Outside temperatures are warming up, but Strom Thurmond Lake has a way to go before the pre-spring fishing explosion takes place.
Be that as it may, the warm, sunny weather marks the end of "cabin fever" for many and each day sees an ever-increasing number of fishing boats on the lake.
Hybrid and striped bass have been schooling on the flats opposite West Dam Overlook on the Georgia side, but the fish are scattered. Sometimes birds dive on the surfacing fish, sometimes they don't; sometimes fishermen catch 'em, sometimes they don't. The schooling takes place from 5 p.m. to dark.
Water temperature (surface) at Lake Springs on Wednesday was 48 degrees, but it needs to climb into the mid-50s. Chrome-sided Rat-L-Traps with either blue or black backs and Zoom Super Flukes in either pearl or Smokin' Shad colors (on quarter-ounce or 3/8 -ounce jig heads) will get strikes.
There will be a Sportsmen's Extravaganza at Hooter's in Augusta on Washington Road from 4 p.m., to 6 p.m., on Saturday. Polaris Motorsports of Augusta and CSRA Road Angels will participate and there will be a Monster Truck display. Ralph Barbee of Evans will conduct a bass-fishing seminar and show what lures the fish will be hitting at the lake from now over the next few months. He also will have free packages of Tru-Turn Hooks for the first 100 children who show up.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Clemson University are conducting striped bass studies on Thurmond and Murray lakes.
The studies are targeting the habitat preferred by adult stripers during the summer months, according to Gene Hayes, the DNR's district biologist.
"Summer water quality and preferred deep-water areas can be critically important to the survival and growth of striped bass," Hayes said. "Lack of preferred habitat and temperature habitat during summer months have occasionally resulted in fish kills."
At Lake Murray, the study will judge the effect of hydroelectric operations at Saluda Dam, while information gathered at Thurmond will be critical in case pumpback operations begin at Richard B. Russell Dam.
Transmitters are surgically implanted in the belly of fish. A half-inch long incision is made, allowing the transmitter to be inserted into the body cavity. The incision is quickly stitched, allowing a 10-inch antenna (the size of monofilament line) to trail free.
Since all fish tagged in the research project are legal size, researchers urge anglers who catch a tagged fish to clean the fish as they normally would, then call the DNR office listed on the radio tag (864-223-1307). A $50 reward will be paid to anglers who return transmitters, Anglers are asked not to release fish with transmitters, but to remove the instrument, which will be placed in another fish.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is accepting letters of application from individuals March 1-15 for a random drawing of 150 permits for hunting and fishing on Fort Gordon. Letters must be from individuals not associated with the Army post.
Drawing for permits is March 16 in the Thomson office of the Georgia DNR.
Letters should request entry into the public access drawing for Fort Gordon and contain the applicants' full names, addresses, Social Security and telephone numbers (including area codes). Applicants must be at least 16 years old.
Applications must be sent to Georgia DNR, Game Management Section, 142 Bob Kirk Road, Thomson, Ga. 30824. More information is available from Ken Boyd at (706) 791-2397.
STROM THURMOND LAKE
David Willard, Little River Marina, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed professional fishing guide specializing in hybrids and stripers, (803) 637-6379 -- I've been doing a little scouting and found 52-degree water temperature in the early afternoon in the back of Hamilton Branch. I caught a couple of small hybrids free-lining in the back of Hamilton Branch. Fish are hard to pattern this time of year because they can be at any depth. Mine came from a couple of feet of water, but others are catching them at 40 to 50 feet. I'm getting the boat and tackle in shipshape and waiting on the water temperature to rise into the mid-50s or better.
Ralph Barbee, professional guide, (706) 860-7373 -- Pete Glabas and I fished on Tuesday, starting about 9:30 a.m., and leaving about 3:30. We fished the flats in Big Creek where the bass were roaming around, having moved out of the ditches. Big Creek runs past Wildwood Park. We also caught some fish in the back of Keg Creek. We wound up with eight bass -- the largest 6 pounds. They struck Tru-Trac white spinnerbaits with gold blades and also the Yozuri Minnow (Japanese) stick baits. Enon Hopkins fished with me on Wednesday afternoon. We ended up with six bass, the largest 6 pounds, and they came on a Sugar Shad, Texas Shad and Little Earl.
New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam
Lock and Dam Bait and Tackle (Bob Baurle), (706) 793-8053 -- Mannie Griffin caught six nice yellow perch on minnows. Her auntie, Gertrude Roberts, caught a 2-pound largemouth bass and four nice perch on minnows. Russell Payton also caught a nice mess of perch. All are being caught off the dam.
Fishermen are reminded striped bass and hybrid bass cannot be lawfully caught and kept from the river's mouth at Savannah to the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. The moratorium is in effect until at least the year 2001.
Bill Gibson, (706) 722-2980 -- Clayson Kelly caught two bass back-to-back. One weighed 3 1/2 pounds, the other 2 1/2 pounds and came on minnows from the Ditch. Mike and Jason Dilorenzo and Steve Henderson caught three bass in the Ditch, fishing plastic worms. They also caught a nice crappie of about 1 1/2 pounds.
(706) 722-8263 -- James Jewell caught six crappies on minnows. Billy Gay caught two catfish totaling more than 30 pounds together -- they bit herring -- and six crappies on minnows. Billy Williams caught 26 crappies on small minnows.
BEAUFORT, S.C. & VICINITY
Includes Paradise Pier
Joe Mix, Island Outfitters, Ladys Island, (843) 522-9900 -- Though water temperatures briefly fell into the upper 40s, it now appears that the threat of a significant over-wintering white roe shrimp kill is probably behind us. Short-term predictions call for daytime highs in the 70s. Charter captain Jack Brown reports nice catches of tailing spottail bass over mud flats, using various lead-headed grubs, especially the Electric Chicken with paddletail configuration. He uses weedless gold Johnson Spoons when casting into marsh grass at high tide. Water clarity is excellent and his fly-fishing clients are experiencing good results. Trout action is slow, except when schools are found near creek mouths. Live mud minnows seem to out-perform grubs. No one has ventured offshore.
Miss Judy Charters, Capt. Judy Helmey, (912) 897-4921. It's a mixed-bag-bait time of year. Your choices of bait can be anything from artificial to live. Let's start with those old, dead, "smelly" shrimp that you've had in your refrigerator for quite awhile. Any respectable, bottom-hugging fish would love to find a free meal this time of year, so try the shrimp.
Sheepshead have been schooling and are in holding patterns inshore and off. They can be found around anything that provides them with barnacles, oysters, rock crabs or fiddler crabs. It should be easy to catch them.
Offshore, artificial reefs are still holding lots of black sea bass, trigger fish, sheepshead (yes, that's right), black drum and school (snapper) bluefish. I am still using squid, always the best bait for bottom fish. If you have a lull in the bite, try adding a brightly colored screwtail grub to your hook and then affix the squid.
Another way is to rig your light tackle and go jigging, with the Hopkins Spoon by and far my favorite lure.
Reach Bill Babb at (706) 823-3304.