The Nuts & Bolts Of Hartwell Summer Linesides

Capt. Cefus McRae has several options for linesides that go deep when it gets hot.

John Trussell | May 30, 2023

Billie Trussell and Capt. Cefus McRae with her 12-lb. striper, her biggest fish ever!  She caught it on live blueback herring.

Stripers and hybrids can seem like aquatic nomads in a vast ocean of water, says Capt. Cefus McRae, an expert fishing guide who operates on Lakes Hartwell, Lanier and Clark Hill. Cefus is  also the producer and on-screen personality for the “Nuts & Bolts Of Fishing” TV show that airs on FOX Sports South and CarbonTV.

“We know there are thousands of stripers out there, but they can be difficult to locate,” said Cefus.

Cefus knows that these nomads don’t normally restrict themselves to specific areas of Lake Hartwell but roam freely over the lake’s 56,000 acres,  which is almost 88 square miles, following the threadfin shad and blueback herring wherever they may go.

Cefus says that in the spring the stripers and hybrids make spawning runs up the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers and the many other minor tributaries, but by late May and June, they start concentrating in the main-lake areas where the water is cooler and the dissolved oxygen levels in the water are high enough to sustain them during the long and hot summer months.

Recently, my wife Billie and I hooked up with Cefus on a guided fishing trip in Hartwell in his very nice and comfortable 27-foot ShearWater boat. He said the hybrids and stripers had been scattered, but by using his Simrad  evo3 Chartplotter with Active Imaging sonar and SiriusXM Fish Mapping, we hoped to pinpoint some fish. We started in the main lake, checking out prominent submerged points and ridges and saw some loose groups of fish but nothing excited us enough to drop our lines in the water. However, while we were slowly cruising around looking for fish, Cefus saw a nice cluster of stripers on the graph that were suspended around a large bait ball of shad down about 25 feet.

“Time to get the rods out and bait up,” Cefus said. “We can see the fish, but the question is can we make them bite?”

Then he started to pull the rods and reels out of the holders. He likes custom rods built by Wes Motsinger of Mots Custom Rods in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As for reels, Cefus really likes Abu Garcia Ambassadeur reels.

“They are probably one of the best and most economical reels ever made.  Smooth drag and a clicker system that lets me, as a guide, know when the angler is gaining line or the fish is pulling drag. The audible clicking noise is an indicator of how the fight is going and whether I need to add or let off the drag. Ambassadeur reels definitely help to put more fish in the boat.”

He baited the 1/0 circle hooks with blueback herring that were about 4 inches long. He likes to use 17-lb. test Sufix line down to a barrel swivel with a 1/2-oz. barrel weight, then a short, 2- to 3-foot, 10-lb.  fluorocarbon leader on the business end. He says the fluorocarbon line seems to disappear in the water and increases hook-ups. Also, if the striper dives down into the submerged timber, and he can’t keep it out of the timber, the lighter line will break off without taking his whole rig.

The baits tugged nervously on the rod tips after we dropped them down to the proper depth, but we didn’t get any takers. That’s when Cefus pulled out his pool cue, not to play pool, but to call in the fish. The pool cue was shortened down to about 3 feet, and he began to tap it on the bottom of the boat. This is a familiar technique he learned from fellow guide Rick Owen. The theory is that fish learn that the sound of humans beating on a food pan in the hatchery can mean the food will soon appear in the water, thus it is feeding time.

Fish are pea brained, but they can be trained, and I have seen it in action several times. I had a friend who owned a small pond, and he liked to hand feed his large bream once per day. He would approach the shoreline, beat on the feed bucket a couple of times and the surface of the water would start to boil as bream rolled on the surface in search of the food pellets. All this would occur before the first pellet hit the surface.

Capt. Cefus McRae will sometimes pilot his 27-foot ShearWater boat from the top deck to look for feeding seagulls or surface breaking fish.

On this day, Cefus started to softly tap the pool cue on the bottom of the boat, and soon thereafter, we got a few hits on our baits. They were small stripers and hybrids in the 1- to 3-lb. range, but we were catching fish and having fun. We did have a couple of bigger fish that dove into the timber, and we couldn’t tug them out before we got tangled in the limbs. Sometimes the tapping on the bottom of the boat works, but sometimes it doesn’t, so try it and see what happens.

We then decided to move to one of Cefus’s secret spots that usually produces a few good stripers. It was a small cove with several boat docks around it that had a steep drop-off into deeper water. It didn’t look like anything special on the graph, but the fish liked it, and that’s all that mattered. We did spot a couple of big blips on the graph that could be large fish, so we dropped down the baits and waited. But we didn’t have to wait long before a strong bow started to develop in one of the poles as a big fish was trying to destroy the outfit.

Billie grabbed the rod from the rodholder and held on for dear life as the fish ripped line from the reel. Fishing like a pro, she held the rod tip high and fought to get line back on the reel. She had to walk around the outside of the boat a couple of times as the large fish seemed to be in control of the situation, but Cefus gave her good tips to control the fish. Soon his runs were shorter, and Billie worked the fish into Cefus’s net for some sweet success.

As Cefus held up the shiny, glistening striper into the bright sunlight, it was a beautiful sight to behold. A quick trip to the fish scale showed the striper weighed about 12 pounds. We took several quick photos of the biggest fish of Billie’s lifetime before we eased it back into the blue waters of Lake Hartwell to live and fight another day. This was a day that Billie will long remember!

Cefus says to put stripers and hybrids in the boat in the summertime, downline live herring on points and humps adjacent to the river channel. You can also troll herring using lead-core line above the timber line. Due to low oxygen levels at deeper depths, the fish will often congregate in the 20- to 30-foot range, especially at the lower end of the lake.

Cefus says to always be alert of fish breaking on the surface as they chase herring. This is an exciting way to catch fish, especially for kids. The topwater action may last a few minutes, but a shad-colored surface lure will often draw a strike or two before the fish depart for deeper water.

Cefus also recommends trolling for stripers and hybrids on the main lake, either using planer boards or umbrella rigs with white bucktail jigs. He says to carefully watch your electronics to try to locate submerged fish and troll over the top of them, moving very slowly, either drifting with the wind or using a trolling motor set on a slow speed. Don’t be surprised to haul in a largemouth bass, walleye or catfish while trolling.

According to WRD Fisheries Region 2 Supervisor Anthony Rabern, Georgia and South Carolina both contribute to maintaining the striped and hybrid bass fisheries for Lake Hartwell through annual stocking efforts. Anthony said the striper stocking rate had been decreased from 8 per acre to 4 per acre to give the fish a better opportunity to survive. That works out to about 224,000 striper fry being recently added to Hartwell, but that’s an approximate number, says Rabern, as the fry are weighed and not actually counted. In a great cooperative effort, half of these stocking fry are added by South Carolina.

Electronics are important to finding fish. Here, Capt. Cefus McRae looks for large bait balls with stripers staged around them for the attack.

He says striped bass have not yet bounced back from their 2018 losses, and fish are still pressed during the summer heat by water temperatures and a shrinking dissolved oxygen availability, but they are on the road to recovery. Despite these concerns, the stripers are still able to find areas with survivable conditions, and some large individuals heavier than 20 pounds are in the lake.

Hybrid bass are not as sensitive to lake conditions as stripers and have a brighter outlook. Sampling continues to collect individuals in the 3- to 4-lb. range, with sizes reaching 20 inches or greater. Hybrids were recently stocked at 8 per acre.

The combined legal limit for harvesting striped and hybrid bass is 10 fish per day, and only three fish of either species can be longer than 26 inches. You can use your Georgia or South Carolina fishing license to access the whole lake.

To access a good list of fish attractors, go to

To reach fishing guide Cefus McRae, call 404.402.8329 or book a trip through

Give Lake Hartwell lineside fishing a try this summer!

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