COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — The anglers competing in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Pride of Augusta presented by Lowrance felt that post-spawn fish would be the key to victory on Clarks Hill Lake.
They appear to be correct, but Thursday's weather conditions — no wind or cloud cover — stymied the post-spawn bite for many pros. Only five of the 104 elite anglers weighed in more than 20 pounds of bass.
The weather didn't affect Kenyon Hill, however. The Oklahoma pro jumped to the top of the leaderboard on the first day of fishing with a five-fish limit that weighed 21 pounds, 13 ounces. Steve Daniel is in second with 21-9 and Kevin Wirth is third with 20-10. Jason Quinn (20-9) and Davy Hite (20-1) round out the top five.
Hill said he covered ample water on Thursday and primarily used topwater baits to catch his limit.
"It's the run-and-shoot type offense," Hill said. "You've got to run this time of year. They're on specific little spots."
Hill said he caught fish consistently until 1 p.m. But he didn't get a bite after that, preferring to target one lunker he couldn't land.
"I probably caught four limits of keepers at least," he said. I just hit the highlights all day. I got a little hard headed and tried to catch a big one all afternoon. I spent about the last two hours with no bites. But I learned a little bit today, so hopefully I can get them again tomorrow."
Hill said he fared well in practice days and wanted to stick with his game plan despite not having the wind and clouds that could ignite the post-spawn bite.
"It was just being patient with what I was fishing," he said. "I've been catching a lot of fish in practice, but most of them were two pounders. So I made a few changes in my bait selection. That was the difference."
Daniel threw mostly topwater baits, even though he didn't feel the topwater bite would be especially good Thursday.
"It was better than it's been," Daniel said. "I caught them throughout the day and had a big one early and a big one late. If we get a little cloud cover, we can hurt them here."
Daniel has had some tough luck on the Elite Series so far this year. He narrowly missed the cuts in earlier tournaments on Lake Amistad and the Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas and also on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
"If I stay at the top of the leaderboard, I don't think I'll scare anyone in the top 10," he joked. "I've done something stupid by Saturday every time."
He'd like to change that pattern at Clarks Hill.
"I'm overdue," he said.
Wirth said timing is key if he's to bring another 20-pound bag to the scales on Friday.
"Getting the timing down and getting some of the bites at the right time, that's the deal," he said. "If you get off by a couple minutes, you can get in trouble real quick."
Wirth caught fish on top-water baits and also fished lures six feet deep. He said reading the subtle changes on Clarks Hill Lake are especially important during the post-spawn cycle.
"You've got to get out and read the water and examine what's going on," he said. "And you've got to get the timing down. You can go out and zero just as well as you can catch 20 or 25 pounds."
Quinn and Hite are both from South Carolina (which borders Clarks Hill) and used their familiarity with the lake to catch quality bags on Thursday.
"I've fished this place 20 years," Hite said. "I fished Federation tournaments here in the 80s. I know a lot of places here. There are a lot of places that I'll fish tomorrow that I didn't fish today...When you're on a lake that you know a lot about, you can get caught up fishing memories and really just bomb out. But if you get them figured out, it's great because you know how to run a pattern."
Friday's launch is scheduled for 6:20 p.m. All 104 anglers will compete, but the field will be trimmed to 50 when weigh-in is complete.