Several years ago, Bill Plumley of Greer, had a decision to make. He planned to retire and start a fishing guide service, and the question was, " Where?"

Plumley loved deer-hunting and fishing for catfish and had spent a lot of time in the Lowcountry, fishing the Santee Cooper lakes. That's where he was headed when he made a discovery.

"Well, it was actually two things," Plumley said. "The first was that I stumbled upon a fishery in Lake Hartwell that was relatively untouched. Hartwell has got a huge population of channel cats, and the average size of its blue catfish has been increasing every year, along with a pretty decent supply of flatheads.

"The second thing I realized was that there was nearly 15,000 acres of public archery land right at my door step."

So the decision was made; Plumley and his wife moved to Townville, and he has never looked back.

December offers a great fishery for three of the primary species that Plumley's Capt. Bill's Fishing Adventures targets: catfish, striped bass and crappie. The weather is cool without being too cold, and the fish all spend a lot of time feeding before cold weather sets in.

For anglers looking to orient themselves to early winter fishing on Hartwell, Plumley provided 10 hotspots to help get you sighted in.

 

1 Eighteen Mile S Curves

34 34 684 N/82 49 874 W

This spot in 18 Mile Creek is one of Plumley's best go-to spots for catfish. The relatively short creek, which flows through the heart of Clemson's Fants Grove WMA has a big reputation for producing lots of fish.

"The lake has just turned over or is turning over, and Eighteen Mile Creek has a pretty good flow coming in. Catfish are looking for fresh water," he said. "The spot marked by the GPS coordinates is a little, bowl-shaped area where I like to pull up on the shoreline and fan cast out into the middle of this bowl. Blue catfish will stage here in December."

To catch blue catfish ranging from 10 to 40 pounds, he'll use cut bait fished on the bottom - either blueback herring, white perch or gizzard shad, depending on what's available. The rig is a Carolina rig with a 2-ounce flat sinker and a 5/0 to 10/0 Eagle Claw J-type hook.

"Throw your baits out both deep and shallow away from the boat," he said. "Sometimes they may be off the edge of the channel or they may be easing up next to the bank, so make sure you have all your water depths covered."

 

2 S-41

34 33 774 N/82 50 018 W

This is one of Plumley's favorite December striper spots. Just outside the mouth of 18 Mile Creek is a hard bend in the Seneca River bordered on the upstream side by a large, deepwater flat off the edge of the river channel.

"In December and January, stripers seem to congregate in this area," he said. "You can either do freelines out the back of the boat or sit on top of them with downlines. Either way, you'll need some live blueback herring for bait."

Plumley said that by December, baitfish have moved up the lake, and the stripers are not far behind. Large schools of striped bass and hybrids will often gather outside the mouth of tributaries to these major rivers, as well as hold along sharp bends. In these locations, a live herring is hard to resist.

"I'll put out my rods in rod holders and let the fish hook themselves," he said. "There's really no need to get to the rod until it's buried three guides deep in the water. Then the fight is on."

 

3 Oconee Point Timber

34 35 263 N/82 51 725 W

Plumley heads up the Seneca River to fish some residual standing timber that he calls a magnet for winter crappie.

"This is some timber along the edge of a little creek channel," he said. "It's pretty deep in here, sort of a bluff where it drops straight off the shoreline with a big, old oak tree and some more oak trees in the neighborhood. In the winter, crappie will relate pretty good to these oak trees."

Because water temperatures will be down in the 50s, Plumley will pull up to these trees and fishing right over the top of them, dropping minnows straight down to the fish, which he expects to be anywhere from 12 to 18 feet deep.

"Light-action rods, 6-pound test, light-wire, No. 2 hooks - pretty standard crappie tackle," he said. "This time of year, you may catch some good fish, up to 12 or 13 inches."

 

4 Old Roadbed

34 34 980 N/82 51 971 W

Since he's already in Coneross Creek, a well-known crappie destination for Hartwell anglers, Plumley heads next to another good spot right around the corner.

"This is a brush pile on an old roadbed back in a long cove across from Oconee Point," he said. "You can see Oconee Point from here, but it's probably a mile or so away. I think these crappie get on this old roadbed for warmth. The water might warm up a degree or two on the asphalt on the old roadbed. You'll usually find them holding on the brush pile."

Plumley also suggests that anglers who are set up for trolling can do well along the entire length of this cove by starting in the back and working their way out.

"You could just put out minnows and bump along with the trolling motor or, if you wanted to go on back in a little further, go and pull some 1/32- to 1/64-ounce curlytail jigs, by long-line trolling. Go to the back of the creek and pull out along this point," he said.

 

5 Coneross Hump

34 35 914 N/82 53 794 W

This is a classic spot for finding striped bass that are keying in on baitfish, using the up-and-down terrain of the creek to pin the bait down.

"This is a hump directly across from the primitive area of Coneross Campground," Plumley said. "It's a good spot to free-line herring or gizzard shad, or you could anchor down and put cut bait out all around it. There have been a lot of big fish caught off this one hump."

When the lake is at normal pool, 11 to 12 feet of water will be on top of the hump, which drops off to 40 foot around on the edge. Even with the water 10 to 12 feet below full, there's still plenty of room to fish downlines and freelines on both sides of the hump, and there's even some submerged timber in the vicinity that will tend to hold fish that are not actively feeding.

 

6 Catfish Point

34 35 412 N/82 53 528 W

This is a favorite December catfish hole in a large tributary that forks off to the left from Coneross Creek. Plumley describes the area as a point that comes right off the bend of the creek channel. He catches a lot of good catfish here through the winter, especially big blue catfish.

"The water depth in here is approximately 30 foot when the lake's up full pool," said Plumley. "Just pull up on the shoreline or anchor down out here and throw cut bait around you, and you're going to catch some catfish."

According to Plumley the blue catfish population in Hartwell is growing by leaps and bounds. He attributes much of their success to the abundance of baitfish and the wide dispersal of white perch across the lake over the past 10 years. In fact, cut white perch is one of his favorite baits, as big blue cats seem to go out of their way to eat them.

"Last year is the first year I've seen a 40-pound blue come out of Hartwell, and I actually saw four of them," he said. "Every one was over 45 pounds, and they were all released back into the lake. If we continue doing that, I believe it won't be long before we'll see some monsters, 60- and 70-pounders.."

 

7 S-65 Bends

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It's hard not to guess that this area at marker S-65 is another crappie spot. You immediately notice the brush tops sticking out of the water, owing to Hartwell's lower water levels, but Plumley said this is a good area, even with the water down.

"It's a pretty deep cove," he said. "Anglers have planted a bunch of brush where it necks down on both sides and in the middle of the cove. Basically, it's one big brush pile from one end to the other. Normally, you'll find crappie in that 12- to 18-foot range in and around the brush."

With no room to troll, Plumley catches crappie in this spot the old-fashioned way, using a single pole, either casting to the brush using a cork to suspend the jig or vertically jigging. His favorite jig colors for all of Hartwell is chartreuse and black.

 

8 Broyles Landing

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Plumley normally launches from this boat-access area in the late fall because you can access so many good areas without committing to one or the other.

"Broyles Landing is a good, central location; it's mid-lake," he said. "You go out from the landing, go around to the left and you're in the Seneca River. You can go straight across and be in Twenty-Six Mile Creek, or you can go to the right and be back into Beaver Dam or the main lake area."

Deepwater access ramps have become an issue in recent years with Hartwell's lake levels plunging to record lows. The center ramp at Broyles has been lengthened, thanks to a local effort in which Plumley was involved.

"Back when the lake was way down a few years ago, as a community, we raised approximately $10,000 and paid for the concrete to length this ramp. It should be good here with the water 18 to 20 feet down, but only the center ramp," he said.

 

9 Little Beaver

34 30 004 N/82 50 915 W

After making the turn past Broyles Landing, Plumley weaves his way between the shoals and sandbars off Apple Island and makes his way into Little Beaver Creek. This relatively short creek is a well-known winter hotspot for striped bass working their way back up the lake in the winter.

"This spot is a hump in the mouth of Little Beaver," he said. "It's a good place to free-line around, or you can get off the edges of it and run downlines. Stripers get all into Little Beaver in December. You can also go on into the back of Little Beaver, turn around, and free-line your way back out. You'll most likely catch a good many fish back in there doing that."

"I'll free-line live herring unless I'm really fishing for a big fish, then I'll use big gizzard shad and put two baits on each side of the boat using planer boards anywhere from 80 to 120 foot out, with the bait actually 20 to 30 foot behind the board," he said.

Because striped bass may be feeding up shallow, especially in the early morning, anglers may not mark fish on the graph before catching them. The best strategy anywhere on Hartwell in December is to criss-cross an area, covering lots of humps, bumps and points, looking for fish ambushing bait.

 

10 Between the Bridges

34 30 633 N/82 51 375 W

Plumley considers Little Beaver to be primarily a striped bass venue, he said there is a crappie oasis in the middle of the creek, an area he refers to as "between the bridges".

"Right here is another great crappie spot in Little Beaver between the bridges right off the end of the channel," he said. "On the edge of the channel is a big brush pile sitting approximately 15-feet deep. I've caught some really nice crappies off this brush pile in the winter time."

Plumley fishes this particular spot similar to the way he does any brush pile. The fish tend to be deep, so putting a boat on top of them doesn't bother them so long as there's not a lot of commotion. He prefers to work the edges of the brush pile first, picking off fish around the edges before moving directly overhead.

"You could just throw small little jigs to it or down-line minnows," Plumley said. "I start out circling around it on the edges and catch what fish I can catch, and I gradually move in a little closer to it."

 

Bill Plumley of Capt Bill's Fishing Adventures can be contacted at 864-287-2120, 864-230-7363 or www.lakehartwellfishing.com.