Lake Hartwell is one of the three large reservoirs on the Savannah River operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The 56,000-acre reservoir hosted the recent 2008 Bass Masters Classic. The lake provides a wide variety of fish habitats, ranging from rocky bluffs on the upper Tugaloo River arm to shallow cove pockets and sandy flats in the middle and lower sections of the lake. Boat access is available at many locations around the shoreline at boat ramps operated by the Corps of Engineers and State Parks.
LARGEMOUTH BASS, SPOTTED BASS, HYBRID BASS, STRIPED BASS, & CRAPPIE. WALLEYE are available in March in the Tugalo River headwaters from the Walker Creek boat ramp upstream to Yonah Dam.
Largemouth bass are the most sought after sportfish in Lake Hartwell. The largemouth bass population remains stable and good numbers of quality fish are available to anglers despite the frequent occurrence of drought conditions over the past decade. Bass in the 12 to 14-inch size range weighing about one pound are very abundant. Of course, anglers can tip the odds in favor of larger fish through bait selection, presentation and location.
During the winter and early spring, largemouth bass are drawn to rip-rap areas around bridge abutments, especially when the wind is blowing baitfish onto these structures. Crankbaits in shad patterns as well as spinner baits and jerk baits are good lure choices for bass holding tight to these rocky structures. During the April spawning period, cast jerk baits, spinner baits, and plastic lizards into shallow water around woody debris and boat docks located in backwater coves and pockets. In early summer, bass key in on shad and herring on main lake humps and points. A favorite summer pattern is fishing early mornings and evenings on the lower half of the lake with noisy topwater lures near reef marker points. Fishing guides often comment how bass will race up from the depths and explode to the surface in order to strike topwater presentations.
Largemouth bass typically have a small home range, but within this small area, they will move up and down within the water column depending on the water temperature. In the winter, largemouth bass seek refuge in deeper water. Thick timber stands and creek channels are a favorite winter hiding place as well as rocky banks. From March through May, largemouth will move into warmer waters along shallow banks that contain rocks and fallen trees. Rip-rapped roadsides and bridge abutments are great places to find largemouth bass during this time. In the summer, bass retreat to cooler water in the 20 to 40-ft depth range. At times, largemouths will race to the surface to attack schools of small herring and shad. This activity provides outstanding topwater action, but it is sporadic, so always have a rod handy that is rigged for topwater action. Fall weather brings about a dramatic transition that may slow down the bite. Anglers should fish the main channel and secondary points with a variety of baits and presentations until the right combination for that day is found. Small crankbaits and spinner baits fished in creek channels and points are traditional favorites as well as Texas-rigged soft plastic worms fished on points and around fallen trees.
Spotted bass have gained a place of prominence in the Hartwell fishery over the last few years. Once restricted to a small population in the upper end of the reservoir, spotted bass can now be found in abundance throughout the lake. In addition, spotted bass are hybridizing with redeye bass and will soon replace them in the reservoir fish community. WRD biologists collected several spotted bass in the three pound range last season. Spotted bass are expected to grow rapidly in Lake Hartwell and anglers will regularly catch spots over the four pound mark.
Threadfin shad and blueback herring are the preferred food of spotted bass in Lake Hartwell. During late summer and fall, spotted bass will often supplement their diet with small sunfish and crayfish. In the winter months, spotted bass are attracted to lures in shad and herring patterns. They can also be caught in the deep creek channels using slow moving pig & jig combinations and Carolina rigs tipped with soft plastics. Spotted bass spawn in April and May and can be caught using fast moving, shallow-running lures worked over rocky bottoms in 5 to 15-feet of water. Spotted bass will also hide under the corners of boathouses. In the summer, anglers should be on the lookout for topwater action over humps and reef marker points. Cast into surface feeding bass with a Sammy, Zara Spook, or Fluke in herring color patterns. In the fall months, crankbaits and bottom bouncing soft plastics in crayfish patterns fished along rocky points are a sure bet.
Spotted bass are much like their close relative, the redeye bass, in that both species prefer rocky habitats. Rip-rap bridge abutments, rocky points, and the face of the dam provide excellent places to fish for spotted bass. In addition, spotted bass will chase shad and herring in open water in the early morning and evening during the most seasons.
Hybrid Bass and Striped Bass
The strong year-class of hybrid bass that dominated the catch for three years and produced record catches of big fish has finally moved out of the population. For the coming year, hybrid bass numbers will be much lower than what anglers have enjoyed in recent years. In addition, hybrid bass will be relatively small in size, averaging about 2 pounds or less. The striped bass population also experienced a slight decline. Although anglers will continue to catch good numbers of stripers weighing over 20 pounds, the numbers of smaller fish that ultimately maintain the fishery are less abundant. Stripers will average 8-12 lb. The size limit for stripers and hybrids in Lake Hartwell changed in 2012. Anglers are still allowed to harvest 10 fish per day but only three fish of either species can be over 26-inches in total length.
Striped bass and hybrid bass inhabit similar areas because both species prey on blueback herring, threadfin shad and gizzard shad. Successful anglers, therefore, use live herring or artificial herring imitations, like bucktail jigs and flukes, to catch fish throughout the year. The same bait and lure selections work all year, but the approach changes according to the season. During the warm weather months, stripers and hybrids move downstream toward the dam to find suitable water at the right temperature and with sufficient oxygen. In the summer months, downlining herring at night is the best approach for catching a lot of fish. During the day, trolling live herring on lead core line above the submerged timber line is the most productive method. When the surface temperature cools below 75 degrees (F), stripers and hybrids will chase baitfish to the surface. During low light conditions, anglers will find breaking fish in the coves arms within eyeshot of the dam. Switch to deep water tactics to catch these same fish once they go down. During the winter months, drift live herring or large gizzard shad at various depths near the dam and at the mouth of large cove arms on the lower lake. Once the water temperature warms to 55 degrees or above in late-March, stripers will move into shallow water. Casting bucktail jigs and flukes along windblown points that have dingy-colored water is a great early spring tactic.
When water temperatures range from 55 to 70 degrees (F), hybrids will congregate on secondary points located in major cove arms. Stripers will also move onto shallow points and backwater creek channels in search of baitfish. Twenty-Six Mile Creek upstream of the Hurricane Creek boat ramp, Coneross Creek, and Martin Creek are great locations on the Seneca River arm in South Carolina. Lightwood Log Creek, Eastanollee Creek, Little Beaverdam Creek, and even in the Tugaloo River itself upstream from the Highway 123 Bridge are good locations on the Tugaloo River arm of the lake. During warm weather months, stripers and hybrids migrate toward deep, cooler water near the dam. During daylight hours, fish will retreat to the safety below the submerged timber line. During twilight and dark, fish will more actively feed on adjacent points.
Crappie fishing is a favorite past-time among Lake Hartwell anglers during March and April. Crappie fishing will be good this year and will produce plenty of full stringers of big fish.
The creel limit for crappie in Lake Hartwell changed in 2012. Anglers who fish in Georgia waters may harvest 30 fish per day. Anglers who fish in the South Carolina waters of Lake Hartwell may harvest 20 crappie per day and all fish harvested must be at least 8-inches in total length.
As the water starts to warm in late February and early March, crappie will congregate in 10 to 15 feet of water around submerged trees, bridge abutments, roadbeds and under boathouses that contain brush. Dropping live minnows and small crappie jigs into these structures is the best way to catch pre-spawn fish. When the water temperature reaches 65 degrees (F) around early April, crappie will move into 2-3 feet of water around visible submerged cover located in backwater coves. During the fall months, large numbers of crappie congregate in submerged timber in 30 feet of water.
The areas with the largest numbers of crappie on the Georgia side of the lake include Eastanollee Creek, Gum Log Creek, Shoal Creek and Lightwood Log Creek. In the spring, target visible structure in backwater areas. If you catch one crappie at a location, there will be plenty more in the same vicinity.
During the month of March into early April, a fishable walleye population occurs in the Tugalo River in the Hartwell headwaters upstream from the Walker Creek boat ramp all the way to Yonah Dam. Walleye average 4 lb in size but fish up to 10 lb have been collected by WRD from this area.
Shallow running lures, like Rapalas, jigs tipped with a curly-tailed grub and nightcrawlers are all effective baits for catching walleye on their spawning migration into the Tugalo River.
A walleye fishing guidebook was prepared by DNR staff and is available at not cost on the WRD Website.
Anglers will find walleye from the Walker Creek boat ramp to Yonah Dam during the month of March. Beyond March, walleye return to the expansive waters of Lake Hartwell and become difficult to target. In the fall, points at the mouth of the Eastanollee Creek arm are a reliable location for walleye.
Two large fishing tournament boat ramp facilities were constructed by DNR on Lake Hartwell in 2010. These facilities are located near the upper end of the lake at Tugaloo State Park and on the lower end at Gum Branch. The contact information for scheduling one of these facilities is:
At Tugaloo State Park - (706) 356-4362
At Gum Branch - (706) 376-8590
Striped bass anglers can find current fishing reports at the following web sites:
Excellent trout fishing opportunities are available below Hartwell Dam in the Corps' day use area. WRD constructed a large fishing pier for anglers to enjoy and plenty of trout are stocked at the pier during the summer months.