Greet a sunrise on the lower end of Lake Hartwell this month armed with blueback herring and a good graph, and odds are, the hot fishing will rival the heat. On a good day, you’ll be off the water by mid-morning from fish-fighting exhaustion, not heat exhaustion.
Guide Preston Harden loves August fishing and said he’s learned that deep thinking and watching his Humminbird graph are keys to smokin’ hot striper August action.
“I’m the first to admit there’s no sure thing in fishing, but by August, stripers are in a highly predictable pattern at Lake Hartwell and often, it’s surprisingly simple to score big catches,” said Harden (706-255-5622), who explained that it’s simple because the stripers are deep, generally confined to the lower end of the lake, and a live blueback herring is a morsel they can’t resist.
“I look for the fish to be stacked over ditches, points and humps, and by using electronics I can pinpoint the targets,” Harden said. “Ditches and clean humps rising from the deep water in the larger creeks and river are excellent places for stripers and hybrids to congregate in big sizes and numbers.
“The productive depth can vary daily, even hourly, but the fish can usually be found from 40 to 120 feet deep,” he said. “Rarely does Lake Hartwell stratify in the very lower end, and fish can go deep without stress. I drop a herring to just slightly above the depth they’re marked, because stripers will readily move up to eat but much less likely to go deeper.
“When the action begins, one rod is all any sensible angler can handle because the action can be so fast and furious. Stripers in the 7- to 20-pound class are common, and hybrids in the 5- to 8-pound class are typically caught. The fishing is usually best early and late in the day, during low light.”
Harden said that his go-to method is to fish with live herring, but he’s always prepared for topwater schooling.
“Topwater action is scattered in August but can be good when it occurs,” he said. “Most schooling action is usually very early and very late, so I’m out at first light. I like a Sammy in a ghost minnow pattern as well as a white Fluke. I strongly recommend having one or both rigged and ready. It will usually add fish to your catch. In addition, free-lining herring when fish are schooling will increase fish hookups.
“I often find big schools of stripers and hybrids mixed together in the deep-water areas,” he said. “Once we hook a couple fish, that action seems to attract others and puts them into a feeding frenzy. We often get into a situation where the graph depicts scads of stripers that resemble spiraling spaghetti strings under the boat. We’ll hook fish as soon as we drop the bait. Often, they hit it on the way down, and multiple hookups are common.”
Harden said the size of the fish will vary from one school to another, and if he gets on small fish, he’ll leave because there are plenty of schools of quality fish that are on a strong bite.
“The trick is keep looking for fish, because when you find them, the action can get stupidly crazy in a heartbeat,” Harden said. “During August, I’m be able to focus on fewer spots that are holding more fish.”
Harden said hybrids and stripers can get lethargic during the hot weather, and that’s a great time to employ the “power reeling” tactic.
“Occasionally stripers won’t react as I prefer to stationary live bait during August,” he said. “Moving baits can get them to bite, and it’s purely a reaction bite. I use a large bucktail or jighead with a 5-inch paddletail Fluke and also jigging spoons or even herring reeled vertically on a down-rig will work. Get the lure below the target and reel it fast — power reeling — through the entire fish zone and then stop, drop and repeat the process. This simulates bait leaving an area and often triggers a bite from one of those eating machines.”
Harden uses 20-pound Trilene fluorocarbon Trilene for his down rods with a basic Carolina rig with a 30-inch leader of 15-pound test and a 1 1/2-ounce egg sinker above a barrel swivel. He prefers a 1/0 Kahle hooks, but circle hooks are also good for catch and release. For topwater lures, he spools up with 15-pound braid so he can make longer casts but still have plenty of line strength.
“August is the month that keeps a guide in suspense in terms of what’s going to happen on any given day,” Harden said. “Schooling action is possible early and late in the day. It’s also prime time to mark them in big, active schools using a graph and drop live bluebacks down to them. Power reeling can also work them into a biting frenzy.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Access is excellent around Lake Hartwell, with ramps in Anderson and Clemson giving anglers plenty of public ramps from which to choose. I-85 is the key to reaching both areas, with Exits 19 and 21 being dropping-off spots. 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 — August is prime time for live-bait fishing in deep water on the lower end of the lake. Early and late, there are opportunities for topwater schooling for stripers and hybrids. The fish transition to the lower end of the lake during July, and by August, they are solidly locked into this pattern. 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 blueback herring in the 4- to 6-inch size class, tight-lined to a specific depth or fished shallow on a free line. The best depths to fish will be 40 to 100 feet. Some of surface schooling activity occurs, so keep a rig with a “walk-the-dog” type of bait, Fluke or bucktail rigged and ready for quick action.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Preston Harden, Bucktail Guide Service, 706-255-5622; www.bucktailguideservice.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.