Hartwell Bass On Top And Munching In May

Postspawn bass will feast during the blueback, shad and bream spawns, and anglers can take advantage of a great aggressive bite in May.

Ronnie Garrison | May 3, 2017

Mix postspawn bass and blueback herring, and you can be in for a fast and furious bite. Lake Hartwell bass are mostly finished spawning by early May, and they are munching herring to recover from the stress of the spawn. Meanwhile, the herring make it easy for the bass because they are spawning, which concentrates the normally nomadic, open-water baitfish in shallow and predictable areas.

Lake Hartwell is a 55,000-acre reservoir on the upper Savannah River. Hartwell has all kinds of structure, from rocky bluffs and points to flats and ditches. The banks are lined with docks in many areas, and stumps, blowdowns and brushpiles provide lots of shallow wood cover.

There are good populations of largemouth and spotted bass in the lake, and redeye bass are common, too. Although redeyes seldom weigh more than 2 pounds, they do provide a scrappy fight. Largemouth are what tournament Hartwell fishermen rely on for winning weights, since Hartwell largemouth that weigh 3 to 4 pounds are fairly common. Tournament limits of 15 to 20 pounds are brought in during most tournaments.

During May, there are three things that are going on with forage fish that are important to bass. The shad spawn when the water is in the upper 60s to 72 degrees, so there is usually a little bit of the shad spawn going on during the first of May. Herring are spawning when the water’s surface temperature ranges from 69 to 75 degrees. Typically, the blueback herring spawn at Hartwell is something to key on in early May. Finally, the bream go on the bed when the water is 68 to 75 degrees. The peak for bedding bream is often around the full moon, which will be May 10.

Martha Goodfellow with a Hartwell bass that nailed a Pencil Popper on top. The topwater bite heats up in May as postspawn bass gorge on forage species, which will be spawning during the early part of the month.

The herring spawn is the best pattern for bigger bass, and it happens mostly on the main lake. Blow-throughs are the preferred spawning areas for herring. These are shallow gravel bottoms often found between islands or between islands and the bank. A blow-through is where wind-blown waves wash the mud away from these shallow areas, leaving rocky or hard-clay bottoms in 2 to 4 feet of water. Blueback herring also spawn around shallow gravel along islands and main-lake points.

The bream become more important after the herring and shad spawns are over. Bluegill spawn back in protected coves, and a bream bed will draw some big bass to the shallow water. The full moon is on May 10, so the bream spawn will still be competing with the herring spawn, but expect to find some big bass cruising the shallows around bream beds.

Martha Goodfellow lives near Greenville, S.C. and fishes Hartwell often. She fished the Women’s Bass Tour (WBT) when it was active and won first place as a co-angler, earning her a boat, and also placed second in the Lady Bass Anglers (LBA) Championship on Guntersville as boater.

Since 2009, Martha and her husband Don have run the American Bass Anglers South Carolina Couples Division. Don jokes that after they fished one of their first tournaments together and Martha had big fish, he became not Don, but “Martha’s husband.” Martha also fishes some BFLs and ABA tournaments and does seminars on fishing at the Greenville Cabelas.

“In early May, key on postspawn bass feeding on herring on blow-throughs and points near the spawning creeks,” Martha said.

The postspawn bass will move to more open water as the herring move out after they spawn. This is the beginning of the “Spooks and Flukes” topwater pattern around reef markers and main-lake humps.

You can also find some May Hartwell bass still back near the spawning areas around docks and wood cover. These bass that stay shallow are looking for balls of shad back in the protected areas, and they will also be feeding on bream. But your highest percentage of quality Hartwell bass will be caught in May by fishing the herring.

Martha will have a variety of baits ready for May bass fishing on Hartwell. She will throw a topwater walking bait like a Yo-Zuri Pencil walking bait in shad colors, a pearl Zoom Fluke and a Texas-rigged Baby Brush Hog or Zoom Ol’ Monster worm. For spotted bass, she uses a shaky head with a Trick Worm in green pumpkin, with the tail dipped in chartreuse JJ’s Magic. All baits are fished on Kissel Kraft rods and Lews reels.

Martha and “Martha’s Husband” Don took me fishing the day after the Georgia State Top Six Championship the last week of March. We saw bass bedding in some of the coves behind the following 10 places where bass will be feeding on herring now, and we caught some postspawn bass already looking for bait balls.

No. 1: 34º 30.216 – W 82º 49.864 — Broyles Ramp is in the mouth of the Seneca River where it opens up into big water downstream of the I-85 bridge crossing. Going out from the Seneca River mouth, on your right is a series of clay humps. With the lake 9 feet low, these weren’t underwater humps, they were islands. When the lake comes up, these humps will be the kinds of places where bluebacks spawn.

The outside hump nearest the river channel is Martha’s favorite. When the lake is full, the top of this hump is about 4 feet deep, and there is rock on it. There are also brushpiles all around it. If you stop on the river side of it and idle around, line up the marker on the outside hump and the one behind it. Brush is often put out on this line.

Fish topwater and flukes all around the hump, and follow-up with a Texas-rigged worm worked through the brushpiles. Fish the topwater fast, working it like a bass chasing a herring. Bass holding in the brush will come up to join in the feeding and hit your Pencil bait or fluke. The water is clear enough and the herring come to the top if it is bright and sunny, so don’t hesitate to throw topwater and flukes all day. If the fish won’t come up to the top, they will hit a worm in the brush.

No. 2: N 34º 29.907 – W 82º 50.033 — Going downstream, the next marked hump on the right is similar. There is one cypress tree on it, as well as a danger marker. This hump has more gravel and has big stumps and brush that hold bass. Work all around it, and if the water is up, fish the top of it, too.

There are two marked humps behind this one toward the bank. You can find brush from 10 to 25 feet deep with the water down 9 feet. Line up the markers or tree and markers to find the brushpiles. Probe them with an Ol’ Monster worm rigged with a 1/8-oz. sinker. Keep your boat over 25 feet of water, and you will find brush.

No. 3: N 34º 28.604 – W 82º 49.753 — Go down the Seneca River to red channel marker S 12, which is on your left as you’re going downstream. It sits off a flat, clay-and-gravel point coming off an island out from River Fork Recreation Area. Postspawn bass moving out of the creeks and coves behind the island stack up on this point to feed.

Fish all around this point like you would the other places. Martha says this is a good example of the kind of point you want to look for when not fishing the marked humps. There is very deep water nearby, a key to holding bass, and the point has brush.

“Wind is your friend on places like this,” Martha said.

Some wind rippling the water breaks up the sunlight, and it makes it more difficult for bass to identify your bait as fake. As long as the wind is not so strong you can’t fish a location, let the wind be an advantage to good fishing.

No. 4: N 34º 27.745 – W 82º 50.171 — On the right going out of the Seneca River is Andersonville Island. On the river side, there are a series of humps off this big and long island. One of Martha’s favorite humps is just upstream of black channel marker S 5. It runs way out, and the channel swings around it on both sides.

If you line up the two danger markers on the humps toward the bank, another hump comes up to top out about 10 feet deep (when the lake is at full pool.) This hump was barely under the surface when we were there, and the corps had marked it with a red ball that may be gone when the water comes up. There is a good brushpile here that will be in 10 or 11 feet of water with the lake full.

Fish all your baits around the humps toward the bank, and also fish the hump out on the end. Find the brush, and fish it slowly with plastics. New brushpiles are put out regularly.

No. 5: N 34º 27.217 – W 82º 50.471 — Across the river at red channel marker S 4, a long point comes off an island, with at least one standing tree on the upstream side. Spotted bass love to hold in standing trees and feed on herring, and largemouth seem to be adopting that tactic, too. There is brush and gravel on the point to make it even better.

The top of the tree was about 3 feet out of the water with 15 feet of water under it, so it would be about 6 feet deep under the water at full pool. Always fish topwater over a tree like this, as well as over brushpiles. You should fish a plastic bait with a light weight through both, too.

No. 6: N 34º 26.596 – W 82º 51.489 — As we headed toward Hole 6, I had to laugh—I had spent several hours fishing it the day before in the Top Six. My partner had caught some good fish there the first day of the tournament, so we worked it hard. Those were prespawn fish, but by now they have gone into the coves behind it and spawned and are back on it for postspawn feeding.

An island sits just off green channel marker 25. The rocky bank drops off fast along the side of this island, and a small point comes out toward the marker. There is a standing tree just under the water when the lake was 9 feet low. It’s just upstream of the marker, and a line of brush runs out from the bank toward the marker. This is an excellent place for bass most of the year.

Fish all along the rocky bank, since both herring and shad spawn on it. At the brush and standing tree, work topwater over them, but try your shaky head in them, too. This is a good spotted bass hole, and spots just love a green-pumpkin Trick Worm with a tail dipped in chartreuse JJs Magic.

No. 7: N 34º 26.702 – W 82º 51.559 — Just upstream of the island at Hole 6 is a very long, shallow point that runs out as far as the outside of the island. You can idle over to it, but stay way off the end—it comes way out. It has some stumps and also a clay and rock bottom.

Martha says the sides of this point are better than the end, with the upstream side getting most of her casts. It is even better when the lake is at full pool. We saw spawning bass in the pocket behind it, and in May they will be out on this point, as well as on the island.

Fish topwater and the fluke, throwing both right to the edge of the water and working them back to the boat. Try your 3/16- to 1/4-oz. shaky head on the bottom from 5 to 20 feet deep, but watch for brush as you fish around the point, and drag a Baby Brush Hog or Ol’ Monster through it.

Click here to view a short video of Martha and Don catching a bass at location No. 7, one of three keepers caught at the location.

No. 8: N 34º 25.879 – W 82º 51.512 — Going downstream, green channel marker 21 sits off the end of a long, shallow point running off a small island. This main-lake point attracts the herring to spawn, which draws the bass. This is the typical gravel-and-clay point you want to fish this time of year.

Fish all around this point with topwater and your plastics. There are brushpiles here to find and fish. The herring spawn in 4 to 5 feet of water, but the shad run the very edge of the shore, so make your casts right to the bank to cover both.

No. 9: N 34º 25.969 – W 82º 51.178 — Across the lake, there is a long main-lake point running out. This is another clay-and-rock point that attracts baitfish and postspawn bass. Mile marker 914 is on the bank in the edge of the trees on the downstream side. Also on the downstream side there’s a group of standing timber in deep water that tops out about 6 feet deep.

Fish over the timber and around the point. Also fish plastics in the trees and around brushpiles here. Fish the rocks on the point with your shaky head, hopping and shaking it, to attract spots. Us as light a head as the wind will let you use.

No. 10: N 34º 27.271 – W 82º 51.470 — Going up the river, the mouth of Little Beaverdam Creek hits the main river just upstream of the end of Andersonville Island. Another big island is on the upstream side of the creek mouth. There are a lot of shallow humps off the upstream island, running in a line across the mouth of the creek.

The three humps closest to the island are marked with danger-marker poles, and there are two red floats marking two more just under the water. The outermost, downstream hump has a rocky top and is one of the best. It was barely above the surface with the lake 9 feet below full pool.

Fish around this hump and the others. Fish over them if the water is up enough to cover them with at least 2 feet of water. There is deep water on both sides, since the creek channel swings in by them and the river channel is just off the other side. Martha says the outside, river side is the best.

Check out these places for some fast postspawn action. There are many more marked humps and long shallow points in this area to fish, too. Martha says seeing loons diving for baitfish is a good sign, and that gulls diving is even better, since they are feeding on injured baitfish and indicate feeding bass. Watch for birds to help you find good places to fish.

You can follow Martha on Facebook at and see the tournament trail she and her husband run at The professional Ladies Bass Anglers website is

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