April Bank Bite For Hartwell Linesides
Guide Steve Crenshaw will have his boat on the bank, and he will be hauling in quick limits of hybrids and stripers.
I cast a Lil’ Fishy out onto the end of a narrow, rocky point in Coneross Creek on Lake Hartwell and began a slow retrieve. The white, soft-plastic bait had moved maybe 10 feet when something bumped it.
“I just had a hit,” I said to Hartwell fishing guide Steve Crenshaw and his friend Preston Harden, who were also casting to the point.
Something thumped the bait again, but there was no hookup, and I kept reeling slowly.
“There’s another hit.”
The third time the fish hit the quarter-ounce shad imitation, it got it all and a striped bass surged away, pulling drag.
“Keep the line tight,” Preston advised.
No problem — with an 8- or 9-lb. striper running straight away from the boat. The fish powered off, heading away from the point, line slicing the blue surface of the lake, as the fish pulled toward deeper water. After several short
runs, the fish played out and Steve slipped a landing net under the sleek, silvery fish with long black stripes.
On March 13 I was on Lake Hartwell to try out the spring linesides fishing with Steve. That striped bass was our fourth fish of the day in the 8- to 10-lb. range — and some of the best fishing of the day still lay ahead.
April is prime time for hybrid and striper fishing at Hartwell. The fish move up on the banks early and late in the day, and quick limits on live bait are often the rule. After the sun gets up, freelined or downlined herring and Lil’ Fishys will catch fish, and the stripers and hybrids are schooling strong early and late in the day, too.
Steve, 37, lives in Williamson, S.C., and has been guiding fishermen on Lake Hartwell for 15 years. He and I had started the day “between the bridges” — between the I-85 and the Hwy 24 bridge on the Seneca River. Steve put out freelined herring while we cast Lil’ Fishys to breaking fish. But, as is often the case with schooling fish, they were usually just out of casting range.
We caught our first striper of the day off a point in the mouth of 18-Mile Creek on a freelined herring. After landing the fish, Steve noticed a flock of gulls working the surface in a cove directly across the lake, and we picked up to go investigate. Gulls are often your flying beacon to where stripers or hybrids are pushing bait to the surface, and that was the case this time. We pulled freelines and caught striper No. 2, another fish in the 8- to 10-lb. range.
Steve’s approach to catching fish will change in April when the fish move up on the banks, and he fishes live bluebacks from the back of his beached boat.
During the first part of April, the fish are up on the banks on their false spawning run. Later in April they are still on the banks taking advantage of the shad spawn. The numbers of fish can be spectacular, and most of the time in April, Steve says his clients are off the water with limits by 9 or 10 a.m. Most of the fish will be hybrids in the 3- to 6-lb. range, but stripers are mixed in, and usually there will be a striper caught that weighs in the teens.
“When they are on the banks, you will know it,” said Steve. “Sometimes before you can put the first rod in the rodholder a fish will hit. If I am fishing four rods, and I don’t have fish by the time I have the fourth rod out, I am ready to move. I might give them five minutes before I move, but if they are there, you’ll know in a hurry.”
When Steve looks for a place to beach his boat, he wants to see red-clay points or banks that taper gradually into deeper water. Generally, the river channel will be close by, and if the point or bank has a breeze blowing onto it, so much the better.
“The wind blows the plankton onto the bank, and the bait follows it, and the stripers and hybrids follow the bait,” said Steve.
The presence of bait is an important factor.
“As you ease up on the bank in the dark, if you hit your headlights and shad scatter everywhere, the hybrids are probably there,” he said.
Once his boat is beached, he fancasts live blueback herring out behind the boat. The bait is hooked through the nose on a 1/0 Eagle Claw plain-shank hook on a 24-inch leader connected to a 1 1/2-oz. egg sinker. He uses seven-foot Ugly Sticks paired with Ambassadeur 6500C reels.
Steve casts his baits to various depths behind the boat until the fish let him know the best depth.
“A lot of times you will catch them in three to five feet of water at first light. They will gradually move a little deeper as it gets lighter.”
Steve does not keep a tight line between the rod tip and the weight.
“I like a little slack in the line so the fish can take the bait and run before it feels any resistance,” he said.
This is an early morning bite. Steve plans to have his boat pulled up on the bank and lines in the water about 30 minutes before the first light in the sky.
If Steve doesn’t limit early while he is beached, he simply pulls off the bank and puts out freelines and downlines in the same area he has been catching fish. Most of his fish are caught on live bait, but if fish are breaking on top, he will have a Lil’ Fishy ready to cast.
Early in April the evening bite, with slightly warmer water, is better than mornings. Later in the month the fish will move up in good numbers in both the morning and the evening. The water temperature to look for is the 60- to 65-degree range, said Steve. On March 13, the main lake was 57 to 58 degrees, with water back in the pockets up to 63 degrees.
On the day I fished with Steve we were joined after lunch by Steve’s friend Preston Harden. We pulled away from Portman Marina and stopped at the first point on the left as you head up the Seneca River. There was a good ripple on the water, but fish were still swirling on top as we began to cast to the point. On his second cast, Steve hooked up with another striper in that 8- to 10-lb. range.
We gradually moved up the river, fishing the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek, where I caught a largemouth in the 4 1/2-lb. range and a small shoal bass. We hit several points as we made our way to Coneross Creek where I caught the striper mentioned at the beginning of the story. The fishing was a little slow, but Preston was undaunted. “It is not over yet,” he said. And he was going to be proved right.
At about 5:45 p.m. we were back in the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek when Steve’s friend Jake Crosson called by cell phone to report that hybrids were schooling between the bridges. We immediately picked up and moved down river. As we came under the I-85 bridge we could see gulls swarming the right-hand bank. We pulled in, dropped the trolling motor and moved toward fish schooling on top.
“When a fish swirls, you want to put that Lil’ Fishy about two feet beyond the swirl,” said Steve as he made a cast.
“I’ve got one,” he said as his rod doubled over. “This one’s a slab!”
“I’ve got one, too,” said Preston. I was taking photos, or maybe we would have tripled — fish were breaking everywhere. Steve’s hybrid weighed about six pounds; Preston’s weighed about four. Before the fish went down, we caught and released three hybrids, a striper and two largemouths — in about five minutes.
Schools of fish were swirling on top in three or four directions.
“It will drive you crazy chasing schooling fish,” said Steve. “They are either ahead of you, or behind you, and you are usually better to just stay put until they come back up.”
Twenty minutes later, we hemmed in a school in a cove on the north side of the river, with Jake’s boat on the right and ours on the left, and we began to hook up again. We caught two more hybrids, a striper and a largemouth in the 5- or 6-lb. range. We also missed or lost several other fish.
The fishing still wasn’t over. With the sun down, we could see fish busting on the opposite side of the river. We crossed the channel to find two acres or more of fish swirling on top. As we eased in with the trolling motor, fish were breaking in every direction. Steve and Preston doubled again, this time on stripers in the 2-lb. range. For 20 minutes the fish stayed on top. The small stripers and bigger hybrids often would bump the bait without hooking, but we caught more than a dozen before calling it quits.
For the day we caught 27 stripers and hybrids, four largemouths and a pair of shoal bass.
April is an excellent time to catch linesides on Hartwell. The fish are up on the banks early and late, and they will hit a freelined herring or Lil’ Fishy during the day.
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