But the good news is, they'll usually hang around long enough for you to get turned in the right direction and get hooked up into to some great fishing action.
June is a great fish-catching month on this lake because stripers and big hybrids are in the moving process and can be caught in quality and quantity throughout the lake. Certainly, finding localized hotspots where they are congregated in big numbers is important, but according to guides Chip Hamilton and Preston Harden, fish can be found in good numbers from the upper end of the lake downstream to Hartwell Dam.
While both guides fish the entire lake, Hamilton is quick to get to the lower end, partly because he feels he catches bigger fish there, especially later in the month.
"I've been guiding here a long time, and I believe the big fish get back down the lake quickly in June and that's where I want to be, on top of the bigger stripers as much as possible," Hamilton said. "Plus, June is a special month in that the fishing is great using both live blueback herring as well as topwater lures or soft plastic swimbaits for topwater schooling action. When 10- to 12-pound - and sometimes much larger - stripers are boiling the water's surface, things can get quite exciting.
"When I see them schooling, I use the electric motor to get within range for casting artificial lures, and frequently my clients all get hooked up, then the down-rods rigged with live herring go down, and we've got a pile of fish hooked, more than we have fishermen to fight them. But that's June striper fishing for ya. That's why it's among my favorite times of the year."
Harden echoes the same sentiment. He lives on the lake and often works the mid-to-upper end early in the month as the fish work their way back down the lake.
"The prevailing weather will have an enormous impact on the fishing during June," Harden said. "The fish catching will be great, but where it occurs can change from year to year, especially early in the month. In 2012, we had a very warm winter, and the migration occurred early, and the fish were downlake early in June. It is transition time, and during a typical June, the fish can be uplake or downlake. They may be in the creeks or in the river, and they can be relatively shallow or fairly deep.
"As guides, we're on the lake about every day, so it's not as big a deal because we can keep up with it daily. But weekend fishermen can run into a totally different scenario from one week to the next during June. But when they figure it out, they'll catch plenty of fish. Essentially, in June, the fish are leaving the spring patterns behind and setting up for the hot summer patterns by the end of the month.
"June is the type of month that keeps a guide in suspense in terms of what's going to happen on any given day," Hardin said. "Excellent schooling action is highly possible early and late in the day. The fish may be holding in 15 to 30 feet early in the morning, then suddenly blow up on the surface on a long point, hump or ridge in the middle of a creek or cove. But it's also an excellent time to mark them in big, active schools using a graph and drop live bluebacks down to them. It's quite common to hook multiple fish on artificial or live baits. As we get into a mid-day pattern, most of the fish will retreat back down to 30 to 40 feet deep. But again, by moving around watching the graph, we'll find the bait, and then the stripers will be close to that bait."
Hamilton is a graph-watcher during June when he's not looking over his shoulder for schooling fish.
When he says, "Get ready, here he comes," you'd better be close to your fishing rod. In most every case, one or more of his rods rigged with live baits takes a nosedive into Hartwell's clear waters. A quick hookset response typically ensures a bruising striper or a hard-fighting hybrid is on the business end of the rig.
"We enjoy excellent fishing throughout much of the year here on Lake Hartwell," Hamilton said. "But the fishing in June is absolutely outstanding. Plus, we have the occasional bonus opportunity to take fish on the water's surface. The fish are prone to surface school at any time during the day, but typically the mornings are the best during June. The fish are at a depth during June when I can see the baits ... on my graph, and I literally watch a fish come up to the bait to take it. That's how I can predict a bite. It impresses people, but really it's just paying attention to the graph."
Hamilton said he'll be geared up to take advantage of any topwater schooling action, but his bread-and-butter pattern is live-bait fishing. With that pattern, he has an outstanding chance of success.
"Live bait fishing is Plan A," he said. "Topwater schooling action is heart-stopping exciting, especially when big stripers are ripping baitfish to shreds. But that action is sometimes sporadic and unpredictable, so most guides at Lake Hartwell see it as Plan B. That's a 'B' as in 'bonus'. We consistently find stripers and hybrids in many places during this time of the year using live bait."
Hamilton said the first consideration for consistent success is the changing water temperature, which will have a big impact on the portion of the lake the fish will congregate. And he said that it's necessary to understand the layout of the lake to better understand where the stripers will typically be located.
"As the water begins to warm, the fish begin their migration back down the lake," Hamilton said. "The impact of the water temperature will really set up late in the month. During this time of the year, some of my favored structures are underwater features that are relatively clean and void of trees and brush. Sometimes, these places are small, but when you get the fish in an open area, you can fill a cooler in short order."
"One of my favorite areas is simply the clean humps that rise up from the deep water in the larger creeks and river," Hamilton said. "Another excellent place I focus on is the end of long, sloping points. Both are typically great place for stripers and hybrids to congregate."
"I continue to watch the graph intently after the boat is positioned to see how the stripers and hybrids react to the bait," he said. "Many times, I can see them working into a feeding frenzy based on the erratic lines on the graph."
Harden said boat position and control is crucial to success this month. He often uses an electric motor to keep the boat in position, but he will also anchor where fish are marked on the graph if he feels they are going to stay there. He said it is essential to get the boat position just right and said he will study the layout of the fish and forage depicted on the graph.
"Being right on target is a real key to success," Harden said. "One of the keys I look for, in addition to baitfish on the graph, is the presence of the big arches indicative of stripers and hybrids.
"Early in the month, in addition to down-rods, I'll often use free-line rigs because of the tendency of stripers to come to the surface," Harden said. "I may occasionally put a small split shot to get the herring down a bit, but basically let the bait free line behind the boat. This will often work very well during June, and we'll often hear the fish boil on the bait and the drag start screaming."
Hamilton said fishermen can expect to catch a mixed bag of hybrids and stripers. The stripers will average in the 7- to 20-pound range, during this time of the year, but larger fish are always possible. The hybrids will usually average in the 5- to 7-pound class. But both guides said June is a good month to catch some really big stripers.
Hamilton and Harden said the late June fishing pattern will continue on into the really hot weather of summer. The fish may get deeper and the action less predictable, but there will be some excellent fishing days throughout the summer. Hamilton said some of his heaviest boxes of fish have come in the mid-summer.
"But June is traditionally a prime month for taking lots of quality fish, both on topwater and live-bait down rigs," Hamilton said.
HOW TO GET THERE: The towns of Anderson and Clemson are two major areas that enable anglers to access different parts of the lake. Head west on I-85 and take exits 19 and 21 for Anderson. Head north at exit 19 on US 76/SC 28 to reach Clemson and access to the upper end of the lake and some of its bigger tributaries. The U.S, Army Corps of Engineers maintains numerous boat ramps that can be located via the Internet site a www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/hartwell.
WHEN TO GO: June is prime time for both live bait and topwater schooling for stripers and hybrids. Fish move from the upper end of the lake to the lower end in June, and depending on weather, they can be located all over the lake. By the end of the month, the lower end of the lake will be the most productive. Early mornings are best for a combination of topwater schooling as well as live-bait fishing.
BEST TECHNIQUES: Live bait is the most consistent bait for success, specifically live blueback herring in the 4- to 6-inch class, tightlined to a specific depth or on a free-line shallow. The best depths to fish will be in the 30- to 55-foot depth range. A lot of surface schooling activity occurs, so keep a rod with a 'walk-the-dog' type of bait or bucktail rigged and ready for quick action.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES: Chip Hamilton, Hamilton's Guide Service, 864-304-9011 or www.scguideservice.com; Preston Harden, 706-255-5622 or www.bucktailguideservice.com). See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.