The blueback herring situation on Thurmond Lake has reached a critical stage and no one is taking bets as to how long it will last.
There are plenty of herring in the lake, they think, but netting them for commercial sales through bait dealers is another story. Dealers are coming to the lake from Lakes Lanier and Murray and the Santee Cooper lakes of Marion and Moultrie because they're finding it hard to catch herring in their home lakes.
Meanwhile, few local bait dealers have herring on which they depend for a major part of their livelihoods. It's best to call ahead before planning any lake trips that require live bait.
Before bluebacks entered the Savannah River Basin, live, hand-sized bream and crappies were used.
Since both are game fish, their numbers in your boat had to be considered as part of the overall catch. In the Savannah River below the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, live eels were the preferred choice for striped bass. One local guide said he tried to fish with eels in the lake, but never got a strike. So much for that idea.
Gizzard shad also are in the lake and would make good substitutes for bluebacks. Problem is, where can you net them? No one seems to know.
l A his and hers bass club is being organized. Those interested can call Scott Baker in Lincoln County at (706) 359-4053 for more information.
l I rarely say anything about largemouth bass since I stopped fishing for them back in the 1960s in favor of stripers and hybrids. Last Tuesday afternoon between 4 and dark, all I could catch were those little green fish - seven of them -- with the top five maybe reaching 11 pounds. Two hit the Gotcha Shad on a quarter-ounce white Buckeye jig head. I took a page out of the notebook of the late Tommy Shaw and caught the rest on a quarter-ounce Little Cleo spoon. The fish were schooling in Big Branch adjacent to Wildwood Park.
Raysville Marina (Leon Buffington and Doug Pentecost), 1 (706) 595-5582 -- No report. David Willard, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed full-time professional fishing guide specializing in hybrids and stripers and trophy largemouth bass. 410 Sprouse Road, Clarks Hill, S.C. 29821 (803) 637-6379 (crockettrocketstriperfishing.com) -- Stripers fishing continues to be good with water temperatures in the high 50s in early morning. We're catching some nice fish on live herring free-lining in the shallows. There are lots of fish up river toward Raysville and Holiday Park, but I'm staying on the lower lake right now and haven't had any trouble catching fish. Down-lining has also been productive using the smaller herring in 24 to 30 feet of water. I'm also doing very good on the Berry's Flex-It Spoon. Some days, we have trouble getting the herring.
Ralph Barbee Jr., professional guide, (706-860-7373) -- Bill Shaw of Grovetown fished with me last week. We went to the Raysville area and fished around the pumping station. Bill caught six fish -- five stripers in the 9-to-12-pound range -- and a 4-pound largemouth bass. His biggest fish was a 20-pound striped bass. I cast the Yellow Fellow the same time Bill cast and the fish missed mine and grabbed Bill's. I caught four fish -- two stripers and two bass. My biggest striper was 10 pounds. One of the fish hit a yellow magnum Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. My biggest bass was 6 pounds. All came in a foot or less of water. Bill is recuperating from surgery this week, so it shouldn't be long before he's back out on the lake. Danny Sheehan and I fished 71 hours on Tuesday, a windy, cold day. He caught a 21-pound hybrid and I zeroed. Danny's fish hit a Yellow Fellow.
My show features Capt. Dan Utley, a former Augustan now residing in Bluffton, S.C., and guiding out of Hilton Head Island, S.C. With his expertise, I caught big redfish up to 46 pounds. Utley, a former Augustan, showed me how to use live and cut mullet for those bull reds. Fishing with Ralph Barbee airs Saturdays at 11 a.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Stations are Comcast Ch. 21, Knology Ch. 7, G-Force, Ch. 7 (Aiken), Northland Ch. 9 (Statesboro-Swainsboro) and Ft. Gordon Ch. 9. You must have a special box from Comcast to view my show. The box is free.
Billy Murphy, professional guide, (706-733-0124) (web site doubletroublefishingguides.com) with twins Brad and Jim) -- Last Tuesday, Larry Freeman of Evans fished with me in the Raysville area. We caught 12 stripers and hybrids with the biggest 5 pounds. Last Saturday, I took out Chris Guerrieri. We fished in the Raysville area again We caught nine stripers and hybrids and missed a lot of fish, too. We're catching our fish mid-morning to early afternoon.
Capt. William Sasser, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed professional guide specializing in crappies, hybrids and striped bass. (706) 589-5468. -- Stripers and hybrids have moved into a solid winter pattern, with some good fish coming out of the Raysville area. We're fishing live herring (when we can find them) in the backs of creeks and along the river channels. Jimmy Ferrell and Charlie Brinson of Martinez and Joe Miglionico and Brian Hall of Evans fished during an afternoon and wound up with an ice chest full of quality fish, including a couple of 10-pounders. My VHF radio handle is Crappie Master and I can be reached on the lake on Channel 68. Check out my web site at www.williamsasserfishing.com.
Craig Johnson, professional guide specializing in largemouth, hybrids and striped bass. (706) 364-6437. -- No report.
Capt. Tommy Dudley, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed professional guide specializing in stripers and hybrids. (706) 833-4807. -- No report. My VHF radio handle is Boat Racer and I can be reached on Channel 68. My web site is www.fishlakethurmond.com.
Albert Moody, Clark Hill Herring Hut, Clarks Hill, S.C. (864) 333-2000. -- Ed Moody and David "Choo-Choo" Youngblood are catching fish around the Modoc area. Most are hybrids 1 to 5 pounds. Doug Bennett and Karen Bricker went with me down river and caught about 25 nice bream. They hit jumbo red worms almost exclusively.
NEW SAVANNAH BLUFF LOCK & DAM
Lock and Dam Bait and Tackle (Bob Baurle), (706) 793-8053. -- Yellow perch on their spawning run continue to be targeted by many fishermen. Cast spinnerbaits around grass beds in the upper river and be prepared to net fighting jacks (chain pickerel). Don't overlook bream in the river's deeper holes, with jumbo red worms and Louisiana pinks among the best baits.
MERRY LAND BRICKYARD PONDS
Harrison Sears (706) 722-8263 (www.brickyardponds.com) -- Paul Micek won our Big Fish of the Month contest with a 5.28-pound bass. He won $75. A FISHING LICENSE IS NOT required to fish in our ponds.
BEAUFORT, S.C. & VICINITY
Ralph Goodison, Fripp Island, 1 (843) 838-2530 -- Goodison: Fishing's just so good. I went out twice with a friend and we caught (and released) 35 redfish. Spotted sea trout also are active, with live shrimp the best bait.
Miss Judy Charters, Capt. Judy Helmey, (912) 897-4921 (www.missjudycharters.com.) P.O. Box 30771, Savannah, Ga. 31410-0771 -- Redfish really do put on the feedbag this time of the year. The fishes' main goal is to get into the marshes during high tides for both food and protection. Protection from what? Porpoises. These sea-going mammals are adept at herding schools of redfish into shallow areas where they can "dine," but I've also seen redfish use their instincts to escape such traps. Fishermen can take advantage of the scenario by being on the water two hours before high tide and two hours after the tide starts back out. Look for live oyster beds that meet grass beds just barely covered.Then look for marshy points where the water hits both sides as it comes and goes. Fish live shrimp around those areas.