Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Fishing for a name on...
Clarks Hill or Thurmond Lake
There's been confusion as to why this lake has two names. When it was first formed in 1954 by the construction of the Clarks Hill Dam, it took the name Clarks Hill because this South Carolina town was the closest community to the new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project (Clarks Hill was nothing more than a bait shop and a few homes at the time).
The lake also borders Georgia and there was no confusion until 1988, when neighboring South Carolina wanted to honor its long time U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond (he was the longest-serving U.S. Senator in history, keeping the job for 48 years) and named the lake Thurmond Lake. On the Georgia side, however, it remained "Clarks Hill."
But regardless of the name you use, there is an agreement that the 1,200-mile shoreline and 26-mile length, the 36-foot average depth, the 63 boat ramp lanes and the dozens of quiet coves and bays are unique.
Most importantly, there is incredible fishing on the lake.
Whenever someone asks Carl Dearmin if the fishing is any good on Thurmond Lake, he pauses for a moment and tells a story about first coming to this body of water and going out with a fishing guide before deciding to buy a home nearby. After casting a line into the water he turned to the guide and asked that he shut the engine down because the boat was moving too fast. The guide told Carl the engine had been off for the past two minutes and a Thurmond Lake striper was pulling the boat.
"Fishing is a big deal on the lake," notes West Marine manager Bill Haug from his store in nearby Martinez, Georgia. "The Bassmasters Elite 50 comes here as does the Women's Bassmasters tournament and the FLW Outdoors competition. This is a fishing destination." The lake record for stripers is 56 pounds. There are also crappie, largemouth bass and catfish. There's also a fish the locals call a "hybrid."
"The hybrid is part white bass and part striper," says fishing aficionado Carl. "It will let you know it's there when you've got one." Clearly, that day on the boat with the guide had an affect on him. Although he can't claim the record, which is not to say he isn't trying, the largest hybrid pulled in to date weighed 16 1/2 pounds.
"One has to look at the history of this lake to realize what's beneath the water," observes Thurmond Lake Sail & Power Squadron Commander Dick Pugh. "When the Army Corps first designed a plan for filling the lake after building the dam, they planned to cut some of the trees along the anticipated shoreline. The lake filled faster than expected and the trees stayed where they are. So boaters need to stay in the clearly marked channels. If you go outside of the channel, there's always a chance of hitting a tree, depending on the water level." This applies to the portion of Thurmond Lake above the Highway 378 Bridge. Pugh says there is a series of center channel buoys (they are black and white) and boaters will do well to stay within 50 feet of either side, especially during low water levels. In fact, there's a story. The lake filled so quickly that the Army Corps wasn't able to remove all of their equipment in time. It's still down there someplace.
Water levels have been a concern on all lakes and reservoirs in the Southeast because of a two-year drought that forced the closing of a few Thurmond Lake boat ramps last year.
The normal pool for Thurmond Lake is 330 feet. During the 2001 drought the level dropped to 315 feet. During early Spring, the level was 320 feet-more than adequate for boating (lake levels and boat ramp status can be checked online at www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/thurmond).
"I always tell customers in the store that you can run wide open if you stay in the channels and if there's no boats or swimmers nearby," West Marine's Bill Haug says, "But don't do that outside of the buoys because that's where you can do some damage."
Carl Dearmin (he is the Thurmond Lake Sail & Power Squadron Port Captain when he isn't trying to land a fish) says boaters should also take note of high water levels on the lake. "We've had people pay attention to staying in the channel when boating in the fall and then after the Spring rains, they'll take their pontoon boat with a canopy out on one of the creeks and rivers that flow into the lake and go under a bridge and lose the entire canopy because the water is so high." If your boat has a high canopy or a fly bridge, the area between the Highway 378 Bridge and the Highway 47 Bridge is the best part of the lake to base your activities. The lake is wider here.
But if canopy height isn't a concern, Dick Pugh recommends spending some time north of the Highway 378 Bridge. "It's my favorite part of the lake because you can go into a cove, drop the anchor and enjoy the scenery. In many of the coves, there's a view of a golf course. Two such courses are Tara and Monticello, located in Savannah Lakes Village on the South Carolina side of the lake. Golf is a serious topic around here. The Masters, played just 40 minutes away in Augusta, brings thousands of tourists to the area, many of whom will steal some time to launch their boat for an afternoon. In fact, there's an 18-hole golf course right next to the Hickory Knob State Resort Park boat ramp. Many residents of Augusta will get away from the Masters crowds for a week and come to Thurmond Lake with their boats.
Below the 378 Bridge, parts of the lake are as wide as two miles. This is where the sailors are found (their masts can't make it under the bridges). It's also near the town of Clarks Hill, home to the dam that was constructed in 1954. This is considered "downriver" while the northern end of Thurmond Lake (at the Richard Russell Dam) is called "upriver."
Carl Dearmin advises newcomers to the lake to observe the One-Third-Rule (one-third of fuel in the tank is for going to a destination, one-third is to make the return and one-third is for reserve). "The shoreline isn't developed," he says, "and because of this, the number of spots to get gas is limited." Most of the South Carolina side of the lake is either state parks (Bobby Brown, Hickory Knob, Baker Creek and Hamilton Branch) or is part of the 118,000-acre Sumter National Forest. There are six marinas spread around the lake: a pair are along the South Carolina shoreline (Plum Branch Yacht Club has both a boat ramp and a gas dock and Savannah Lakes Marina has a gas dock. On the Georgia shoreline there are four marinas: Raysville Marina is used for American Bass Anglers Tournaments and has a boat ramp, Little River Marina has both a gas dock and a boat ramp, Tradewinds Marina near the Strom Thurmond Dam has a boat ramp and fuel dock and Soap Creek Marina near the Highway 378 Bridge has a fuel dock and launching facilities.
The largest boat ramp on the lake is at Dorn's Sport Fishing and Boating Facility on Hawes Creek, just five miles by road---or one mile by water---from Savannah Lakes Marina. Dorn's is run by McCormick County and has six lanes with parking for more than 200 tow vehicles and trailers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also operates 13 different campgrounds on the lake so many boats are towed behind an RV or camper. Before making plans to camp nearby or use the boat ramp, check to see if there are any major tournaments scheduled. Many will launch from this ramp on weekends.
There are more than 100 islands around the lake, which provide endless opportunities to explore. While most are less than a few acres in size, a few have small beaches. West Marine's Hoag says most are made of bright red Georgia clay. If you're going to go ashore, be sure to approach the island slowly and bring the engine up so as not to clip the "top" of a submerged tree or a rock. Others have deep water just a few yards offshore.
"The thing I like most about this lake," says Power Squadron Commander Dick Pugh, " is the myriad of coves and quiet places. Even during times of peak boat traffic in the summer, there's always a place that's quiet. There's no Disneyland around here."
In fact, the closest Thurmond Lake ever gets to Disneyland is over the Fourth of July weekend during the annual "Thunder Over Thurmond" festival. This is when a bass tournament is held at Dorn's Fishing Facility on the South Carolina side near Hawe Creek Campground. The weekend includes fireworks and live music. More than once, a comment is made that this is the only time out of the entire year that Georgians are willing to go along with calling the lake "Thurmond."
"Georgians are slowly accepting it as a name," observes Carl Dearmin. "In another 50 years, they may be able to go along with the idea."
Until then, both states can just look at all the water between them.
"I'm from Massachusetts," notes West Marine's Bill Haug. "I've been here five years so I still remember what winter is like up there. It's a real kick to be able to go out fishing the day after Christmas and I do it just to be able to say I was out there. In fact, every New Year's Day a group of wakeboarders are out on the lake. It's a very rare day when you don't see a boat somewhere on Clarks Hill Lake or, if you're from South Carolina, Thurmond Lake."
Thurmond Lake Fast Facts:At 71,000 acres it is the largest man-made lake operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers east of the Mississippi River with 1,200 miles of shoreline. It entertains six million visitors a year. There are 55 parks and recreation areas and 17 campgrounds Construction began in 1946; it was completed in 1954 Named after the late U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond in 1988, it was originally called Clarks Hill Lake (Elijah Clark was a Revolutionary War hero that grew up in the area). There is still a town called Clarks Hill.
Thurmond Lake Sail & Power Squadron tlsps.org
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Page: www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/thurmond
Thurmond Lake Information: www.thurmondlake.com
West Marine, 592 Bobby Jones Expy, Martinez GA 706-650-1939