen, but I don’t think that the true giants will be caught deep. Most of them will be near the bank.” 
It’s possible to get any one of a number of hourly checks with the lake’s ample spotted bass, but they’re typically on the smaller side. “A 4-pounder is a pretty dang big one,” Wagner said. “The good thing is you can catch as many as you want. They’re not very smart.” 
He’d go all in on bigger baits, especially around the lake’s lower end docks. The choices might include a Berkley Cull Shad swimbait or a big jointed glide bait. Alternatively, he’d skip a jig around pilings and into hard-to-reach places. 
“There will also be some fish on shallow rock piles and little channel swings leading into spawning areas,” he added. They’ll be in 8 feet of water or less, so he’d rely on crankbaits like a Berkley Dime 6 or a Frittside. Another option is to simply cover water with a buzzbait – it won’t necessarily produce a ton of bites, but it might produce an absolute behemoth. 
For those anglers insistent about fishing deep brush Wagner recommends a Damiki Rig or an umbrella rig, but again, he’d look in the other direction. In fact, he thinks that the X factor could be finding a big sow already locked on a bed. Alternatively, there could be a super-early herring spawn up the lake. It all depends on the weather, so watching the changes and pattern may be every bit as important as past experience on Clarks Hill. 
Because there are so many quality fish in the lake, especially around key check-cashing and potentially winning weights, it will be critical to consult the live leaderboard regularly – lots of fish will earn money, but maximizing those earnings depends on strategy and timing.