You can tell when the fish are biting at Lake Hartwell, a man-made reservoir that borders Georgia and South Carolina. That’s because the lake gets pretty busy. In fact, it gets real busy.
But with 56,000 acres stretching almost 50 miles up two winding arms of the lake, there is plenty of room for everybody. The lake was formed with the construction of the Hartwell Dam located on the Savannah River. It is estimated that nine million visitors a year come to Hartwell to fish and enjoy water sports on the huge reservoir, which makes it one of the south’s hotspots for outdoor action.
Perhaps the most popular sports fish here today is the striped bass. Striped bass were introduced into the lake before it was opened to the public for fishing in 1968 and they are thriving. Fish weighing more than 60 pounds have been caught, although the average for sports anglers is between 5-10 pounds. Stripers are known for their voracious appetites and they hit crank baits, spoons and live bait with a vengeance. The ensuing fight is also what makes them so popular. They pull like a freight train. The lake also has schools of hybrid, or white bass, that are smaller than stripers but have the same feeding and fighting characteristics. On occasion, they get pretty big too, though. The lake record is 20 pounds.
Largemouth bass also abound in the lake. Bass are caught on the lake all year from the shallows in the spring when the fish are spawning to the deeper waters the rest of the year. Anglers use a variety of lures from crankbaits, spinnerbaits and worms to land their catches. Swim baits, drop shots and shaky head lures are also popular among tournament fishermen.
Bream fishing offers anglers a choice of several popular species from bluegills, shell crackers and redbreast bream. Common baits are worms and crickets and the fish often bed up in the warmer months of the year.
Crappie are abundant here, too. Some of the best crappie fishing is after the spawn when the fish move to deeper water and hang out in large schools on underwater structure. There are several man-made fish structures placed in the lake and marked by the Corps of Engineers that hold crappie in warmer months after the spawn and in cold weather when they head to deeper water.
Catfish are also a popular species for fishermen. There are also some trout and walleye in the lake, mainly because of the colder temperatures maintained in some of the deeper areas of the lake. Some areas of the lake are 150 to 180 feet deep. Before you go, back sure and check with one of the many local marinas or the state fishing brochures to make sure you are following all the latest laws, regulations and length limits.
There are a lot more than “fish stories” at Lake Hartwell, too. It’s a unique lake with an interstate running through it and a town located under it. That’s right. The popular and busy Interstate 85 highway crosses the lake and provides easy access from two major airports. When the lake was formed, a once bustling trading community, Andersonville, was abandoned and the remains of that city lie under the waters of the lake today.
Lake Hartwell has one feature that no other freshwater lake can claim. You can go from fishing to football in just a matter of minutes. Clemson University’s football stadium (and campus) actually has a view of the lake and many boaters ride to games, park on the shore of the lake and walk up to the stadium. The lake is also the site of many major fishing tournaments and hosted the prestigious BASS Master Classic in 2008 and again in 2018.
There are nine major campgrounds with restrooms, showers, boat ramps, playgrounds and swimming areas on the lake. There are all types of recreation from biking to swimming and all kinds of boating. If you want to combine fishing with an interesting boat ride and some sightseeing, the Eighteen Mile Creek area is a winding narrow waterway off the lake from the Seneca River. It isn’t quite 18 miles long, but ends up in a big shallow pocket with the chance to view lots of birds and wildlife.
One thing to check on before making a trip to Hartwell is the water level. The lake can fluctuate quite dramatically based on the amount of rainfall and water usage out of the lake. That can affect where and how you will fish, as well as oftentimes necessitating that you take extra precautions boating. It’s good to talk to someone who knows before going out on the lake. Lake Hartwell is less than a two hour drive from Atlanta, Ga. and Greenville, SC. There are dozens of small, quaint cities around the lake with unique shopping and dining possibilities as well.