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AHQ INSIDER Lake Hartwell (GA/SC) Fall 2020 Fishing Report – Updated October 23

  • by Jay

October 23

Lake Hartwell water levels have dropped to a “mere” 661.13 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are down to the low 70s. The lake remains pretty clear. 

There is some better news with the hybrid and striped bass fishing on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that instead of struggling to catch a few fish they are regularly catching some mixed bags (including bass, perch, and catfish) that include a dozen or more striper and hybrids. Fish seem to be moving up all the creeks, and Chip’s boat has found them at the same point in a couple of creeks where other guides are reporting similar results in others. The fish seem to be about halfway back the creeks and each morning they are in 25-28 feet of water on clean bottoms around humps and points. In the later morning they usually move out to about the 30-35 foot depth range, a typical October pattern. There are a few fish suspended, and lots of spots, but mostly the striper are on the bottom.

There has also been some schooling in the evening in the same areas, but the fish are on small bait and so they will only eat extremely small artificial lures. Very small Rattle Traps, ¼ ounce Rooster Tails, and similar lures will work.

While there are plenty of spotted bass and largemouth to be caught on Lake Hartwell, the better fish continue to be elusive. The suspended bite has picked up a little, and a drop shot or shakey head will also work around offshore brush for numbers of fish. There are also lots of schooling fish, and while these have generally been smaller some better ones are mixed in.

With water levels very high again it’s also worth working the banks with a buzzbait or Whopper Plopper and trying to get a better bite. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 5-20 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more.

The best catfish action right now is with the flatheads, though, and as water temperatures start to approach the mid-60s the best fishing of the whole year will be found. You can catch fish anchoring live bait off the points, but with so much erosion this year there are tons of trees down everywhere and the flatheads are hanging around the tree tops. Particularly at night shallow is often the best place to look.

A nice Hartwell flathead caught with Captain Bill Plumley
A nice Hartwell flathead caught with Captain Bill Plumley

October 7

Lake Hartwell water levels are back down to 659.90 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures have dropped to about 73 degrees. For the first time in a long time the lake has gone a week without rain, and so the water is very clear. Overall the regions’s annual rainfall is 26 inches above normal!

Fresh off a second place performance in a major multi-day team tournament, Guide Brad Fowler knows what the fish are up to about as well as anyone. He reports they are catching plenty of fish, but the big ones are elusive right now. About a pound cost them $50,000, and anyone who can find a 4 or 5-pounder has really done something!

The topwater suspended bite around cane that was so prominent in the Eastern Open has pretty much died out, and what they are catching now is coming on a drop shot or shakey head around offshore brush. A few fish are being caught around the bank, and when they were looking for a big one around docks they saw some random fish come up schooling.  One of these schooling fish weighed but it is not a widespread pattern. 

Between the Eastern Open, the PBC Classic, and much more Hartwell has been beat to death, and the pressure may account for the tough bite to some degree. The lake turning over also hasn’t helped, but even before that big fish were hard to locate.  

Derrick Bridges and David Whyte with the last bag of their 39.09 3-day total to win the PBC Classic
Derrick Bridges and David Whyte with the last bag of their 39.09 3-day total to win the PBC Classic

This week there is not a lot of good stuff to say about the hybrid and striped bass, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the fishing continues to be downright tough. As water temperatures have dropped a few fish are being caught up the rivers as they migrate that way, and they are generally off main creek points on the bottom in 30-35 feet of water. Down-lines have been the best way to catch them.  

Overall it’s not entirely clear why the fishing is staying so tough. The population of fish seems to be a little down, but they are marking enough fish that the bite seems to have dropped too much for that to explain it. Perhaps they have been heavily pressured this year, perhaps they are on small bait, and perhaps there are water quality issues. Captain Bill Plumley notes that he find the striper fishing is off most years when water levels are extremely high – as they have been this year.

Regardless, October and November can be two of the best months on the lake and so there is hope that a better bite is on the way. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 5-20 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more.

Blues are out deep but the night fishing for flatheads is very good on points with live bait.  With water temperatures in the lower 70s the fish are active, moving and hungry.

September 22

Lake Hartwell water levels have risen to 660.82 (full pool is 660.00) while water temperatures have dropped substantially to about 76 degrees. The water is still very clear. 

It’s a zoo on Lake Hartwell right now, and Guide Brad Fowler (himself a competitor) reports that the lake is covered with anglers pre-fishing for the Bassmaster Eastern Open starting tomorrow.  With well over 200 boats the fishing pressure is as bad as Brad has ever seen it and it’s a merry-go-round of anglers all trying to graph and fish the same offshore points, humps, brush piles and cane piles where conventional wisdom expects that the tournament will be won. While some anglers report that they have found a pretty good offshore topwater bite, others have found the action lacking. The same can be said for offshore fishing on drop shots and shakey heads. Other anglers report seeing a lot schooling activity, but Brad has seen very little.

The other way the tournament could be won is shallow, and somebody may catch them on a buzzbait or Whopper Plopper around the banks.  Or at least catch the big kickers they need. 

There is finally some good news on the hybrid and striped bass, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that as water temperatures have cooled they have started to catch a few more fish. It’s not a great improvement yet, but there is every reason to think it will only continue to get better. 

There are essentially two patterns right now, and one group of fish is moving up the rivers where they can be caught on down-lines fished around main river points. The fish are about 35 feet deep on the bottom. 

There is also another group of fish that is still down by the dam, and they can be caught around main lake points in about 40 feet of water. Some are on clean ridges near trees and structure, and they all seem to be relating to the bigger coves. Some of the fish are on the bottom, but others are up off the bottom and will come up to to take a free-line. 

A couple of striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton
A couple of striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 6-14 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

September 14

Lake Hartwell water levels have risen to 660.41 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures remain in the lower 80s. The water is still very clear. 

Even though fishing is still a little tough there are some seasonal changes starting to take place with the bass on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that in particular he is starting to see more schooling activity. At times the fish are over very deep water, and they are basically just following schools of very small baitfish. Sometimes they are no more than an inch long. Small plugs, little scrounger heads and small swimbaits can all work.

The topwater bite off points and over brush has also picked up a little, and of course you can still catch fish on drop shots or shakey heads around offshore brush in 20-40 feet of water.

Early in the morning you can pick up a bite throwing a buzzbait shallow, but with the lake well over full there is so much shallow cover that it can be hard to locate the fish. Also, for some reason there do not seem to be a lot of bream up right now and so at times the shallows seem a little dead. 

Fishing for hybrid and striped bass remains off on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that even though some seasonal changes are occurring the fishing is still tough. 

As with the bass the best news is that some schooling activity is starting to take place, but as would be expected from the way this summer has gone on Hartwell the fish are very hard to catch. Like the bass they are on small bait, which is not unusual for fall, but they often won’t take small rubber jigs, little white Rooster Tails, the smallest flukes or any of the other baits they will usually eat. 

Overall fish remain in the same depths they have been at, usually about 40-45 feet down over 75-125 feet of water (although they will run bait shallower when schooling). They are hardly taking down-lines and the few fish that do bite are most likely to come up to take a free-line. They are also still moving a lot. 

A nice striper caught recently with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice striper caught recently with Guide Chip Hamilton

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 6-14 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The bite for bigger fish remains off, however, and Bill has put in a lot of time with live bait for flatheads or bigger blues with very little to show for it.  Water quality seems to be an issue.

September 11

Lake Hartwell water levels are barely above full pool at 660.16 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures have cooled a few more degrees to 82-84. The water remains very clear. 

Fishing for hybrid and striped bass remains off on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that even though some seasonal changes are occurring the fishing is still tough. 

The good news is that some schooling activity is starting to take place, but as would be expected from the way this summer has gone on Hartwell the fish are very hard to catch. They are on small bait, which is not unusual for fall, but they won’t take small rubber jigs, little white Rooster Tails, the smallest flukes or any of the other baits they will usually eat. 

Overall fish remain in the same depths they have been at, usually about 40-45 feet down over 75-125 feet of water (although they will run bait shallower when schooling). They are hardly taking down-lines and the few fish that do bite are most likely to come up to take a free-line. They are also still moving a lot. 

A fish definitely worth smiling about caught recently with Chip Hamilton
A fish definitely worth smiling about caught recently with Chip Hamilton

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker has picked up a little in 6-14 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The bite for bigger fish remains off, however, and Bill has put in a lot of time with live bait for flatheads or bigger blues with very little to show for it. Water quality seems to be an issue. 

Bass report to follow.

August 26

Lake Hartwell water levels are slightly down from a couple of days ago to 660.87 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures have cooled several degrees to the mid-80s. While there has been lots of rain the water is still very clear. 

A good rule of thumb is to never trust a fishing guide who always reports an outstanding bite, while a guide who admits when the fishing gets tough is probably believable. With that in mind this week’s report offers compelling evidence that Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) isworth listening to, as he reports that the consensus of guides on the lake is that the hybrid and striped bass fishing is slow right now. Some guides have even been taking customers to neighboring lakes, and for anglers who expect to catch bunch of fish on Lake Hartwell – like usual – they have even been telling clients to wait until things improve. Of course, anglers who just want to get away from work and go fishing, likely catch a few fish, and generally enjoy a day on the water the advice is to come on!

The strange dynamic is that you can ride all along the dam and the mouths of the creeks on both sides and mark tons of fish, but they just are not biting consistently.  A good day will see 10-12 fish in the boat, while 2-5 is more common. The bait is sitting in about 30-35 feet, and the fish are generally about 40-45 feet down just above the thermocline which is at about 50. They could be over 60 feet to as deep as 170 feet of water, and they are moving a lot and not holding to any structure. About the time you get baits down they move on. In fact, trollers are doing a little better than live bait fishermen pulling umbrella rigs and plugs and getting reaction bites – but it’s still tough. And whether you fish at daylight, the heat of the day, or at night it’s all about the same. 

A nice hybrid caught at dusk with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice hybrid caught at dusk with Guide Chip Hamilton

Unfortunately the bass fishing is not much better than the striper bite on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that in the BFL tournaments over the weekend (rescheduled due to COVID) anglers were allowed a 3-fish limit and there were still a lot of people who failed to get that. And zeroes were very common.  There was a 13-pound bag and several others over 10 on Saturday, while on Sunday about 10 was good for the win. 

Anglers are having to do a bit of everything to try to catch a fish, and there is a little bit of a topwater offshore bite on flukes, Spooks, Sebilles and the like. There have also been some fish on drop shot rigs, shakey heads and scrounger heads with flukes in 20-25 feet around brush. The shallow bite has fizzled as bream bedding has basically come to an end, but there are still some anglers throwing topwater baits around the bank and hoping for a better bite. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still okay in about 15-18 feet in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The flathead bite remains really slow and blues are mostly uncatchable in the deeper timber. The flathead bite should get better soon.

July 29

Lake Hartwell water levels are down to 660.22 (full pool is 660.00), and the water is very clear with little recent rain – although high boat traffic has stirred it up in some sections.  Water temperature are 87-89 degrees at daylight. 

There’s no doubt bass fishing is tough on Lake Hartwell, and tournament angler Joe Anders of Easley reports that it was a struggle to put together a winning 15+ pound bag in the last tournament they fished. While they caught a lot of little ones, decent fish were hard to come by and the biggest they managed was about 3.5 pounds. They were able to catch a few fish on bream beds, including one they weighed, but by far the most successful pattern was fishing a big worm around offshore brush piles in 25-30 feet. Brush in the lower lake has been fishing better for Joe and his tournament partner recently.

There are some suspended fishing taking topwaters offshore, but they have mostly been smaller. 

Greg Glouse and Joe Anders with a winning bag
Greg Glouse and Joe Anders with a winning bag

The last day or two there has been a lull on Lake Hartwell, but overall hybrid and striped bass fishing has been good. There are a couple of different groups of fish, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that he has been targeting fish that were up the rivers but that are making their way down towards the dam. Right now they are in the lower ¼ of the creeks, and because they are in a discrete area they are a little easier to target than the other major group of fish which is already at the dam. While there are more fish there they have a huge area in which to scatter out. 

In both areas at the crack of dawn fish are on the bottom in 35-40 feet of water, and after that they move deeper onto deep ledges and humps in 45-60 feet of water – staying on the bottom. The bait is generally 25-30 feet deep and the fish are under it. While Chip’s boat is fishing down-lines guys trolling umbrella rigs up the rivers are also picking up some fish. 

There are also some fish being caught suspended 30 feet down over trees in 75-100 feet, but this is not as reliable a pattern. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the bite for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still okay in about 15-18 feet in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The flathead bite remains really slow and blues are mostly uncatchable in the deeper timber. The flathead bite should get better as the spawn winds down.

July 17

Lake Hartwell water levels are all the way down to 660.39 (full pool is 660.00), and the water is very clear with no recent rain. The water is in the mid-80s.

Despite the Upstate temperatures being extremely hot, hybrid and striped bass fishing is still pretty good. The action is not amazing but Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they are catching a solid 15-25 fish per day. 

There are already some fish at the dam with others moving that way, and soon all the mature fish will be in the lower lake. However, for now the bulk of them are making their way down the rivers and they can be found in clean spots along the edge of the river channel. They are near the bottom in 40-50 feet of water. While they will hit a free line they are mostly being caught on down-lines.

There is some random schooling activity but nothing exciting, and overall this has been the worst year for schooling in some time.

There’s nothing very exciting to report in the bass department, but Guide Brad Fowler does report that the offshore topwater bite has gotten a little better. You can call up fish with flukes, Spooks, Sebilles and the like.  Fish also have been biting decently on drop shot rigs, shakey heads and scrounger heads with flukes in 20-35 feet around brush. However, neither technique is generating much size at all right now. 

In a lot of time down by the water Brad has not seen any bass cruising near bedding bream to speak of, and there is not much report of a good shallow bite. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the bite for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker has been pretty good in about 15-18 feet in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The flathead bite remains really slow and blues are uncatchable in the deeper timber.

A good dinner awaits...
A good dinner awaits...

June 25

Lake Hartwell water levels are back up to 661.04 (full pool is 660.00), and morning surface temperatures are about 82 degrees. Clarity is very good. 

The hybrid and striped bass fishing has gotten a little more consistent on Lake Hartwell, but Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the early morning bite which had been the best thing going a couple of weeks ago died off with the cold snap last week. Mornings have been terrible, but as temperatures normalize he thinks it will pick up again. However, instead of pitching free-lines into 8-12 feet Chip expects to be fishing down-lines in around 25 feet of water early.

Right now the best action is during the day fishing down-lines right on the bottom in 40-50 feet of water. Fish are hanging around clean bottom areas near underwater timber, and while they are not on drop-offs they are also near them. They are hanging around near wide, “roundhouse” points – not sharp points – as well as underwater ridges. 

Fish are still in a similar pattern all over the lake, whether you are a little ways up the Seneca River, the Tugaloo or at the dam.  It will be much later in the summer before fish group up in the lower lake.

A nice hybrid caught this morning with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice hybrid caught this morning with Guide Chip Hamilton

Usually at this time of year the bass are biting topwater lures offshore on Lake Hartwell, but right now Guide Brad Fowler reports that bite is terrible. It could be due to the high water or boat traffic, but regardless flukes, Spooks, Sebilles and the like are not doing much.  There is also not a lot of bait up where it should be which could be related.

At the same time the fish have been biting decently on drop shot rigs, shakey heads and scrounger heads with flukes in 20-25 feet. Still, tournament weights have been low. 

It’s worth trying to throw a buzzbait around the bank to get a better bite.  

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the bite for channel catfish has been good, and fish are eating worms really well in 5-15 feet. He is also catching a lot of shellcracker on the same pattern. Channel catfish will also eat cut bait, dip baits, and more. 

The flathead catfish bite has pretty much died as fish seem to be focused on spawning, but there have been a few big blues caught recently in the creeks. The blue catfish should get more scarce while the flatheads should feed better very soon.  

June 10

Lake Hartwell water levels dropped down to normal full pool but have risen back to 660.51(full pool is 660.00), while morning surface water temperatures are around 83 degrees. The lake is mostly clear but slightly dingy in places due to heavy boat traffic. 

The hybrid and striped bass fishing is still a tad inconsistent on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they are still having some good days and some tougher ones. The most significant change this week is that there is more hope for a later morning bite, and some days the fish seem to turn on again around 9 or 10 and feed well. 

Early in the morning fish can still be found shallow in 8-12 feet of water and they will take free lines pitched to them. After that they move deeper into 40-50 feet of water where down-lines are the best option. Daytime fish are actually a little deeper than usual and in some ways this looks more like a July pattern.  

The consensus of guides is that fish are still in a similar pattern all over the lake, whether you are up the Seneca River, the Tugaloo or at the dam.  It will be much later in the summer before fish group up in the lower lake.

A 9-pound hybrid caught this week with Chip Hamilton
A 9-pound hybrid caught this week with Chip Hamilton

The bass bite is starting to change on Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that while there is still a decent early bite around shallow points (which should last through the end of June) the offshore topwater pattern is starting to come on. Fish are setting up well off of points where they can be caught on flukes, Spooks, Sebilles and other baits fished up in the water column. 

At the same time the drop shot bite is picking up too.

As water levels have slightly risen there can also be some fish caught on buzzbaits around the banks, particularly early. But if there is another drop in lake level more of these fish will pull out away from the bank. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the bite for channel and flathead catfish is still really good most of the time, although there can be some slower days.  

Channels can be caught pretty much everywhere in 2-25 feet of water on any cut bait, live bait, worms or dip baits. 

The flathead catfish are being caught on bream, and they can also be found about anywhere. Main lake points have actually been producing pretty well, and the bite has (atypically) been best during the day.

The blue catfish bite remains tough and it seems that they will be holed up in the timber for a while.

June 2

Lake Hartwell water levels are way down to 660.66 but still above full (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures in the mid to upper-70s. The backs of creeks are clearing again. 

The hybrid and striped bass fishing is still tricky on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that fishing is day-to-day and fish are just not as aggressive as normal. While they will have a good time and fish can be caught, overall it is hard to explain what is going on.

What has been bailing out guides is a good bite very early, but if you have not caught fish by about 7:30 then you may be in trouble. Usually in June good action continues until 10:00 or later. Early in the morning fish can be found shallow in 8-12 feet of water where they are keying on the tail end of the herring spawn. They will take free lines pitched to them, and then after that they move deeper into 40-50 feet of water where down-lines are the best option. Daytime fish are actually a little deeper than usual. 

Fish are still in a similar pattern all over the lake, whether you are up the Seneca River, the Tugaloo or at the dam. 

A nice Hartwell striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice Hartwell striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton

The bass bite is still brutally tough on Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that there is still just not a good pattern. Some fish can still be caught feeding on spawning herring around bridges, bushes and flat red clay points, and there are also some other random fish cruising.

However, as lake levels drop and temperatures get warm the fish should start to get on deeper brush where they can be caught on drop shots. An offshore topwater bite may also develop after the bait moves deeper but that has not happened yet. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the blue catfish bite remains tough and it seems that they will be holed up in the timber for a while. However, the bite for channel and flathead catfish is still really good. 

Channels can be caught pretty much everywhere in 2-25 feet of water on any cut bait, live bait, worms or dip baits. 

The flathead catfish are being caught on bream, and they can also be found about anywhere. Main lake points have actually been producing pretty well, and the bite has (atypically) been best during the day.

 

 

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