Overall, Lake Hartwell is at 660.36 and morning water temperatures are in the low 60s; some creeks can be up to 4 or 5 degrees warmer.
In the ABA Ray Scott Championship this past weekend on Lake Hartwell Jason Burroughs of Hodges, SC ran away with the win by weighing in a 4-day total of 78.83 pounds – highlighted by 3 sacks in the 20 or better range including a monster Lake Hartwell 24.75 pound bag on Day 2. In second place was regular Angler’s Headquarters correspondent Brock Taylor of Pendleton, SC with 65.53 pounds, and in third place was [also AHQ correspondent] Andy Wicker of Pomaria, SC with 65.33 pounds. It was an excellent tournament for the South Carolina guys, with 7 of the top 10 anglers hailing from the Palmetto State. And this was no local tournament – it was a national championship with $150,000 on the line for first place and anglers from across the US as well as Canada competing. I caught up with Brock and Andy, both fresh off a week on the water, for their perspective on the current state of Lake Hartwell bass fishing.
Despite the very warm March that the state experienced, water temperatures haven’t continued to rise and at times have actually moved backwards. While a significant percentage of bass have already spawned on Lake Hartwell (in fact, probably a higher percentage than on some of the lakes in the lower part of the state) there are still a good number of fish pre-spawn. While both Brock and Andy weighed mostly post-spawn fish, including some “skinny suckers,” they anticipate another good wave of spawners on the April full moon and certainly caught some full-bodied, pre-spawn fish.
But the bass spawn wasn’t the most important spawn on the minds of bass fishermen – they were all thinking about the blueback herring spawn. While most of the tournament anglers described the fish they were catching as up shallow on points chasing spawning herring, Andy points out that the herring spawn certainly isn’t widespread across the entire lake. He burned 30-35 gallons of gas per day and found some creek arms where herring were spawning all over the place, but they weren’t everywhere. Andy wonders if in a lot of places the bass have actually gotten to the points before the herring have – as if they know that the herring are coming and they want to be there waiting. Lending credence to this theory, Brock says that herring usually spawn at the end of April or beginning of May. Brock says he has never seen the fish in this pattern this early.
While it’s unclear exactly why the fish are where they are, there is general agreement that across most of the lake the bass are off shallow, clay points in 1-3/4 feet of water. Andy found 20-30 schools of bass per day in these types of areas. Fish can be caught from the top to the bottom, and Brock caught most of his fish on a swim jig and a plain fluke rigged with a swivel. He points out that they will also take a shakey head. Andy caught most of his fish on a chrome Super Spook, a pearl white fluke and a Keitech swimbait rigged on a JWill swimbait head.
Striped and Hybrid Bass: Good. Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that stiper fishing continues to be strong, with at least 20 fish caught most days. However, in the areas he is fishing he is not seeing a herring spawn nor any sign of striper getting on the shallow points where he will catch them later in the season. Each morning he pulls up on the points to look but with temperatures in the low 60s they haven’t showed up yet in his areas. His best fishing continues to come on down-lines fished in 30-38 feet of water. Overall fish are scattered all over the lake.
Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the pattern is basically unchanged from a week ago. Fish are up the rivers in their annual false spawn, and his boat is catching them on free-lines, planer boards and down-lines in 20-30 feet of water. The fish he is seeing are all relatively shallow and sometimes in as little as 8-10 feet of water. Very sporadic schooling has been observed.
Catfish: Captain Bill Plumley reports that the catfish bite remains strong on Lake Hartwell. Fish remain in 2-20 feet of water in the backs of creeks, with the bends in the creeks the best places to look. First target the inside bends, and if fish aren’t there switch over to the outside of bends. Cut herring, gizzard shad and white perch are all catching fish. Channel catfish are just starting to begin to move shallower and feed better, but temperatures need to warm a few more degrees before they get good. By mid-May or when water temperatures rise another 8-10 degrees fishing for them will be wide open.
Crappie: Slow. Captain Bill Plumley reports that crappie fishing remains slow, and whereas fish had come into the shallows to spawn cold fronts dropped them back out deeper. This pattern of a new cold front every few days is really tough for crappie fishing. The only good news is that since a large number of fish have yet to spawn they will make another move shallower.