Clarks Hill slabfest

Shannon Suttle said Clarks Hill Lake is Slab City in January.

Big crappie feed heavily all winter on Clarks Hill Lake

For pro crappie angler Shannon Suttle, it’s tough to beat Clarks Hill Lake for a good ol’ January slabfest.

“This is a great lake in January. You can catch some really big fish, they’re aggressive, and you can catch plenty of them in open water,” said Suttle.

During especially cold days, conventional wisdom would say the crappie are in some of the deepest holes on the lake. But Suttle finds lots of crappie in surprisingly shallow water.

“The big crappie come in off the river system and get in the mouths of the creeks, about 5 or 6 feet deep. You’d think they’d be deeper during such a cold time of year, but they’re out roaming around. And you’ll find plenty of them sunning in water that shallow,” he said.

Suttle uses a long rod, light line, and a small jighead. And his preferred bait to put on those jigheads is live shad.

“I like to use a lot of live bait. We’ll catch shad and cast out 30 or 40 foot in front of the boat after finding them with our electronics,” he said.

Some anglers might be tempted to use a cork to keep their bait in the strike zone, but Suttle doesn’t opt for that.

“I use a 10-foot Precision Casting Rod from Catch The Fever. And a little bitty hook with a 1/64-ounce jighead and a No. 5 splitshot weight about a foot above the jighead. I hook a live shad on there. Those fish will just hammer it,” he said.

Big fish

One thing Suttle enjoys about fishing this time of year is that these fish are about as big as they’ll be all year long.

“These fish have been feeding all fall and winter. And they really fatten up by January,” he said. “And in a lake like Clarks Hill that’s so far south, they’ll start moving to spawn in late February.

“So this month, they are focused on nothing but eating. Most serious crappie anglers will catch some of the biggest fish of their life in January. The fish are on shad, and constantly eating. You can catch some really big fish this month,” he said.

The water can be very clear or very muddy, depending on the weather. And even when it’s crystal clear, Suttle prefers to use 6-pound test Slime Line, rather than smaller line like some anglers go for during clear-water months.

Suttle said a lot of anglers do everything right, but continue to lose fish at critical moments. He said a good portion of that can be attributed to what size line they’re using.

“A lot of guys will go to 4-pound test when the water is this clear. But I like to use 6 here this time of year,” he said. “Pretty often in January, you’ll have some big fish, just giant slabs, follow your bait all the way to the boat before biting.

“And when you set the hook that close to the boat, especially when the weather is really cold, you can either snap 4-pound line, or just rip a hole in the fish’s mouth,” he said. “I’ve lost enough during the winter on 4-pound line that I’ve switched to 6-pound in the cold. And I’ve caught my share of slabs that I would have had a good chance at losing if I’d had 4-pound.”

Suttle said anglers fishing here this month just need to go to creek mouths and find the bait fish, then put your bait in front of them.

About Brian Cope 2745 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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