Calling Up Lake Hartwell’s Bass Of Summer

Tournament angler Steve Stanfill marks a map for Hartwell's explosive summertime action — on top, all day, all summer.

Ronnie Garrison | July 1, 2005

It’s hard to believe, but you can catch bass on topwater baits all day on the brightest, hottest days in July on Lake Hartwell. The bass at Hartwell are looking for blueback herring, and the action can be fast. You can’t beat the excitement of hooking a bass on a topwater plug and watching six more chase it as you fight it to the boat.

Hartwell is a 55,950-acre, clear-water lake on the upper end of the Savannah River. The big, open water on the lower lake is full of bass that suspend this month and wait on passing schools of herring. Herring tend to come to the top when the sun is bright, so topwater is the way to go for these open-water bass.

Big flats and long shallow points offer great ambush points for bass looking for an easy meal. The standing timber on the sides of these flats, along with man-made brushpiles on them, give the bass a good place to hold and wait on that meal. Put your bait over them, and they will hit it.

Steve Stanfill with a Hartwell bass called up on topwater over a main-lake hump.

As an added bonus on Hartwell, there are three kinds of black bass you are likely to catch. Largemouth are the ones you want in most tournaments since they grow large — -pounders are common. Spots in the lake are rarer, but you will catch them, too, and some are in the 3- to 5-lb. range. You will also catch a lot of redeye, or Coosa bass. These smaller cousins of the spotted bass are a darker brownish color and usually weigh less than two pounds, but they fight hard and are fun to catch.

Steve Stanfill loves to catch bass on top at Hartwell and says it is the best way to fish there this time of year. He is on the HD Marine Pro Staff and fishes the HD Marine Tournament trail. He and his partner Mike Fraker placed ninth at the HD tournament on Hartwell this year with five bass weighing 14.41 pounds. Steve and partner Bobby Stanfill won the Weekday HD pot tournament the week before on Hartwell.

Although he owns Fas-Break Glass Co. in Dawsonville and works long hours installing commercial, auto and home glass, Steve is able to fish a lot. He credits his wife Bobbi with making it possible for him to fish as much as he does. They used to fish the Guys and Dolls trail, but four kids at home have slowed her fishing time.

“July is topwater time on Hartwell,” Steve told me. “The fish are on their summer pattern, and you can catch them all day on top, my favorite way to fish,” he added.

Steve fishes fast and covers a lot of water looking for active fish, and he will return to areas where he caught fish after giving them a chance to settle down.

“I look for bass suspending over 20 to 30 feet of water, holding on brush or in treetops at that depth,” Steve said. “There are two kinds of bass out there, the ones schooling and actively chasing baitfish, and the ones just holding near cover. Those holding fish can be brought up to hit topwater baits even though you won’t see them hitting on top until they blast your bait,” he said. “And always be on the prowl visually for activity,” Steve said.

Look for surface activity, with bass swirling and baitfish jumping. Steve says he likes to see the bass “playing tennis” with baitfish, chasing them out of the water. He will cast to them, and he will also work baits over likely holding areas for the ones holding deeper waiting for something to eat.

Steve will have several rigs tied on his Shimano reels and G.Loomis rods. A Fluke on a 5/0 Gamakatsu offset hook is one of his favorite rigs, and he will also have a double-Fluke rig tied on another rod. Blue glimmer, pearl or ghost colors are his best. He uses 15-lb. test P-Line on these outfits.

Another rod will have a walk-the-dog bait like a Spook, Sammy or Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow tied on. All during the day he will switch sizes of these baits, trying to find which one the fish are keying on. He will also throw a popper like the Michael, Pop-R, or Rico.

A couple of just-in-case rods are rigged and ready. A Carolina-rigged green pumpkin Trick Worm or lizard is ready to drag through brush and along the bottom if the bass are not willing to come up to hit on top, and a DD 22N is on a rod to run by bridge pilings and across flats. Sometimes the fish want a bait down deeper, especially if there is some cloud cover.

In addition to the open-water humps and points where topwater plugs will call up aggressive Hartwell bass, the bridges offer a good summer pattern. Steve caught this bass at the Highway 24 bridge in 26 Mile Creek, spot No. 10 on the map.

For some reason herring will come to the top in bright sun, unlike other baitfish that head deep. For that reason, bright sunny days are often best for the topwater pattern at Hartwell. Steve and I fished June 15, a bright, sunny, hot day with little breeze, and we caught between 20 and 25 keepers. We lost count of the number of fish that hit and missed our baits or that just pulled off.

Some wind helps break up the water surface and keeps the bass from getting too good of a look at your bait. When we hit a point or flat with some breeze, we did better. When it was flat calm, the fish would often come up under our baits and look at them without hitting them.

Steve usually fishes very fast, waking his hard baits back in a constant fast twitch and keeping his Flukes jumping all the way back. The day we fished the fish hit a small Pop-R pretty good when it was fished slowly with a pop every couple of seconds, not constant twitches. Try several retrieves to find what the fish want.

Places to fish are easy to find on Hartwell, just find a shoal marker and fish around it. The numerous bridges also hold bass this month. We fished the 10 spots below in June and caught fish on most of them, and hit at least 20 more similar places and caught fish on many of them, too. At almost every place we fished, we at least saw bass looking at our baits even if they did not hit. Check out the following 10 spots. When you catch a bass or two, move on and let that school settle down. You can come back if you have time and don’t find better places.

No. 1 on the map: N 34º 29.669 – W 82º 50.191 – The big flats between Andersonville Island and Apple Island Access are excellent for schooling bass. If you come in from the Little Beaverdam Creek side, the first shoal marker on your left off the point of Apple Island is on a shallow point that runs out toward deeper water. Bass run baitfish into the shallows here. Stay out and cast your topwater baits all over the flat, watching for surface activity. There were a lot of bass here the day we fished, hitting shad and herring all around this marker. Let the fish tell you how far out to stay. They were in shallow two weeks ago, over about 10 feet of water. By now they should be holding out deeper, over 20 feet of water or so.

No. 2: N 34º 29.669 – W 82º 50.191 — Straight across the gap toward Andersonville Island you will see a shoal marker just off the point of the island. There is a big kudzu field on the island behind it. Two roadbeds run up near this shoal marker and join, making it even better. Rumor has it a big tournament was won here a few years ago.

Make long casts and work your bait back quickly, fan casting the area. Cover as much water as possible on each cast if you are not seeing chasing fish. If the bass are chasing on top, watch which way they are headed and try to throw your bait ahead of them. The area toward the more open water on the Seneca River side, where the road beds join, is usually better.

No. 3: N 34º 29.706 – W 82º 49.924 — The first small island out from the point of Andersonville Island in the Seneca River has a shoal marker on the point toward the island. It is another good ambush point in this area and is worth fishing. Fish it like the others, fan casting all around it, and also fish the saddle between the shoal marker and the island. Bass often use these saddles to hold and also to chase baitfish into more shallow water.

No. 4: N 34º 28.151 – W 82º 50.225 — Run down the Seneca River and watch toward the island. Two shoal markers line up near channel marker S 7, one near the bank and one way out off it. Stop off the outside end of the outer marker, and start casting toward it. Keep your boat way out, and make long casts toward the marker. Fish toward the upstream side of the outside marker, casting across the flat on that side. Watch your depthfinder for brushpiles in this area, and remember where they are. After you move off them, or the next time you hit this area, work your bait over the brush where the bass hold. If you see bass on the brush on your depthfinder, but they won’t hit on top, drag your Carolina rig through the area. When you hit the brush, pause it and shake your rod tip, making the bait stay in one place on the limbs. Make several casts to the brush to cover all of it.

No. 5: N 34º 27.300 – W 82º 50.151 — Downstream and across the river a small island sits just off channel marker S 6. Steve says this is an example of a classic summer hole on Hartwell. The channel runs in right by the island, so the deepest water in the area is near the shallows. Standing timber is out in the channel. A clay point runs off the island toward the channel marker, giving bass a good place to herd the baitfish.

Stay back from the upstream side of the island and cast toward it, working from the island toward the marker. Fan cast over the point, and work around the outside of it, casting back across it as you get out to the marker. Try different types of baits, and vary your speed until the fish let you know what they want.

No. 6: N 34º 27.238 – W 82º 50.405 — The next island downstream, just off channel marker S 4, also has standing timber off it. A point runs out toward the channel and drops off into more than 50 feet of water on the upstream side. Steve says this is a really good, hot-summer hole. Fish all around the outside end of the island and the upstream side of it. Try several different topwater baits if they don’t hit the first one you throw. If there are two of you in the boat, try different baits and sizes of baits until the bass tell you what they want.

No. 7: N 34º 27.008 – W 82º 51.052 — There is a small island off the downstream end of Andersonville Island, and there is a shoal marker off the downstream side of it in the mouth of the Seneca River. The water is shallow out to the marker, running up to about four-feet deep around the marker then dropping off fast. There is timber out in the deeper water to hold the bass. Fish the end of the hump out from the shoal marker, and also make some casts across the shallow water between the island and the shoal marker. This point is exposed to the wind and is much better if some wind is blowing into or across it. Fish all around this area. Steve says it is one of the best on the lake.

No. 8: N 34º 26.210 – W 82º 51.275 — The big point between the Seneca River and Sadlers Creek has several fingers out on the end. The last one downstream is across from an island and has a sign with the number 914 on it. Timber is in the deep water off the downstream side of the point, toward the island. Fish all around the end of the point and down the side on the downstream area. Steve says this is the kind of place where big fish live during the summers. Wind often blows here, too, making it better. If the wind is strong Steve likes the bigger baits, and the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow works better in the waves than some of the other topwater jerkbaits.

No. 9: N 34º 26.057 – W 82º 51.193 — The next island downstream of the point in No. 8 is similar. It runs out toward the red channel marker No. 22 and is a good place to find bass chasing baitfish. Start out near the channel marker, and work in toward the island, staying out off the downstream side of it. This is a good place to find the bass holding in 15 to 20 feet of water.

No. 10: N 34º 31.636 – W 82º 47.375 — This place is easy to find — it is the first bridge in Twenty Six Mile Creek. We fished this bridge and the two in the Seneca River and caught fish on two of the three bridges. It is noisy fishing, especially under the I-85 bridge, but just about every bridge on the lake will hold bass this time of year. Bridges are nice when the sun is hot and you need a break. Get under them in the shade just like the bass. Look for the bass holding around the pilings. Two weeks ago we could see them on many of the pilings, and Steve caught several on Flukes. I had a hard time seeing the fish in the shade and missed a couple that I felt. Cast your Fluke past a piling, and work it back. Keep it moving fast to make the fish chase it. Try different depths to see if they want something deeper. This is also a good place to make a long cast with your DD 22N or other deep-running crankbait. Run it right by the pilings, making it bump them if possible.

All these spots hold bass at Hartwell right now, and there are hundreds more all over the lake that are just as good. For some fast topwater action, head to Hartwell and give it a try. You will be amazed at the number of bass you will see each time you hook one.

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