EVANS, Ga. — Jeff Kriet summarized the bass fishing challenge of Clarks Hill Lake prior to the start of the Bassmaster Pride of Georgia tournament presented by Evan Williams Bourbon. And Kriet's observation provides hope for many anglers in the 108-man field going into the second day of this event.
"If you can catch 12 pounds, you're not out of it," said the Ardmore, Okla., pro. "Twelve pounds a day should make a check (top 50). And most of the time, even when guys win here, they'll usually have a 12- to 14-pound day.
"But they'll have a big sack the other three days. When I say big, 18 pounds or above is good here.
"It's just hard to be real consistent on this lake. The blueback herring are moving around, and timing is everything."
At the 6:30 a.m. launch of Day Two on Clarks Hill, 35 Elite Series pros had at least a 12-pound day. Last year, when Mike McClelland won this tournament with a total of 70 pounds, 7 ounces, he had a 12-pound day. It came on Day Three of the four-day tournament, when McClelland weighed 12-11.
With temperatures predicted to warm the rest of the week, the consensus is that bass fishing will get progressively better as this tournament continues. A cold front moved through Tuesday that dropped the overnight low to 46 degrees. However, Clarks Hill's "magic number" of 70-degree water temperatures is now back on schedule. Overnight lows the next three days are predicted to be near 60 degrees.
"That's prime time," Paul Elias said. "The (blueback) herring start spawning when it's 70 degrees. Yesterday it was getting right there."
Shaw Grigsby concurred, saying, "In another couple of days with weather like this, they'll be out rampaging."
Grigsby sits in 50th place after Day One with 11-0. Because of the improving fishing conditions (there's also a waning crescent moon phase, with a new moon arriving Monday) Grigsby thinks he'll need at least one pound more than he caught Thursday to make the top 50 cut and guarantee himself at least a $10,000 check for the tournament.
Elias agreed, saying, "I think the cut will be 23 pounds. It'll probably go up a pound today. It should be a lot better fishing today."
If the bass fishing really does improve over the next three days, it will make the top weights from Day One even more important. Veteran Denny Brauer took Berkley Heavyweight honors Thursday with 22 pounds. Davy Hite, who won this tournament two years ago, is second with 18-15, followed by 52-year-old Elite Series rookie David Sherrer with 18-8, Dave Smith with 17-4 and Kenyon Hill with 17-0.
The affable Hill is having a good year on the Elite Series tour. After four tournaments, he is in 12th place in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. Like most in this event, Hill is concentrating on secondary and main lake points in Clarks Hill's 71,000 surface acres. This lake on the Georgia-South Carolina border is known for its outstanding topwater fishing, and Hill is trying to take advantage of that.
"It's not an early topwater bite," the Norman, Okla., resident said. "You'll do a lot better from noon 'til dark than you will from daylight 'til noon. It's a sun deal. It pulls the shad up. It pulls the herring up shallow. It gets everything cooking.
"Two years ago, when I finished second here, we had two cloudy days and two sunny days. The two sunny days I had like 20-something (pounds) and 18-something. The cloudy days I had like 13, 14 or 15.
"They just don't bite good if the bait doesn't get up going good. It's a different type of lake. And it's simply because of the baitfish."
Everything should be cooking at Clarks Hill today, with the high temperature predicted to reach 84 degrees and winds expected from the south at 10 to 15 miles per hour. Just how well it's cooking will become evident at 3 p.m., when the weigh-in starts at Wildwood Park.