Striped bass fishing on the Savannah chain of impoundments typically takes a nose dive in the summer when the surface water temperatures hit the 90s, but anglers who fish the cold-water release below Lake Hartwell Dam can catch trophy fish while escaping the heat if they pay attention to the waves of cold water.
When the heat turns on, one of the best ways to catch good fish, but especially trophy striped bass, is to troll with the flow of cold water during scheduled water releases from the dam.
South Carolina’s Upstate has experienced 12 days in a row of temperatures in the upper 90s. Even the water in the tailrace is in the upper 80s, way too hot for striped bass to tolerate, but when the water is being released, the water temperature drops into the upper 40s.
Many anglers troll the area of the Hartwell tailrace, the headwaters of Lake Russell, with store-bought rainbow trout. Because of the change in water temperatures when water is released, a lot of the herring in the tailrace start dying of thermal shock. Because of this, better numbers of fish can be caught by matching the hatch.
Staying in the fish’s comfort zone is like surfing a wave, a temperature wave. You have to monitor the water temperature and only fish water that’s lower than 70 degrees. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers generating, you can measure the temperature wave. At its coldest, the water will be in the upper 40s and 50s. As you move down the lake, it will jump from 50 to 60 to 70 and then 80 in as little as a 100-yard stretch. When you reach the 70s, it’s time to turn around, motor back to the top of the wave and surf it again.
When trolling in the tailrace, I prefer to run four free-lines – one on a planer board that pulls to the side and the other straight back on each side of his boat. Using blueback herring as bait, I’ll then slow troll using my iPilot trolling motor just fast enough to keep the boat pointed straight downstream.
The longer the water is coming through the dam, the longer your trolling runs get. Pay attention to your surroundings. When you start seeing herring flipping on the surface and washing down with the current, stripers, bass and whatever else that is hungry will be down there for the easy meal.
One final note; come equipped with 30-pound class line and tackle. A 20- to 30-pound striped bass, running with the current, will quickly break lesser tackle or find a tree or stump to swim under before they can be turned.