“Match the hatch” is normally a phrase spoken by mountain trout fishermen, but Lake Hartwell guide Preston Harden has been using the idea to catch bigger-than-average striped bass, hybrid bass, spotted bass and largemouth bass.

With cold weather dropping water temperatures quickly, yearling threadfin shad – baitfish measuring from one to 2½ inches – are becoming stressed, and trophy sized fish of all species are moving in to take advantage. That’s why Harden is using small baits and catching big fish.

“Elephants eat peanuts,” he said, explaining his tactics on “Upstate Outdoors,” a radio program in the Greenville-Spartanburg area, this past Saturday.

It’s so basic that many fishermen overlook it, not often recognizing it as one of the most-important aspects of the pattern, and it’s taking place across the entire state.

“Blueback herring are a great bait for all of these fish 90 percent of the year, but not now,” said Harden (706-255-5622). “I know some guys who are in the right places, free-lining herring through the middle of feeding schools of fish, but with little to show for their efforts.”

To match the hatch, Harden downsizes his baits. Preferring artificials, instead of casting large swimbaits and bucktails, he ties on 1/8-ounce jigheads with 2-inch plastic bodies. To the uninitiated, Harden looks more like he’s targeting crappie. Even when fishing live bait, he foregoes herring or shiners and grabs a bucket of crappie minnows.

“Most guys just can’t grasp that a 10-, 15-, even 20-pound fish will eat a 1- to 2-inch bait,” Harden said. “But these fish are not looking for a mouthful, they’re looking for a stomach full and the pickings are easy.”

Using medium-action spinning tackle, Harden loads up with 10-pound braid that measures 4-pound diameter and tips it with a fluorocarbon leader. His presentation is close to dead-sticking, allowing the bait to sink slowly without a whole lot of movement. To describe the retrieve as “slow” is an understatement.

“You better learn quick,” Harden said, “because the sub-freezing temperatures this week will make for excellent fishing and probably result in a big baitfish die-off later on. After that, it’ll be over.”