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Lake Hartwell contains 56,000 acres of water and has 962 miles of shoreline available for some excellent fishing. Popular fish in Hartwell Lake include crappie, catfish, bream, largemouth bass, striped bass (stripers), hybrid bass, gar, and carp. Fish living in the cool water below the Hartwell Dam, in the Savannah River, include rainbow trout, brown trout, walleye, and stripers. Put a boat in this river at a boat ramp below the dam and drift down towards Lake Russell for an excellent day of fishing. The view is spectacular!
Did you know...the water depth of Lake Hartwell near the dam is up to 180 feet deep! This area is always a great place for some excellent striper fishing, and catfish. Lake Hartwell is home to the current state-record 59-pound, 8-ounce striped bass. Since an estimated 90% of their diet is fish, a crankbait or other lure which resembles shad or blue-back herring is excellent. Blue-back herring are the #1 food source for Lake Hartwell stripers. Larger spoons also work well. For Crappie, jigging smaller spoons in deep water can produce excellent results, and have even been known to outfish live bait!
Depending on time of year, Crappie can be found in various locations throughout the lake. In early spring, while spawning, they can be found in shallow water around fallen trees and where large rocks have been dumped around bridges. Later in the year, they move into deeper water. A good place to find Crappie during the summer is under the many bridges that cross Lake Hartwell. Crappie tend to travel in schools, so where you find one, there are several. Excellent bait for Crappie includes jigs, minnows, spoons, and spinner baits. Crappie are one of the best tasting fish when fried.
Lake Hartwell has an abundant supply of catfish that can be caught year-round, and are excellent when fried or baked. Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish, White Catfish, and Flathead Catfish are all common in Lake Hartwell. The larger catfish are good fighters. Usually, catfish feed more at night than during the day. Good baits are chicken livers, cut bait, and stink bait. My personal favorite is chicken livers.
Bream are rather easy to catch and are great fun for kids. They are also tasty when fried. Bream can be caught from the shoreline of Lake Hartwell. Good baits include worms, crickets, and small artificial lures.
Like Crappie, Largemouth Bass also move into shallow water in the spring to spawn. Later, they tend to move into deeper water, but can still be found around the banks in the morning and late evening hours. Minnows, crankbaits, and carolina-rig worms work well for bass.
These bass can be caught most anywhere, but are often found around the dam area in water up to 60 feet deep. The striper is the best fighting fish on Lake Hartwell. Lake Hartwell and Lake Lanier are the two best striped bass fisheries in Georgia. Lake Hartwell is home to the state record, 59-pound, 8-ounce striper. The lake is stocked annually with stripers, which feed largely on blueback herring. There are many baits to try, from live blueback herring to jigs, spoons, and large crank baits which resemble shad or blue-back herring. Stripers can be caught year-round.
Carp are also found in Lake Hartwell. Most people do not like to eat them, but a large carp can sure put up a good fight! A friend of mine once told me that he canned carp, and that it tastes just like salmon when fried like salmon from out of the can. Carp will bite most anything that has a scent. I once caught a 13-lb carp on chicken livers. This carp fought like it weighed twice this much. I think some people also use dough balls as bait for carp.
Trout and Walleye can be caught in the Savannah River below the Lake Hartwell Dam, in the tailwater. Rainbow trout are stocked annually by both the Georgia DNR and South Carolina DNR. Walleye are also present. A few years ago, I watched a fisherman catching dozens of medium- to large-sized walleye off of the fishing pier next to the dam on live minnows. Unfortunately, I did not have my fishing rod that day. The best place to catch these walleye is on the Georgia side, off of the fishing pier right up next to the dam. But, for some reason, the Corps has had this area barricaded for several years and we fishermen are no longer allowed to fish from that particular pier. Therefore, a fish sanctuary has been created and unfished for years. I urge all fishermen to please contact the Lake Hartwell Corps of Engineers office toll-free at (888) 893-0678 to complain about this, or send them an email. There is no good reason why we should not be allowed to fish from this pier.
When fishing below the Hartwell Dam, keep in mind that the rocks are slippery and the water can rise suddenly, so use caution. A horn sounds for about one minute before water is released at the dam and can be heard for about one mile. Call (888) 893-0678 and then press 1 for the most current water release schedule.
Georgia State Fishing Regulations and South Carolina State Fishing Regulations are available online. A Fishing Guide for Hartwell, Richard B. Russell & J. Strom Thurmond Lakes is also available.