One of the best public cast-and-blast opportunities for South Carolina outdoorsmen this month is the Upstate hotspot of Lake Hartwell. Not only is there some sensational striper and hybrid fishing in April, but the Fant's Grove and Keowee Wildlife Management Areas are both open to turkey hunting and offer an outstanding opportunity to harvest a gobbler.

According to Tom Swayngham, regional wildlife coordinator for the S.C. Carolina Department of Natural Resources's Clemson office, both WMAs are located on Lake Hartwell, and both have an excellent populations of turkeys. He said the opportunity for excellent fishing and turkey hunting is there for the taking.

"Both of these WMAs are very popular with turkey hunters, so there is a good amount of hunting pressure," Swayngham said. "Both WMAs have lots of turkeys and are very accessible to hunters, by land and by boat. In some areas, to get away from the crowds, hunters will need to walk a considerable distance. Hunters also have the option of using a boat to get to the hunting site. With a WMA map and knowing the boundaries of these two WMAs, in some cases I'd say boat access would actually be the preferred method, especially to access otherwise remote areas that would require a lot of walking."

One hunter that takes advantage of the turkey hunting resource is Jamie Pritchard, a professional turkey guide from Marietta who said he often uses a boat to get access to the more remote areas.

"Good turkey populations exist on both Fant's Grove and Keowee WMAs," said Pritchard (803-478-7533). " I've found one key to success is to get away from the crowds (that) typically will be around the easily accessed areas. Nearly every turkey hunter has a truck, but not every one of them has a boat or will go to the effort to get to a hunting site by water. So I can often find more remote and unpressured areas by boat.

"I do a lot of preseason scouting and listening for gobblers. I scout both WMAs, and I usually have a good idea where the birds are located before I go hunting. I typically prefer to get in the woods under cover of darkness and get set up well before gobbling time. You can listen for a gobbler at dawn from a boat, but they are wary, and to be successful you have to ease the boat a long way off to get into the woods without alerting the gobbler. By then, they are usually on the ground and moving. I've had better success knowing their location ahead of time and getting there real early and slip into the woods."

Pritchard said there are a few keys to consistently taking gobblers on these WMA lands.

"First, my calling technique is usually much more subdued and subtle when hunting these WMAs," he said. "From the first day, and even in preseason when scouting, a lot of hunters will be hammering with loud and frequent calls, trying to locate turkeys. So I keep my calling very low key. My favorite mouth call is a Loman model 836, and I also really like the Crustal Screamer as well. When I hear a gobbler and get within a couple hundred yards - closer if possible, but I don't push it - I'll often just make a few clucks, purrs or kee-kees, and then I get real quiet. I will take my hands and scratch in the leaves to imitate a contented and feeding turkey. Many times that's all it takes - the subtle sound for the gobbler to locate what he thinks is a hen turkey and the scratching in the leaves sound to bring in a big gobbler."

Pritchard said another key is to simply have patience and hunt throughout the day.

"I've killed many gobblers from mid-morning to mid-afternoon while other hunters are sitting at the Waffle House eating," Pritchard said. "While I love the early morning hunting, on heavily hunted areas the best time to kill a longbeard will often be later in the morning. That's when gobblers find themselves without hens, and the woods are void of other hunters. About mid-morning, hens begin to go to the nests, and gobblers will often be alone. It still takes a subtle calling approach most of ,the time, but these birds will often readily come to the call, often from long distances. But I have had to work and wait on wary gobblers, especially later in the season. One hunt lasted four hours before the gobbler came into range, but usually it's much less time than that. But it's worth every second of it."

Pritchard said that as the season progresses, he will use decoys less on WMAs.

"During the first week, I may use a hen decoy," he said, "but after the first few days, longbeards will get wary of decoys, and I've had better success not using them on these two WMAs as the season progresses."

While Pritchard and other turkey hunters are chasing gobblers, another group of outdoorsmen are fishing at Lake Hartwell. Chip Hamilton of Easley (864-304-9011), who has been guiding on Hartwell for 18 of his 44 years, is after some wild action on hybrids and stripers during April.

"April can be a sensational month for catching both hybrids and stripers, especially some big stripers," Hamilton said. "The water temperature is one key; it needs to be in the 60-degree-plus range, and usually that's the case by April. The basic daytime pattern for stripers and hybrids is that these fish follow the forage and will usually be found in the gullies and ditches in the creeks and large coves. Typically, the fish will be holding in 25 to 35 feet of water; the best baits will be 4- to 6-inch blueback herring."

Hamilton said there's no way to know which species you'll catch until you get on a good school of fish. He often gets on a hotspot where stripers and hybrids are bunched together, and that's when the fishing gets wild.

"One of the things I enjoy about the April time frame is the fish are often found together feeding on herring and shad," he said. "We'll also catch fish throughout the day when we locate a school of fish that is predominantly one or the other species."

Hamilton uses a basic Carolina rig with a 24- to 30-inch leader and a 1½-ounce egg sinker above a barrel swivel and said it is essential to get the bait to the exact depth for best results.

"I'll strip the line off the reel in 2-foot pulls and get the bait right at, or just above, the depth the fish are marked on the graph," he said. "The fish will be found in a general depth range, but the exact depth will change from one spot to the next. That's why I rely on my graph so much. It enables me to present my bait at the precise depth for the fish to bite on each setup. A couple of feet one way or the other can make a huge difference on hybrids or stripers."

Hamilton also said that topwater action for both species on Hartwell often begins in April.

"I am always rigged and ready for topwater action at this time of the year," Hamilton said. "Some days nothing happens in terms of surface feeding, but then one morning you'll find yourself surrounded by wildly schooling fish. My plan is to go fishing armed with live bait as weapon No. 1, but I have rigs ready for schooling action anytime I put my boat in the water in April. Topwater (lures) are excellent, but I also have had great results on the Sebile (Magic Swimmer), a lure that is worked fast and retrieved just under the surface. This lure will often outfish topwater lures even when fish are surface schooling."

Hamilton begins each April morning before dawn; he said it's the perfect time to also be listening for a gobbler.

"We often hear turkeys gobbling while we're catching hybrids and stripers at dawn," he said. "But as a fishing guide, this is where I need to be.

"As the light begins to break, the baitfish retreat to deeper water, and the predators move with them," he said. "A perfect morning for some outdoorsmen would be to catch a dozen big hybrids and stripers just before sunrise and then hear a turkey gobble on a nearby ridge on one of the WMAs. Then quietly motor the boat to where they can get into the woods undetected and hunt the gobbler.

"The fact is that the cast-and-blast opportunity literally does happen right here at Lake Hartwell every April."

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

HOW TO GET THERE - Fishermen can access Lake Hartwell from a number of public boat ramps on the South Carolina side of the lake. Anderson and Clemson are two major areas that enable anglers to access different parts of the lake. I-85 is the No. 1 artery west out of the Greenvillle area. Public ramps can be accessed from Exits 19 and 21 in the Anderson area. For the Clemson area, take Exit 19 north on US 76/SC 28.

WHEN TO GO - April is cast-and-blast time and offers outstanding opportunities for taking either or both turkeys and stripers/hybrids. Turkey season opens April 1, and the fishing action is typically great all month, getting even better as the water warms. The water temperature is usually in the 60-degree-plus range by April and is perfect for hot striper and hybrid action.

BEST TECHNIQUES - Live bait is the most-consistent bait for success. Live blueback herring the 4- to 6-inch size class, fished either directly under the boat on a Carolina rig or on a free-line behind the boat are the best techniques. Fish shallow, clay banks before dawn, then deeper in the creeks and coves the rest of the day. The potential for some surface schooling activity always exists, so keep a rig ready. For turkeys, soft and subtle calling blended with plenty of patience is the best technique on these public lands. The turkeys will be hunted hard but if you stay longer and call quietly you'll increase your odds of taking a longbeard.

INFORMATION/GUIDES - For stripers and hybrids, Chip Hamilton, Hamilton's Guide Service, 864-304-9011; for turkey hunting, Jamie Pritchard, Pritchard's Guide Service, 803-478-7533.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce, 864-226-3454 or http://www.andersonscchamber.com/; Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 706-769-7947 or http://www.oconeechamber.org/; www.south-carolina-lodging.com/upcountry.html.

MAPS - Maps Unique, 910-458-9923. www.mapsunique.com; Navionics Electronic Charts, 6 Thatcher Lane, Wareham MA 02517; DeLorme's South Carolina Atlas &Gazetteer, 800-561-5105, http://www.delorme.com/; Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257. http://www.kfmaps.com/.