Lessons from Lake Hartwell
Anyway, I recently finished 2nd at the Bassmaster Weekend Series Regional at Lake Hartwell doing something I’d never done in a tournament…. video game fishing with a drop shot.
I still don’t like it but now I feel like I can catch the fish I’m seeing on the graph. It’s pretty amazing how effective a drop shot is on spotted bass.
I arrived at Lake Hartwell praying to God that it would be cold enough to push the fish into the creeks, but when I arrived it was still quite warm and the water temperature was still in the mid 70’s.
That didn’t stop me from starting my search in the creeks though. My friend Ben who won the Everstart in Okeechobee earlier this year fished the BFL regional here last year and told me about some creeks that I should check out on the west side of the lake called Gumlog and Paynes.
I spent my first 2 days of practice in those 2 creeks and really had very little success. The water was totally clear and there was no shad to speak of. The best bite I got in those 2 creeks was off a steep rocky point that dropped into 30 ft of water. I saw some fish on the graph and a small spot ate the drop shot right away.
My friend Jessie told me he’s been catching fish off the marked shoals and I had every intention of checking them out on the third day but for some reason I ended up by one of the numerous bridges on Lake Hartwell. Immediately, I remembered being on Smith Lake and how Shawn Shrader caught those spots in a 100 ft of water drop shotting the pilings.
I didn’t feel that up to it so I pulled up to the one closest to the shore in about 30 ft of water and caught a nice largemouth off the first cast with the drop shot. I still didn’t feel like drop shotting so I began casting the drop shot towards the rip rap on the bank and caught a nice 3 pound largemouth. I didn’t realize at the time that most people don’t cast a drop shot but it seemed to work as I caught a nice limit of largemouth in the first hour of practice.
I finally talked my self into drop shotting the deeper pilings sitting in 1o0 ft of water and caught a few small ones but I just don’t have that much patience. Some bait starting showing up so I began throwing the Tennessee Rig around those same pilings. Wouldn’t you know it, I started catching largemouth after largemouth in 100 ft of water…. that’s retarded. You’d think you’d catch spots but they were all nice sized largemouth. For sure I thought this could be a winning pattern. I ran to the next bridge and caught another largemouth in about 75 ft of water.
The fourth day, I had enough of the drop shot and fished some marked shoals with a white fluke and Chrome Lucky Craft Gunfish and caught the living daylights out of them. Every marked shoal had a nice spotted bass or two on it. About half way through the day, I decided for some reason that this pattern was too obvious and those fish would get hammered the next few days so I got drawn back into the creeks and finally found a creek with a little stained water. There was no shad but I immediately felt more comfortable.
My gut told me there would be resident fish in this creek and they would be near the mouth since the fall migration had not started yet. Ahhh… I was wrong. I didn’t get a sniff until I got about 3/4 of the way back on a dock with about 12 ft in front of it. My green pumpkin jig got swallowed up by a 5 pound largemouth. Now we’re talking. A few docks later another giant ate my jig but it broke me off.
I decided I’ve seen enough and explored a bunch more shallow docks with no fish on them. The docks with flat land next to it tended to be shallower and the docks with steep land were worthless.
The dock pattern was a good one but I just didn’t know if I could catch a limit doing it both days so I began looking offshore on the 5th day of practice. I probably spent 6 hours graphing different spots and drop shotting a few that looked good but I didn’t get a bite. Towards the end of the day, I finally found a nice hump in about 30 ft of water with brush on it. I idled around and found the motherlode. Even I could understand that there was a massive school of fish on this spot. I dropped my drop shot and immediately caught an 18″ spot. I drop in there again and I get a 17″ spot. It was unreal the amount of fish here. You can see my graph in the pic below.
The last day I decided to find some similar humps near the area I found the day before and found another 3 similar places that I caught fish at. I decided to call it a day around noon and start rigging.
I decided I needed to get a limit first on the humps and then go hunt down largemouth so I started the first day of the tournament offshore fishing for spotted bass. My co angler, “Barefoot”, caught the first 2 fish of the day and I thought here we go again. I’m gonna play guide service today. It took about 30 minutes, but I finally got my first bite and the drag was absolutely screaming. It was a giant spot that finally got me in the brush and got off. The second bite was an instant replay of the first fish. That stupid thing got me in the brush again.
Finally, I tightened up the drag a little bit and I started holding the drag so that it wouldn’t slip until I got it away from the brush and landed my first keeper… a fatty 3 lb spot. I then proceeded to land the next 3 spots that were all really good size.
At about 10:30, the bite really tapered off and I wanted to save the spot for the next day so I went hunting on the marked shoals. I hit nearly 20 of them and thought for sure I’d get my 5th fish but to no avail. There were still some fish on the shoals but they were all short.
I ended the first day of the tournament in 10th place with a little over 11 lbs with 4 fish. Not a bad start but not getting my limit would haunt me the 2nd day.
I began the 2nd day on the off shore hump and caught 2 right away but the stripers were invading my territory and giants stripers began schooling all around me. The only problem was that the spots stopped biting. I stayed on the hump for 2 hours and decided it just wasn’t happening.
I run to a nearby marked shoal and absolutely nothing. The only good part is that some fish started schooling nearby on a point and they looked a lot different than the stripers so I ran over there and finished out my limit. I maybe had 7 or 8 lbs but I had a limit and now its time to hunt down some largemouth. I ran into the creek with the dirty water and hit both docks that I had caught big fish on to no avail. I thought that figures, but I kept on going anyway simply because I was developing a migrane from looking at the graph so much and it felt good to have a flippin stick in my hand. About 8 or 9 docks, I get a giant thump on that jig and it was giant that weighed nearly 6 pounds… an absolute giant for Hartwell.
I flipped docks with a jig the rest of the day but not another bite. I was just happy to be flippin.
I ended up with the biggest bag on day 2 of nearly 13 lbs and the biggest fish of the tournament. I was in the lead for most of the weigh in until a local who was in the top 5 the previous day ended up with a pound more than me.
Ouch… sure wish my dumb ass got a limit on the first day. At the very least, I’m now super confident video game fishing drop shots. I looked at the graph so much that it was all I could see when I closed my eyes to go to sleep that night. The only thing I could see was those streaks on the sonar.
I have no idea why I never went to the Alabama Rig fish on the bridge pilings and I probably should’ve made it out there.
The few things I picked up this week is that a tungsten drop shot sinker is way better than lead because of the added sensitivity, the Roboworm Rebarb hook works better than an exposed hook around brush, fish caught out of 30-40 ft of water need to be deflated with a needle or they float upside down in your livewell (thank goodness my co anglers were from a state where they carry such things in their tackle box), the new Gamakatsu Drop Shot rig with the swivels and clip for the tag end saves you a ton of time re tying baits, and that 5 to 6 days is the ideal practice time for me personally. It allows me to cover enough water to get rid of the feeling of being lost out there and not so much time that I’m not dwelling too far in what’s happened in the past. Learned a lot of this week although I didn’t catch the giants I’m used to catching in Florida
At least I made it to the National Championships which was priority number one. Winning was never an objective although it would have been nice. Either way, I ended up with a nice check for 2nd place and big fish of the tournament and added a new technique to my tournament fishing arsenal.
Posts about my Xtreme Championship at Lake Seminole and the Weekend Series National Championship at Old Hickory will be coming soon so stay tuned.
You See This, You Better Drop