Mack Farr scratches his head when he talks about Lake Hartwell’s great striped bass fishing. A well-known guide who lives in Buford, Ga., Farr spends most of the spring fishing Hartwell, an hour or so up I-85 from his normal home waters of Lake Lanier.
Both Hartwell and Lanier share similar topography and fisheries. Both are deep, clear, ravine-type impoundments that have a respectable amount of submerged, standing timber in their main-lake basins. Both have a forage base of blueback herring, and both have stripers stocked by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources raised in that agency’s Richmond Hill Hatchery since Georgia and South Carolina share stocking responsibilities for Hartwell.
Fishermen from both states frequently fish both Hartwell and Lanier and use similar tactics to catch stripers. What has Farr scratching his head is that during the spring, an immensely popular and productive pattern on Lake Lanier is rarely practiced on Lake Hartwell: “the Bomber bite.”
“The lakes are fairly close together, and there are a lot of exchange of information between the two angler groups,” Farr said. “The Bomber technique is a staple on Lanier, but is is underutilized on Hartwell, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure why that is, because it works just as well on both lakes.”
During the spring, as water temperatures climb toward the 70-degree mark, striped bass move shallow in portions of the lake while also migrating great distances into the upper lake. During this move, stripers will feed on threadfin and gizzard shad as well as blueback herring.
“A lot of these fish you’ll find will be on sand (bottoms), and the reason they are up there is they’re looking for big gizzards and herring,” said Farr. “Those big gizzard shad will run to sand this time of year, and the stripers follow. To imitate a big gizzard shad or a herring, you’re taking this Bomber Long A, which size-wise, mimics the shad pretty nicely. It’s a 7-inch plug that you’re casting over shallow places, maybe saddles between islands, points, any sandy beach-type area.”
Farr said the tactic is as unusual as it gets on Lake Hartwell, where most anglers fish live bait on free lines or down rods to catch striped bass and hybrids nearly year-round. He said the technique probably resonates more with fishermen who are targeting largemouth and spotted bass with big jerkbaits.
“Basically, Its a run-and-gun type thing. You throw it and reel it in,” he said. “The fish that are in that shallow water are there to eat, so if they’re there, they’re going to respond pretty quickly. If you don’t get a bite, you need to move. It’s a numbers game. You hit enough of these little sand spits or saddles between the islands, sooner or later, you’ll find the places where the fish are, and they’ll bite it pretty quick.”
Another reason the Bomber Bite may not have caught on at Lake Hartwell is because it’s an after-dark deal, almost completely. Otherwise, it would stand to reason that both bass and striper anglers working the banks during daylight hours would have stumbled across it.
“The reason it is a night pattern is these fish are getting really, really shallow, and the bait and the fish won’t get up there during the day — not nearly as well, anyway,” he said. “As soon as it gets dark, the stripers come up there looking for these big gizzards.”
The tackle required to throw a 7-inch plug is a little heavier than standard bass-fishing tackle. Farr prefers a spinning rod outfitted with heavy monofilament line over a baitcaster but said that’s a matter of personal preference. It’s not only flinging the big plug the angler has to worry about, it’s what might be on the other end ready to receive it as well.
“On a baitcaster, I like a 7-foot, medium heavy, usually throwing 15-pound test,” he said. “If I was using spinning tackle, I’d probably got with a 6-foot-6 or 7-foot medium heavy (rod), again, using 15-pound test. It’s dark, (so) you don’t need to worry about downsizing your line. The nature of the plug is, it tends to roll in the air, and sometimes one of the trebles will grab the line, so you’ve got a lot of chafing. If you go to smaller line, you lose more fish and lose plugs. And even with 15-pound line, you’ll need to re-tie fairly regularly.”
The last factor, though seemingly unusual, is color. Farr said that stripers feeding after dark see a lot better than fishermen give them credit for.
“I don’t what the rhyme or reason is, but I can tell you they will show a color preference,” said Farr. “Usually when I start out, I give everybody a different-color Bomber to see if we can hone in on one. Some nights, we don’t see a difference, but some nights they really lock into a color. I would pick out five of six colors and use the same basic premise that a bass fisherman would: dark on dark nights and light on light nights.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Hartwell is a Savannah River reservoir that impounds the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers along the Georgia-South Carolina border west of Anderson. The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains a number of public access ramps that can be found on the internet by accessing their site at www.sas.usace.army.mil/lakes/hartwell.
WHEN TO GO — Striped bass will move shallow in late March and stay through May as water temperatures warm toward the 70s.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Main-lake points with sandy bottoms will attract gizzard shad, which in turn attract stripers. Big baits like a Bomber Long A work best at night for fishermen running and gunning between points. During daylight hours, target wind-blown points on the upper end of the lake using small soft-plastic Flukes and LIttle Fishies on light line, small leaders and 1/8-ounce jigheads.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Capt. Mack Farr, Capt. Mack’s Guide Service, 770-271-0851, www.captmacks.com; Capt. Preston Harden, Bucktail Guide Service, 706-255-5622, www.bucktailguideservice.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
MAPS — Navionics Electronic Charts, www.navionics.com; Fishing Hot Spots, 800-ALLMAPS, www.fishinghotspots.com; Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com; Delorme South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105, www.delorme.com.