The prospect of catching a walleye in South Carolina waters may seem far-fetched to a lot of anglers, but truth is, Lake Hartwell maintains a catchable population of this highly prized member of the pike family, and the best time to run into a few of them is when they move up the tributary rivers to spawn in the spring.
Capt. Steve Pietrykowski of Fishki Business Charters grew up in Ohio, where walleye fishing is immensely popular. His guide business is based on stripers, hybrids, bass, crappie and trout in the area lakes, but since the water levels have remained high this spring, he’s been itching to get back to his roots and catch a few walleye.
“Walleye spawn when water temperatures get to 52 degrees,” said Pietrylowski (864-353-3438). “This is also a highly light-sensitive fish. That means that there’s a small window of time, starting now and going for a week or two, when you can find these fish way up the Tugaloo (River) on Hartwell. It’s a low-light bite, so that reduces the catching time even more.”
Pietrykowski typically doesn’t guide for walleye, but said a few anglers with an affinity for the fish just want to say that they caught one while actually targeting the fish.
“The shallow shoals start about where the Walker Creek Access is way up the Tugaloo,” Pietrykowski said. “That’s where they’re headed. The water is only about three to four feet deep, and there’s current. Walleye lay in the eddies to spawn, and it’s usually the males who show up first.”
Pietrykowski explained that the bottom in this river run is covered in slimy moss, a situation that negates any type of bottom-bumping presentation so popular in northern lakes. He approaches it from the surface, using his trolling motor against the current, allowing him to back-troll slowly downriver while fishing live bait under a cork suspended just off the bottom.
“Anybody will tell you walleye love nightcrawlers, and that might work, but Hartwell is a herring lake. Georgia stocks walleye in here to eat herring, so I always come prepared with a tank full of small, 2- to 3-inch herring for bait. The striper run is also not far behind, and spotted bass are pretty plentiful here as well. We’ve not had problems catching fish, and from time to time a couple of them will be those elusive walleye – which is icing on the cake.”