When the FLW Championship came to Lake Murray in the summer of 2014 bass fishing experts from around the country (if not the world) offered their perspective on the Midlands fishery. A lot of it was very good information, and from the tournament we learned some things we didn’t know about Lake Murray – such as that at least two spotted bass live there!
But there was some misinformation, too. For instance, one talking head on television said that “Lake Murray bass are 100%, always, focused on blueback herring” (they are not). And before the tournament we were told that winning bags couldn’t be found up the river… Until Steve Kennedy caught the tournament’s biggest stringer – a 20-2 bag – up the river on a mayfly bite and almost won the whole thing!
Only time will tell, but the same is probably true with the national and international coverage of this year’s Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell. No doubt a lot will be learned from the tournament, and the biggest names in bass fishing will certainly teach local anglers a lot about Lake Hartwell. But the reality is that local champions who fish Lake Hartwell weekly if not daily also know a lot about Lake Hartwell bass fishing, and they probably understand what is in store for the pros this week on Lake Hartwell as well as anyone.
There are a lot of very strong local Lake Hartwell bass fishermen, but it would be hard to argue that one of the best is SCFishingReport.com correspondent and Guide Brad Fowler. Last year Brad had the impressive achievement of winning not one but two boats in tournaments on Lake Hartwell, and this winter he and/or his tournament partner have caught tournament sacks up to 27 plus pounds. Those are monster weights on most any lake, much less Lake Hartwell – where the Classic was won with less than 50 pounds over three days in 2008. I caught up with Brad to get his thoughts on what to look for in this year’s Classic.
The “Big” Story
The biggest story on Lake Hartwell right now has to be the caliber of weights that it has been giving up in tournaments. Prior to this winter 25-pound sacks would have been almost unheard of on Lake Hartwell, but every Saturday in January and February it has taken more than 25 pounds to win. A few weeks ago 22 pounds was not enough to cut a check!
The obvious question is why that has happened, and Brad is not quite sure. The reality is that bigger fish have been caught this winter, but that basically restates the situation and doesn’t explain it.
“No doubt there have been some good largemouth out deep this winter, some 5s and 6s. I don’t know if they just decided to bite this winter, but if you pull on the right hole with a bunch of 4- and 5-pound fish you can catch a big bag really quickly.”
Whatever the reason why monster bags have been caught this winter, the fact that locals have been killing it on Hartwell has not necessarily entered into the mainstream opinion about this Classic. A review of predictions on Bassmaster.com showed that most of the pros fishing the Classic expect weights to be similar to 2008, and for high 40s or low 50s to again be good for the victory. And a Bassmaster columnist predicted a three-day weight of 38 pounds 6 ounces. Obviously the conditions are a factor, but still…
Will it Translate?
While weights may be up, just because it has taken 25 pounds to win Saturday tournaments Brad says not to expect it to take 75 pounds to win over this 3-day tournament. Besides the fact that to do that would require the same person catching a monster tournament bag three straight days, Brad expects the pros to not necessarily be chasing monsters. Instead, he expects anglers to want to make sure they stay in the running and catch fish, which could mean a lot of drop shots being fished as well as shakey heads – lures that typically catch numbers, but not necessarily big fish.
Additionally, Brad says that another factor limiting catches will be fishing pressure.
“You have a lot of guys concentrating on the same areas, with people beating on the same spots. Areas that people know about and go back to every winter.” And that is in addition to spectator pressure.
Throw in the fact that the fish move and it gets even harder.
“The fish move so much that it’s hard to stay on top of them, particularly on multiple days. Still, with a lot of the holes that guys will be fishing tomorrow, even community holes, they could certainly do well tomorrow morning. With five drops of a spoon they could catch five big ones.”
Weights may be bigger than conventional wisdom suggests.
One factor that could keep Hartwell from fully displaying the kind of bass it has been giving up this winter is the cold weather. With overnight lows in Greenville predicted to be in the single digits tonight, Brad says the cold weather will certainly have an effect on fish. Still, Brad isn’t expecting the cold to keep the pros from catching them.
“They are going to catch them – the cold won’t stop them. It may affect the weights but there will still be a lot of big fish caught. The cold will make it a little harder to fish (literally) and there will be ice on the guides of baitcasters. Spinning rods will be a little easier to fish, but even there anglers may have to use sprays to keep the ice down.”
Winning Patterns – Deep
In 2008 Brad says that about half of the anglers were fishing out deep, but with that Classic and two subsequent FLW Tour events won deep he thinks the percentage will be much higher this year. This year Brad expects 80% of 90% of the anglers to be concentrating on deep fish.
This effect is compounded by improvements in electronics, and both on the weekend angler and professional level more and more people are now comfortable reading their electronics and fishing in deep water. Fishing on Sunday, Brad says he saw professionals who used to be stubborn and only fish shallow out deep practicing.
However, anglers should not completely overlook the shallow or mid-depth bite.
“There are some fish that just live shallower. Not many, but there are some. And this time of year, they are usually bigger. The winner will be primarily fishing deep, but he could rely on some shallow fish.”
Still, on Sunday Brad says he did not catch a fish in less than 40 feet of water – although he didn’t spend too much time trying.
Brad expects to see a lot of different baits this week, but he has some guesses about what will be the most popular.
“A lot of people will be fishing a drop shot, and there will also be some anglers fishing a pattern where they are jigging a spoon in the timber. A lot of guys will be dragging a jig. A blade runner could be an option, but it gets better when fish are in between a late winter and pre-spawn pattern.”
Some of the shallow anglers will also be fishing a crankbait.
A Bit of Misinformation?
There have been some reports that fish were moving into a pre-spawn pattern before the cold came, but Brad isn’t sure that’s true. According to Brad, the truth is that Lake Hartwell bass have been and still are in a winter pattern.
“Before fish will start to move out of a winter pattern, the water temperature has to turn around. But on Lake Hartwell it continues to trickle down, and it still hasn’t hit its coldest point. The fish know more than we do, and the ones I caught Sunday were white as a ghost” (indicating they had been out deep for a while, not moved shallow and then gone back out deeper).
Overall, Brad predicts that it will take about mid-50s to win the event. A 16-18 pound bag each day will keep them in the hunt. “If anglers catch two 20-pound bags, and then can scrounge something decent together the third day, they will be tough to beat.”
As mentioned above a lot of the guys will be doing the same thing, and Brad wonders if the winner will be slightly off the beaten path.
“The winner may be the person who is doing something different in a different area. Of course, if someone stumbles upon some big largemouth deep they are liable to do well. ”
My thanks to Brad for sharing his insights. Anyone who wants to learn more about fishing on Lake Hartwell should check out Brad’s guide service by looking at his website, www.fowlerfishing.com. You can book a trip by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 864-934-5813.