Fast-As-You-Can Fishing For Hartwell Stripers

When the sun goes down and the lights go on, Hartwell's linesides stack up under the boat - so get ready for fast fishing.

Brad Bailey | April 3, 2006

By my watch, we started fishing at 8:49 p.m. Darkness was settling in over Lake Hartwell, but some fast-paced fish-catching under the lights was about to begin.

Hartwell fishing guide Wayne White had pulled up on a “pull through” as he calls it, a narrow area, or funnel area that concentrates both bait and hybrids and stripers. We were fishing a spot about five miles up the Seneca River from Portman Shoals Marina, an unusual location for the summertime bite.

Wayne double-anchored his 22-foot center-console boat over 28.5 feet of water, using two anchors to keep the boat steady and to keep the anchor lines out of the way of the fishing that was about to begin.

He then mounted a 400-watt, sealed sodium light to the gunnel pointing downward into the water and cranked up a Honda generator. A blaze of light lit up the green water.

Willie Poole plays a Hartwell striper to the boat under a light that helped draw baitfish and linesides.

Wayne then hooked a 4-inch herring through the nose and measured 12 pulls of line off the reel, sending the bait spiraling out of sight to dangle just off the bottom. Quickly, two more baits were dropped to the bottom and Wayne’s anglers for the night, Michael Glenn and Willie Poole, both of Anderson, S.C. began to watch rod tips and wait.

It didn’t take long:
• 8:52: Willie’s rod tip bounced two or three times, then bowed into the water and he set the hook on the first fish of the evening — a 2-lb. striper. Wayne netted the fish, unhooked it and dipped a fresh bait from the bait tank.
• 8:55: Willie landed another 1 1/2- to 2-lb. striper.
• 8:56: Michael missed his second fish, Willie also missed a hook set.
• 8:57: Willie played a hybrid up to the boat. It was a good one — maybe eight pounds — but it broke off before Wayne could net it.
• 8:59: Michael landed a small striper
• 9:00: Willie missed one hookset, then landed another striper.
• 9:01: Willie caught another 2-lb. striper that hit his bait before he was able to get it to the bottom.

Wayne’s X-70a graph was black with fish in the 10-foot band just above the bottom. In the first 10 minutes, the two anglers boated five fish, lost one, and missed at least four bites. Willie and Michael stopped putting their rods in the rod holders — there wasn’t time. When their weight hit the bottom they cranked up three turns, then counted to three and almost always the bait had been hit in that amount of time. Wayne put one rod away. Netting fish and keeping two lines baited was keeping him hustling. On a hot humid night, Willie’s shirt was soaked from the exertion of catching fish.

“There’s not even time to stop for a cold drink,” he said — but he wasn’t complaining.

In the first 40 minutes Michael and Willie boated 15 fish and missed — literally — 25 bites. The catch was mostly stripers in the 2-lb. range, but included some bigger fish,  up to two 4-lb. hybrids. After taking a break, they finished out a 2-man limit catch of 20 fish in another 20 minutes.

The red-hot fishing has been going on for a month, said Wayne. On the night before our trip, four anglers had boated 40 fish. Two nights after our trip he had two sets of clients who boated 34 fish and 28 fish, respectively.
What’s unusual is that the fish were still relatively shallow — in 20 to 30 feet of water.

“The summer nighttime pattern is about a month behind,” said Wayne. “Usually in April and May we catch fish right up on the banks. As the water warms, the next fish-catching depth is about 20 feet, and the fish gradually move deeper as the water warms and they follow the thermocline down. This time of year we are usually fishing in 60 or more feet of water.”

According to Wayne, Hartwell is “slam full” of linesides in the 1 1/2- to 2-lb. range. The boom in the number of fish is the result of a concerted effort by WRD Fisheries. “We had a couple of off years in a row where we documented low survival of fish stocked in Hartwell,” said WRD Fisheries biologist Anthony Rabern. “So we came back with some heavier stocking in 1999 and 2000, and those took very well.”

The success of the stockings may have been helped by fortuitous timing, stocking the linesides just after the blueback herring had spawned so that there was plenty of food for the small linesides. The fish have grown rapidly. The good news for fishermen is high numbers of hard-fighting fish that are getting bigger by the month.

In late July, the fish Wayne was catching were in the creeks on points and humps, and reef markers, particularly in funnel areas. As the summer progresses, the fish, especially the bigger fish, which are more water-temperature sensitive, will pull out of the creeks and follow the thermocline toward the dam.

Most anglers don’t have a sodium light and generator, but a bright crappie light will draw bait and linesides too. Wayne says live bait is the way to go. He uses a No. 4 Kahle hook on a 3-foot leader with a 1/2-oz. weight. Live herring are available at bait shops around the lake. Lively bait is critical — dead bait seldom draws a hit.
The fish will also hit a jigging spoon worked just off the bottom. Wayne uses a 1-oz. Hopkins spoon, but any flashy spoon will draw strikes.

Wayne White operates Fish Tales Guide Service on Lake Hartwell.

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