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AHQ INSIDER Lake Hartwell (GA/SC) Spring 2021 Fishing Report – Updated January 13

  • by Jay

January 13

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 659.03 (full pool is 660.00).  While the creeks do have some color the main lake is clear. Water temperatures range from about 46-50 degrees.

The bass fishing remains good on Lake Hartwell, but Guide Brad Fowler reports that if anything the fish have gotten even deeper into the 40-50 range in ditches and creek channels. He is finding the best action in the front of creeks. Brad did find one group of fish as shallow as 30 feet, but the largest schools were close to 50. He has had the best look fishing on the inside of timber lines where there is bait present. 

A variety of baits have been working, and he has caught fish on football jigs, spoons, and drop shots. 

While Brad has also found some fish chasing bait on the surface over 30 feet of water, there is also a true shallow pattern in the dirty water in the creeks. Between the stained conditions and some very early seasonal pressures a decent number of fish have slid up and will take Shad Raps and jigs. However, for right now they will be close to deep water on something steep. If they are on a flat it will have deep water very close. 

Check out the new Lake Hartwell Catch ’Em Kits with lures hand-picked for each season by Brad.

Brad Fowler guided these young anglers to some nice spots this week
Brad Fowler guided these young anglers to some nice spots this week

The hybrid and striped bass remain in a virtually identical pattern to a week ago, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the fish they are catching are still pretty far back in the creeks, mostly in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges.  Fishing is still pretty tough.

The bright spot remains that in the same areas of the creeks where they are marking fish on some afternoons the fish will pull up shallower at the warmest part of the day when bait moves shallower. This usually happens at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and dies off at the latest around 4:30 or 5:00, and when this happens fish can be caught casting small swimbaits and retrieving them near the bottom in 10-20 feet of water. This is not a reliable pattern day-in and day-out for guides because not all of the schools do it every day, but when you find a school that moves shallower you can catch a lot of fish. 

Unfortunately, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the catfish bite has gotten really tough. The few fish he has caught have been extremely deep but they are just not biting very well.

January 6

Lake Hartwell water levels rose to within 6 inches of full pool (full pool is 660.00) with recent rains but are now back down to 658.98.  After the recent rains the water got dirty in some of the creeks but the main lake remains clear. Water temperatures range from the uppers 40s to about 50 degrees. 

The bass fishing remains good on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that they are still catching them pretty well in the 30-40 foot range in ditches and creek channels. Fish are relating to steep drops as well as bait schools, and you can catch them on spoons or drop shot rigs. They can also be caught dragging a jig or shakey head worm. This pattern is likely to stay good until fish start to think about coming up for the spawn. 

Even though water temperatures have cooled off, with some color in the creeks a shallow pattern is also in play and some fish are being caught on small crankbaits around rock. 

Check out the new Lake Hartwell Catch ’Em Kits with lures hand-picked for each season by Brad.

While it’s not a tournament pattern, Captain Bill Plumley reports that you can also pick up spotted bass on minnows even deeper in 40-70 feet of water in deep ditches. At that depth you will encounter a mixed bag as perch and catfish have also gone deep. You can still hope to catch a blue cat in the same range, but like most species they don’t feed as much when water temperatures hit 50 and below.

Out of the lake and into the freezer!
Out of the lake and into the freezer!

 

The hybrid and striped bass remain in a similar pattern in most ways, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the fish they are catching are still pretty far back in the creeks, mostly in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges.  While that bite is still pretty slow, a pattern that usually only starts in February and March has also emerged.

In the same areas of the creeks where they are marking fish on some afternoons the fish will pull up shallower at the warmest part of the day when bait moves shallower. This usually happens at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and dies off at the latest around 4:30 or 5:00, and when this happens fish can be caught casting small swimbaits and retrieving them near the bottom in 10-20 feet of water. This is not a reliable pattern day-in and day-out for guides because not all of the schools do it every day, but when you find a school that moves shallower you can catch a lot of fish. 

On the crappie front, Captain Bill advises fishing in 18-25 feet of water around deep docks and brush in the creek channels with minnows.

December 18

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 658.08 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are down to about 56 degrees. The lake is clear in most places but some of the creeks have color. 

Right on schedule, Guide Brad Fowler reports that Lake Hartwell bass are starting to settle into a winter pattern. There are some fish still on shallower brush, but mostly he is finding them in the 30-40 foot range in ditches and creek channels.  They are relating to steep drops but also to bait schools, and you can catch them on spoons or drop shot rigs. They can also be caught dragging a jig or shakey head worm. 

While Brad hasn’t been fishing a shallower pattern himself, the lake is still pretty warm and so he knows some fish are still being caught shallow on small crankbaits around rock. 

While hybrid and striped bass are not exactly jumping in the boat, Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they are filling in with enough spotted bass to keep everyone happy. Getting 8-10 spots in 35-39 feet of water on minnows is pretty typical. 

As for why the striper fishing isn’t better it’s still a bit of a mystery, but the long drawn-out turnover didn’t help. The striper and hybrids they are catching are still pretty far back in the creeks, mostly in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges. But they are very spooky, and after they catch a couple of hybrids and striper out of a mixed school only the spots, perch and catfish continue to bite. 

Even though water temperatures have dropped they have not yet pulled out to the mid-river areas they frequent later in the winter. 

You have to be willing to fish deep to catch catfish on Lake Hartwell, but Captain Bill Plumley reports that the blues have turned on and they are also catching some channels.  The fish he has caught have been in 72-77 feet of water, and he is fishing clean areas without timber in the river channels.  A variety of cut baits are working.

A healthy blue catfish caught out of the Lake Hartwell depths this week
A healthy blue catfish caught out of the Lake Hartwell depths this week

November 24

Lake Hartwell water levels are down to 657.75 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are down to about 64. The lake is clear. 

For the first time in almost a year water levels are down more than two feet below full pool, and perhaps not coincidentally Guide Brad Fowler reports that tournament bass weights have gone way up in recent tournaments and more largemouth are showing up. It seems that bass are setting up on stuff that is easier to target as they don’t have as much flooded water to get in.  Buzzbaits and spinnerbaits are both working better around visible cover.

Fish are also starting to get in ditches and creeks as they pull water, and in 25-40 feet spoons, shakey heads and blade runners are starting to work. Of course, fish can still be caught out on main lake points and brush piles with spoons and drop shots.

Spotted bass can also be caught on herring or long-lined minnows just as if you are crappie fishing.  Spots are feeding very well right now.

The hybrid and striped bass fishing continues to improve as temperatures drop, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that as birds show up they are starting to provide clues to where the bait is. However, they are mostly on shallower threadfin right now while most of the herring is still very deep.

Chip has been marking some very large schools of herring recently, and generally striper and spotted bass are mixed in with these schools. He is still finding the best action on humps and ridges in the main creeks and rivers, and they can be half-way back or even further. Right now the fish are about as far back as they will get in the fall, and when water temperatures drop to about 60 they will make their way back to the mid-rivers. Most of the river fish are related to the bottom in about 25-35 feet of water. There are also plenty of fish in the mid-lake still at similar depths. 

Even though the bite is still not on fire, it seems to really be helping that most of the area stores are carrying smaller herring right now. 

A hungry striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton
A hungry striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton

It’s a really good time to catch catfish on Lake Hartwell, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that channel catfish, blue cats and flatheads are all biting well right now. 

Channel catfish are scattered all over the place and feeding well on everything from worms to chicken livers, with 10-30 feet the most productive depth range. They are also catching blues in the same areas, particularly with cut bait. In areas where you can drift that is the best approach.

The flathead bite is also at its annual peak with water temperatures about perfect, and while you can catch fish anchoring live bait off the points with so much erosion this year there are tons of trees down everywhere.  The flatheads are hanging around the tree tops and particularly at night shallow is often the best place to look.

November 12

Lake Hartwell water levels are just below full pool at 659.73 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are around 68-70 degrees. The lake remains pretty clear. 

The Lake Hartwell bass continue to be pounded by tournament pressure this fall, and fresh off a week on the lake practicing and then a 16th place finish in the 141-boat ABA Ray Scott Championship Guide Brad Fowler can report that that the fishing is pretty tough.  Catching numbers of fish is easy, but quality is very difficult. About 12 pounds per day was good enough for the win. 

Brad did catch a few decent fish on topwater, and he saw some little ones schooling, but almost everything he weighed came on a drop shot. Some of the fish came from his winter holes in 40 plus feet of water, while most were on deeper brush in 25 feet. Some days Brad caught 40 fish but catching size was always a challenge.

There were some reports that better largemouth were caught shallow, but in hours of throwing a buzzbait around the bank Brad only had some small spots blow up on it. A few fish were apparently caught flipping wood.

Tournament angler Joe Anders of Easley reports that he also couldn’t get anything going shallow on his way to a 7th place finish in the Ray Scott Championship, but while he caught a few fish on a drop shot he was more successful backing up and casting at them. He would see fish schooling over natural timber in 35 feet of water or less, mark the school, and then make a long cast with a ½ ounce Rooster Tail and let it drop to 20-25 feet before retrieving it. While most of the fish were in the 1.25 pound range he caught several 3 pound fish this way. The small bait seemed to work best since the fish are on very small shad. 

Joe Anders with a nice bag last weekend
Joe Anders with a nice bag last weekend

It’s still not easy but the hybrid and striped bass fishing remains better than it was earlier this fall, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they are catching 12-20 fish on better trips now – and a bad trip usually sees at least half a dozen fish in the boat. 

Overall fish are still on humps and ridges in the main creeks and rivers, and they can be half-way back or even further. Right now they are about as far back as they will get in the fall and when water temperatures drop to about 60 they will make their way back to the mid-rivers.  The fish are generally related to the bottom in about 25-35 feet of water, and while they are still on small bait the stores are carrying small herring and so this has not been a problem. 

There is a bit of schooling activity but it is mostly small spotted bass.

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 on worms, but the channel catfish have generally gone a little deeper into 15-20 feet. 

The best catfish bite continues to be with the flatheads, 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.

There are also some blue catfish moving shallower, particularly at night, while during the day they are still out in the 30-foot timber. 

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.



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