Back-and-forth winter weather could make Clarks Hill Reservoir tough for Bassmaster College Series anglers to decipher

Teams competing on the Lunkers Trail of the 2024 Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops will kick off their season at Clarks Hill Reservoir. The College Series introduced a new format this year that features two divisions — the Legends Trail and the Lunkers Trail — with three tournaments each. Teams will fish one of the two divisions in hopes of qualifying for the 2024 College Series National Championship, details of which will be released at a later date. Emil Wagner, who fishes the Elite Qualifiers division of the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN, believes wintertime patterns could still prevail.

Tournament days are scheduled for Feb. 1-2, with daily takeoffs at 7 a.m. ET from Wildwood Park in Appling, Ga., and weigh-ins held back at the park each day at 3 p.m.

“It is really going to depend on the weather,” the Marietta, Ga., pro said. “If there is a massive warm front before the event, it will be nuts. The bass will be prespawn, and you will see a bunch of big bags shallow. But since it’s early February, it will probably be a lot more wintertime fishing.”

That weather forecast has been all over the place as of late, with nighttime lows in the mid-20s earlier this month and a major warming trend recently that brought showers and thunderstorms. For the week leading up to the event, nighttime temps are expected to be back in the 30s.

So, who knows which pattern the bass will be in?

What we do know is that the Savannah River fishery, which straddles the border between South Carolina and Georgia, has been kicking out impressive tournament results in recent years. Wagner said Clarks Hill is full of spotted bass — big ones, at that — as well as largemouth.

“The spotted bass have gotten way bigger. Even if you go back three years ago, the spots were rats. There were a bunch of 12-inchers, and they were a nuisance,” Wagner said. “They have gotten a lot bigger now. You will see people weigh in 16 or 17 pounds of all spots. That will be a factor that people normally wouldn’t think of when they go there. They are really easy to catch.”

The diets of these bass, particularly on the main lake, revolve around blueback herring, a baitfish found in every lake on the Savannah River chain.

“The herring always play, but even if you find a school of big ones, it doesn’t mean they are eating herring. But the south ends of these lakes typically have the most herring, and the bass are just bigger.”

Wagner guides on Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell and expects the bass on Clarks Hill to act similarly this time of the year.

“When it is cold, in terms of winning or doing really well, it usually happens down by the dam ditch fishing or fishing around brush and rockpiles,” he said. “There are a couple of bridges down there that play as well. You can catch them on forward-facing sonar and catch bass out of bait balls.”

There are also bass to be caught way up the river beneath the Russell Lake Dam. It is risky, and a difficult run, particularly in low water, but it could pay off.

“It is a major gamble, but every time I’ve been (to Clarks Hill), there have been rumblings about guys going up there and winning. There are mega-bags caught as far up the river as you can go. I’ve personally never been up there.”

No matter which section of the lake anglers choose to fish, Wagner said crankbaits and ChatterBaits will be popular choices.

Following the College Series event, Clarks Hill Reservoir will also host the kickoff tournaments of the 2024 Strike King Bassmaster High School Series and the 2024 Bassmaster Junior Series seasons, with young anglers hitting the water on Feb. 4.

The event is being hosted by Visit Columbia County, GA.