Chase Bait For Fall Bass On Hartwell

Hartwell bass will be chasing shad in the shallows and bluebacks over open water.

Ronnie Garrison | October 7, 2016

Die-hard bass fishermen hope most folks are enjoying watching football and hunting deer—that just means fewer boats on the water during one of the best months of the year for bass fishing.

At Lake Hartwell, both largemouth and spotted bass feed heavily in October, and anglers can catch bass using a variety of techniques.

Lake Hartwell is a 56,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake on the upper Savannah River. It is usually clear over most of the lake this time of year, and there are many good ramps to give access to all parts of the lake. The Green Pond mega ramp in Anderson County hosts many big tournaments, including the 2015 Bassmasters Classic. A Georgia fishing license is good throughout Hartwell, even though much of the water is in South Carolina on this border lake.

Matt Justice grew up on Lake Hartwell and still lives in Fairplay, South Carolina. Growing up, Matt’s family had a house on the lake, and he liked to fish off the dock for bream when very young. Then Matt saw some fishing shows on TV and wanted to try bass fishing. Seven years ago, at the age of 15, Matt started fishing as a co-angler in BFL tournaments, and in his first one he finished in the Top-10. That really lit the fire for Matt, and he continued to compete and get better.

Tournament angler and guide Matt Justice with a Hartwell chunk. Matt said you can catch largemouth and spotted bass this month on Hartwell by following the baitfish. Shad move into the pockets, while blueback herring will be over deeper water.

Matt has slowly worked his way up in the tournament fishing ladder, not making the mistake of going into debt trying to jump too far at the beginning. He still fishes as a co-angler in the BASS Opens, and he has been fishing as a boater in BFL tournaments. He also guides for bass on Lake Hartwell.

This year Matt won the co-angler side of the BASS Open at Douglas Lake, and he placed in the top-12 co-anglers at Lake Kissimmee earlier in the year. Matt plans to fish a couple of the BFL circuits next year, and he may start fishing the Opens as a boater.

Meanwhile, Hartwell is Matt’s home lake, and October is a great time to chase bass there.

“In October, bass are following baitfish on Hartwell,” Matt said.

Shad will be moving back into coves and creeks, and many bass will follow the shad shallow. However, the blueback herring still stay out deep over open water in October, and schools of bass—specially spotted bass—feed on the bluebacks.

Anglers have two very different patterns to fish at Lake Hartwell in October.

For shallow bass, Matt likes a Zoom Horny Toad—a soft, weedless, buzzing frog. He also fishes a Spro popping frog, a square-bill crankbait, and he skips a jig around cover.

When out fishing deeper for spotted bass, a hard topwater like the Creek Chub is good for schooling fish, and a jerkbait will often bring suspended bass up. Matt said he will also keep a drop-shot worm ready if he marks bass that aren’t coming up for topwater or the jerkbait.

Matt and I fished Hartwell in early September to check out the following holes. Although the weather was still very hot, the bass were already on most of these places, and we caught several keeper largemouth and spots before lunch.

No. 1: 34º 29.483 – W 83º 03.643 — Go into Gum Log Creek, and stop at the mouth of the first small cove on your right. This is in Tugaloo State Park, and it’s the kind of place Matt likes to fish first thing in the morning. He refers to coves like this as “clear-water drains,” since they are usually clear and only have flow after it rains.

In late August during a tournament, Matt boated a 5-pounder here that anchored his winning 14-lb. limit. He also got a solid 3-pounder here the day we fished. That bass hit the Horny Toad.

Matt will run the bank all the way around a drain like this with the Zoom Horny Toad or Spro frog, and he will also try a jerkbait. Any wood cover gets several casts, but keep moving fast and hit as many of these kinds of places you can before the sun gets on the water.

No. 2: N 34º 31.243 – W 83º 04.279 — Come out of Gum Log, and start up the Tugaloo River. As soon as you pass red channel marker 64A, go into the creek almost right behind the marker. This small creek has a lot of docks around it and some wood cover, and it is more of a drain since it does not have flowing water entering the back of it at all times.

Matt will stop on the left side where the docks start, and he will fish all the way around both arms of this pocket. He fishes his frogs between the docks, but this is the kind of place he uses his skipping jig. He rigs a 1/2-oz. green-pumpkin Manley Custom Tackle Secession Skipper Arkie style jig with a green-pumpkin Zoom Chunk on it. He skips it under docks, hitting the small openings between floats and getting way back in the shade. Bass feed in the open areas early, and then they move under the docks in the shade as the sun gets brighter.

Hit any stumps or other wood cover as you come to it. The water gets very shallow in the backs of the arms, and Matt turns around once he gets shallow enough to see the bottom. I got a keeper spot way back in the left arm on topwater when we fished. Spotted bass will also roam back in places like this chasing shad.

No. 3: N 34º 28.884 – W 83º 01.137 — Run down the river past the I-85 bridge, and watch for red channel marker 46 well off the left bank. About even with the marker, you will see a small, rocky point on the left bank. A roadbed comes off this point and runs across the lake. Bass, especially spots, hold and feed on this roadbed.

Stop about 100 yards out from the point, and idle across in front of it until you find the raised roadbed. Keep your boat on top of the road, and cast up toward the point, working your drop-shot worm along the top and both sides of the roadbed. Work all the way out to where the top of the roadbed is 25 feet deep.

Matt rigs a No. 1 Gamakatsu hook about 14 inches above a 1/8- to 3/8-oz. clip-on sinker. He likes to fish a Kalen morning-dawn worm on his drop-shot rig. He will cast it out, let it hit bottom, and then keep his line tight as he slides the lead along the bottom. When he hits cover like wood or rocks, he will stop moving the lead along the bottom and shake it in place.

We both caught keeper spotted bass on this place on drop-shot worms even though we fished it in the middle of the day and did not stay long.

No. 4: N 34º 28.696 – W 83º 00.777 — Going downstream on your left is red marker 44. Just upstream of the marker, a narrow, red-clay point runs out, and you can see chunk rock on the end of it. Looking at the red-clay point, two big pine trees stick up above the trees around them.

Stop way off the point while fishing around it. Matt said he often starts with a hard, walking-style topwater bait, trying to draw bass up to the top. He will then follow with a Pointer jerkbait, trying for bass that do not want to come all the way to the surface. Then work a drop-shot worm around the point for the bass holding on the bottom.

No. 5: N 34º 27.982 – W 83º 02.193 — Straight across the river, Shoal Creek enters the lake. Run into the mouth of it, and keep to your right where Little Shoal Creek splits off to the left. Shoal Creek is narrow and runs way back before making a dog leg to the left and opening up a bit.

Matt will stop about halfway in and fish toward the back, fishing topwater between the docks and over brushpiles. Watch for brushpiles all the way out to the middle of the creek—some are far off the bank. Skip your jig under any docks you come to. Matt stays way out from the left bank because it is flatter than the right bank. The left bank has more brush on it, but both banks can be good.

No. 6: N 34º 30.634 – W 83º 02.235 — Go down the river, and then head up Fairplay Creek past the I-85 bridge all the way to the back of Fairplay. Near the back, the creek will narrow down with a rocky point on the right and some docks on the left. Matt starts at the first dock in that group on the left and fishes all the way around this arm of the creek. Then he will fish the other arm, too.

There are a good many brushpiles on the flats back in here where the bass hold while chasing shad. The water will be down this time of year, so you should be able to see the brush sticking up and also see dark spots where brush is under the water. Run frogs over the brushpiles, and also work your jig through them.

No. 7: N 34º 29.004 – W 82º 58.697— Back out on the river, between red channel markers 32 and 30, there is a gap between the main bank and a big island. The upstream point of the island has big rocks on it, and the point drops off fast right into a channel bend. With the gap here, there is almost always wind blowing across this point, making it better.

Stop way out from the bank with your boat in about 40 feet of water, and make very long casts with your topwater bait, working it from water a couple of feet deep out to at least 40 feet. Fish a jerkbait over the same water. Then probe the rocks with your drop-shot worm. Matt says the prime depth is 20 to 40 feet deep, but bass will feed shallower some days.

Wind will move plankton through the area, and baitfish will follow. Any water moving will help this and other October locations on Lake Hartwell. There is seldom much current from the dam on these locations, so wind-generated current is important.

No. 8: N 34º 28.665 – W 82º 57.218 — Going downstream, the river swings to the right bank at black marker 25, and then the river channel turns and heads straight to black marker 23. Between these two markers, a small island is on the right. This small island has a long point that comes off the right end of it. There are big cane piles on this point, and they hold October bass.

Fish a topwater plug and jerkbait all over this point, working them over the cane piles. That will pull bass—both spots and largemouth—up to hit a bait moving over them. Herring move toward the top in bright sun, so a sunny day is actually better.

Also cast your drop shot all over the point to hit the brush. When you see a brushpile on your depthfinder, get right on top of it. Work your drop shot from the top to the bottom, slowly lowering it a foot at a time and jiggling it as it gets deeper.

Matt warns that by this time of year the bass in these and other cane piles have become spooky, since they have been fished for a lot the past few months. To avoid spooking bass, he prefers casting his drop-shot worm rather than getting right on top of the brush and fishing vertically.

No. 9: N 34º 29.198 – W 82º 55.839 – Farther downstream, a long, narrow point runs out on your left and then turns a little upstream just past red channel marker 20. The point has a danger marker on it and is covered with chunk rock. Hartwell bass school on this point this time of year. We saw some bass hitting on top but could not get close enough to them to cast to them before they went down. Always have a topwater or jerkbait ready to cast to surfacing fish.

Also fish a drop shot all over this point, concentrate on depths from 20 to 40 feet. Bass will hold at that depth waiting on herring to pass over, and this point can also have shad since this is at the mouth of a big cove.

No. 10: N 34º 28.794 – W 82º 55.650 — Not far downstream, Reed Creek enters the lake on your right. The upstream main-lake point at the mouth of Reed Creek has a mile marker sign showing No. 166 on it. This point has chunk rock and a little brush on it. Since it is at the mouth of a creek, it is a good ambush point for shad. It holds bass year-round, but it gets better in the fall.

Keep your boat in 40 feet of water, and fish all your baits over this point. Work topwater and a jerkbait for active bass, and then probe the bottom with a drop-shot worm to find the deep cover. You will catch both largemouth and spotted bass here.

All these places are excellent right now, and there are many more just like them. Choose whether to fish deep or shallow, or try both, for great October fishing.

You can call Matt for a guided trip to see exactly how he fishes the lake at (864) 903-9661. You can follow and contact him at

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