Lake Hartwell Paradise Found
What makes Lake Hartwell so awesome? Just ask someone who’s had a front row view of it for two decades.
“Lake Hartwell is a paradise.”
Those were the words that kept running through my head in October 2002 as I stared out the window of my new work home at the Clemson office of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). I had spent the previous 12 years working for SCDNR in Columbia on the second floor of the Rembert Dennis Building, where there are no windows. Looking out the window at birds and boats and the beauty of Hartwell, it truly did feel like paradise.
Having now been stationed at Hartwell for the past 18 years, my initial thoughts have not changed in the least. I’ve kayaked, fished, and swam in the lake where it meets our office, so my original concept of “paradise” was right on the money. Recreation seems to be one of the main vibes at Hartwell. Fishing is so good there, in fact, that The Bassmaster Classic, sometimes referred to as “The Super Bowl of Fishing,” has been held at Hartwell three times, the most recent in 2018.
So it was no surprise to me when Bassmaster magazine named Lake Hartwell as one of its top lakes of the decade for the Southeast region. In addition to Hartwell, Bassmaster named three other South Carolina lakes as some of the nation’s best, based on tournament catch records and information on how agencies like SCDNR manage reservoirs for bass and other popular species. The Santee Cooper lakes (Marion and Moultrie) made the Top 25 in the U.S. designation, while Hartwell, neighboring Lake Thurmond and the Midlands’ Lake Murray were named to the Best of the Southeast list.
It’s also no accident that bass fishing is so good at Lake Hartwell. The SCDNR’s Freshwater Fisheries Section has worked diligently for years to help make that happen. Dan Rankin, SCDNR’s regional fisheries biologist stationed in Clemson, said the agency has been doing spring electrofishing on largemouth bass for decades, allowing biologists to collect a representative sample of all bass sizes that are in the lake. The surveys let biologists look at size distribution, age distribution, and mortality rate. SCDNR has also done angler surveys, called “creel surveys,” where anglers are interviewed on the lake and asked about their success rate and how much fishing pressure is placed on largemouth bass.
Habitat improvement on Lake Hartwell has been an ongoing project for the past six years. The habitat improvement project came about after the 2006 settlement with Schlumberger Technology Corp. for damages to the recreational fisheries in Lake Hartwell due to PCB contamination. The habitat project received $2.8 million from this settlement. The first fisheries habitat improvement project on Lake Hartwell resulting from the Twelve Mile Creek PCB settlement got underway in 2014 at Cherry Crossing cove adjacent to the Clemson SCDNR office.
The habitat improvements on Lake Hartwell include concrete/rock/wood structures embedded on the lake floor in shallow and deep water, aquatic vegetation, cabled-down trees along the shoreline, bank stabilization, and gravel spawning beds. The project has since moved on to many other coves on Lake Hartwell.
“The expected benefits of habitat restoration include improved spawning success, an increase in refuge and cover habitat for fish, improved forage activity and erosion control,” said Amy B. Chastain, SCDNR fisheries biologist and coordinator of the habitat improvement project. “We hope that this work will improve recreational fishing considerably in Lake Hartwell.”
Habitat enhancement on Lake Hartwell was first projected to run at least 10 years, according to Chastain, but the work will likely continue beyond that time frame.
Lake Hartwell was constructed between 1955-1963 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lake was created by the construction of Hartwell Dam located on the Savannah River seven miles below the point at which the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers join to form the Savannah River. Extending 49 miles up the Tugaloo and 45 miles up the Seneca at normal pool elevation, Lake Hartwell comprises nearly 56,000 acres of water with a shoreline of 962 miles. It’s the largest lake in the Southeastern United States, and it provides drinking water for more than 40,000 residents of surrounding counties.
It was opened to the public for recreation in 1968, and Hartwell now hosts more than nine million visitors every year. It features 45 public boat ramps and more than 10,000 private boat docks.
The lake is named after Nancy Hart, who bravely defended her family during the Revolutionary War. One of Hart’s most notable stories: when British soldiers invaded her property, she tricked the Brits into letting their guard down, stole their muskets, and held them at gunpoint until help arrived.
Greg Lucas is SCDNR Upstate Coordinator for Conservation, Education & Outreach
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