Fishing for stripers or hybrids on South Carolina’s Clarks Hill Lake this month can be divided into three phases, according to Tony Shepherd, who operates Little River Guide Service.
“The first of the month, it can feel like summertime on the lake, and by the end of the month it can feel like fall,” he said.
In most years, early October finds fish still in a summer phase. Then, as temperatures ease, the surface water cools down and initiates the annual fall turnover. By the end of the month, as the turnover ends, fish move into a definite fall phase.
“When we get into the final part of summer, our surface temperature is around 90 degrees,” said Shepherd (706-210-3474). “The preferred habitat for striped bass is in the 60-degree range, so that puts the fish down to 40 to 60 feet deep.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ oxygen line, which runs out into the lake from the Modoc area on the South Carolina side, provides plenty of dissolved oxygen necessary for the stripers’ survival, Shepherd noted.
“The bottom 6 miles of the lake has enough dissolved oxygen, so it is a temperature-driven quest for the fish,” he said. “They need to be in that comfort zone. They may come up to feed on small baitfish on occasion, but the majority of the time they stay in that comfort zone.”
“During that time, you can cruise the lower 6 miles of the lake, find the fish 40 to 60 feet down and catch them on live bait 50 to 60 feet down. You can also target them with bucktail jigs on downriggers or lead-core line, or power-reel artificial lures such as large spoons or bucktails vertically over those fish.”
When cooler weather begins pushing the water temperature lower, and when the nighttime surface temperature drops into the 50s, the water above and below reaches the same temperature level and start to mix, causing the fall turnover.
“When the water turns over, the fish go sour for two to three weeks,” Shepherd said. “Some fish can be caught, but the action is spotty at best. By the time the turnover is complete, the Corps shuts down the oxygen line for the winter, and the dissolved oxygen will no longer be confined to a certain level in the water column.
“Once the turnover is complete, the dissolved oxygen will be at all different depths and the fish are no longer driven by temperature as much,” Shepherd said. “The key then is they will be following the hordes of baitfish — mostly blueback herring — up the rivers and creeks. The same fish that were down in front of the dam in early October will be up around Raysville and Amity by the end of the month.”
Seagulls, which arrive to feed on baitfish driven to the surface by the feeding stripers and hybrids, help locate the fish, he said.
“We will be presenting live bait using planer boards around creek mouths and along the edges of the flats during most of that time,” said Shepherd, who returned to Clarks Hill Lake after a career in the U.S. Army.