Follow the bait for Lake Hartwell winter stripers

Chip Hamilton said the key to catching winter stripers on Hartwell is to follow the bait, which is abundant here. (Picture by Pat Robertson)

Bait is plentiful; stripers are too

Fishing for stripers in Lake Hartwell in the fall and winter is all centered around bait, “and Lake Hartwell is not hurting for bait,” said veteran guide Chip Hamilton (

“Wherever the bait is that is where the fish will be,” Hamilton said. “This time of year they will be in about 35 feet of water to 45 feet of water. So that’s a good depth to stay in. Although sometimes they might be a little deeper or a little more shallow.”

Hamilton said this pattern kicks in when temperatures begin to drop in the fall and will hold right through January all the way into February.

“There will still be a few fish out in the main river channel. But a lot of fish will have started up the creeks this time of year, but they won’t be all the way up. The pattern will be about the same in the river and the creeks. You will need to key on clean structure such as an underwater ridge or a long tapering point.”

He said deep water will also be nearby — 55 to 70 feet deep in the creek channels and up to 100 feet or more in the river channel.

Don’t waste time in areas without bait

“The bait likes to hang out in those areas, sometimes on the edges of the channel. And sometimes the bait will move out to the center of the rivers. And if they do, the fish will go with them,” he said

“I start every morning from mid-November until the beginning of February on those ridges and tapering points. As long as I am marking bait in 35 to 45 feet of water I’ll put out my lines. But if I don’t mark any bait I don’t stop to fish.”

Hamilton said for him it is almost all down lining this time of year with live blueback herring, fishing just off the bottom.

“It’s also a good time for a jigging spoon. January is one of the best jigging spoon months of the year,” he said. “You want the spoon to match the bait size, no more than three inches long.”

“We do more of the sit still approach. But the umbrella riggers do well, too, working their rigs down the ridges and then swinging out into deeper water, then coming back across.”

One added benefit to striper fishing on Hartwell this time of year, he said, is that you don’t have to get started so early in the day. The best bite takes place from late morning to late afternoon from December through January and into February.

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