Catch Hartwell’s Low Water, Winter Bass

The holidays make for a busy time this month, and deer and small-game seasons are in full swing. That means the lakes are not crowded, plus the bass are biting. Lake Hartwell is a great choice this month. Bass are on several patterns, and you can catch three different kinds of bass in one area.

Hartwell is a 55,000-acre lake on the upper Savannah River between Georgia and South Carolina. Its 962 miles of shoreline have everything from sand flats to sheer rock bluffs. Hartwell is usually clear on the lower end and stained up the rivers in December. Spots and redeye bass are more abundant on the lower lake, and largemouths are everywhere. You can catch each of the three species on back- to-back casts on any structure.

Right now Hartwell is extremely low — so low it is dangerous even for fishermen who have been on the lake since it was dammed. There are standing trees everywhere, even out on the main channels. And you never know when a shallow rock pile that is normally 20 feet deep will eat your prop.

The good news is the bass are biting, and you can catch them. More bad news is that open ramps are hard to find. But back to the good news. If you find an open ramp, you can put in, fish within sight of it, and fill your livewell. Especially on the lower lake, there is a tremendous variety of structure near open ramps.

According to the corps website www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/hartwell/hartrampstat.htm, all ramps are officially closed since none extend into the water, but gravel has been added to the ends of some to allow boaters to use them with caution, and the ramps aren’t gated off. Examine the end of any ramp before trying to launch. A four-wheel- drive vehicle definitely helps.

On Nov. 11, Lamar Bolman and I launched his Ranger at Crawford’s Ferry. It is one of five ramps the corps lists as closed but usable with caution. We watched several boats launch at Weldon Island ramp, although it is not listed by the corps as usable at all.

Lamar grew up on the upper end of Hartwell in Stephens County and has fished the lake all his life. He spent many hours with his grandfather and grandmother on the river fishing for anything that would bite and learned a lot about fishing, and about life, from them. His love of fishing grew into bass-tournament fishing, and he concentrated on learning about bass, fishing Hartwell about 275 days a year.

A couple of years ago Lamar moved to a house on Hwy 29 about 2 miles from the Hartwell dam and opened Lamar’s Fishing Cabin Bait and Tackle across from Watsadlers Campground. He carries all kinds of fishing equipment and live bait, and he specializes in bass tackle. His store is one of the few places you can find a Sebile Magic Swimmer swimbait.

For the past few years Lamar has concentrated on fishing and learning the lower end of Hartwell. His 9-year-old son Mark Daniel is a frequent fishing companion, and Mark got his biggest bass ever, one pushing 8 pounds, while fishing with his father in October. That same month Lamar caught a 6-lb. spotted bass, his best. Both hit on the areas listed below, and both were released. Lamar has weighed in five-fish limits around 20 pounds several times. There are some quality largemouths and big spots on Hartwell, and Lamar also catches a lot of redeye bass, called Coosa bass locally, a smaller relative of the spot that seldom weighs more than 2 pounds.

There are a lot of good patterns to catch Hartwell bass this month. Lamar showed me several of them on Nov. 11, and we landed about a dozen nice spots and redeye bass on a post-cold-front day when the sun was bright and the fishing was tough. We did not leave sight of Crawford’s Ferry ramp and had a great day landing hard-fighting fish.

Lamar keys on deep water this time of year. He says the bass won’t be far from the deepest water in the area, and he often catches them 30 feet deep or more. They move shallower at times. In December he fishes a range from about 12 feet to 30 feet.

Rocks and wood are the cover that hold bass near deep structure this time of year. Bluff banks, deep coves, shallow points near deep water and sandy points leading into coves can all hold good schools of fish now.

A V&M Living Image jig ’n pig is Lamar’s first choice of baits this time of year. He likes a 1/2-oz. jig and can fish it fast or slow at different depths. He will go to a 3/4-oz. jig if the wind is strong or if most of his fish are hitting very deep. The jig draws bites from bigger fish on average but will catch all sizes of bass. If the water is clear, Lamar sticks with a green-pumpkin jig with some blue in it and usually uses a blue Netbait trailer. In more stained water he wants a black jig with some chartreuse in it. All are fished to imitate a feeding and fleeing crawfish. Lamar has a 75-gallon fish tank where he tests his lures and also watches bait- fish and crawfish. He says crawfish have a distinctive action when fleeing, which he tries to make his jig imitate. He will let it hit bottom, then twitch it once or twice. After that, he makes longer hops, so the jig swims like a fleeing crawfish.

Crankbaits and spinner- baits are also good. Lamar likes shad-colored DT 10 to DT 16 crankbaits, and he fishes them so they cover water at least 12 feet deep. He makes long casts with both crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

A Carolina rig is Lamar’s go-to bait when the fishing is tough, and he will rig a watermelon Zoom Finesse worm behind a 3/4- oz. sinker and a 30-inch leader.

A new bait Lamar is impressed with is the Aaron Martens Scrounger Head. This jig head has a bill that makes it vibrate your rod tip when reeled slowly in deep water. Tipped with a fluke or curly-tail trailer, you can get it down deep and offer crankbait-like action deeper than you can fish a crankbait. It will also catch fish in shallow water.

Lamar fishes all his baits on Falcon rods, Revo reels and Stren Super Braid line. He likes the Stren braid better than others since it does not fade, and he thinks the bass in clear water are spooked by faded line. He uses a P-Line Fluorocarbon leader on his Carolina rigs.

We fished the following 10 spots near Crawford’s Ferry and caught fish on most of them. Put in there, and check them out, then find others nearby that are similar. Or, choose another open ramp, and look for these kinds of places to catch December bass.

No. 1: N 34° 27.785 – W 82° 52.563 — You can fish three different kinds of structure from Crawford’s Ferry without cranking your gas motor. From the ramp look upstream, and you will see brush sticking up on a long point not far from the ramp. Start at it and work upstream. The point is the downstream end of an impressive bluff bank where sheer rock walls go up more than 50 feet above the water and extend at least 30 feet under it. After casting to the brush with a spinnerbait and jig ’n pig, keep your boat in fairly close and work the drop on the bluff bank with a jig ’n pig. You can see the rock holes, stumps and logs that you would be fishing if the lake was full. There is plenty of similar structure still under the water. You will also see the tips of some standing timber where bass often suspend.

Cast to the bank and let your jig hit bottom. Move your rod tip just slightly to raise the jig, and let it fall again. It will fall several feet on a tiny pull. Watch your line, and set the hook if it twitches or if it stops falling before it should. We got our first keeper on this bluff. On bluff walls you want to make your jig ’n pig stay as close as possible to the cover, so don’t fish fast or move your bait much at all. When you get to the end of the bluff, it flattens out into a point that has some standing trees and brush that are worth a few casts.

No. 2: N 34° 27.784 – W 82° 52.830 — Continue to work around the point upstream, and you will find a small V-shaped cove or cut. There are rocks on the bottom and some logs and a tree top in it. Lamar says fish often stack up in cuts like this in December, especially if stripers are pushing the herring back in them. A bass will hold on the wood cover and attack any bait that comes near it.

Lamar says to cast a jig ’n pig, crankbait or spinnerbait to the outside limbs of the brush or the end of the log. He often catches several bass from one tree top by catching the ones on the outside edges first. If you cast to the middle and hook a fish, it will spook the rest of the school, so work the edges first. The best wood extends to at least 12 feet deep in places like this. Bass will hold on it for a variety of reasons, but Lamar thinks the sun warms the darker wood, and the extra heat draws the fish. Rocks close to the wood make it even better.

No. 3: N 34° 27.827 – W 82° 52.938 — Just upstream of the cut is a long ridge of a point that extends well off the bank. It almost looks like an old pond dam above the water and extends a long way out under the water, too. There is a lot of visible brush on the end of this ridge and more out under the water. It runs out to the deep water in the old river channel, and there are some standing trees on the end of it offering a perfect place for bass to hold.

Make long casts to the brush on  the point. Fish the outside edges of it, too, to pull out the easy fish and not spook others holding deeper in the brush. Fish it first with fast-moving baits like crankbaits and spinnerbaits, then work it slowly with a jig ’n pig.

No. 4: N 34° 28.694 – W 82° 52.647 — Across the river at red channel marker T-10, a big, sandy, main- lake point is at the mouth of the small creek at Weldon Island. Sand often holds bass in December, especially spots and redeye bass. The sand seems to create warmer water that draws them in. Lamar starts out near the channel marker and makes long casts with his crankbait, working around to the cove. He says he usually finds more fish as he enters the cove and thinks the stripers run bait in and bass wait on it. Your boat will be in very deep water around this point, so stay in close and make angling casts so the bait stays in the strike zone longer.

Lamar always keeps an eye on his depthfinder and watches for brush and fish holding under the boat. Several times he cast a jig ’n pig or Carolina rig back behind the boat after spotting something and caught a bass. We caught two or three along this bank doing that the day we fished. They
were holding down 30 to 35 feet deep in brush.

No. 5. N 34° 28.776 – W 82° 53.539 — Carefully run up the river past Mary Ann Branch, and you will see docks on your left. They are on a bluff bank that drops sharply into the river channel. Look at the bank and you will see how it changes from a sloping bank to a vertical bank. Lamar starts fishing right where the drops become almost straight down at a one-story white dock with a green top. The next two docks upstream of it are two-story docks with decks on top.

Start at the green-topped dock, and work upstream. This bluff extends several hundred yards, and you can spend a lot of time here. Fish any wood cover you see. Also fish around and under the docks. They provide shade, and some have brush, making them even better. You will go around a small dip, then the bank has some standing trees just off a dock. Lamar says this should be a key location, and I caught a chunky spot off a log lying on the bank in the trees. Fish all around the trees and the rocks under them all the way out to 30 feet deep. Fish on up the bank until the docks run out at a rocky point just downstream of channel marker T-13.

No. 6: N 34° 29.025 – W 82° 53.721 — Straight across the river is another good point and bluff bank. Up on the point a long way from the water is a seawall, and the small cove upstream of the point has two docks sit- ting on the ground at the high water mark. The point has some brush on it, and you will see a PVC fish attractor and two blue drums that have been cut and anchored.

Start at the brush on the point and work downstream. There are rocks and standing timber along here. Fish all the way past the small patch of standing timber to the docks, and fish around the docks, too. Lamar says it is important to keep your eyes open and observe what is going on. When you see fish swirling in an area, you know it is a good one. He also keeps a topwater bait ready to cast to any action he sees, and he hooked a good fish that was probably a striper or hybrid the day we fished. If the hybrids and stripers are around, the bass are, too, since they eat the same bait and often school together.

No. 7: N 34° 28.586 – W 82° 53.152 — Go back across and down to the Mary Ann Branch ramp. An old roadbed runs straight out from the dock toward the opposite side of the river along the upstream side of a shallow, flat point. There is brush all along the roadbed and the point where it drops off on the roadbed side. Stay back and work your baits down the point and across the road, fishing over and through the brush. Crankbaits, spinner- baits and jig ’n pigs are all good here. Slow down as the water gets colder. The bass get slower and won’t chase a bait far when the water is cold. You might have to get your bait within a foot of a bass’ face to get it to hit.

No. 8: N 34° 28.309 – W 82° 52.248 — At the mouth of the “cut through” at red channel marker T-8A is a small cove with sand and rock in it. There is also wood cover washed in it. Fish all the way around the cove, working the wood carefully with all your baits. Watch your depthfinder for deep- er brush, and drag a jig ’n pig or Carolina rig through it.

No. 9: N 34° 28.106 – W 82° 52.401 — Out on the tip of the big island is a small island that is connect- ed with the water down so low. A shoal marker sits on what is usually a blow- through between the big island and little one. Go in upstream of the little island, and you will be in a big cove that has every kind of cover you want to fish. Start on the sandy bank out from the shoal marker, and work back into the cove. Hit the sand, then work any rocks and wood cover you come to. There are some rocky secondary points, and when you get all the way around it, the main point on the cut side has brush. This is a good place to fish if the wind is up, since you can find protected areas to fish.

No. 10: N 34° 27.840 – W 82° 52.170 — Go around the small island past the point with marker T-8, and you will see a cove. There is a big flat just downstream of the island with brush on it, then it drops off into a deep ditch running back just upstream of marker T-6A. The water is over 70 feet deep in the ditch running right off the channel and has standing timber in it. Fish the shallow brush on the flat, and work the drops going around the cove. Always keep an eye on your depthfinder for cover too deep to see, and fish it all.

Spend time on these spots to see what Lamar fishes this time of years then find others like them. Be careful on the low lake, but don’t miss out on some fantastic December fishing.

Drop by Lamar’s store for the lat- est info and tackle, or check with him at (706) 376-1478 about a guide trip. If he can’t take you out, he can set you up with a good guide.

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