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AHQ INSIDER Lake Hartwell (GA/SC) Spring Fishing Report – Updated May 10

  • by Jay

May 10

Lake Hartwell water levels are up to 652.80 (full pool is 660.00), and water temperatures range from the upper-60s to low-70s.  They dropped significantly over the weekend but are now rebounding towards the mid-70s again.  On windy days the water is a little dingy but overall clarity is good without significant rain of late.

Usually this is a time of year when there is a wide open topwater bite on Lake Hartwell, but right now Guide Brad Fowler reports that bass fishing is very tough.  On Sunday it only took about 16 pounds to win the Skeeter tournament, and in the BFL tournament on Saturday it only took about 12 pounds to get a check.

Surprisingly, Brad says that there are still a ton of fish bedding on Lake Hartwell.  Even though surface temperatures warmed very quickly deeper levels did not really move up, and so the spawn isn’t as far along as one might think.  Resident shallow fish bedded early but deeper fish just didn’t come to the banks very quickly.

One group of fish has been on bait for about a month, and it’s easy to catch lots of small ones off shallow points on topwaters, even as the herring spawn winds down.  You can also catch fish on drop shot rigs.  However, quality fish are elusive.

In contrast striped bass action is good, and Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that you can catch fish about any way you want to target them.  Striper are out on points, in pockets and coves, and generally scattered all over.  Down-lines fished 25-30 feet deep are working, and pulling free-lines is also catching fish.  Fishing cut bait in 15-30 feet of water is also successful.  Bill has seen little schooling recently and the fish have been close to the bottom.

Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that he is finding fish in the same general range, and he believes that fish were in the backs but they are now working their way out towards the deeper creek channels where they are staging.   He is catching fish on down-lines fished in 30-40 feet in pockets, gullies, and coves, and on days when fish seem higher in the water column he is pitching free lines to them.  He has seen some schooling activity on rainy days.

Catch of the day on Guide Chip Hamilton's boat
Catch of the day on Guide Chip Hamilton’s boat

Captain Bill reports little change in the catfish, with channels scattered all over the place and feeding well.  Blues can still be caught anchoring and drifting in 5-30 feet of water.

Crappieare still relatively shallow, and the best reports are coming around brush in 5-6 feet of water in the creeks.  The best brush is fairly close to deep water.

April 25

Lake Hartwell water levels are up to 652.28 (full pool is 660.00), and water temperatures are around 70 degrees.  After the very significant rain over the last few days – the most in some time – the water is more stained and some of the creeks are blood red.

Striped bass can be found pretty much all over Lake Hartwell, with Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reporting that the one exception is in very deep water.  Anywhere on the lake from the shallows out to about 30 or so feet could hold fish, and overall they are feeding well.  With herring spawning striper can be caught off the points early with live bait fished on the bottom, and pulling free lines and planer boards in the same areas will also catch fish.  There are also some fish being caught on down-lines in about 25-30 feet of water.  Captain Bill has not seen any fish schooling.

The bite for catfish is improving, and Captain Bill advises that channel catfish are really starting to move around and feed.  They can be caught pretty much anywhere in the lake from the creeks to the main lake as long as you target 2-20 feet of water.  The population is so strong that anywhere in that range where you put night crawlers, red worms, dip bait, or cut herring on the bottom you should be successful.  Blue catfish can still be caught for now, but they are starting to head for deeper water as the shallows warm up. Look in the 15-30 foot range.  Flatheads can be caught on live bait fished on the bottom around brush at night.

Crappieare solidly in a post-spawn phase, and they are grouped up around shallow brush.  Cover in 8-10 feet is a good area to look.  Last week Captain Bill caught a 2-pound crappie while down-lining herring!

March 30

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 649.96 (full pool is 660.00) and clarity is good.  Surface water temperatures in the morning have rocketed from 53 degrees 10 days ago to 65 degrees as of this morning.

Tournament angler Brock Taylor reports that Lake Hartwell bass are on the beds everywhere, and when you pull into most large coves you can expect to see 15-20 fish up bedding.  Certainly not all of the bass you see are big ones, but there are plenty of large females up shallow; rising water temperatures and the new moon have fish in full blown spawning mode.

Brock hasn’t found any post-spawn fish yet, and with bass mixed between spawning and pre-spawn fish he thinks it’s a great time to fish a floating worm or a weightless Senko – which will catch fish at both stages.  While most people will probably be sight-fishing for bedding bass, pre-spawn fish can also be found cruising just outside spawning flats or setting up around secondary points, rocks, stump or any other cover adjacent to spawning areas.

With warming temperatures the Hartwell striped bass are really turning on, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) says there are at least three patterns he has been fishing.  First, fish can be caught on down-lines in about 25-30 feet of water.  Second, he is dragging free lines, and on warmer days he is finding that fish will go up pretty shallow.  On Tuesday he caught a lot of fish on free-lines pitching baits in about 15-18 feet of water.  Finally, while the pattern died off around the cold snap it’s once again a good time to throw swimbaits around shallow, wind-blown banks in the evening.  Overall he is finding most of his fish up the rivers.

A nice box of fish caught this weekend on Chip Hamilton's boat
A nice box of fish caught this weekend on Chip Hamilton’s boat

Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) concurs that fishing is really picking up, and he is also catching fish on a mix of free-lines and planer boards.  He is finding fish scattered all over the lake, and he is catching fish on free-lines even shallower in the 8-10 foot range.  Bill is finding the best fishing mid-lake but expects more fish to run up the rivers shortly.

On the catfish front Captain Bill says that we are very close to the annual peak of the catfish bite, and in the next couple of weeks he expects the fishing to be as good as it gets.  Right now the channel catfish are moving around and biting well off points in 8-25 feet of water – they will eat cut herring and worms.  Meanwhile blue catfish are moving into the creeks and they can also be caught on cut herring in 5-30 feet.

Crappieare also at a very good stage, and fish can be caught in 1 ½ feet of water up against the shore all the way out to 15 feet.  Nature ensures the survival of species by not having them all spawn at once, and fish are mixed between spawning fish and pre-spawn crappie right now.  Up against the banks a minnow or jig under a cork is all you need, and deeper fish are holding around brush and will take the same baits presented differently.

March 8

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 650.23 (full pool is 660.00), and water temperatures range from the mid to upper-50s.  Clarity is good.

After the winter doldrums Lake Hartwell striped bass are starting to “move around” again, and Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that fish are starting to scatter out and move up the rivers and into the backs of creeks.  He has caught fish on recent trips pulling free-lines over shallow water in the 6 foot range, and he has also caught fish on down-lines in about 20 feet of water.  Coves have been productive.  While there are tons of birds on the lake 9 ½ times out of 10 Bill says they are feeding over loons, and even though it’s worth checking them out he says not to expect feeding striper every time you see gulls.  With temperatures still on the cool side Bill has not seen schooling activity.

A nice striper caught on Lake Hartwell with Lines Out Charters
A nice striper caught on Lake Hartwell with Lines Out Charters

Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) concurs with this assessment of the fishing, and even though the bite isn’t “dynamic” yet he believes it’s starting to heat up.  Most years this would be very early for the Hartwell striper to turn on, but it’s been so warm that they are getting close earlier.  In the morning he is also having some luck pulling free-lines, and later on he has found fish in the slightly deeper 25-35 foot range on down-lines.  Late in the day Chip reports that striper can be caught up shallow near the banks around windblown, red clay points.  The shallows warm and bait moves up into these areas, and casting swimbaits can be a productive way to target the fish.

On some of the lakes in South Carolina Guide Brad Fowler reports bass went basically straight from deep to the bank, but on Lake Hartwell the fish are in more of a staging pattern.  A few fish are still out deep but more of them are on points, secondary points or in ditches that lead back into coves.  There are certainly some fish on the banks already but nowhere near as many as on Murray or Clarks Hill.

As on Lake Keowee Brad likes to fish soft plastics for these bass that are staging, and he says that jerkbaits and Blade Runners also work well for fish that are in the ditches.  Anglers can also drag a jig for them.

Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that crappiefishing on Lake Hartwell has been fairly good, with fish scattered from 2 feet out to 20.  He has even picked up some big two-pound crappie while trolling baits for striper and catfish!  Crappie are pre-spawn right now, and they have moved solidly into the creeks.  In the morning they are holding around brush in 15-20 feet of water, but on warm afternoons they will move up to rocky points with as little as a couple of feet of water.  Minnows are working well.

The catfishbite has also been pretty good, and Captain Bill reports that they are catching blue catfish from 6-8 feet all the way out to about 30 feet.  Fish are scattered all over from the creeks to main lake flats to points, and he is also picking up striper (and crappie) as a by-catch.  Cut herring has been the best bait.  Water temperatures are too cold for Hartwell channels to be very aggressive and he has not picked up a single one recently.