Fact: Hydrilla, the aquatic weed, is in Strom Thurmond Lake to stay. Fiction: It's going to ruin the fishing. Fact: Bass fishermen, once they learn the techniques of fishing it, are going to love it like a duck.
First discovered by Tommy Shaw of Appling, Ga., about three years ago in the Little River Marina basin, the pestiferous weed can be found in most of the shallow areas of the 70,000-acre impoundment.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried chemically to eliminate it in several areas, including the Cherokee Public Launching Area on the Lincoln County side of the lake. The herbicide knocked it back for a time, but it reappeared as vigorous as ever.
Hydrilla, generally referred to as "grass," provides much-needed cover for baitfish and other fish foods (like crayfish) in Thurmond Lake in which most of the natural shallow-water cover like button bushes has disappeared over the years.
The grass also provides ambush points from which largemouth bass can dart out and seize their prey.
Best of all, it can be fished with almost every artificial bass lure imaginable.
"I learned how just by fishing it," said Larry Gilpin, who lives on the Lincoln County side of the lake. "Bass generally are not to be found in the thick of the cover, but on its edges or between it and the shoreline.
"I've caught bass around the grass on crank baits, spinnerbaits, Super Spooks, Super Flukes, Carolina-rigged plastic worms and even the vibrating Sonar lures. The last are hot during the winter and spring. I like to cast buzz baits this time of year -- white skirt with a treble-hook trailer off the main hook and silver blade. When the weather turns cooler, I'll switch to spinnerbaits.
"When fishing the Sonar, I use a high-speed 7:1 ratio reel to keep the lure out of the grass, casting it where the weedline ends in deeper water. You soon develop a `feel' for when the lure is hitting the grass and when it's not."
Gilpin fishes a floating-diving crankbait by casting it on top of the matted grass when it's a few inches beneath the surface. He'll ease the plug out to where the weedline ends.
The bass follow the plug to the end of weedline and when he cranks it down, "that's usually when they'll smoke it."
He also prefers to have a light, wind-produced chop on the water instead of a flat calm day because the chop helps deceive a fish into thinking the artificial bait is real. It also breaks up the fishermen's silhouette seen from the fish's point of view.
Jack Wingate, longtime proprietor of Lunker Lodge on Lake Seminole in southwest Georgia, also was forced to develop new techniques of bass fishing when hydrilla took over some 18,000 acres of the lake several years ago.
"In the olden days, we could scull a boat a half-mile to throw to a patch of grass," he said during a Friday interview. "Now you have to go a half-mile to get around it.
"Let's start at the top and work our way down. Buzz baits work well and so do the plastic floating, weedless frogs. There's a thing called `The Ghost,' a white floating piece of sausage-kind of thing (which also comes in green), and then there are the paddletail worms.
"You throw the paddletails without lead weights on a spinning outfit when the grass is two of three inches down and those bass will come out of the pockets after them.
"We fish the six-inch curlytailed Phenom worm in dark wine colors, setting the tiniest BB splitshot you can find about six inches ahead of the hook. You throw the worm on top of the grass, ease it off and then let it fall. You have to watch your line because that's when strikes occur.
"We also use a lead-headed jig with a plastic skirt in crawfish or blue or black and blue. The last-named color combination is a favorite with our hydrilla fish. The jig weighs 1 to 1 1/4 ounces and you pitch it up 20 or 30 feet over the grass and then let it fall. It drills its own hole in the grass and then you just work it through."
Wingate said one of the most effective techniques involving big-bladed spinnerbaits and floating-diving plugs like Rebels and Bang-O-Lures is to position the boat's bow in the grass and cast the lures parallel to the cover. Bass will dart out of their hiding places to strike the lures.
The veteran fisherman also said that duck hunting on Thurmond Lake "is fixin' to get awesome. Every duck in the country loves to eat those pretty little blades of grass."
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