Good Shallow Bite For Lake Hartwell Winter Bass

Clifton Bradley marks 10 locations to help set your January pattern.

Ronnie Garrison | December 26, 2020

Cold weather slows anglers and bass down this time of year, but Lake Hartwell bass will feed on rocks and wood cover in short pockets and on main creek banks and points throughout January. They will hit a variety of baits, and you can have a good day fishing if you dress for the weather.

Lake Hartwell is a vast 56,000-acre reservoir on the Savannah River along the South Carolina border. There are many different types of structure and cover to fish. This variety gives anglers the chance to catch both largemouth and spotted bass in the mostly clear water on different patterns, but several patterns are consistent all month.

Clifton Bradley lives in Ashville, N.C. and has been fishing Hartwell all his life. He founded Motor Mate, a company that makes outboard motor locking systems. He sold the company to EPCO Marine and works with them distributing the product now. He fishes the Savannah River BFL and Tennessee Team Trails, as well as local pot tournaments. His biggest bass, an 11-lb., 12-oz. monster largemouth, was caught on Hartwell.

Clifton Bradley says you can catch Hartwell bass deep this month, but he prefers to go after those active fish on more shallow rock and wood.

“There are always some bass feeding shallow on Hartwell,” Clifton said.

Although there is a good deep-water pattern, he prefers fishing for bass up in shallow water since those fish are usually actively feeding, and he catches more largemouth, often a benefit in tournaments. Clifton said he usually targets water 2 to 10 feet deep, and his bait choices reflect this.

He will have a crankbait, jerkbait, bladed jig and jig tied on. He will also have a spoon and underspin ready if he wants to switch to deeper water, but the underspin also works up shallow.

“I watch for birds and key on areas where they are feeding, since they always show the presence of baitfish, a key this time of year,” Clifton said.

If he sees gulls or loons in pockets, especially short pockets with a good ditch running to a main creek channel, he’ll fish it carefully.

Birds are a sure sign there’s baitfish in the area—and bass.

Steep banks and points in primary creeks with wood and rock also hold fish all winter, and they are good areas to target. Blowdowns are especially good since they give bass cover and shade, and the wood and any rocks around them will absorb sun and warm the water a little, making the fish more active. Clifton always looks for slightly stained water since it warms faster and makes bass more likely to mistake his artificials for real food.

We fished Hartwell in mid-December and caught some fish. We had a short day since motor problems kept us off the lake until late morning, but thanks to Strickland Marine in Anderson we were able to get on the water and fish.

The following 10 locations will show you the kinds of places Clifton likes to fish in January.

No. 1: N 34º 30.404 – W 82º 49.770 — The island at Broyles Ramp has a good main creek point with rock and wood cover. Tournaments held there restock this area almost every weekend, and many of those fish will move to the island and hold and feed.

Start on the inside of the upstream point of the island and fish around it. If there is any wind, Clifton starts with a crankbait. He likes a Berkley Fritts Side or Rapala DT 6 in shad colors to bump the more shallow rocks. He casts them on a Kissel Kraft Custom Rods MB941 crankbait rod. He says it has the perfect parabolic action for crankbaits. Cast right to the bank about 2 feet deep and bump the bottom, glancing off rocks, out to 6 feet deep.

To fish a little deeper, he will switch to a Berkley Dredger and bump rocks farther from the bank. With no wind, the bass will hold a little deeper on places like this, and you need to be bumping rocks to get them to bite. After fishing around the point, hitting it at all angles, try a jig ’n pig on the rocks for less active fish.

No. 2: N 31º 33.036 – W 82º 45.346 — Bridges are always good, and Twenty Six Mile Creek has several good ones. The bridges that cross where the creek narrows down, like the second one going upstream, are better. Those concentrate any water movement, and current will really help the bite.

Clifton starts on the corners of a bridge on the downstream side, looking for an eddy created by current. Bass will set up in the eddies in cold water and wait on current to bring baitfish to them. He starts with a natural-colored jerkbait like a Megabass 110 or 110+1 or a Rapala and fishes with the current.

Make long casts upstream, crank the bait down, and then work it back with a jerk-jerk-jerk-pause cadence. Clifton says he pauses longer the colder the water. Fish all the corners and pilings with your jerkbait, and work down the rip-rap, too.

Sun on the rocks may help some, but current is the most important factor. Wind blowing in, making ripples and waves, helps a lot, too. It breaks up the surface of the water and makes it harder for bass to see your bait is an artificial.

After fishing a jerkbait, try your crankbaits and jig on the rocks, too. Bass may not be active enough to come up and hit the jerkbait, even with long pauses, but you can get a crankbait or jig right in front of these less active fish.

No. 3: N 34º 33.999 – W 82º 43.596 — Go under the next bridge upstream, the railroad trestle, and into the first pocket on your left. It is a double cove with good ditches coming out both arms and is a good example of the kind of pocket Clifton likes to fish.

There are docks and secondary points in here to fish. As we idled into the pocket, Clifton pointed to two loons in the water out from two docks straight ahead of us.

“That is what I look for this time of year,” he said.

He stopped where they had been in the water and quickly hooked a 2-lb. bass on his crankbait.

“Look, a 5-pounder is following it!” he said.

Short pockets with good ditches like this offer a quick route for bass back to the main creek channel. Pockets on the north side of the lake get more sun and warm a little more. Baitfish will move back into them, and the bass follow. Fish all the way around the cove, hitting all cover from docks, blowdowns and rocks. Also make a few casts right down the middle of the ditches toward the back.

There is a good drop on the middle point between the two arms, too. It has rocks on it and offers bass a good holding area. Fish between the docks with crankbait and jerkbait, and pitch a jig to all the docks. Also drag a jig on drops and in the middle of the ditches.

No. 4: N 34º 33.945 – W 82º 43.416 — Go to the upstream point of hole 3. Start fishing the rocks on the point, and then work up the bank. This bank is the kind of sharply sloping bank that drops quickly into deep water that Clifton likes. It has blowdowns all along it, with docks and rocks to fish, too.

Fish quickly between the docks and other cover with your crankbait and bladed jig. When you get to docks or blowdowns, pitch a jig into them. To fish them slowly and carefully to get lethargic bass to bite, Clifton ties on a 1/4-oz. green-pumpkin Shooter jig and puts a Zoom Chunk on it for a very slow fall.

Work the rocks and clay with a crankbait and bladed jig. Fish all the way up this bank to the next point. Clifton says you can tell how far the blowdowns reach out into the water by comparing the trunk size of the blowdown to the trunk of standing trees on the edge of the water and noting their height. He likes docks and blowdowns that have 20 feet of water under the ends of them.

No. 5: N 34º 33.997 – W 82º 42.429 — The next bridge up is on an even more narrow pinch point than others in the creek, so it creates more current. Fish the corners first, but work all the rocks and pilings with a jerkbait and other baits. An underspin is often the best bait when the fish are very inactive, since it offers an easy meal.

Cast your underspin upstream of the pilings, and count it down to the depth you are seeing baitfish holding. Slowly reel it along at that depth right beside the piling, coming with any current. Also let it sink down to the rocks and crawl it along, bumping the rocks but keeping it moving to lessen hang-ups.

Clifton likes a 1/4- to 1/2-oz. Dimiki underspin, using the lighter one on the rocks and shallow water and the heavier one on deeper places. Put a fluke on it for a faster fall, or use a boot tail swimbait for a slower fall.

No. 6: N 34º 34.137 – W 82º 41.245 — The next bridge offers something different to fish. Try the rip-rap and pilings, but go to the right bank upstream of it. There is an old road that runs along this bank then out parallel to the rip-rap and bridge at a point with big rock on it. Start fishing at the big blowdown where the road meets the water, and work it toward deep water.

You can see how waves have eaten out the dirt along the outside edge of the pavement. Pitch your jig right to the edge of this drop for fish holding very shallow. As the roadbed runs out into deeper water, run your crankbait across it. Clifton caught a good keeper spot out on the end of the point here.

Also drag your jig across the old pavement underwater, working out toward the channel. Keep your bait in contact with the rough pavement. Try an underspin slowly crawled along it, too. Clifton says he has looked for an old bridge out on the creek but has not found it.

No. 7: N 34º 36.081 – W 82º 55.246 — We made the long run to the bank of Coneross Creek to try similar patterns there. Clifton likes backs of creeks like these this time of year. Coneross splits off the Seneca River upstream of the I-85 bridge to the left going up the river.

Run up past the bridge in Coneross, and go past the first small creek on your right. The next pocket has a rocky downstream point and a clay upstream point. There is a dock with green floats just inside the downstream point. An old pond dam runs across this cove and holds bass waiting on bait to move into it. Idle over the mouth of the cove between the two points and watch your electronics. The old dam came up from about 15 feet of water (with the lake 5 feet low) and topped out at 12 feet deep. Watch for baitfish and bass holding on the rise and on top on the dam.

Here’s how location No. 7 looks on the electronics.

Stop outside the cove, and cast across the dam with a crankbait like a Dredger that will bump bottom. Also drag your jig up one side, across the top and down the other side. Try this from both directions. Then fish the upstream point—there are big rocks on it that were just under the water when we were there. Fish them from shallow to deep.

As you fish, watch your depthfinder for fish holding near the bottom off the sides of the dam. When you see them, drop a spoon. Clifton uses a Hopkins 1/4- to 1/2-oz. white spoon and fishes it on a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy Kissel Kraft Custom Rod

No. 8: N 34º 36.117 – W 82º 56.308 — Go upstream around the “U” bend, and look to your left. A bluff bank, the kind Clifton likes, runs from a small pocket downstream up to a bigger creek on the upstream end. There is a big green-topped dock just inside the upstream point.

Clifton likes to start on the downstream end and fish upstream, casting ahead of the boat at an angle to keep his baits moving in a natural action with any current. Cast your crankbait and bladed jig between blowdowns  and then fish the blowdowns and rocks with your jig. Clifton fishes a custom-made 1/4-oz. white or black-and-blue bait with a trailer in matching colors, and he dips the tails of his trailers in chartreuse JJ’s Magic. Fish this bank all the way up to the dock, working all the cover along the bank. Fish your jig very slowly in blowdowns, bumping every limb and the trunk from where it enters the water all the way out to the deep end.

No. 9: N 34º 36.044 – W 82º 51.890 — Back out on the point between the Seneca River and Coneross Creek, Oconee Creek Park is on a flat point that runs way out and then drops off. Here and on similar flats near deep water, bass will feed on the flat. Clifton said he watches his electronics for schools of baitfish and notes their depth. If they are up shallow, flats like this can be excellent. Make long casts across the flat with your bladed jig, underspin and jig. Keep all three right on the bottom. Fish out to the first breakline—bass will hold on it if they are not feeding on the flat. Run your baits from the flat over and down the breakline to look like baitfish moving to deeper water.

No. 10: N 34º 36.181 – W 82º 52.070 — The next point upstream in the river has a line of boulders. Work from shallow to deep, following the line of rocks, bumping them with a crankbait and jig.

When you hit a boulder with a jig, slowly move it up and over, letting it fall on the outside.

Try Clifton’s holes to see the structure and cover he likes to fish this month. There are similar ones in most of the creeks on the lake.

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