Hartwell’s Herring-Driven All-Day Topwater Bass Bite

It’s the middle of a hot August day, and the Hartwell bass are busting on top. Gotta love the summer herring bite!

Ronnie Garrison | August 2, 2007

Pick a day during the week when it is bright and sunny with some chop on the water, and you can throw topwater all day long and catch Hartwell chunks like this bass boated by Shaun Honea during a trip with the author.

A few years ago, bass fishermen discovered an amazing summer pattern on some Georgia lakes. Bass would hit topwater baits worked over deep water on some of the brightest, hottest days of summer. Blueback herring were the key to that pattern, and Lake Hartwell is one of the best lakes in the state to catch bass on the summertime, herring-driven, middle-of-the-day topwater bite.

Hartwell is Georgia’s second-biggest lake at 55,950 acres. The top of the three-lake chain on the Savannah River, it got bluebacks in it naturally rather than through illegal midnight stockings like some of our other lakes.

Shaun Honea grew up on Hartwell, and his parents still live on the shores of Choestoea Creek. Although he fished Hartwell all his life for crappie and catfish, he started concentrating on bass at about age 16. Well-known local bass fisherman Steve Fox was his mentor and taught Shaun a lot about bass fishing.

Shaun fishes the BFL trails and Stren Series when he can get in, as well as some of the Fishers of Men tournaments. He also fishes many of the pot tournaments on Hartwell, and he fishes with the North Hall Bass Club.

Although he moved to Winder a few months ago, he still fishes Hartwell a lot. Shaun is on the Fish Stalker Bait Co. Pro Staff and has helped them test and develop several of their baits. He is also sponsored by Smokin’ Fisherman tackle store in Clermont, just north of Gainesville.

Shaun has done well on Lake Hartwell over the years. His biggest bass from it hit a topwater bait during a tournament and weighed 10-lbs., 3-ozs. His best tournament catch on the lake was a five-fish limit weighing 24 pounds.

Although many methods work well at Hartwell, Shaun likes catching bass on top this time of year. The bass that hit on top tend to be bigger, the kind needed in tournaments. Plus, it’s just a very fun way to fish. Watching a 4-lb. Hartwell largemouth slam a topwater bait, then seeing seven or eight bass following it while you fight the bass to the boat, is a thrill to say the least. And it sure beats finesse fishing like bass anglers resort to on other lakes during the heat of the summer.

Shaun likes to offer bass a variety of baits, so he will have several rods rigged and ready. On one he will have a big Sammy or Spook. A second rod will have a smaller Sammy or a Spook Jr., and he will often tie another small- er popper ahead of it to have two baits on one line. He also has a Cordell Pencil Popper ready and casts it for big bass.

One rod will always be rigged with a Fish Stalker Minnow Shad. This soft jerkbait is 6.5 inches long, and bass often like the bigger size. Since they are feeding on herring, the bigger baits, both topwater and the Minnow Shad, attract bigger bass.

When fishing a point or hump, Shaun will constantly change baits. He says sometimes the bass want a Spook, other times they prefer a Sammy. He says sometimes they will not stick their heads out of the water for a topwater but will hit the Minnow Shad. He keeps trying to show the bass something they want to eat.

If the fishing is tough, Shaun will try a Carolina-rigged Fish Stalker finesse worm or ribbon-tail worm. This bait is dragged across the same cover and structure he fishes above with the topwater baits. When he hits brush, Shaun works the Carolina rig through it trying to entice bass to hit.

By the middle of May, bass have moved to their summer holes and are living in brushpiles 20 feet deep or deeper. They stay in these places all through the summer, but they will come up to the top to chase herring or to hit a bait worked over them. Sharp drops from shallow to very deep water are their preference, and those are the kinds of places you want to fish this month.

A sunny day with a little breeze putting a chop on the water is perfect this time of year. Weekdays are best because boat traffic will often put the bass down by 9 a.m. on weekends. During the week you can get a topwater bite all day long. Stronger winds do not keep the bass from biting, but may make it hard to position your boat and make the long casts that are best.

Shaun and I fished Hartwell in mid July, and he showed me 10 of his favorite spots and how he fishes them. We had a day for topwater fishing. It was cloudy, and the wind was too strong, making it hard to fish many of the locations effectively. Still, Shaun landed three good keepers, the biggest a 4-lb. largemouth that hit a Spook, and we quit at noon.

Check out Shaun’s spots marked below, then look around and you will find dozens more nearby that will produce bass this month.

No. 1: N 34° 35.785 – W 82° 51.666 — Three of Shaun’s favorite spots are way up the Seneca River. This one he calls the $500 hole because of a tournament won here. He says this is the kind of spot you can pull up on and land a 30-lb. limit during August.

Go up the Seneca River to the split where Conoross Creek goes to the left heading upstream. There is an island on the downstream end of this split, and Oconee Point campground sits on the main point between the creek and the river. Way off that point is a danger marker, and the Seneca River channel swings in right by it making a good outside bend.

This spot is typical of the type places Shaun likes in August. The marked hump is a big flat that tapers off on the Conoross Creek side but drops sharply on the Seneca River side. The flat runs out and drops from 12 to 15 feet deep down to 25 to 30 feet deep very fast. There is cover here in the form of stumps and brushpiles.

Start fishing the upstream side of the marked hump on the Seneca River side. Your boat will be in 40 feet of water, but you can cast up to a few feet deep. Work several topwater baits from shallow to deep. The lake was down about 7 feet the day we fished, so the depths mentioned should be adjusted for that.

Fish all around the hump, staying out in deep water and making long casts that cover a lot of water. If nothing comes up to hit any of your topwater stuff or Minnow Shad, drag a Carolina rig up the drop and try to hit stumps and brush. Get your boat in near the shoal marker, and cast out to deep water. Bringing it deep to shallow helps you feel the bottom and cover.

No. 2: N 34° 36.046 – W 82° 51.876 — The next point upstream on the left going up the Seneca is past the cove with the swimming area at Oconee Park. This big, shallow point runs way out and has some huge stumps on it. Shaun will often get in close and throw a buzzbait across the shallows, then move out and fish the drop.

Fish it like hole No. 1, bringing your topwater baits from shallow to deep, then trying a Carolina rig deep to shallow. You can see the stumps several feet deep if the sun is on the water, and bass will often hold beside them, so work both topwater over them and Carolina-rigged worms beside them.

No. 3: N 34° 40.583 – W 82° 51.386 — Run up above the next bridge over the Seneca River, and you will see a long rip-rap wall on your right as you turn right after coming under the bridge. This is the retaining wall for the sewage treatment plant, and where it ends on the upstream side are the Clemson Rowing Team buildings and docks. There are three “no boats allowed” buoys in front of these buildings.

Start fishing just downstream of the downstream buoy, working upstream. Keep your boat out in 12 feet of water or so, and make long casts toward the bank. Fish your bait all the way out to the boat. You can also drag a Carolina rig down this slope, but the buoys keep you from getting shallow and casting deep.

Work up past the third buoy, and you will see a chain-link fence running down to the water. Off the end of it you will usually see the water boiling up. There is a discharge pipe under the water here, and the moving, cooler water often draws baitfish and bass.

The day we fished there were lots of fish feeding on top along this bank.

No. 4. N 34° 30.471 – W 82° 49.713 — Back down the Seneca River to the main lake, there is an island across the cove from the Broyles ramp. The main-lake point on this island is an excellent place to find bass holding and feeding on herring. This is the spot where Shaun caught the 4-lb. largemouth as well as a couple of nice spots and a Coosa bass.

Start out on the main-lake point on the island. With the water down you can see rocks and clay. Shaun says bass like hard bottoms like this, and there are also stumps and brushpiles here to hold the bass.

Keep your boat out in deep water, 40 feet or more, and make long casts. There is a good drop here from 12 feet down to 25 feet. Cover the point at different angles. Shaun says sometimes the bass like a bait moving across the drop, sometimes they prefer it moving along the drop, over it or parallel to it.

Try a Carolina rig here, too. Shaun says you can fish a Carolina rig all around this island and fill a limit of bass. He says you will catch smaller fish on a Carolina rig than you will on top, but you can often catch more bass on the Carolina rig.

No. 5: N 34° 28.717 – W 82° 50.194 — Run downstream and stay on the south side of Andersonville Island. You will see a gap in the trees on the island covered with kudzu. A point in the middle of this gap has some trees on it right on the bank. There were two big chunks of Styrofoam and a broken dock on the bank near the trees two weeks ago. This is just downstream of channel marker S13.

A ledge or point runs straight out from the island here with good drops on both sides. Fish across this point from both sides and also from the end toward the bank. Fish it like the others, keeping your boat in deep water and casting across it. Use bigger baits here. Shaun says main-lake bass prefer bigger baits than the bass up the rivers, probably because they are more likely to be feeding on herring on the main lake and on shad up the rivers.

No. 6: N 34° 28.245 – W 82° 49.786 — Across the river, on the upstream side of Richland Creek, there is a shoal marker way off the bank. When your boat gets in 50 feet of water, stop and start casting up toward shallow water. There is a good ledge dropping off on the river side of this hump.

Shaun fishes the outside — or river side — of this marker, starting on the upstream side and working downstream past the marker. Fish this spot like the other places — topwater from shallow to deep then a Carolina rig up the drop from deep to shallow.

No. 7: N 34° 26.952 – W ° 51.316 — Run out to the mouth of the creek, and watch for a red-and-green channel marker labeled ATS26. Up the Tugaloo from the marker is the last point on Andersonville Island, and it points toward channel marker T2. About halfway between the point and T2, a little downstream of a line between them and about even with ATS26, a hump comes up to about 6 feet deep on top. It is littered with stumps, rocks and brush.

Fish across this hump from all directions. Use topwater, then go to a Carolina rig. Shawn says this is a better spotted-bass hole than largemouth location, but sometimes big large- mouths school up on it, too.

No. 8: N 34° 25.663 – W 82° 50.485 — Run down toward Sadler Creek, which will be on the left. Just before red channel marker 20, you will see a gap between the bank and an island. The gap leads into Sadler Creek. Go toward the gap, and you will see a shoal marker on a pole on your right. That shoal marker is on a small hump that rises just off the shallow point that makes the blow-through between the island and mainland. The hump is hard clay, and it has stumps on it. Fish the top of the hump and also all around it. It drops off very fast on the front and slopes on the back. Shaun keeps his boat in front of it in the deep water and starts working the blow- through after fishing the hump. Work all the way across the blow-through, past the danger buoy in the middle of it.

No. 9: N 34° 25.712 – W 82° 50.475 — On the left side of the blow- through is another shoal marker on a pole. Fish it like the one on the other side. This one is crowded with stumps. Watch out for standing timber as you go across the gap, it was just under the surface in mid-July. Shaun says bright sun will really pull the big bass out of the standing timber toward the hump to feed on passing herring.

No. 10: N 34° 25.183 – W 82° 50.209 — Go through the gap into Sadler Creek, watching for standing timber and shallow water. Run toward the downstream mouth of the creek, and you will see a long point on your left with three shoal markers around it on poles. It is the middle point of Sadlers Creek State Park. The point is across from channel marker SAC1.

Shaun fishes the first pole marker you come to as you head out of the creek. Stay on the outside of the pole, and fish along the drop where the creek channel swings in near it. Remember to fish across the drop, then get in closer and fish along the drop.

These are good examples of the type places that Shaun fishes in August. There are dozens of similar spots nearby, and any of them can hold a good school of fish any day. When you catch a fish on a location, hit it several times during the day.

You will catch fish on top on Hartwell this month if you follow Shaun’s methods.

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