Hartwell Bass Topwater Milk-Run For July

Trad Whaley keys on herring and topwater at these 10 locations.

Ronnie Garrison | June 29, 2015

Think it is too hot to go fishing during the day in July? Big bass busting on top will make you forget how hot it is. Plan a trip to Lake Hartwell, and enjoy catching quality fish on topwater plugs.

Lake Hartwell is a sprawling 56,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake on the Savannah River in the northeast corner of Georgia. The lower lake is full of long points, humps, standing timber and brushpiles. Blueback herring are a favorite food of the bass in the lake, and these nutrient nuggets make the bass grow to good sizes. The herring also put bass on specific patterns in the heat of summer that are unique to clear-water reservoirs that have bluebacks.

Hartwell is very clear, and topwater plugs draw bass from the depths to smash them. Bluebacks tend to come to the surface on sunny days, so a bass’s attention is focused toward the top. Surface plugs work—even over deep, open water during the heat of the summer.

Trad Whaley lives in Abbyville, South Carolina and has fished Hartwell all his life. Although he has not been fishing a lot of tournaments lately, he is well known in the area. His father Danny is also a respected tournament fisherman who taught Trad a lot about catching bass on Hartwell. When he was just 8 years old, Trad started fishing team tournaments with his father and learned how to catch fish in competition. It paid off. Trad has won two BFLs on Hartwell and placed seventh in an FLW Series tournament there. He also has won many local tournaments over the years.

Right now Trad is concentrating on helping kids learn to catch bass. He is one of the coaches for the Abbyville High School Team, and his nephew, Carter McNeil, who Trad taught about fishing, is one of the 12 students on the BASS High School All American Team this year. Trad’s daughter Daelyn is a good bass angler who is already winning tournaments, even though she just finished middle school this year.

For July, Trad relies on a small selection of lures. He will have a topwater walking bait like a Spook or Sammy, a topwater popper, a wobble-head jig and a fluke ready for fishing near or on the surface. And he always keeps a drop-shot worm ready for casting or dropping down to fish or brushpiles he sees on his depthfinder.

“In July, bass on Hartwell are on main-lake structure feeding on herring,” Trad says.

They will school on top in the morning then move to brushpiles when the sun gets high. They will still come up to hit a bait fished over the brush even in the bright sun.

We fished Hartwell in mid June, and the bass were feeding. In just a few hours we caught or lost five bass in the 4-lb. range and several more that were not much smaller. The following 10 locations were holding bass then, and they will have even bigger schools of bass on them now.

No. 1: N 34º 20.745 – W 82º 49.680 — If you put in near the dam at daylight, go to the rip-rap on the Georgia side of the lake. A small island sits off the rip-rap, and the gap between the island and the rip-rap focuses current. Bass feed on herring on the rocks and in the shallows around the island. They’ll be hitting on top before the sun gets on the water.

Bait is the key here and on other locations this time of year. Trad asked if I could smell the herring as we idled to the rocks to start our day. Scent is one way to know herring are in an area. You can also see them on your depthfinder or, hopefully, see bass chasing them on top.

Fish the rocks and the shallows near the island with your Spook or Sammy. Always keep close watch for anything on the surface, and cast to any surface action you spot. Make long casts. The bass are often spooky in the clear water. Walk your bait fast back to the boat, and fan-cast the area if you are not seeing surface movement.

No. 2: N 34º 20.752 – W 82º 50.300 — Watsadlers Ramp sits on the point on the north side of the first pocket at the dam on the Georgia side. A series of humps run off this point, and there are shoal markers on some of them. Trad starts on the big flat between the ramp and the first shoal marker and fishes out to the humps marked by two shoal markers.

Again start with a walking bait, and watch for surface activity. Bass will scatter in the shallow water and chase herring before the sun gets bright, then move to brushpiles on the humps. If you watch your depthfinder, you will find many brushpiles on every hump. In fact, there are so many it is often hard to fish them all.

Trad likes the Sammy 100 in chrome or a similar-colored Spook. He will also cast a white or transparent Zoom Fluke to surface-feeding bass or fan-cast it in these areas. Sometimes the bass want something worked just under the surface, and a fluke is perfect for this. Make long casts with the fluke, and fish it back fast with lots of action.

No. 3: N 34º 22.816 – W 82º 50.602 —
Powder Bag Creek is the first big creek north of the dam on the Georgia side. The upstream point of it runs way out. The Long Point ramp is on this point. Out from the downstream edge of this big point are three shoal markers forming a triangle. Line up the two just upstream of the one downstream, and stop on the hump that comes up to 16 feet on top. You will be straight out toward the middle of the lake from the point and two markers.

Fish all around the hump with topwater plugs and a fluke, keeping your boat in 25 to 30 feet of water and casting to the top of the hump. This hump has a hard bottom like the others, and that makes them better, but the brushpiles on them are more important, so keep a close watch for them as you fish. If you find brushpiles, mark their location. Bass concentrate around and over the brush even at first light and roam from there, so they are hotspots all day. If you get right on top of one before seeing it, remember where it is to fish later in the day.

No. 4: N 34º 23.138 – W 82º 50.430 —
Channel marker 7 sits upstream and out from hole 3. Upstream from it, out right on the river channel, a danger marker with “Danger Tree” on it marks standing timber on the edge of a hump. The trees, hump and brushpiles on it make an ideal place for bass this time of year.

Keep your boat near the marker in 25 feet of water, and cast over the trees and the hump. Work a topwater bait over them. Bass will school here and will also come out of the trees and brush to hit on top when the sun is up.

Some wind blowing across these types of locations makes them better. Trad says the perfect day is when the sun is fairly bright, and the wind is making the water ripple. If the waves and ripples are big enough to make working the walking bait ineffective, he will throw a popping bait like a Pop-R to make more noise to attract the bass.

No. 5: N 34º 23.076 – W 82º 50.841 — Go in toward the point just north of channel marker 9. There is a shoal marker on the upstream side of the big point behind it—the same point where hole No. 3 is on the downstream side. Stop upstream of the shoal marker in 25 feet of water, and fan-cast over it.

Trad will often idle in fast toward the hump here and in other places and stop before he gets to the 25-foot depth. He says the boat moving in will often push the schools of bait toward the hump or point and turn the bass on.

Fan-cast over the hump from the deeper upstream side. Trad got a solid 4-pounder here on his Spook, and there were several more bass that size and bigger following as he fought it to the boat. If two people are fishing, it often pays off for the second person to cast to the fighting bass to catch followers.

No. 6: N 34º 23.238 – W 82º 51.134 — West of hole No. 5 is the mouth of Gum Branch. Go toward it and the big white house sitting on a point back in a little ways. There is a marked hump with bushes on top just inside the big point. Stop out in 25 feet of water, and fan-cast all around the downstream side and end of it. I lost a 4-pounder that hit my topwater plug three times before taking it here.

Work topwater first, but also try a wobble bait like a Pulse Jig with a fluke on it. Sometimes, especially when the sun is higher or if the wind is fairly strong, the Pulse Jig will draw strikes better than the topwater. Make long casts, let it sink a little, and then reel it in slowly. When you feel weight, just keep reeling until the rod loads up. Trad says if you set the hook as soon as you feel the bass, you will miss it.

No. 7: N 34º 23.430 – W 82º 51.321 — Toward the mouth of Gum Branch, look for the island that sits west of channel marker 11. A flat around the island drops off into the channel, and bass hold and feed on this flat. There are a couple of ditches on it and many brushpiles. The island helps concentrate any current in this area.

Stop in 25 feet of water, and fish the flat on the river side. Try topwater, then a fluke and a Pulse Jig. Watch for brushpiles on your depthfinder, and fish them with a drop shot when you see them. Trad caught several bass out of brush here, but they were smaller, and several were spotted bass. He says you can catch keeper-sized bass all day by fishing brush with drop shot, but they tend to be smaller than the bass you will catch on the other baits.

Trad hits many places quickly during a day of fishing. He will pull up on a place like this and do what he calls his “1 – 2 – 3 – 4 punch.” He throws the topwater, fluke, Pulse Jig and then the drop shot. He quickly fishes all four baits, and then he moves to the next spot. We hit about 15 places in four hours, and he says that is not unusual.

No. 8: N 34º 24.408 – W 82º 51.270 —
Go across the mouth of Lightwood Log Creek to the islands on the upstream side. Go to the island closest to the bank, and stop between it and the one farther out. A point comes off this island toward the outer island, and bass hold and feed on this point.

The two islands concentrate current between them, and current always makes these locations better. For that reason, weekdays are better fishing since there is less current during the weekend. Many fishermen have seen this change from weekday practice to a weekend tournament.

Fish all your baits here. With the drop shot, Trad uses a fairly heavy 3/8-oz. drop-shot weight and puts a Zoom Meathead or Tiny Fluke about 18 inches above it. He drops it to the bottom around the brush and moves it very little, with just light shakes of the rod tip to make the bait dance. He will also drop the bait down to suspended fish and hold it at their level, shaking it a little right in front of them.

No. 9: N 34º 25.669 – W 82º 51.446 — Going upstream, a small double creek enters on the Georgia side between channel markers 19 and 21. In the mouth of this creek, out even with the island downstream at Lightwood Log Creek, is a hump that holds bass.

This hump is near the river channel and comes up to a feeding table. It has brush. Keep your boat in deep water, and cast to the top of the hump and all around it. Trad says to be ready to follow up with a fluke if a bass boils on your topwater plug. We had several bass hit up to three times before taking the plug. Following up quickly with a fluke will often catch a bass that misses the topwater.

No. 10: N 34º 26.692 – W 82º 51.527 —
There is a big island right at the mouth of the Tugaloo River on the left going upstream at channel marker T1. A point runs off this island toward the channel. It slopes off on one side with a sharper drop on the other, and current moves across it making it a good feeding spot.

Keep your boat out in 25 feet of water, and fish across the point with the current. Trad says the key depth here and on all other places in July is 18 to 25 feet deep. Fish hold at that depth in brush, but work your topwater baits over the brush, too.

Trad has set up the Claire Whaley Foundation to raise money to help kids with special needs. You can get more info on the foundation on Facebook at

Each year the foundation holds a bass tournament with a $5,000 first prize.

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