While trophy striped bass are frequently caught by anglers on unusual like 2-pound gizzard shad and 12-inch rainbow trout, day-in and day-out, the live bait of choice for stripers under 20 pounds and all hybrids is live blueback herring.

Like many clear-water lakes in South Carolina, Clarks Hill is a herring lake. The fish were at some point stocked in the lake, but it’s also presumed that they swam up the Savannah River and got in that way, too. 

William Sasser of Sasser’s Guide Service remembers the days of striper fishing on Clarks Hill before the lake had a population of herring.

“Me and a friend, David Willow, argue about this a little bit, but I actually remember late 70s when the hybrid population got real good in Clark’s Hill before there were herring in the lake,” he said. “Back then, everybody just used large minnows or small bream for catching the hybrids. That was back before there was somewhere to go buy herring or even go net them yourself.”

Striped bass, blueback herring and hybrid bass, to an extent, share a common denominator, they originated as saltwater fish. Though capable of living in saltwater, they also can live their entire lives in freshwater. 

“It’s their natural bait,” he said.  “They’re both really saltwater fish.  They come from the ocean, and that’s what saltwater stripers eat.”

Sasser that the availability of herring, thanks in no small part to bait suppliers netting, transporting and storing herring, has made fishing much easier than the old days.

“It’s wonderful. Most people, myself included, care nothing about getting up at 3 in the morning and catching bait,” Sasser said. “The availability has helped the striper fishing industry a lot. You know, it’s brought more fishermen to the lake if they can just stop and buy bait compared to trying to catch it.  Most people aren’t going to do that unless you’re really a hard-core fisherman.”