You Can’t Turn Your Back On Hartwell Linesides

With the graph lit up with linesides, if you turned your back your line was likely to get hit.

Brad Bailey | April 25, 2006

Greg Beck (Left) and the author with a string of Hartwell hybrids and a big striper.

Lineside fishing guide Greg Beck snatched the rod from the rod holder and reared back to set the hook, but the fish was already gone. Before he could replace the rod, another planer board shuddered on the surface, then surged backwards, signaling a hit on the trailing blueback herring. Greg hurriedly set down the first rod and hustled to the opposite side of his center-console boat, pulled the rod from the rod holder and set the hook. This time the hook hit home and momentarily a flash of silver-sided hybrid was thrashing on the surface — our first fish of the morning.

As Greg unhooked the fish, his eyes were on the one line still in the water, expecting a hit any minute.

When the water temperature rises in the spring and the hybrid bass and striped bass in Lake Hartwell begin to make their false spawning run, live-bait fishing can be a lot like work.

Long before sunrise on March 7, Greg Beck, GON-TV cameraman Brad Gill and myself were halfway back in Big Beaverdam Creek for a preview of the spring lineside fishing — and a little fishing “work.”

As the predawn mist rose from the water, Greg set the trolling motor on his 23-foot Carolina Skiff on low and began putting out blueback herring. The master plan was to put out two lines on planers on each side of the boat and two free-lined baits without planers straight out the back of the boat. It would take more than an hour to accomplish this — the fish kept interfering with the preparations. As soon as two or three lines were in the water, one of them would get hit.

“This is the way fishing ought to be,” said Greg, as he hooked up another bait in another attempt to get at least the four planers out before that next hit.

Greg has been fishing Lake Hart-well for about 25 years and he’s been a guide on the lake for six or seven years. He also runs a bait shop on Hwy 17 in Bowman. Greg catches his own bluebacks for bait and provides them to other live-bait dealers as well.

Lineside fishing on Hartwell has been improving steadily this year after dead-as-a-stump fishing in January. As the water temperature climbed through the upper 50s and into the low 60s, the bait began to move into the creeks. The hybrids and stripers have been shadowing the feed and the catch-rate has improved.

For most of April, Greg will use the same technique to catch fish — free-lined live herring. He hooks the 3- to 5-inch baits through the clear spot above the nostril with a 2/0, style 42 Eagle Claw hook. He then plays out 40 or so feet of line and attaches a planer to the line. The planer pulls the line diagonally away from the boat so the baits remain separated to avoid tangling and cover a much- wider swath of water. Other than the hook, there is no weight on the line.

Fresh baits are critical, says Greg. He reeled in a bait that had been hit short and showed us the scraped scales and red spots on the herring. “You don’t want any bait out with red spots or scraped marks on them,” he said. “Fresh bait is the ticket.”

Greg had located a concentration of linesides in Big Beaverdam Creek the day before we fished. As you leave the main lake, the creek dog-legs to the right and in this sharp bend is where we began fishing. Greg’s graph was often blotched with both clouds of bait and bigger arches indicating linesides.

Finding bait is the most important key to finding linesides, said Greg. “Stripers and hybrids don’t relate to structure, they relate to the schools of shad.”

Good electronics will help locate bait. Many of the mid-lake creeks are worth a look — Big Beaverdam, Paynes Creek, Reed Creek and Big Shoal Creek. Watch for gulls that may lead you to bait and when your graph lights up with bait, you are ready to fish.

Greg Beck with a 14-lb. Hartwell striped bass that first swirled up on a freelined blueback herring then returned to take the bait and run.

On bright sunny days, you need to arrive on the lake early.

“On a bluebird day, by the time most people are getting out of bed, the best fishing is already over,” said Greg.

Sunshine drives the fish into the depths where they suspend and don’t feed much, according to Greg. On bright days, the best bite is from first light until 9:00 or 9:30 and then again in the afternoon from 4:30 or so until dark. On overcast days, the fish may stay up and feed all day. Rainy days can be excellent fishing days for linesides.

Our second fish of the day weighed about three pounds and it announced its presence when one of the planers ripped sideways across the water. Hybrids fight well, with strong, surging runs, but the 15-lb. test prevailed and the fish was soon scooped into the net.

As luck would have it, while we were filming the fish another bait was hit, but we missed the fish. It seemed like every time you turned your back, the line behind you was hit.

On a typical March morning, Greg was averaging 15 or so fish in the boat, mostly hybrids in the 2- to 8-lb. range with a striper or two mixed in. His best striper of the year, to date, was a 29-pounder.

Our biggest fish came at about 9:00 a.m. One of the planers was sailing serenely along 40 or 50 feet from the boat when it was viciously jerked backwards with the hit. I was closest, so I grabbed the rod. The planer settled, then lurched again as the fish took off with the bait and I set the hook. Instantly, there was little doubt that this was a good-sized striper. Hybrids are hard-fighters, but they don’t match the power of a striped bass. The medium-heavy rod arched over and line peeled off the reel as the planer, following the fish below, sped across the surface behind the boat. For a minute or so, all I was doing was holding on as the fish surged and bulldogged, but finally I regained some line when the fish came up to whip a froth on the surface.

“You think it’ll go 10 pounds?” I asked.

“Easy,” said Greg, who was readying the net.

The fish, which Greg estimated at 14 or 15 pounds, was soon flopping in the net.

While hybrids will take up most of the space in your ice chest, the stripers aren’t unusual. “If there is bait in the area, there will be hybrids and stripers around, too,” said Greg.

With the sun well over the trees, the bite slowed down considerably as Greg had predicted — but the fishing wasn’t quite over yet.

While Greg pulls free-lined herring, he also has a small bucktail jig ready on spinning gear. If he sees fish swirling on the surface near the boat, he will try to hit the spot with the bucktail.

“If you can hit the spot, let the bucktail drop four or five feet before you start to retrieve and they will usually hit it,” he said.

Greg uses a 3/8-oz. white bucktail and he does not dress it with a grub because he wants to maintain the small profile.

“Stripers and hybrids can be picky about the size bait they are taking. If they don’t want the herring, sometimes they will hit the smaller bucktail.”

If the live-bait action slows, Greg will often cast a bucktail to the bank as he slowly eases the herring along. I was doing just that at about 9:15 and had cast into two or three feet of water and was hopping the bucktail back when a fish thumped it and ran. On light spinning gear and 8-lb. test, I had a ball landing the 3-lb. hybrid. Then, on my next cast to the same spot, another smaller hybrid hit the bucktail.

The quality of the fishing at Hartwell should hold up throughout April, but the area of the lake fished and the fishing technique changes. In early April, Greg recommends the mid-lake area up both the Tugaloo and Seneca River arms and he continues to follow the linesides on their false spawning run. By late April, on the Tugaloo side, the best areas will be above Eastanolee Creek.

Greg’s lineside fishing will change as the fish move farther up the rivers. Free-lined baits will still attract hits, but Greg does much better by anchoring out and fishing cut bait on the bottom.

Greg fishes main-lake points or red-clay banks near deep water, particularly where there are S-bends in the river channel that approach the right kind of bank. Sand banks will produce, too, but the bottom needs to be hard. Greg stays away from muddy, silted banks because the mud fouls the baits.

Greg anchors his boat a medium-cast length from the bank and fan-casts cut bait to various depths around the boat. He uses bluebacks for cut bait, cutting the fish into three parts — the head plus about an inch of the body, the midsection, and the tail. The tail he throws away, the other two sections are used as bait.

Greg uses a Carolina-rig for fishing cut-bait with a 1-oz. or 1 1/2-oz. barrel sinker above a swivel and a 3- or 4-foot leader. When he casts out a bait, he sets the reel clicker on and he leaves slack in the line so that wave action doesn’t move the bait. Greg may put as many as 10 rods into the rod holders and catching a limit from one spot isn’t uncommon.

We caught our last fish about 9:30 before stopping to take pictures. Between daylight and 9:30 we caught 15 hybrids from two to seven or eight pounds, plus the big striper. We also missed at least as many hits. In recent trips, Greg has been averaging between 15 and 20 fish per day.
The fishing success has been holding up at Lake Hartwell in the days since our trip with Greg. On Monday, March 20, during four hours of fishing, he boated 18 linesides including hybrids up to nine pounds and three or four stripers. His biggest striper weighed 17 pounds.

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