EVANS, Ga. — The last time the Elite Series visited Clarks Hill Lake, Kenyon Hill was able to locate the bigger bass and came from behind on the final day to claim the victory. This year is a whole different story for Hill.
"I haven't been able to figure out how to catch the big ones yet," Hill said. "That will be the key, if someone can catch a bigger fish. The guy who can consistently catch schoolers or has a few good ones will probably win."
In 2008, the fish were much earlier along in their spring-time migration, with many still moving up or spawning. Hill was able to capitalize on that movement as the tournament went on to help him make the final-day charge.
"We were here a little bit early and I found a few key points that they were moving up on early," Hill said. "They weren't biting a topwater well, but I was throwing a Carolina rig and a Magic Swimmer. The last day was tough for everyone, but I probably caught four limits of keepers."
One of the biggest differences has been the blueback herring spawn. This year, they likely spawned earlier and when Day One got underway Thursday morning, most of the blueback are done and moving out to suspend.
"They probably spawned on the full moon when we were at Pickwick," Hill said. "After the herring spawn, you have to play the weather like a normal lake, catching fish early and when it's cloudy."
For Day One at least, anglers will need to capitalize on the early morning bite. Weather forecasts call for sunny skies for most of the day.
"Sunny is normally a good thing on this lake," Hill said. "It would get those herring going good. For guys that have a topwater bite, clouds might be more important, but I'm catching them throughout the whole day."
Hill will still have a topwater tied on Thursday. He knows the importance of being prepared should a school of fish come up near him. On a lake like Clarks Hill, schooling bass are a huge factor in the tournament.
"This lake is notorious for schoolers," Hill said. "I have a topwater tied on because I'm in areas where they have come up before."
The areas that Hill likes happen to be on the upper end of the lake. For him, an angler could fish any area of the lake and find success, but Hill likes to focus in on one spot and find the key concentrations of bass.
His top finishes, a win and a second-place, were sandwiched around a 72nd-place showing in 2007. In all three tournaments, he has fished the same part of the lake, so it has been either feast or famine there for Hill.
"It's kind of a love/hate relationship up there, but that just the area I know best," Hill said. "I always fish the upper end of the lake. There are so many points, I just picked an area and tried to dial it in."
As for the kind of weight it will take to win this year, Hill looked back at the year he won as an example. In 2008, he had 68 pounds, an average of 17 pounds a day, and the fish were really biting. This year, it is a lot tougher and he expects the weights to be a lot less.
"The times I really did well, you had to have 17 to 18 pounds a day," Hill said. "The best it's ever taken to make the money is 11 to 12 pounds. That gives you a little perspective because the fishing was good then and it's tough now. The weights will probably go up tomorrow if we get a little weather though."
Hill and the rest of the 93 Elite Series anglers get started Thursday, with the weigh-in beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET at Wildwood Park or on ESPN3. Meanwhile, follow along with Skeet Reese and Edwin Evers on BASSCast as they fight it out for the top spot in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.