Striper guide Preston Harden said his motto for Lake Hartwell in March is: “Catch big stripers like you are bass fishing.”  That means heading to the bank and casting small lures to imitate threadfin shad, the preferred baitfish for big linesides this time of year.

“People do catch stripers pulling gizzard shad on planer boards in the backs of the creeks, so there is a bait bite,” Harden said. “But for the most part, the fish don’t want to eat big baits in March. You can get in a big school with herring, and they won’t touch it.”

But when the water warms in the shallows and the schools of smaller baitfish move into that more comfortable setting, big stripers are right behind them.

“When the water temperature starts coming up into the 50s, usually about the first of March, everything moves up on the banks: the baitfish and all the gamefish. The stripers are feeding on the little baitfish because, for the most part, they can’t process a big bait yet. Their metabolism is so slow at this point.”

The best areas are wind-blown banks, and the best time is from about mid-day on when the shallow water has warmed up.

“I can’t say exactly why they want to get on a wind-blown bank — it may be because the plankton gets pushed in there — but the leeward banks won’t hold fish,” said Harden (706-255-5622).

“This is not bait-fishing. We are just casting little threadfin shad-type lures. My favorite is a Scrounger jig with a tiny Zoom Fluke trailer,” he said. “Just cast it right up on the bank in 1 to 3 feet of water. I use the ‘twitch-and-pause’ technique. We seldom catch a fish when just reeling it. They usually hit it when you twitch it and let it fall.”

A big striper rod does not work with a 1/8-ounce lure like that, he noted.

“A lot of people don’t think you can catch big stripers on little spinning rods, but I use a medium-action spinning rod and a reel spooled with 15-pound braid with the diameter of 4-pound (mono). I tie a double Uni knot with about 5 or 6 feet of fluorocarbon for a leader.”

Harden said he also does not try to follow schools of fish this time of year.

“I am just fishing where I know the fish are going to be,” he said. “You might go down a bank and not catch a fish and then go back later in the afternoon and there will be tons of fish on that bank.”

Anglers can expect to catch stripers from 2 to 20 pounds, Harden said, with the possibility of hooking into a 30-to-40-pounder.

“Hartwell has a good population of different-sized fish,” he noted. And not all of them are stripers and hybrids.

“In March we catch spotted bass and largemouth bass, too. Every gamefish is up on the bank in that warmer water. They are just coming out of winter hibernation and they are looking for something to eat. They just don’t want that big bait yet.”