Even before the second FLW Tour event of the season got underway Thursday on Lake Hartwell, Guide Brad Fowler predicated that sight-fishing would play a very significant role in the tournament. Brad estimated that by Thursday about 50% of the fish were actively bedding, while another 50% were still pre-spawn. With the weather Lake Hartwell has experienced until today (very warm, very sunny, and very calm) conditions also set up perfectly for sight-fishing, and sure enough most of the anglers have been looking at many of the fish they are catching.
But while sight-fishing for bedding fish has been important, Brad predicted that the tournament would not be won on bedding fish alone. And sure enough top anglers have weighed in a mix of bedding fish as well as pre-spawn fish. For example, Day 2 leader John Cox (who weighed one of two bags caught over 20 pounds) yesterday weighed three fish caught sight-fishing while his two biggest – including a 6-11 brute – were not caught off beds.
Brad says that pre-spawn fish can be caught around secondary points and drops that lead into spawning flats, and 10-20 feet is a good depth range. Fish like the Cox’s 6-11 will also stage around docks, and anglers report seeing lots of pre-spawn fish sunning up under docks. Jigs and shakey head worms are good for deeper fish, while for shallower pre-spawn fish floating worms, Senkos and swimbaits will all work.
While most fish are already up shallower either bedding or moving that way, Brad does point out that there are still a decent number of fish out in deep water 30-40 feet down. Although surface temperatures have jumped deep temperatures have only “eased up” very slightly and so a lot of fish have not left that range.
Overall, Lake Hartwell is at 659.59 and water temperatures are in the low 60s on the main lake and the mid-60s in some creeks.
Catfish: Good to very good. Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that the catfish bite is very strong on Lake Hartwell, and on recent trips his boat has caught lots of blue catfish in the 18-20 pound range as well as some bigger fish. Decent numbers of 3-5 pound fish have also been caught, as well as the occasional channel. Overall fish are in 2-20 feet of water in the backs of creeks, and anglers should locate them by concentrating on the bends in the creeks. 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.
Crappie: Good. Captain Bill Plumley reports that crappie are getting into spawning mode and feeding very well, and on recent trips his boat has caught very good numbers of fish quickly. Fish can be caught on minnows/ jigs fished under floats, and they can also be caught long-line trolling in 2-4 feet of water. There are also a decent number of fish out deep, and Bill’s boat has still caught good numbers of fish in about 32 feet of water around brush.
Striped Bass: Fair to good. Captain Bill Plumley reports that striper fishing is already pretty good, but it will get much better in the next few weeks. Overall fish are starting to make their way into the backs of creeks as well as up the rivers, and this seasonal migration should continue as temperatures warm. For now fish are being caught on free-lines and planer boards fished off shallow points in about 10-20 feet of water, but some fish are also being caught on down-lines fished about 25 feet down around bait in open water. Some fish have also been caught pulling up on points and anchoring out multiple live herring on the bottom, a pattern which typically gets hot when the herring spawn starts (which is still several degrees away). For now birds will provide some clues about where to look, but Bill says it’s not like in previous years now that there are so many loons. While it’s still worth fishing around birds if they are in the vicinity, so often they are just following loons that it’s not worth running several miles to chase them. No schooling activity has been reported and cut bait fishing has not yet started to take off.
Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that he finds the striper pattern to still be a little off, at least relative to the water temperatures. It’s been a weird couple of weeks, as air temperatures shot up so fast that water temperatures warmed up virtually overnight – but the fish still don’t seem to have caught up! Numbers of fish are still just mediocre, but there have been some nice fish in the 10-20 pound range caught. Chip’s taxidermy business also saw a 38-pounder caught in Hartwell recently! Like Bill he finds that the most fish have been caught in shallow areas around 8-20 feet deep, and he sees most fish moving up the rivers and creeks. Planer boards and free-lines with live herring are working best, and while a few fish may have been caught on cut bait it’s not a dominant pattern yet.