Topwater Tricks For Hartwell Bass
Buster Green details how to find and catch June bass on Lake Hartwell.
Brad Bailey | June 1, 2005
The name Buster Green is synonymous with fishing at Lake Hartwell. Buster has been catching fish from the lake for a long time; 24 years as a full-time fishing guide.
“They call me grandpa up here,” said the 55-year-old angler.
He has caught some big fish at Hartwell. For a spell he held the lake-record for striped bass with a 53.2-lb. monster (the lake record is currently 59-lbs., 8-ozs.) For nearly 20 years Buster has held the lake record for hybrid bass with a 20-lb. fish he caught in August 1985. His biggest largemouth from the lake weighed 11-lbs., 15-ozs. One of his best days of largemouth fishing resulted in seven bass that weighed just over 40 pounds.
These days Buster guides clients live-bait fishing for stripers and hybrids, fishing for bass on artificials, and during the winter he catches crappie any way he can.
In June, bass fishing at Hartwell means topwater time. The lake is famous for its Spooks & Flukes pattern during the summer. That pattern was just getting cranked up when I fished with Buster in mid May on a bright, sunny day.
“Topwater has always been better on bright, sunny days,” said Buster. “I think they can see the bait better.”
Like most topwater anglers on Hartwell, the three baits Buster will have tied on in June are a Spook, a Fluke, and a Sammy. But unlike most other topwater anglers at Hartwell, Buster goes to the trouble to modify his baits to make them a little different, and a little more effective at catching bass.
“If you throw something right out of the box that everyone else is throwing, the bass aren’t seeing anything different,” said Buster. “They are just seeing the same thing. And the little things can make a big difference.”
Of the three baits, Buster says he fishes the Sammy the most.
“The Sammy is less buoyant,” he said. “It comes through the water tail down, so the hooks are down and you don’t miss as many fish. And it is heavier, so it casts well, and fish can’t knock it out of the water.”
Straight out of the box, however, isn’t good enough. Buster dresses up his Sammys with a deer-hair skirt to give them a little more bass-appealing action.
“I take about 20 two-inch-long white deer hairs and tie them to the back hook with red nylon thread,” said Buster. “You don’t want too many, just enough to give it some flash. It is just an attractor.”
The white deer hair extends beyond the hook and with any motion of the lure the hairs flare and wave.
“If there is any kind of ripple, the hairs will move,” said Buster. “I have had fish hit the lure when it was just sitting still.”
A Spook is the other primary topwater plug at Hartwell, and when Buster is fishing a Spook on a sunny day, it is likely to be clear or chrome-colored. He especially likes the flash of the chrome plug. But he has also tinkered with the Spook to make it more effective.
“The problem with a Spook is that it floats flat on the water,” said Buster. “The fish have a tendency to knock it out of the water and never hook up. Several times I have had fish hit a Spook eight or 10 times on the way back to the boat, but never get hooked up.”
To remedy that shortcoming, Buster unscrews the front screw in the metal harness that holds the front treble hook in place. He then turns the harness 180 degrees, drills a tiny screw hole and replaces the screw. What this does is move the hook, and the weight, toward the rear of the plug. The result is that the tail of the lure rides lower in the water.
Too, because the angle of the bait in the water has been changed, the plug makes more noise when it rips left-right-left when you use the walk-the-dog retrieve.
It takes nerves of steel to catch fish on either a Spook or Sammy when the water is exploding all around your bait from striking fish.
“The proper way to do it is to keep the bait moving and wait until you feel the fish on the line before you set the hook,” said Buster. “If you pull when you see the splash, you will usually pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth. But I have this bad habit of wanting to set the hook when the lure disappears.”
Buster also fishes Flukes as a topwater bait, and he fishes the soft jerkbait differently, too.
“I used to miss a lot of fish with just a worm hook in the Fluke,” said Buster. “So I started using a treble hook. You don’t miss too many fish with the treble hook.”
Buster carries a sewing needle that he uses to thread his fishing line through the head of the Fluke. He then ties the treble hook to the line. One of the treble hooks is then pushed out through the back of the Fluke. The exposed point faces forward, looking much like a tiny dorsal fin on the bait. The other two hooks flare out left and right from the bottom of the Fluke.
“The treble hook (a 2/0 hook) gives the Fluke a little more weight so it will cast a little better,” said Buster. “The weight also helps keep the bait down. And when you let it sink, it just glides down.”
If Buster uses a swivel ahead of a Fluke, he uses a bright silver swivel.
“Most guys just use any swivel to keep the line from twisting,” said Buster. “I use a bright silver one. It’s amazing how much that swivel will flash, and it makes it looks like the Fluke is chasing something.”
Occasionally Buster will use a tandem rig and fish two Flukes at once, but he does that a bit differently, too. Many anglers use a three-way swivel and tie two leaders of different lengths to either side of the swivel.
Buster’s tandem rig works like this: First he takes a regular two-way swivel and slides it up his line. He then ties a second two-way swivel to the end of the line and adds an 18- to 24-inch leader, hook and Fluke to that line.
He then ties a 12-inch leader to the open end of the swivel that is sliding free on the main line and ties on another hook.
When he retrieves the tandem rig, the two Flukes seem to chase each other darting in every direction. The swivel on the main fishing line can spin and this helps keep the lines from tangling quite so much. And when two fish hook up they can be widely separated because the sliding swivel. According to Buster, the separation of the fighting fish makes it more likely that you will get both fish in the boat.
Buster fishes albino-colored Flukes 90 percent of the time because the blue hue in the white plastic imitates the color of the blueback herring in Hartwell. White ice, however, is another good color to try.
One last tip about Flukes: they work better on fluorocarbon line than monofilament.
“The fluorocarbon sinks, and lets the Fluke sink, too,” says Buster.
The Spooks & Flukes pattern is a run-and-gun pattern.
“When you pull up on a point and you and your partner make five casts apiece and you haven’t been hit, it’s time to go to the next point,” said Buster. “If the bass are there and ready to bite, they will usually bite right away.”
According to Buster, the run-and-gun topwater pattern was made famous by another Hartwell fishing guide, Mark Waller.
“Several years ago, you couldn’t beat Mark in a bass tournament,” said Buster. “He was hitting 100 places during a tournament with Spooks and Flukes. It was unbelievable the amount of running he was doing, but he was making it work.”
When you pull up on the right point, the action can be frantic. Buster and I pulled up on a long point in the mouth of Lightwood Log Creek and Buster began to cast a clear Spook Jr.
On his first cast a short bass blasted the plug. On his second cast a keeper bass hit, and on his third cast another bass blew up on the bait but missed. It is an exciting way to catch fish.
When you are playing a fish in, it is common for several other bass in the school to storm in chasing the fish that has been hooked. For that reason it’s a good idea to have your partner throw his bait in near the fighting fish. Doubling on bass this way is common.
No matter which lure he is using, Buster will vary the retrieve from fast to slow to erratic. Often he will stop a lure, pause for a couple of seconds, and then quickly make the plug dart off like a frightened, escaping baitfish.
According to Buster, you will often catch several bass from a point before the school stops biting.
“When you pull up on the right point, you can catch seven or eight bass, including several good ones,” he said.
When the fish stop biting, leave, says Buster.
“But if you come back in a half hour or 45 minutes and cast to the exact same spot, you should be able to catch more fish from the school,” he said.
Buster likes the middle of the day best for topwater fishing at Hartwell.
“By 11 a.m. the hybrids are off the points, and I think that makes the largemouths more comfortable,” said Buster. “And when the sun is straight up, the fish get more aggressive and seem to go into the attack mode.”
Another key ingredient to a good day of topwater fishing is a chop on the water. A mere ripple isn’t usually enough, says Buster. Rock and roll is closer to what he likes to see.
“I like to see a pretty good chop,” he said. “If it is windy, you just get out in it as long as you can control the boat. The waves break up the sunlight and give the lures more flash and more action.”
The topwater pattern is under way today at Hartwell and will last all summer. Head for any main-lake point, hump, or reef marker south of the Seneca/Tugaloo river split, and you are ready to try Buster’s topwater tricks.
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