Greater Augusta Fishing & Recreation
Welcome to some of the best fishing opportunities in the US. Augusta is surrounded with river, pond and lake fishing for mane species. From panfish to huge striped bass that can exceed 50 pounds, you can find them nearby. Below you’ll find a few of the “official” places to go but there are many more. Christine and her husband Drew love to fish in their limited spare time and focus on chasing the striped bass at the lake. If you’re interested in that, check out the Clarks Hill Striper Club on Facebook for more details.
Thurmond Lake/Clarks Hill Lake
Thurmond Lake/Clarks Hill Lake is one of the top 10 most visited Corps site in the United States. Each year millions of people utilize the public parks, marinas, and campgrounds all conveniently located around the lake. The man-made lake borders Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah River, Broad River, and Little River. The entire Thurmond Lake/Clarks Hill project area contains 151,000 acres of water and land. There are endless recreational activities from swimming in the designated swimming areas, rewarding fishing opportunities, boating, camping along the shoreline, sightseeing with friends and family, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and even motor boating. Picnicking is a popular leisure due to the lovely public recreation areas around Thurmond Lake.
- Open 7 Days a week from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. for visitors convenience (except during holiday-Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year´s Day)
- Fish Species: Black Crappie, Bluegill, Channel Catfish, Hybrid Striped Bass, Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass, White Bass
- Programs & Tours: Thurmond Lake Educational Programs, Power Plant Tours, Water Safety Programs, and Special Topic Programs.
- 13 Campgrounds & 554 campsites
- Thurmond Lake offers nine Corps managed “day-use” recreation areas-for shorter stays at the Lake
- 55,000 hunting acres of public land surrounding Thurmond Lake-(Must possess a valid hunting license and permits in the state of hunting)
- Over 28,400 acres of project lands leased for wildlife management
- Areas with Access Ramps:
- Corps Day Use Areas
- Corps Campgrounds
- State Recreation Areas
- Municipal Recreation Areas
- Marinas on J. Strom Thurmond Lake
510 Clarks Hill Highway Clarks Hill, South Carolina 29821 (864) 333-1100 or toll free at 1-800-533-3478
Diamond Lakes is a dream for recreation and sports enthusiasts. Surrounded by a think forest, boaters and fishers are encapsulated in an absolute haven. Fishers find gold and families find fun and safety at Diamond Lakes´ first class facility. The park development is a master plan for ensuring fun, adventure, and life-long memories!
4335 Windsor Spring Road Hephzibah, Georgia 30815 Phone: (706) 771-2418
New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam
New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam is located on the infamously, rich Savannah River. The park has north and south boat ramps with available table groupings and grills, comfort stations, three on-site picnic shelters, and fish stations! Adjacent to the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam is the Bush Field Airport and operated by the Augusta Recreation and Parks Department.
1853 Lock and Dam Road Augusta, Georgia 30906 Phone: (706) 793-9403
Lake Olmstead is located in Richmond County a region in beautiful East Augusta, Georgia. Augustans have turned this environment into a popular recreation atmosphere. The reservoir has latitude and longitude coordinates of 33.4990, -81.9996. The altitude of Lake Olmstead measures 144 feet (44 meters). Large parks surrounded the lake, such as Lake View Park, equipped with boathouses and plenty of opportunities to rent boats for recreational use and fishing.
2200 Broad Street Augusta, Georgia 30904 Phone: (706) 821-2804
The Augusta Canal & Savannah Rapids Pavilion
The Augusta Canal & Savannah Rapids Pavilion is a self-supporting multi-purpose community/ conference center in Columbia County, Georgia. Savannah Rapids provides miles of water, wildlife and walking trails steps away from the growing city of Augusta. Canoeing, kayaking, and biking are popular activities along the Augusta Canal & Savannah River. The Augusta Canal is the nation’s only industrial power canal still in use for its original purpose. The canal and pavilion offer endless amounts of recreation, history, and unique experiences.
Canoe Rental – Available off-site:
- AWOL (American Wilderness Outfitters, LTD) – Provides shuttle service to and from the canal
2328 Washington Road Augusta, Georgia 30904 (706) 738-8500
- Broadway Tackle & Canoe Rentals – Requires renters to pick up the canoe and return
1730 Broad Street Augusta, Georgia 30904 (706) 738-8848
Bike Rental – Available off-site:
- Chain Reaction
3920 Roberts Road
Martinez, Georgia 30907 (706) 855-2024
- Andy Jordan´s Bicycle Center
527 13th Street
Augusta, Georgia 30909 (706) 724-6777
Clarks Hill Lake
Clarks Hill (known as J. Strom Thurmond in S.C.) is Georgia’s largest reservoir at 71,535 acres. This U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir is located 30 miles northeast of Augusta on the Savannah River. The numerous creeks feeding the lake, over 1,200 miles of shoreline and large areas of open water provide a wide range of fishing opportunities.
Prospects and Fishing Tips
|STRIPED BASS, REDEAR SUNFISH, CRAPPIE, HYBRIDS & CATFISH|
|Prospect||Tagging project results indicate a high release rate. This combined with strong year classes resulted in numerous small bass available. Anglers are encouraged to harvest catches. In doing so, more 3-plus pounders will be available in the future. Good shad spawns are helping to put some weight on bass.|
|Technique||Crank, spinner, and jerk baits work year-round. Try top water plugs in the spring and fall. In mid-winter, jigging spoons in creek channels or where bait fish “bunch up” is a great tactic.|
|Target||Bass tend to congregate away from the banks after the spawn. In the fall and winter, target Grays, Lloyds and Rousseau creeks in the Little River arm and Soap, Murray and Fishing creeks in the main Savannah River arm. For great fall surface action, fish over hydrilla beds. In the spring and summer, target Bussey Point, and Cliatt, Cherokee and Big creeks. Year-round productivity rests in the flats around the confluence of the Savannah and Broad rivers.|
|Prospect||Strong year classes in recent years are producing good numbers. The average hybrid bass will be 3-5 pounds.|
|Technique||Best technique: drifting live blueback herring using your trolling motor to control speed and direction. Jigging spoons near drop-offs, ledges or humps in 20-30 feet of water. By summer and into fall, dead or cut bluebacks, shad and large minnows on the bottom work well. For schooling fish in late summer and fall, bucktails, Gotcha shad and pencil-poppers work well.|
|Target||During winter and early spring, target Big Creek, the Little River near Germany Creek upstream of Holiday Park, Soap Creek, the north bank of the reservoir above the dam and major creeks near Bussey Point. Hot spots for summer and fall: the mouths of major feeder creeks and rivers.|
|Prospect||Excellent survival of stocked fish in recent years, 2013 in particular, are producing good numbers. The average striped bass will be 6-8 pounds. Numerous linesides in the 10 -20 lb class range will be caught along with a few over 40 lb.|
|Technique||Best technique: drifting live blueback herring using your trolling motor to control speed and direction. Planer boards are great for covering a broad area with the added capability of putting the bait where the boat cannot go. Other techniques: Slowly troll redfins, Norman lures or roostertails 80-100 feet behind the boat; jigging spoons near drop-offs, ledges or humps in 20-30 feet of water. By summer and into fall, dead or cut bluebacks, shad and large minnows on the bottom work well. For schooling fish in late summer and fall, bucktails, Gotcha shad and pencil-poppers work well.|
|Target||During winter and early spring, target Big Creek, the Little River near Germany Creek upstream of Holiday Park, Soap Creek, the north bank of the reservoir just above the dam and major creeks near Bussey Point. Hot spots for summer and fall: the mouths of major feeder creeks and rivers.|
|Prospect||In recent years, several 40-plus pound flathead catfish have been caught. Numerous channel catfish up to 6 pounds will be caught.|
|Technique||Chicken livers, cut bluebacks, shrimp and worms work best.|
|Target||Little River near Holiday Park and White Bass Island; also Keg, Germany, Big and Hart Creeks and the Broad River.|
|Prospect||Redear sunfish and bluegill are available. You don’t want to miss the shellcracker spawn in late April and early May. Sunfish are generally large, ranging between 1/2 to 3/4 pound, and easy to catch.|
|Technique||Crickets, worms, grubs, spinners, flies or wasp larvae.|
|Target||Target Keg, Lloyd, Grays, Cliatt, Soap, Big and Fishing Creeks. Fish attractos also are excellent spots, holding good numbers of bluegill and other sunfish after the spawn.|
|Prospect||DNR sampling from previous two falls indicate awesome crappie fishing in 2016! Crappie catches will average 1/2 pound with bigger fish weighing 2 pounds and up.|
|Technique||Small jigs with or without minnows. Bring an assortment of colors to determine what they are hitting on.|
|Target||In spring, target Soap, Grays, Pistol and Newford creeks and Little River near Raysville. During late summer and fall, fish under bridges. For pre-spawn action in the winter, try the backs of creeks such as Big, Hart, Dry Fork, Knoblick and Cherokee.|
|Prospect||The chain pickerel (a.k.a. jackfish) population has steadily increased since the mid-1990s, and is largely attributed to the spread of submerged aquatic vegetation in Clarks Hill.|
|Technique||Best bets: variety of weedless lures and surface plugs. Also, a wobbling spoon with trailing pork rid, plastic lizards and hollow-faced chugger type surface plugs are good best.|
|Target||Cliatt, Grays, Cherokee, and Keg creeks.|
|Prospect||Sampling efforts indicate an exceptional abundance of white perch. Tons of fun on lightweight tackle. Makes an excellent meal.|
|Technique||Small jigs, spoons or minnows work best.|
|Target||Look in 20-60 feet of water near ledges, drop-offs and standing timber.|
|Additional Information: The lake is near full to start 2016 with lake levels expected to rise to full pool by the start of spring fishing. Rising lake levels over the last few years made for great fishing. Expect more of the same for 2016!
Georgia state parks on the lake (Mistletoe and Elijah Clark) participate in the fishing tackle loaner program. Check with the park offices if you require additional fishing gear. Mistletoe State Park offers canoe and/or john boat rentals. More information on these and other Georgia State Parks can be found at:http://gastateparks.org/.
Fisheries staff refurbished 10 deep water fish attractor sites in 2015 and 2016. These sites are marked on Corps of Engineers Navigation Charts. Mistletoe and Elijah Clark state parks sunk Christmas trees along their banks in 8 to 15 feet of water in 2014. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia WRD Fisheries staff fell pine and sweetgum trees into the lake in Little River near Holiday Park and Big, Hart, Germany, Fishing, Pistol, and Newford creeks in 2010. Try these new bank fish attractors for great bass, crappie, and sunfish action this winter and spring.
Here are the best places to fish on Clarks Hill
With April finally here, the weather has settled down, and the bass fishing is wide open. Bass are feeding and spawning, and they are as easy to catch right now as any time of the year. Clarks Hill is one of the best lake’s in the state to take advantage of April fishing.
Clarks Hill is massive. With 71,000 surface acres, it’s one of the largest reservoirs in the southeast. The lake and its bass can be difficult to keep track of if you don’t fish it regularly. However, an angler can narrow it down by fishing a small section to pattern the bass. This is especially true if you have some tips from a fisherman who knows it well. Baylor Ronemus grew up in Augusta and has fished Clarks Hill all his life.
“I don’t like to sight fish for bedding bass, so I target prespawn and postspawn fish in April,” Baylor said.
He concentrates on points where the bass hold and feed while moving into and out of the spawning areas.
Many bass spawn at Clarks Hill in April, moving in to bed in waves and then moving back out. These bass are staging prespawn and postspawn. Just as important are the shad and herring spawns. Blueback herring have changed the lake since they became established in Clarks Hill. Bluebacks have changed the way bass live and feed there.
In April, the shad will spawn from the middle of the month to the end, and the herring spawn starts late in the month. These baitfish spawns offer the chance to catch a lot of quality bass quickly. Postspawn bass school up and concentrate on these baitfish spawns.
Baylor’s tackle selection includes a Zoom Fluke, a Sammy and a spinnerbait while searching for feeding bass. He also fishes a Carolina rig and a jig ’n pig to catch bass when he finds a concentration.
Baylor rigs a pearl-white fluke weightless on 12-lb. monofilament P-Line. It will catch fish anywhere, from points to pockets, and when fish are schooling. His white or chrome Sammy is rigged on 15-lb. monofilament line and is a good bait for casting to schooling fish.
A True Track 3/8- to 1/2-oz. spinnerbait with a chartreuse-and-white skirt with one silver and one gold willowleaf blade is good.
For slower fishing, a True Track 3/8- to 1/2-oz. jig in browns and greens is tied on 18- to 20-lb. fluorocarbon line, and a green-pumpkin Paca Chunk is added. On his Carolina rig, he uses a green-pumpkin lizard or Trick Worm behind a 1-oz. sinker. His 6- to 12-inch leader is 12-lb. fluorocarbon line, and his main line is 18- to 20-lb. test. Baylor often dips the tails of his plastic baits in chartreuse dip and dye.
The following three locations are in a fairly compact area of the lake near Mistletoe State Park.
NO. 1: N 33º 42.056 – W 82º 22.512
Go into the mouth of Graves Creek to the first small creek on the right. The downstream point of this creek is a combination of white rock and clay. White-rock points and banks are well-known feeding areas for bass on Clarks Hill. This is a good point for both prespawn and postspawn bass.
Start a little downstream of this point, keeping your boat out in about 18 feet of water, and cast a Sammy or Fluke right to the bank. Work your bait back out, covering water where the bottom drops off to about 12 feet deep. Those baits will get hits from bass looking for shad and herring, and also from bass holding on the point actively feeding.
When you get to the small blowdown inside the creek, turn and go back around the point with a Carolina rig or jig. Stay out in 18 feet of water. Cast these baits to about 2 feet of water, and work them all the way back to the boat.
NO. 2: N 33º 41.550 – W 82º 22.499
Go across the mouth of Graves Creek to the upstream main-lake point. Start about 50 feet down the bank from the point on the creek side, and fish around the point. The water is fairly shallow where you start, and then it drops off into a dip near the point before coming back up more shallow on the upstream side of it.
Start with topwater and a soft jerkbait over the clay and rock bottom, staying well off the bank and fishing your baits from the bank out toward deeper water. When you get around the upstream river side of the point, go back around with your bottom-bumping baits.
Also try a spinnerbait cast right to the bank. Start with a fairly fast retrieve, keeping the bait near the surface. Then slow it down to slow-roll it on the bottom. Baylor’s spinnerbait produced two 5-lb. bass on this point in April last year.
NO. 3: N 33º 40.378 – W 82º 22.165
Go across Little River to the downstream point at the mouth of Cliatt Creek—the creek with Mistletoe State Park on the upstream side. A small island sits off the downstream point that has a classic blow-through between the island and point. The point of the creek has mile marker 94 on it.
Start on the upstream side of the island, and fish across the blow-through toward the point with both a Sammy and a fluke. Watch for swirls indicating feeding fish. Cast to any swirls you see, but cover the water all the way across from the island to the point regardless.
Blow-throughs are shallow areas where waves have washed away dirt leaving a gravel bottom. Herring spawn in a few feet of water in places like this, and the shad will spawn right on the bank. Clarks Hill bass feed heavily on blow-throughs this time of year.
To see seven additional locations, along with GPS coordinates and a map, pick up the current edition of GON magazine, available at most Athens-area convenience stores including Golden Pantry.
Lake of the Month: Clarks Hill
At almost 71,000 acres, Clarks Hill Reservoir, the largest manmade body of water east of the Mississippi River, is still surprisingly undeveloped compared to many of the other impoundments across South Carolina.
Clarks Hill, or Lake Thurmond if you prefer, was built between 1946 and 1954, just a few years before Lake Hartwell and some 30 years before Lake Russell, the other two impoundments upstream on the Savannah River system.
As a fishery, Clarks Hill has a reputation as a better-than-average destination for a number of species. Professional bass tours frequently make stops there, and a growing number of crappie and catfish tournament circuits are also becoming regular visitors. One of the more sought-after species, at least as far as recreational anglers are concerned, are striped bass. Stripers and their test-tube cousins, hybrid striped bass, were first introduced into Clarks Hill during the late 1960s. The fishery was to their liking, and the lake produced a state-record striper in 1993 that wasn’t topped for eight years.
William Sasser, who grew up around the lake, has been a fishing guide there for most of his adult life. He’s even further invested into the life of the lake by purchasing and revitalizing two nearby bait and tackle shops. Sasser opened his playbook and offered a look at some of his go-to locations to catch a number of different species in October.
1 Camel Humps
33 41 545 N/82 12 948 W
Small shoal islands at the mouth of Howell Branch resemble a camel’s branch on a depthfinder screen. Although water as deep as 70 feet can be found around them, Sasser suggests searching for striped bass and hybrids at 50 feet or less.
“During October, stripers and hybrids will be caught here on down-lines 30 to 40 foot deep using live herring,” he said. “It’s real close to the river channel here. There’s a bunch of pockets and coves along the either side of the long point that sticks out into the lake. Blueback herring get trapped in those pockets, and you can catch a bunch of stripers during the early morning, right after daylight up until about 9 o’clock.”
Sasser will motor through the area looking for concentrations of baitfish on his graph. A lot of times, he won’t see fish here until he starts fishing. However, the presence of baitfish is almost a guarantee of fish nearby.
“Put six poles in the water and just drift out of the cove,” he said. “They will find you.”
2 Bass Alley
33 42 946 N/82 14 953 W
Although most anglers make little if any distinction in the way they fish for striped bass and hybrid striped bass, Sasser said this is a great place to catch hybrids. Water depths range anywhere from 30 to 70 feet. Most of the fish will be found holding around 30 to 40 feet deep.
“Right here, on the coordinates, we’re on an underwater point,” said Sasser. “You want to fish either side of the point; I always fish the downwind side of anything I’m fishing. The fish seem to hide on the downwind side of structure to get bait fish coming across the top of it.”
Sasser said fishing long points and humps is a typical fall pattern, using the wind to push bait into coves and pockets and then picking off the fish on down-lines. He also offered that a lot of surface schooling occurs in the general vicinity.
“You’ll find more schooling activity either further in the cove or further out of the cove,” he said. “In October, I’d say probably more out of the cove toward the main lake from this point.”
3 Crappie Tree
33 43 259 N/82 15 263 W
Clarks Hill has been renowned for its striped bass and hybrid fishing since way back in the 1970s. However, its abundant crappie make the sprawling lake a multi-faceted fishery, and Sasser spends many hours creating brushpiles to provide areas for crappie to congregate. This is one of those areas.
“This is a single, but very large, hardwood tree that I put out,” said Sasser. “It attracts a lot of crappie during the fall. Fish about 20 foot deep with small minnows or jigs, just make sure you match the water color with the jig color. In the fall, that’s more of a brownish or yellow or orange.”
Even when fishing for crappie, Sasser takes a striper fishing approach to put fish in the boat. He prefers to anchor his boat directly upwind of the spot, then let the boat drift back until he’s directly over the structure. Then he deploys light tackle rods straight down in a mini-version of his down rod fishing.
“The fall is probably the best time of the year to catch crappie at Clarks Hill,” Sasser said. “You’ll catch nothing or you’ll catch everything if you hit the right tree. The crappie generally will be bigger than in the spring time. Everything is a pound, pound-and-a-half, even 2 pounds. It’s bigger fish and in larger numbers, if you’re in the right place.”
4 Gordon Shoals
33 42 154 N/82 18 853 W
If casting topwater baits to schooling largemouth bass is more your style of fall fishing at Clarks Hill, then you may want to skip this spot, which is in the middle of Georgia Little River, straight out from Fort Gordon and offers shallow water surrounded by deep water.
“It’s a series of shoals, five underwater islands, right here,” Sasser said. “In the normal fall pattern, the fish will be near the surface. You’ll see largemouth breaking on top of the water. Evenings are really good here.”
Sasser’s preferred baits are either a Lucky Craft Gunfish or a Sammy. He said lighter colors work better, and fish have shown that they often prefer one bait over another on certain days, so it pays to change baits if you’re not getting enough action. Other times of the day, Sasser has also had success using jigs in this location.
“The shoals right now are around 5 foot deep on the top of the hump,” Sasser said. “You’ll find a lot of hydrilla in the shallow water, so working a mop head jig across the top can also work real well,” he said.
5 Mistletoe Area
33 40 971 N/82 22 749 W
Moving up Little River, Sasser stops at another good bass-fishing site on the other side of the bridge. This location is straight across from Mistletoe State Park, just past Graves Creek, right before you come to White Bass Island. It combines shallow water near deep water providing largemouth, a good location to ambush passing baitfish.
“This is basically a really big flat area with some little valleys crossing it,” Sasser said. “During the fall, largemouth bass will be on this location chasing threadfin shad and herring. If there’s a little chop on the water early in the morning, the topwater fishing in this location can be phenomenal. Then later on in the day, you can come back and fish a mop head jig across the top of it and finish out your limit.”
6 Donna’s Crappie Spot
33 40 845 N/82 22 698 W
Sasser and his wife, Donna, sunk a huge tree six years ago that produces a lot of large crappie every fall.
“The water depth, with the current lake level 10 feet below normal pool, puts the tree sitting in 33 feet of water right now. It would normally be in 43 feet of water,” Sasser said. “The tree comes to within 10 feet of the surface. You’ll have to fish off and down the side of it right now. When the lake is normal level, I do better fishing near the top of the tree.”
Down-rodding for crappie isn’t the only game in town at this or any of Sasser’s other planted fish havens. He said he can catch an abundance of species depending on how he fishes them and what he fishes with.
“You definitely will find hybrids and stripers hanging around a single tree out by itself,” he said. “You’ll also find largemouth, catfish – both channel catfish and flathead catfish, as well as bluegill and crappie.”
7 Buoy L-15
33 41 377 N/82 17 847 W
Downstream, toward the mouth of Georgia Little River, this is another place where Sasser targets stripers and hybrids. He said the fish really key in on migrating schools of bait along long points upstream from, downstream from and on the point where L-15, a green buoy marking the Little River channel, is located.
Sasser expects to find fish up and down the water column, but he said fish are easier to locate when they are orienting to the bottom.
“This spot has three long points running parallel to each other,” he said. “I try to find fish on the bottom using my graph. Fish on the bottom are a whole lot easier to get to feed than suspended fish, so I look first on the bottom. Once they’re marked, I just stay off the downwind side of each point and fish straight down. Once they start feeding, the smaller fish, especially hybrids, will come up, but the larger ones will hang back near the bottom.”
Sasser said he regularly catches hybrids from four to eight pounds on this spot, along with stripers between seven and 12 pounds.
8 No-Name Creek
33 42 542 N/82 16 865 W
Before heading out of Little River, Sasser steers northeast and motors to the back of a “no-name” creek for one more shot at fall crappie fishing. This spot is one he made using one large hardwood tree, sinking it in water more than 20 feet deep.
“Yeah, this is another tree we put down,” said Sasser. “It’s a great fall fishing spot. It’s got a lot of good sized crappie on it. Fish small minnows about 20 foot down. With the water levels we’ve had this fall. I’d fish near the bottom to catch larger crappie. The smaller ones will be up in the tree a little bit.
In days gone by, Clarks Hill boasted a strong population of both white and black crappie. Sasser said these days, catching a white crappie is a pretty rare event; he catches one white crappie to every 50 black crappie.
“When I was a kid, there was way more white crappie, but a white crappie on Clarks Hill is pretty rare now,” he said. “Usually, if you catch one though, it’s pretty good size.”
9 Monkey Island
33 41 155 N/82 14 057 W
According to Sasser, this island got its name when a circus leaving Augusta, Ga., back in the 1950s camped out in the area, and some monkeys got out of their cages and sound up being caught on a series of islands. The name stuck.
Sasser doesn’t “monkey around” while striper fishing here. The area is the junction of Keg Creek, Georgia Little River and the Savannah River, a series of underwater points where striped bass chase bait in the fall.
“Like the other spots, you’re going to be looking for baitfish,” said Sasser. “In this part of the lake, they might be a little deeper, even during October. If we’ve had a hot summer, the baitfish still could be 70 to 80 feet deep, so if you see bait 70 to 80 feet deep, that’s where the stripers are going to be.”
Clarks Hill Crappie In the Trees
Few people have the reputation for their ability to catch fish that William Sasser has for catching crappie on Clarks Hill. Year round, William can catch fish.
You may have seen him recently on the UPN fishing show, “Fishing with Ralph Barbee.” The trip took place on Valentines Day, when William says the fishing hadn’t been that hot. With the cameras running, William, Ralph and Augusta Chronicle outdoor writer Bill Baab caught around 80 crappie in two hours fishing minnows over a sunken tree. Any size to them? Bill Baab reportedly caught three in a row that weighed close three pounds each!
William and his wife Donna run a Mr. Transmission repair shop in Augusta as well as Sasser’s Used Cars. They also fish together. They went deep-sea fishing on their honeymoon, and in the summer they often take their kids to the lake on camping/fishing trips.
William has been fishing Clarks Hill since he was a kid. His dad Carl Sasser was a renowned fisherman, too, and still holds the lake record for largemouth bass with a 14-lb., 14-oz. brute caught in 1972. William fishes for bass, and hybrids and stripers, but his specialty is catching crappie — lots of them, and big ones. William’s biggest Clarks Hill crappie was a slab that weighed 4-lbs, 4-ozs.!
On March 7 I met William, and his wife Donna, at the Cherokee Recreation Area on Little River for an afternoon of crappie fishing. I joined Tarver and Sally Bailey (no relation) who are recent retirees from Wyoming to Appling. Tarver and Sally, like me, wanted to see how William goes about catching big strings of crappie.
We motored into Grays Creek on William’s spacious, 24-foot pontoon boat to his first crappie-fishing oasis.
Crappie are structure-oriented fish. Much of the bottom of Clarks Hill is flat and featureless, with nothing for a fish to call home. Crappie love to snuggle up to wood structure, and they will readily school up on Christmas trees, bamboo bundles, brushpiles and sunken trees. With that in mind, what William has done over the years is create a network of prime crappie habitats on Clarks Hill where crappie like to stay. Then whenever William wants to go fishing, he can depend on his sunken brush and trees to produce big catches nearly any time of the year. The practice of creating fish-catching cover is something he learned from his dad, he says.
In Grays Creek, William watched his graph as he double-anchored his boat over an oak tree, 18-inches in diameter at the base, that he had sunk four years earlier in 30 feet of water.
“I have been putting out brush and trees for years,” he said. “It is a lot of work that most people won’t do, but I have more than 150 different brushpiles out.”
The reason for going to the trouble was easy to see on the graph. As we pulled over the tree, it lit up on William’s color Lowrance graph like a Christmas tree spangled with fish.
“It was a lot of painstaking work to get that tree in the lake,” said William. “We used a low-boy 18-wheeler to haul it to the ramp and then pulled it into the lake with a friend’s offshore boat. It is a job to get a tree that big into the lake. You won’t put a tree like that out with a single-engine boat. Most people won’t go to that much trouble to have a good place to fish.”
When the 50-foot-long tree was in position, it was sunk on its side by tying on cement blocks.
The result of his effort was easy to see. We were anchored over the tree at 1:25 p.m. William began putting out minnows on lines approximately 15 feet under the boat, just above the tree.
“If the fish are there, they will usually bite right away,” he said.
At 1:26, Sally reeled in the first crappie of the afternoon. By 1:30 there were six crappie in the cooler that Sally and Donna had reeled in.
If you build the habitat, the crappie will come.
William fishes minnows on a No. 1 gold bait hook, and he pinches on a No. 7 split shot a foot or so up the line, which is 6-lb. fluorocarbon. He hooks the minnow through the back just behind the dorsal fin, and he changes baits often to keep a frisky minnow in the water.
In April, the crappie at Clarks Hill will be up on the banks, but William’s brushpiles still produce, he just moves shallow, too. He has brush and trees placed in water ranging from 40-feet deep to about 10-feet deep, in April he will concentrate on the shallow-water brush.
“You can catch crappie in April by throwing a jig up almost onto the bank, but that kind of fishing is a lot more hit-or-miss, even during the spawn,” he said. “The fish will be scattered on the banks, but the shallow brush helps concentrate them. Even during the spawn there will be fish on the brush that is 10- to 15-feet deep.”
When the fish are spawning, he works his shallow brush and he uses both minnows and jigs.
William prefers Pop-Eye jigs.
“A lot of people fish Hal Flys, but I have switched to Pop-Eye jigs,” he said. “I think there is a tremendous amount of difference — it is the best jig around.”
To fish the jig over shallow brush, William ties a white 1/16-oz. Pop-Eye jig four or five feet under a float. He also uses a hook and split shot under a float to fish minnows over shallow brush. With his boat anchored a half-cast away from the brush, he casts past the brush and brings the float slowly back so the jig or minnow will swim just over the brush.
By June, the crappie at Clarks Hill will have moved off the banks and the shallow brush after the spawn, and William will move back to his brushpiles in deeper water.
So long as the brushpile does not interfere with navigation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not mind anglers bringing brush from off-lake sites to sink in the lake. They are, however, protective of lakeshore trees, and these should not be cut down without permission from the corps.
Once the trees have been “planted” in the lake, if there is a trick to this kind of fishing it is in precise positioning of the boat. The crappie won’t move far off the cover, even to take a bait.
“It’s weird,” said William. “You have to be within a few feet or you won’t get a bite.”
When the wind gradually blew us off the tree, the bite slowed noticeably.
William has trees placed as crappie (and bass) habitat from Lloyds Creek in Little River to Plum Branch up the Savannah River. Positioning trees on the lake bottom makes a difference, although sometimes it is an inexact science.
“Some trees just produce better, even when they are in the same kind of spot,” he said. “I prefer to put them on a flat next to a ditch. They seem to do better there.”
The tree we fished was in the corner of a flat between a creek channel and a ditch. The intersection of ditches and channels is typical positioning, and the channel can be as big as the Little River channel where a major creek joins in. Deeper water nearby and being close to a creek channel or ditch that fish use as migration routes seems to help a brushpile attract large numbers of fish.
A good brushpile will produce fish for at least 10 years, says William, but he often adds willows or cedars in the meantime to sweeten the fish-attracting appeal. The bigger the brushpile, the better.
William doesn’t keep GPS or written locations of his 150 honeyholes, but finds them by memory, a good graph and a bit of triangulation. William’s kind of tree planting pays off with fish: we pulled 42 keeper crappie up from that one sunken tree.