Top To Bottom Hartwell Bass In June
Randy Childers says topwater early and dragging a worm late are great ways to catch plenty of Hartwell bass.
I heard the drag on Randy Childers’ reel make that distinctive sound that tells anglers they have just hung into something solid. When I turned and looked, Randy’s rod was doubled over, and his line was still.
“Stump?” I asked.
“Good fish,” Randy replied, not really talking to me as much as affirming the obvious to himself.
Just then, Randy’s line cut through the water alarmingly fast as a bass took his worm, hook and all, underneath a boat dock. Randy started reeling and gained some line as the fish darted back toward the boat and then headed back to the safety of the dock again.
“This is a big fish,” Randy said as the sound of a big bass thrashing on top of the water resonated from under the dock.
The bass decided to make another run toward deep water, shooting from beneath the dock and thrusting its big powerful tail, swimming toward the middle of the pocket. There she was, 4-feet deep, yet clear as day, the kind of bass that week- end anglers dream about, and tournament fishermen know can mean the difference between winning and not even cutting a check.
“Big fish!” Randy and I hollered in unison as we laid eyes on the old girl, who was now starting to tire.
She tried, unsuccessfully, to run one final time, but Randy’s hookset wasn’t coming loose, and in a second, he had the big bass by the lip, lifting her over the side of his Ranger boat.
“What do you think, five or six pounds?” I asked.
“She’ll probably make six,” Randy said as we inspected the largemouth bass.
We had been on Lake Hartwell all of about 20 minutes when the big fish struck, and Randy had just told me the lake’s potential to give up good numbers and plenty of size to bass fishermen.
Randy, who lives in Anderson, S.C., knows Hartwell’s potential as well as anybody. The 41-year-old angler has been bass fishing on the Savannah River impoundment since he was 18 years old. In fact, Randy and a partner won a March 18 tournament on the B.A.I.T. trail with a whopping 27- lb. sack of fish. Also, since he is a rep for Sportfishing Ventures Unlimited, a company that carries Kistler rods, Solar Bat sunglasses, Roboworms, and other fishing-related products, his schedule is flexible enough to allow for plenty of time on the water.
“We caught lots of fish, and lots of big fish,” Randy said. “We culled a 4 1/2-lb. pounder with a bass over six pounds.”
Randy will fish about 40 events this year. He fishes nine tournament trails, including the Granite Division of the Bassmasters Weekend Series, and the BFL Savannah River Division. Randy qualified for the BFL All-American, which will be held next month, a challenge he looks forward to.
Randy is near the top of the standings in every trail he fishes. In fact, Randy was at the top of GON’s Power Rankings on the day we fished. Simply put, the guy can flat out fish. And even better, he has a great time doing it.
Randy says June can be a great month on Lake Hartwell because blueback herring will be schooling around shoals and deep humps. This month, he’ll have a two-part plan for catching bass on the lake that will take anglers from topwater to bottom fishing all in the same day. Randy says June is the time of year on Hartwell when a fisherman can catch plenty of topwater bass early, and then slow things down with a Carolina rig later in the day.
“This month, the topwater bite can be outstanding for the first little while in the morning, and later, I’ll fish Carolina rigs around deep humps and points with brush on them,” Randy said.
For Randy’s style of fishing, bass anglers must get out of the old, familiar habit of bank beating. They need to turn on their electronics, and look for productive locations offshore.
To start the day, look for rip-rap banks, and throw a buzzbait. Randy says the buzzbait is great on Hartwell once water temperatures get up around 70 degrees. Randy, however, is going to do his topwater fishing over deep water with two Hartwell favorites: a Zara Spook and a Zoom Fluke.
“The topwater bite on this lake in the fall can last all day long,” Randy said. “This time of year, it might just be for a little while in the morning, but when it’s on, the fishing is great.”
Randy said anglers should use Spooks and Flukes in colors that mimic blueback herring, the favorite forage of Hartwell bass.
Randy often throws a clear Zara Super Spook, but he also favors one with a chrome, or chrome/blue finish. He says if there is a good chop on the water’s surface, the topwater bite can last later in to the day, and the sunshine seems to enhance it.
“On most lakes, you want a cloudy day for good topwater fishing, but it seems like it’s better here when the sun is out,” Randy said. “If there is a good chop on the water, topwater lures are worth a try even after the sun gets on the water.”
Randy fishes for a topwater bite around Hartwell’s numerous shoals, which are easily identifiable by the warning markers on top of them. He also searches out deeper humps with brushpiles on top of them for throwing a Spook. Randy says the signature, walk-the-dog action of the lure will often call aggressive bass up from deeper haunts to eat.
For his Flukes, Randy ties a barrel swivel at the end of his line, ties on about a 1 1/2-foot leader, and threads a Zoom Super Fluke on a worm hook. Randy actually runs the point of the hook into the head of the bait, pokes it out the back, turns the hook over, and buries the point back through the back of the bait so that the point sticks out inside the little pocket on the bottom. He usually throws an albino pearl-colored bait, working over the same structure where he tries a Spook at the beginning of the day.
“Sometimes if they don’t want to hit the Spook, they’ll kill a Fluke,” Randy said.
Randy works the Fluke slower than the Spook, twitching the bait along with his rod tip a few times, let- ting it sink, and twitching it again. Randy had a bite early on the Fluke, but the fish struck short, not quite biting good enough. Later in the day, I pulled a Fluke right out of the mouth of a nice fish that bit over the top of a shoal.
Once the sun gets on the water, Randy will switch to a tactic that lacks for exciting visuals, but is one of the best bass-catching methods there is, the trusty old Carolina-rigged worm.
“This is where the Carolina rig was made famous,” said Randy. “The good part is, anybody can fish this way.”
Randy fishes the worm over and around humps in water from a few feet deep to very deep. His favorite spots are where humps top out in about 20 feet of water, but Randy will go deeper than that if he has to.
“I fish a lot deeper than most people on this lake,” Randy said. “Some of the humps I’m fishing top out at 40 or 50 feet below the surface.”
Randy will sweeten his favorite spots with brush — mostly bamboo and pines — to attract and hold fish when they move offshore in the heat of the summer.
“I’ve probably got over 200 spots like that that I will fish on this lake,” Randy told me as we fished.
Randy likes to fish his Carolina rigs way down in the water column, so he uses enough weight to get the worm down where the fish are hanging out.
“I typically like to use the lightest weight I can, but you need enough to get the worm down there,” Randy said.
Depending on wind and water current, Randy will use a 3/8- to 1/2-oz. sinker and bead tied above a barrel swivel. To the other end of the barrel swivel, he connects a leader, the length of which hinges on where Randy is planning to fish.
If Randy is fishing open water, he’ll go with a three-foot leader. If the spot he’s fishing has lots of brush, the leader will be two feet or shorter.
“The key is, you want the worm to be able to float up while the weight is on the bottom of the lake,” Randy said. For hooks, Randy says the size depends on the size soft-plastic bait he is using. For smaller worms, like the finesse worm, Randy might use a 2/0 or 3/0 hook. For larger presentations, like the Zoom Ol Monster, a 10-inch worm, Randy will go with an extra wide gap hook as large as 5/0.
Randy says to try two different retrieves with the Carolina rig depend- ing on how the fish respond to the first. “The most popular is holding the rod tip up, pumping it toward you and reeling out the slack,” Randy said. “You can also hold the rod parallel to the water and sweep the worm along a little quicker.”
Randy’s Carolina-rig strategy depends on what the weather has wrought. In early June, he might fish with a Trick Worm or a Zoom Ol Monster. As the weather gets hotter and the water temperatures continue creeping up into the upper 70s and even the 80s, Randy will downsize. During these times Randy will throw a Zoom Finesse Worm, a Roboworm or even a mini lizard.
“They especially love the mini lizard,” Randy said.
When Randy starts fishing the rig, he’ll locate the top of a hump, back off, and make casts to the top of the hump, dragging the worm off the side into deep water. He’ll also throw down the sides, and occasionally, he’ll position the boat on top of the hump, make casts off of it, and drag the worm from deep water toward the top of the hump.
“Some days, dragging the worm uphill is the best way,” Randy said. “Sometimes they want it pulled down- hill.”
If you have never been to Hartwell, now is as good a time as any to start learning about the lake. Randy said the best approach for finding the kind of structure he likes fishing in June is to spend time using your depthfinder to search out different locations.
“You have to start by doing a lot of graphing to find humps and ridges with brush on them because they are the best places to for this pattern,” Randy said.
Whether or not you locate the sweet spot on your trip, you’ll still be able to find plenty of fish using Randy’s methods. And not just dinks, but big bass as well.
“Look for the humps,” Randy said. “There’s hundreds of them on Hartwell.”
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