Growing up in Anderson fishing on Lake Hartwell, Pendleton’s Brad Fowler developed a love of bass fishing on that lake. Now that he owns and operates an electrical contracting business he has the flexibility to guide on Lakes Hartwell and Keowee and to fish local and national tournaments. In 2008 he fished the FLW Series as a professional, and he and partner Brock Taylor have had success in team tournaments statewide. Lake Hartwell is still his home lake, though, and Brad graciously agreed to discuss fall bass fishing on the lake with me and to pass on his some of his keys to catching bass on Lake Hartwell.
Bass fishing in most of the state is tough in August, and Lake Hartwell is no exception. There are certainly occasions when fishermen can do well, but generally success varies from day to day and finding a consistent pattern is difficult. As the water starts to cool, however, and summer breaks into fall the fishing improves rapidly. Some bass stay shallow all year and feed on forage like bream and yellow perch, but most black bass will be following schools of bait. These fish will generally move from deep water onto points and then up the creeks as the fall progresses. During most of autumn largemouth and spotted bass will be mixed together because they will be following the same schools of bait.
Late Summer Pattern
At the end of the summer and beginning of fall water temperatures are in the 80s. Brad likes to fish for the bass keying in on schools of shad that are suspended over deep water from 40-100 feet deep. The shad will be suspended from the surface down as far as 20 or 30 feet, although this will vary from day to day and the schools are roaming. These bait schools consist of very small fish, from ¾ to 1 ½ inches long. Good places to look for them are over timber and at the mouth of major creeks. Particularly as the water begins to cool the bass can be caught on a variety of topwater lures, and even if the bass are not on the surface they will move up to take a lure. They can also be targeted with shallow and medium running crankbaits.
While this population of bass is eating small shad there are probably some bass targeting the deeper schools of larger shad. Lake Hartwell also has a healthy population of blueback herring and Brad says that there are bass which follow the schools of herring. Striped bass fishermen report catching 6 and 7 pound largemouth on occasion. Blueback herring, however, are generally deep water, roaming fish and when they are out in open water it is difficult to target largemouth bass feeding on them. Later in the fall they move into shallower areas, but they usually stay deeper much longer than the shad.
Early Fall Patterns
As summer temperatures break and water temperatures drop from the 80s into the more ideal 70s bass begin to follow the bait (first shad and later herring) and move from deeper water towards main lake points. Lake Hartwell is a very large lake and, for example, the Seneca and Tugaloo arms can fish very differently. At this time of year Brad generally prefers to fish in the lower lake, especially in the Sadler’s and Lightwood Log area. He also finds that fish seek out timber and head for areas with topped trees underwater.
As the fall progresses the topwater bite gets steadily better and Brad will often throw a buzzbait all day long. He likes to fish a buzzbait because it covers a lot of water and because it targets aggressive, feeding fish. His preference is to move quickly and go after bass that are hungry instead of trying to convince fish to feed. In both stained water and clear water he likes to fish a ½ ounce Hawg Caller buzzbait in white.
Besides buzzbaits throughout the fall he will also throw spinnerbaits and occasionally jerkbaits. He likes white or chartreuse spinnerbaits and fishes jerkbaits in shad/chartreuse colors. If there is a lot of bait in the water he finds that spinnerbaits and jerkbaits may perform better than buzzbaits. Brad has also discovered that buzzbaits and spinnerbaits are more effective for targeting largemouth bass, and jerkbaits, especially in clear water, work better for spotted bass.
Mid and Late Fall Patterns
If water temperatures continue to cool in mid to late October and November bass will continue to follow the bait and move from main lake points up the creeks to about halfway back, or further if necessary to follow the bait. When water temperatures are in the low 70s there will generally be a mass movement of fish towards the shallows, although some fish will stay on main lake points (just as a few bass stay in the shallows year round). Good lures with which to target these bass on points are Zara Spooks and flukes. He continues to fish buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits in the creeks.
Because water levels were down the last couple of falls the bass stayed deeper for longer. This year, though, with water levels higher than they have been for some time Brad says that it is likely that bass could migrate up the creeks sooner and stay shallower longer. Shoreline grass that grew up because of low water conditions changed the traditional herring spawn bite this year, and it could also affect fall fishing. In addition to herring spawning on main lake, red clay points Brad also saw herring spawning in the grass and so the bite was not as concentrated as in past years. This fall shad and herring may choose to stay in the grass longer than in the last couple of years.
As water temperatures cool into the mid and lower 60s the best bet for finding bass that will stay shallow is to find stained water. Brad says that bass are more likely to stay shallow in cold, stained water than in cold, clear water. In the late, late fall the topwater bite will disappear and Brad will switch from using buzzbaits to fishing on the bottom. Bait schools will move deeper and hold towards the bottom of the water column, and bass will also be feeding on crawfish. Shakey head jigs and jigs are good lures at this time.
In mid to late December bass will mostly pull out from the creeks and coves and migrate to the ditches, channels and old creek beds that feed to main lake areas. At times fishing on Hartwell will be like fishing on Lake Keowee. Deep drop shotting will be the key and the catch will consist of more spotted than largemouth bass.
While throughout the fall herring schools generally stay deeper and lag behind the schools of shad, sometimes in the winter Brad says that they will come shallow. At these times the herring schools can be gold mines as the bass following them will often be large.
A Great Time to Fish Lake Hartwell
For the last several years Lake Hartwell water levels were down, but with this spring’s rains the lake level rose until it again approached normal pool. Even with water levels down the lake was known as an impressive bass fishery, especially because of fall topwater and schooling action. For the first time in several years, though, the ramps are open again and it is easy for fishermen to get access to the lake. There could not be a better time to visit Lake Hartwell.
My thanks to Brad Fowler for sharing his insights into fall bass fishing on Lake Hartwell with SCFishingReport.com’s readers. Be sure to visit his website,http://www.fowlerfishing.com, and note that he also guides on Lake Keowee. To private message him on here his handle is “FowlerFishing,” his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his phone number is 864-934-5813.