"It's a huge topwater time," Latimer said, "The herring suspend over tree, humps and long, flat points, and bass and stripers move around in big wolf packs, ambushing the baitfish."
Latimer typically won't stay in any one spot for long without action, because if the bass are present and wanting to eat, it typically doesn't take long to confirm that.
"Once you find the fish, they usually will bite during the summer," Latimer said. "The challenge is finding them."
Latimer will hit a lot of spots, most of which are main-lake features that offer some kind of structure in the 30- to 40-foot range, and he will return to many of the same spots multiple times during the day.
"If you fish the same spot three times in a day, there may be no sign of life at all the first two times you stop, and then on the third time you'll catch three big bass - and nothing obvious will have necessarily changed."
The biggest challenge for Latimer when it came time to selecting mid-summer hotspots to highlight on Lake Hartwell was holding the number to 10. All covered are outstanding and have produced countless fish for Latimer, but he could have spouted out 10 others just as quickly because of the run-and-gun nature of summer fishing at Lake Hartwell.
The first of three big impoundments along the Savannah River, Lake Hartwell impounds roughly 56,000 acres at full pool. The main body is fairly deep and clear. Many tributaries are more turbid and shallower and fish quite differently. Largemouths are the main attraction for bass fishermen, and the population is currently in good condition; however spotted bass have become notably more prevalent in recent years and also provide good opportunities. Striper and hybrid populations are also in excellent condition, with the stripers averaging 8 to 10 pounds but having plenty of big fish in the population.
1 Choestoea Creek Timber
34 32 560 N/83 05 426 W
Depending on the water level, which has been low much of 2012, the tops of the tallest trees in the big stand of timber near the mouth of Choestoea Creek may or may not be visible at the surface. Whether or not they can be seen, the trees that abound between two hazard markers hold big numbers of bass many summer days. The creek channel cuts between the trees and the bank, providing the fish with easy access to deep water and a major travel route.
"I'll stop before I get there," Latimer said, "and I'll make a long cast over the tops of the trees, usually with a topwater lure like a Spook or a Sammy.
Latimer also likes to cast big spoons and swim them over the tops of the trees. The fish suspend at various points in the trees, but they'll come up to take a spoon or a surface lure.
2 Island, Mouth of Little Choestoea
34 32 146 N/83 05 255 W
A small island actually divides the mouth of Choestoea and Little Choestoea creeks; however, on the Little Choestoea side, the island and a point opposite it on the main bank combine to create a classic "blow through," where bass will push the baitfish really shallow and attack them.
"It's really all about the bait there," Latimer said. "When they are pulling water, it creates a current, and the baitfish get concentrated."
If Latimer sees bait, he'll work the gap well. If not, he'll typically move along pretty quickly. Again, he typically starts with a walking topwater lure. Other good choices include a Zoom Fluke, a Sebile Magic Swimmer or a soft-plastic swimbait. He likes this spot much better in the middle of the day than early in the morning or late in the evening.
3 Tugaloo I-85 Bridge
34 29 026 N/W 83 01 420 W
"I fish every bridge I come to during the summer," Latimer said. "They are magnets for bream and for all sorts of baitfish, which, of course, means they also hold bass. You've got to fish them."
Latimer typically concentrates on the first two sets of pilings at each end of the I-85 bridge, but if he catches bass from the second set of pilings on either side, he'll typically try the third set as well. Latimer said a drop-shot rig is his first choice, but a jerkbait worked right beside the structure also produces well during the summer.
"Of course, I always keep a topwater handy," he said. "They like to school near the bridge."
Latimer said the I-85 bridge over the Seneca River produces just as many fish as the Tugaloo bridge and should be given equal fishing time.
4 Mouth of Big Beaverdam
34 29 171 N/82 54 144 W
A big rounded point at the mouth of Big Beaverdam Creek has a lot of timber on of it, and the Tugaloo River channel swings very close to the structure. Both bass and stripers hang in the tops of the timber on summer days.
"You can almost always catch a bass there, and it's a place where stripers often school," Latimer said.
Latimer typically positions the boat over 70 or 75 feet of water, holding it right at the edge of the slope toward shallower water, so he's casting over 25 or 30 feet of water. Again, he likes to throw topwater lures. If he wants to catch spotted bass, he'll pick up his drop-shot rig.
"Something a lot of people don't realize about this spot is that boat traffic makes it even better," Latimer said. "It seems to stir up the baitfish and make the fish bite. The fishing is better here on Saturdays than during the middle of the week. If a boat runs between you and the bank, don't get mad. Just get ready. You're probably about to catch a fish.
5 Big Beaverdam Bridge
34 30 026 N/ 82 55 134 W
Straying away from the main-lake structural features that are the mainstays of Latimer's July approach, a bridge that spans a broad bay toward back of Big Beaverdam Creek offers a different type of opportunity. The shallow and often-stained water around the bridge's causeway holds a lot of largemouth and is well suited for cranking with a square-billed crankbait.
"It's also a good place to throw a Colorado blade spinnerbait or a big worm. I'll fish the rocks and the bridge pilings," Latimer said.
While Latimer is primarily a bass fisherman, he said that there are often fishermen targeting crappie under the bridge, and he has seen some really big crappie caught from beneath the bridge. During the summer, the best crappie fishing under the bridge occurs after the sun goes down, with anglers putting crappie lights in the water and fishing live minnows in the lights.
6 Big Beaverdam Docks
34 29 520 N /82 54 225 W
The docks that line both forks of Big Beaverdam Creek hold some big largemouth bass during the summer, providing a good opportunity to upgrade during a tournament and an alternative approach when the main-lake patterns aren't producing. Latimer will pitch a big worm or a swimbait under the docks.
"You're fishing mostly for singles," Latimer said. "I'll just go from dock to dock, making a few pitches to each."
Latimer does not worry about the depth of the water under a dock. Sometime the fish are very shallow. He does watch for shad around the docks and will pay extra close attention to any docks that are holding baitfish. He also looks for docks that feature brush piles and fishes both under the docks and through the brush.
7 Andersonville Island
34 28 304 N/82 51 574 W
"I couldn't talk about good places at Lake Hartwell without mentioning Anderson Island," Latimer said. "It's an extremely popular area to fish because there are always fish around there."
The area around Anderson Island offers shoal after shoal for the bass to relate to, plus an abundance of rocky points, with deep water close to all the good structure. It's also one of the most important "herring spawn" areas in the lake, Latimer said.
Latimer will set up just off a shoal or point, with his boat over deep water, and work topwater lures and shallow herring imitations over the edges of the structure. He catches a lot of stripers and hybrids on the same lures in this area, and often sees striper fishermen slow trolling with live bait over the same structure.
"It's also a really popular area for night fishing, with guys dragging big worms across the shallowest parts of the structure," Latimer said.
8 River Forks
34 29 409 N/82 50 008 W
Little Beaverdam Creek, The Seneca River and Twenty Six Mile Creek all come together in the area widely known as River Forks, and a broad flat stretches out from an island, with its outer edge bordering the Seneca River channel.
"It's where everything meets," Latimer said. "I'll usually start in what looks like no-man's land and begin working gradually shallower up the flat and toward the island. I especially like the area where the island meets the channel."
River Forks is a pretty big area, and much of it can be productive, so Latimer will work the whole area with a topwater lure, working quickly and watching for breaking bass or stripers.
9 The Sailboat Club
34 29 523 N/82 47 510 W
"The Sailboat Club is a good place to flip a jig or throw a big worm during the summer," Latimer said. "I like to flip the boats and the tires."
The sailboat-filled harbor where the club is located offers bass plenty of deep water with cover overhead in the form of the boats themselves and large wave-breaks built from floating tires.
"It's a good place to fish when you can't get the topwater bite going," Latimer said.
Latimer typically does best around here early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Since many of his favorite open-water areas produce better when the sun is high, he'll sometimes start or finish a day in this spot.
10 Marker TS26
34 26 572 N/82 51 201 W
A main-lake hump rises to within 15 feet of the surface right next to marker TS26, which is close to the point where the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers come together. The hump, which has a roadbed on top of it, actually sits between the two channels, so it is surrounded by deep water.
Latimer will work all the way around the structure, keeping his boat over deep water and casting over the slope with topwater lures and swimbaits. If he doesn't pull fish up from the middle depths he'll move a little closer to the structure and work the roadbed across the top really thoroughly with a big plastic worm or a jig.