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.
Lake Hartwell anglers fish for largemouth bass more than any other species. Lake Hartwell is also a regular destination for the professional bass tournament circuit. Hartwell’s popularity with both recreational and professional anglers is a testimony of the quality bass fishery that it supports. Lake Hartwell supports a relatively stable bass population density from year-to-year. The forecast for the coming year is for higher numbers of bigger bass, especially in the 2 to 4 lb range, and fewer numbers of small fish.
During the cold weather months, largemouth bass are drawn to creek channels and rocky banks because they attract shad and other baitfish. Crankbaits in shad patterns as well as spinner baits and flukes are good lure choices for cold weather bass fishing. 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 the summer months, bass key on shad and herring on main lake humps and points. One of the most productive summer patterns is to cast noisy topwater lures near reef marker points on the lower end of the lake. 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 move back and forth between shallow and deep water. In the winter, largemouth bass often seek refuge in downed timber and along creek channels. In February and March, largemouths will search for slightly warmer water along shallow banks that contain rocks and fallen trees. Rip-rapped roadsides and bridge abutments are also great places to find largemouth bass during this time of year, especially on windy afternoons when baitfish are pushed close to the shore. In the spring, bass are spawning in shallow coves and creeks near visible structure. During the summer months, 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 main channel and secondary points using 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 are becoming more abundant in Lake Hartwell and are increasing in size. Because spotted bass are relative newcomers to the fishery, their average size is still relative small. Fish in the 10 to 12 inch size range are the most common but the number of fish over 2 lb is increasing. Fisheries surveys indicated that spotted bass are more abundant on the upper half of the reservoir.
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
Annual stockings of both hybrid bass and striped bass support this fishery. Over the past couple of years, both populations were at record high abundances. Due to natural attrition and other factors, the population numbers for both line-sided species returned to more normal levels. In general, the total number of hook-ups this year may be lower than what anglers have experienced during the recent population booms. This year’s fishing forecast calls for hybrid bass catch rates to be moderate to seasonally good, especially for big fish in the 4 to 6 lb range. Striped bass in the 4 to 6 lb range will also be common but large stripers, especially those over 20 lb, may be unusually scarce.
Anglers should be aware of the legal limits for harvesting striped bass and hybrid bass. Up to 10 fish per day of either species can be harvested 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 very popular among Lake Hartwell anglers, especially during March and April. Crappie fishing will be very good this year and should produce full stringers with big fish. This year, anglers can expect to catch more crappie in the 12-14 inch size range and weighing well over a pound.
Those who enjoy keeping their catch of crappie from Lake Hartwell should be aware of the size and creel limits. Anglers who fish in Georgia waters may harvest 30 fish per day. Anglers who fish in the South Carolina waters of Lake Hartwell may only harvest 20 crappie per day and all fish harvested must be at least 8-inches in total length.
When the water temperature reaches the mid-40s, anglers should fish for crappie in the creek channels using either live bait or by very slowly trolling a small jig. As the water starts to warm in late-February and early-March, crappie will congregate in 10 to 15 feet of water in creek channels and 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 fish during the winter months. 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.
From late-February to 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.
Anglers will find walleye from the Walker Creek boat ramp to Yonah Dam from late-February to early April. In other months, walleye cruise the expansive waters of Lake Hartwell and become very difficult to pinpoint. The points at the mouth of the Eastanollee Creek arm are a reliable fall hangout for walleye.
Boat ramp facilities for large fishing tournaments 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:
Excellent trout fishing opportunities are available below Hartwell Dam in the Corps' day use area. GA-DNR constructed a large fishing pier for anglers to enjoy and plenty of trout are stocked at the pier during the summer months.