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AHQ INSIDER Lake Russell (GA/SC) Summer 2020 Fishing Report – Updated July 29

  • by Jay

July 29

Lake Russell water levels are still high at 474.58 (full pool is 475.00), and morning surface water temperatures vary from the low 90s in the creeks, to about 86 on the main lake, to the lower 80s on the upper end. The main lake is relatively clear although with recent storms some of the creeks are dirty. 

It’s one of those times of year when a number of species are mixed together on Lake Russell, and Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that he is catching bass, striper, catfish and white perch all grouped up on the main lake and at the mouths of creeks.  The fish he is catching are suspended about 15-20 feet down in 25-30 feet of water, and he is targeting the mid-lake and lower end. The fish are related to bait schools and on the move, and so you really just have to ride and look for them – and then fish fast.  

While Jerry is catching everything on down-lined live herring, artificial lure fishermen could target bass with a drop shot. 

A good with Guide Jerry Kotal
A good with Guide Jerry Kotal

While Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) is fishing a similar pattern, fishing a little deeper in 30-35 feet of water he has found a group of fish that are holding a little closer to the bottom on main lake flats. The same mix of species is present, with bass and catfish the most common, white perch next, and at least one good striper on most trips.

However, the last couple of day Wendell has found less and less striper and so soon he will be looking in the cooler water below the Hartwell dam.

Catfish can also be caught shallow in coves, but more fish seem to be getting out deep right now. 

During the day the crappie are grouped up around brush and bridges in about 20-25 feet of water in the creeks.  Wendell’s boat has been targeting them with minnows about 10-12 feet down.  

However, the best way to catch crappie is night-fishing with lights over deep water in the 40-50 foot range.  The best areas are in the creeks around timber or bridges; main lake bridges and timber do not usually produce.  Fish will come to the light and take minnows 12-15 feet deep.

June 30

Lake Russell water levels are just under full at 474.93 (full pool is 475.00), and morning surface water temperatures have risen into the low to mid-80s. The lake is relatively clear. 

The bass fishing has gotten good on Lake Russell, but Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that it is only going to get better. Fish are already grouped up well close to the bottom in 20-25 feet of water, and he is catching them along the edge of the timber in the main lake. As water temperatures get hotter they will group up even tighter and head deeper into 40-60 feet of water. While you can catch fish on drop shots or a shakey head, Jerry’s guide boat is fishing with down-lined live herring.  Spotted bass, largemouth and striped bass are all grouped up together – and soon the catfish will be with them – but if you want to increase your chances of tangling with a big largemouth Jerry advises heading to the backs of the creeks and throwing a buzzbait early in the morning.

A nice striper caught this week after a rain storm with Jerry Kotal
A nice striper caught this week after a rain storm with Jerry Kotal

In addition to the striper that Jerry has been catching, Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that his boat has been targeting fish that are moving up the lake towards the Hartwell dam. Already they are about halfway up the river, and he is finding them just off the bottom in about 30 feet of water on the flats. These fish are also along the edge of the timber but fortunately not actually in it. Down-lines have been the best pattern.

While the lake is relatively devoid (for Russell) of big striper because of the gill maggot infestation a little while back, they are catching nice 8-12 pound fish. 

In addition to striper Wendell’s boat has been targeting crappie, and they have found big summer crappie back in the creeks around brush but not tight to it. At times fish are not even related to brush and just following roaming schools of threadfin. The fish are about 8-12 feet down over 14-20 feet of water and drop shotting minnows has been working very well. 

While Wendell has not been fishing it, the other productive pattern has been night-fishing with lights for crappie over deep water in the 40-50 foot range. The best areas are in the creeks around timber or bridges; main lake bridges and timber do not usually produce. Fish will come to the light and take minnows 12-15 feet deep.

Finally, Jerry reports that before they go very deep there is still a good catfish bite on cut bait in the backs of coves and off points. The best action is in 8-10 feet of water.

June 16

Lake Russell water levels are at 474.21 (full pool is 475.00), and before the cold snap water temperatures were 79-80 in the morning and 83-84 in the afternoon. Water temperatures have dropped several degrees but should quickly rebound. The lake is relatively clear. 

It’s a little unclear whether it is the very, very tail end of the herring spawn or whether bass are just still hanging around in the same places, but Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that there is still a little bit of a herring spawn bite on the main lake in 3-4 feet of water. A few fish are hanging around off the shallow points all day long and they will take topwaters, flukes, etc.

Jerry is also finding deeper fish on brush in 15-20 feet, and these will take a drop shot or shakey head worm. There are other fish that are suspended about halfway down in timber in the 30-foot range which will take the same baits. Live herring are also very effective. 

A couple of hungry bass caught recently with Jerry Kotal
A couple of hungry bass caught recently with Jerry Kotal

While Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) is pretty sure the herring are done, he is finding the same shallow bass as well as striped bass on main lake shoals and points. Until about 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning he is catching them casting topwater lures up shallow, and then after that he is finding them pulling out 16-18 feet down over 20-30 feet. He is only finding this bite in the mid-lake. 

Wendell reports that the crappie fishing has been outstanding on recent trips, and they have caught good numbers are well as some very large fish. In the spring when they were fat some of these would have been well over 2 ½ pounds, and right now they are getting plenty of 2-pound fish. 

The best pattern has been fishing 10-12 feet down over 20-foot deep brush in the creeks with minnows. 

While Wendell has not been fishing it, the other productive pattern has been night-fishing with lights for crappie over deep water in the 40-50 foot range. The best areas are in the creeks around timber or bridges; main lake bridges and timber do not usually produce. Fish will come to the light and take minnows 12-15 feet deep.

Finally, Jerry reports a fairly good catfish bite on cut bait in the backs of coves and off points. The best action is in 5-10 feet of water. 

May 27

Lake Russell water levels are down from a high of more than 1 ½ feet above full pool Sunday to less than 6 inches above full at 475.37 (full pool is 475.00), and water temperatures are around 74 degrees. After 6 inches of rain last week there was debris and logs floating everywhere, but the Corps is pulling so much water that conditions have normalized and water color is fairly normal. Morning surface temperatures are about 74 degrees.  

The herring spawn has picked up again on Lake Russell, probably because of cool temperatures, and Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that his most successful bass pattern has been targeting herring early.  Perhaps because of high water conditions the herring are everywhere right now, and in addition to points he is finding them around cuts between points. There are also good numbers around bridges. Herring are generally avoiding areas with heavy current. While live bait is still working better, fish are more willing to take artificial lures again. 

While the herring spawn is generally about over by the end of May, this year Jerry expects it to last through the June full moon. 

On sunny days some fish can also be caught on drop shots fished in 15-20 feet around brush.  

A good morning this week with Guide Jerry Kotal
A good morning this week with Guide Jerry Kotal

While Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) is also fishing the late stages of the herring spawn, his most productive pattern has actually been fishing in the heaviest current out on the main lake. They are letting water out so fast that bass are stacking up on the back sides of (often marked) shoals and long points. They are anchoring in 20-25 feet but casting live herring into the shallows where they can see the bottom and picking up both bass and striper.    

While Wendell’s boat is also picking up some catfish while bass fishing, the better pattern for cats has been fishing live and cut herring around riprap at bridges. Fish are in 10-15 feet of water. 

There have also been some good crappie catches, and Wendell reports that the best action has been around brush 10-12 feet down in 15-20 feet of water in the creeks. 

The other productive pattern has been night-fishing with lights for crappie, usually over deep water in the 40-50 foot range.  The best areas are in the creeks around timber or bridges; main lake bridges and timber do not usually produce.  Fish will come to the light and take minnows 12-15 feet deep.

May 14

Lake Russell water levels are at 474.59 (full pool is 475.00) and water temperatures are around 68-70 degrees. The lake is fairly clear although there is some stained water up the creeks. 

Even though water temperatures are cool – surprisingly given the time of year, but unsurprisingly given recent weather – Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that there are not that many bass shallow around the banks. The shallow fish he is catching are coming early in the morning on the herring spawn, but you pretty much have to fish live herring at this point to catch them.

The better artificial lure bite has been on drop shots in around 15-20 feet around brush, with the catch heavily spotted bass. Most of these fish are post-spawn but a surprising number still have eggs. 

A good catch this week with Guide Jerry Kotal
A good catch this week with Guide Jerry Kotal

The bite for eating-sized catfish has been pretty good, although Jerry reports that the cold front slowed it down a little. The best pattern is to fish the backs of pockets in creeks and on shallow flats in about 5-10 feet of water. 

Striped bass are being caught as a by-catch, as they are so scattered that it is hard to target them.

April 30

Lake Russell water levels are at 473.85 (full pool is 475.00) and water temperatures are around 67 degrees.  The lake is fairly clear although there is some dingy water in the backs. 

Perhaps because of the cool weather, Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that everything seems a little drawn out right now. There are still some bass spawning, and if anything it seems like the herring spawn has slowed down a little bit. There are certainly some herring spawning on points, and some bass there with them, but just as many herring and bass seem to be on straight banks right now. The good news is that what herring bite exists is lasting through the day. 

Jerry Kotal with a nice largemouth caught this week Jerry Kotal with a nice largemouth caught this week

It also seems to Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) that the largemouth bass spawn is winding down, and even though there may be more spotted bass still to spawn they are also past their peak. In the creeks he is finding a bit more of a traditional herring spawn, and early in the morning they are catching largemouth that are feeding on flat points where herring are up. 
However, they are also spending a lot of time just going down the bank and casting small swimbaits, crankbaits and even topwater lures for spotted bass in both the main lake and the creeks – although spots are avoiding the dingiest water in the backs. In the afternoon Wendell notes that shade is really important and you have to fish the shady banks.  

Striped bass seem to have moved off of the main lake, and Wendell reports that about halfway up the major creeks they have caught some fish on down-lines about 15 feet down over 40 feet of water. 

Wendell reports that crappie have been iffy, and about the only good pattern has been fishing around lights over deep water near bridges or standing timber. If anglers start at dark fish will come up to the lights by about 10:00. Most anglers fish until about midnight or 1:00 a.m.

While they are catching some catfish in the same areas where the herring are spawning, Jerry reports that they best pattern is to fish the backs of pockets in creeks.  Fish cut herring on the bottom in 8-12 feet of water.

April 15

Lake Russell is just over full at 475.11 (full pool is 475.00) and water temperatures are around 66-68 in the morning. Visibility has dropped a little, with the backs now pretty stained, but the main lake is fairly clear. There is still decent access to Lake Russell. 

It’s fortunate that anglers can still get on the lake, because on the bass front Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that the fishing is good and you can catch them about any way you want to fish. This makes sense as Jerry estimates that largemouth are about halfway through the spawn with some pre-spawn and some post-spawn, while most of the spots have not spawned yet. 

For right now pretty much all the largemouth are shallow, more often in the creeks, and you can catch them on topwater lures, flukes, spinnerbaits and worms.  The spotted bass seem slightly deeper on the main lake points and straight banks. You can throw almost anything at them and catch fish, including small swimbaits, Shad Raps and more. 

While the herring are up spawning, interestingly the bass do not seem to have gotten on them yet. However, very soon they should be on the points and around riprap early where they can be caught on flukes, Spooks, and swimbaits.  

Jerry Kotal's brother with a couple of fish they caught together last week on Russell
Jerry Kotal's brother with a couple of fish caught last week on Russell

In crappie news, Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that there is likely to be a small wave of fish that will move up to spawn sometime in April, but for now bank fishing is mostly done except for a few late spawners. While you can still catch some fish longline trolling for an hour or two at daylight, the next big thing is going to be post-spawn fish ganging up on shallow brush piles 5-6 feet down in 10-15 feet of water in the creeks. 

The other major pattern very soon will be fishing around lights over deep water near bridges or standing timber. If anglers start at dark fish will come up to the lights by about 10:00. Most anglers fish until about midnight or 1:00 a.m.

As the herring move to spawn, Wendell reports that striped bass will be there with them soon. The herring spawn usually starts in Beaverdam Creek, but the best striped bass action will move towards the lower end by late April. Cover water with planer boards and free-lines pulled across points. 

Like other species, Jerry advises that catfish will key on the same points where the herring are spawning.  Fish will be as shallow as 2-3 feet out to 8-10 feet, and the best way to catch them is with cut herring.

April 1

Lake Russell water levels are around 473.75 (full pool is 475.00) and water temperatures have fallen bank into the mid-60s. The creeks are muddy but the main lake is good. 

Getting on the water is becoming tricky, but Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that as of yesterday the big female crappie have moved up onto the banks and the spawn is wide open. While earlier they were catching pre-spawn fish generally a little deeper, yesterday Wendell’s boat was in 2.2 feet of water and they were casting into no more than a foot with jigs.  Fish were in protected coves around cover. The best crappie fishing is well up the creeks in the dirty/ muddy water, and so even though fish are very shallow they are not visible. 

Emaleigh Lance with some nice crappie caught on Wendell Wilson's boat just before the spawn busted open
Emaleigh Lance with some nice crappie caught on Wendell Wilson's boat just before the spawn busted open

On the bass front, Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that he has found the bass pulled out a little deeper after the water level dropped. Generally they are finding spotted bass in 8-15 feet of water, and they are also finding some largemouth in 3-4 feet of water.  There are a mix of pre-spawn and spawning fish, even though it is hard to see the beds this year.   

Wendell’s boat is fishing a tad shallower in 5-10 feet of water for spotted bass, and he has found them moved up on sandy banks looking for places to bed. In the main lake and larger creeks they are fishing Shad Raps, small jerkbaits, and swimbaits. 

Up the creeks they are catching some largemouth in the same areas where they are targeting crappie.

While the herring spawn has not yet started, there are also some pre-spawn and possibly even post-spawn fish starting to get on the same points where the herring will soon be. 

While not many people are targeting striped bass right now, Wendell reports that the best way to target scattered fish is to head to the clearest water from south of the 72 bridge to the dam and pull large herring on free lines or planer boards across the points.  Soon they will be keying on spawning herring along with several other species.

March 27

Lake Russell water levels have just fallen below full pool to 474.62 (full pool is 475.00) and water temperatures have risen into the lower 60s.  In the backs of creeks the water is muddy and trashed, while the main lake is fairly clear on the lower end. The channel gets dingy about mid-lake but they are pulling so much water it should clear quickly. 

The bass bite is wide open on Lake Russell, and Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that the fish his boat is targeting have moved shallow into 3-4 feet of water. It appears that most of the fish are pre-spawn, but with the water so stained it is hard to know if there are fish on beds. There most likely are some. With water clarity issues the best baits have been spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits, and other visible lures that make a lot of noise or vibration. The action has been outstanding.

While his boat is also finding fish shallow, Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that they have been fishing a little deeper in 6-15 feet of water. Like Jerry, he is throwing moving baits including Shad Raps and swimbaits.

A couple of nice Lake Russell bass caught yesterday with Jerry Kotal
A couple of nice Lake Russell bass caught yesterday with Jerry Kotal

Both guides report that just a couple of days ago the crappie bite was excellent, with fish being caught casting jigs and minnows to the banks as well as trolling jigs in 6-12 feet of water. While fish were full of eggs they had not spawned yet, but the 2 ½ inches of rain earlier this week set these finicky fish back and the bite died.

Look for it to come roaring back today, tomorrow and Sunday and for the first wave of big females to spawn. The fish will be against the banks and throwing jigs in spawning coves out of the wind that have steep banks will be the best pattern. 

While not many people are targeting striped bass right now, Wendell reports that the best way to target scattered fish is to cover water with herring on planer boards in the clearest water on the lower end.  Target shallow points on the main lake or in the front section of larger creeks.

March 13

Lake Russell water levels are right around full pool at 474.81 (full pool is 475.00) and water temperatures have risen into the upper 50s. Lake Russell is still dingy in areas that are usually clear, and dirtier in the backs than the main river, but the whole lake is fishable again. 

Spring is in the air and Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that bass are moving up, and in the next week he expects most of the fish to be in the shallows. For right now the best fishing is in 10-20 feet of water in the main river and mouths of creeks.  Bass are relating to bait pods instead of structure, and drop shots, shakey heads and blade runners are all working.

Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) is also finding most of the spotted bass in the same depth range, but they are also catching some big 3- and 4-pound spotted bass a little deeper in 25-30 feet of water around rock piles. Lures that imitate crayfish such as a big Mop Jig are working well for these fish.

In the dirty water in the backs of creeks they have also picked up some largemouth while fishing for other species with live bait, but these fish can be targeted with spinnerbaits or crankbaits.

The crappie fishing is starting to pick up, and even though the fish aren’t as active as on Clarks Hill yet they are close. Already some nice fish are being caught trolling jigs in 10-15 feet of water in the creeks, and there are even a few nice fish on the banks. Very soon there should be an early wave of big females that move up to spawn. 

Striped bass have been hard to locate, but Wendell reports that fish seem to be highly scattered.  The best bet is to look in the clearest water on the lower end and cover water  with herring on planer boards.  Target shallow points on the main lake or in the front section of larger creeks.

A small Lake Russell hybrid caught recently with Guide Wendell Wilson

February 26

Lake Russell water levels are even further above full pool at 479.33 (full pool is 475.00). Except for the inflow from Lake Hartwell, the whole lake is stained as far down as the dam, and the backs are muddy. Water temperatures are around 53 degrees.  

Back on the water, Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that bass are biting fairly well in the main lake in about 20-25 feet of water. They are catching them on shakey heads and drop shot rigs. 

In a similar depth range of 18-25 feet, Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that he has been catching bass on minnows fished on drop shot rigs. The best action he has found has been off the side of points. 

Even though he is still finding a better bite on the top of Clarks Hill, Wendell reports that some crappie can be caught long-line trolling jigs tipped with minnows. Fish are suspended about halfway down in 10-15 feet of water over 20-30 feet. In the cold, dirty water fish are lethargic and baits need to be worked very slowly. 

The dirty water is not helping the striped bass bite, and Wendell reports that fish are scattered out all over the lake. As we move into March the best pattern is to pull herring on planer boards and look for fish over shallow points on the main lake or in the front section of larger creeks.

February 18

Lake Russell water levels are way above full pool at 478.33 (full pool is 475.00) and docks and walkways are under water. Even though the main channel is clearing up with so much water pulled through, Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that the lake is muddy in places that he has not seen muddy in 25 years.  Surface temperatures are in the low to mid-50s. 

With Russell about four feet higher than usual and the river and creek arms he prefers to fish a mud pit, Wendell started going below the Russell Dam and fishing the clean water at the very top of Clarks Hill. They quickly discovered an excellent bite for crappie, white perch, and small hybrid bass fishing with minnows just off the bottom 20-30 feet deep on drop shots.

They soon realized that the same pattern could be replicated in the cleaner water on the lower end of Lake Russell. While the same species can be also caught, on Russell spotted bass and yellow perch are also prevalent on this pattern. The fish are related to schools of shad and not to any particular underwater terrain or structure. 

While striped bass fishing continues to be a little off, keying on the lower end is even more important with the water conditions. Pull planer boards and free lines over deep water and look out for the birds to find likely areas. Fish still seem to be most active on cloudy days.

 A nice crappie caught this week with Guide Wendell Wilson
A nice crappie caught this week with Guide Wendell Wilson

January 20

Lake Russell water levels are holding around 474.25 (full pool is 475.00), and surface temperatures – which had reached the 60s – have dropped into the low 50s. Some creeks like Coldwater and Beaverdam are still muddy, but most of the lake looks pretty clear and overall things continue to settle out.

Fishing has been a little up-and-down recently, but Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) reports that there have been some very strong days when they are again catching excellent numbers of fish. On one recent trip they caught 80 good fish including six or seven species that were all grouped up together. Black and white crappie, yellow perch, white perch, spotted bass, largemouth and channel cats were holding in 32-37 feet of water where they would take minnows fished on a drop shot near the bottom. While the pattern can probably be replicated on the main lake, Wendell has found the best action on deeper flats in creeks. Fish are grouped up around bait schools.

Striped bass fishing has been a little hit-or-miss, but the lower end of the lake is still the best area to fish and the key is still covering water.  Pull planer boards and free lines over deep water and look out for the birds to find likely areas.  If you can fish cloudy days the fish seem to be most active then.

January 10

Lake Russell water levels have dropped to just below full pool at around 474.75 (full pool is 475.00), and surface temperatures are about 54 degrees. The lake is a little more stained than usual but certainly not muddy.

Fishing is not in typical patterns for early January, and Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) believes the combination of warmer-than-usual temperatures, rising and then very high water levels, and dingy conditions are probably to blame. Whatever the reason, instead of the 60-fish trips they were having earlier in the season a 20-fish day is pretty good right now.

Bass are scattered out, and while some fish are as deep as 60 feet on the bottom others are being caught casting at points in 15-20 feet with jigs, worms and other baits that you can crawl along the bottom.  The creeks and main lake are fishing about the same, and so whether you want to fish minnows, jigging spoons or drop shot rigs in 28-30 feet in the creeks or 60 feet on the main lake you can expect about the same results.

While striper are supposed to be in the mid-lake right now, there are only a few fish there and by far the best concentrations are on the lower end. That is also where the vast majority of the birds are, but right now seagulls are on loons and not really around fish. This is probably a function of water temperature.

The best pattern has been fishing down-lines about 30 feet down in roughly 50 feet of water, and while they are waiting for striper to bite Wendell’s boat has been putting minnows on the bottom in 50 feet and picking up some big white perch and some channel catfish.

There are also some crappie being caught in the creeks, and they are mostly on the bottom in about 40 feet of water.  The fish are related to bait schools and not structure.

 

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