EVANS, Ga. — Anytime you mention Clarks Hill, the words 'blue-back herring' are sure to follow.
This week, though, the blue-backs are more of a red herring than anything else, making the outcome of this event look more like a game of coincidental fishing, instead of a tactical approach.
In years past the slimy, little baitfish have been the focal point for the majority of the fishing that has taken place in the Elite events on this lake. About the time the Elite anglers show up for practice, they start their spawn in the shallows around the lake. While they are doing their thing, large numbers of largemouth are pulled up shallow as well, picking off any herring that breaks away from the pack.
It makes for some good fishing, some exciting action and big bags.
This year, the blue-backs have been phantoms, acting like red herrings dragging largemouth away from their typical haunts and throwing almost every angler in the field in confusion.
"This sucks,'' said Casey Ashley, an angler who grew up on the lake and had fared well here in the past. That statement was made after Ashley sacked the largest limit of the day, 15 pounds, 5 ounces.
"The blue-backs have totally changed this lake and how the fish react to things. Right now it's like fishing in the dog days of August. It's that tough and the real culprit is the blue-backs."
Some of that is due to timing, at least for these anglers, since BASS has been fortunate enough to hit the lake perfect on almost every trip. But the timing of this one shows that the blue-backs may not be as great as some anglers would like to believe.
"Really this lake gets good during the bass and herring spawn,'' Ashley said. "After that, our largemouth don't act like largemouth. They act like stripers."
A lot of the Elite anglers are getting a good taste of that. After two competition days, Terry Scroggins leads the event after a so-so day that took advantage of the rest of the leaders having less than stellar sacks.
"I went to my first three spots where I caught them yesterday and didn't get a bite,'' he said. "I had to fish new water to come up with what I have and I can't tell you that I can even catch a keeper tomorrow."
Ashley said the Clarks Hill experienced an exceptionally cold winter, forcing many to believe that the spawn of largemouth and herring would be later than normal. But in April, a couple of 80-degree days shot the water temperature up and sent the herrings to the bank. They spawned before the bass.
"There are still bass spawning on the lake right now,'' Ashley said. "But the herring are done and have pulled out. In any other lake, the bass would stay up shallow, but here and because of the herring, once they are finished they pull out with the blue-backs and suspend
Because the timing of the spawns have been reversed, large schools of fish can be found all over the lake, all suspended and all not biting, even on a cloudy, low-pressure day.
"Finding fish isn't the problem,'' Michael Iaconelli said. "Finding fish that will bite is another thing."
"I think these herrings like the sun,'' said Jeff Kriet, who lead after Day One, but fell to eighth-place after failing to weigh-in a limit. "You would think the clouds would bring everything up, but it put everything down and got really tough."
What a lot of these anglers are experiencing, according to Ashley, is the striper affect.
"The fish will be in one place one day and be two miles down the lake the next,'' he said. "Just like stripers. And if you look at these bass, you don't see the fat bellies and shoulders that you see on lakes like Guntersville. They are just long and skinny, like cigars because they spend all their time in motion."
The end result is anglers who are, for the most part, scrambling and hoping. They call it "fishing your ass off for a few minutes of glory."
The angler who coincidentally runs across the right school of fish that happens to be biting can make big moves. And while some anglers are banking on consistency and putting together some semblance of a technical pattern, all of them know that there's a "few minutes of glory" waiting for someone at Clarks Hill.