The change-up – You can’t sit still and keep up with Lake Hartwell’s prespawn bass

March is a month of change for bass fishermen on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.

Fishermen who can keep up with changing conditions stand a better chance of catching bass on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.

March is a transition month, as winter gives way to spring, and that goes for a lot more than just the weather, bass-fishing for example.

Chase Simmemon of Fair Play, S.C., is a veteran fishermen who does most of his damage on Lake Hartwell, knows that fish are heading to the spawn, but exactly where they are on any given day can be a big question mark.

“Everything is changing in March, if not by the day, then by the hour,” said Simmemon, who believes Marsh is a month that leaves a lot of anglers scratching their heads.

The air temperature is all over the place, and the water temperature can fluctuate several days in a day. Fish are susceptible to those changes and might be anywhere. Knowing how they react to the changes is the first step in catching a nice limit of Lake Hartwell largemouths or spotted bass.

Simmemon likes to start shallow and work deeper when the conditions are favorable, starting in the backs of pockets and looking shallow for bedding fish if the water temperature is in the high 50s. Anywhere the water is shallow enough for bass to bed is a good place to start, and if the water is clear, beds will be easy to spot.

Simmemon said bigger females will move in and bed before other females, and to catch the bigger ones, anglers need to find them before they hit the beds.

“The reason I start shallow is to find the first bass that get to the beds before the others,” he said. “These are usually the bigger females and these are the ones we want to catch.”

A key element Simmemon looks for is creeks flowing into the lake. Incoming water that is several degrees warmer will draw fish to an area. A warm rain will raise the water temperature in the back of coves and pockets by several degrees, and it can be enough to send the fish into spawn.

Hartwell is famous for its clear water, and Simmemon will have several baits ready.

“When the water is clear, a jerkbait is a great way to cover a lot of water,” he said, pointing also to Rapala’s popular crankbait, the Shad Rap.

Covering water is a key, clear or dirty. If the water is stained, Simmemon points to baits that send out a lot of vibration: spinnerbaits or a rattling, lipless bait like a Rat-L-Trap.

Fish will start staging near pockets when the water temperature reaches the mid-50s. At 60, the bite picks up exponentially, especially around docks that are built on black, plastic floats that hold heat and attract bass. Casting crankbaits, spinnerbaits or swimbaits around these docks can be very productive.

If he doesn’t find fish shallow, he’ll move deeper until he does.

“If I can’t find bass in the backs of the pockets on the flats, I move to secondary points or use my graph and find some ditches,” he said, noting that prespawn bas love to stage on vertical structure like points and ditches. They can move up or down these structures and find a good place that will accommodate their temperature needs.

“If I find the fish in these ditches, they will often be hugging the bottom,” he said.

Fish on the bottom during prespawn can be caught, but you have to slow down, way down. Jigs are a good choice, with 3/8-ounce jigs good choices, especially carrying trailers like twin curlytails.

Simmemon said that fishhead spins, like the one used by bass pro Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., in his 2015 Bassmaster Classic win on Hartwell, are great for fishing ditches and ledges in prespawn.

A fishhead spin can be fished very slowly, and the blade will keep spinning. In deeper water, slower is better; crank the bait just fast enough to get the blade moving and keep it just off the bottom. Long casts to cover more water are essential.

“If there is one thing to key in on” Simmemon said, “look for the baitfish. Hartwell is so dependent on the baitfish that anglers who find the baitfish can find the bass.”


HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Hartwell is a on the Savannah and Tugaloo rivers, west of Anderson and Clemson in South Carolina’s Upstate. I-85 is the ticket for the best access, with ramps literally surrounding the lake. Visit for specific locations.

WHEN TO GO — Bass begin moving toward the shallows once the water temperature breaks the 50-degree mark and continues upward. This is usually in March on Lake Hartwell, so good prespawn fishing may last well into April.

BEST TECHNIQUES — Begin looking in shallow pockets just off the main lake, especially if there’s warmer water entering those pockets. That’s where the first bass to move in to spawn will show up. If fish aren’t on the banks, back off and search the ditches where pockets meet bigger water, and then secondary points. Jerkbaits, crankbaits, swimbaits and jigs can all be productive in Hartwell’s normally clear water.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Steve Pietrykowski, Fishski Business Guided Fishing, 864-353-3438, See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS — Mountain Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau,; Discover Upcountry South Carolina,;

MAPS — Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257,

About Pete Rogers 162 Articles
Pete Rogers of Taylors, S.C., is employed with the USDA Wildlife Services and has been a sporting writer and photographer for over a decade. He has a real passion for trapping and enjoys sharing his outdoors experiences with his wife and five children.