In just a few days practice will begin at Lake Hartwell for the second stop of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour.
Like many lakes across the southern United States, Hartwell received torrential rains over the winter, putting the lake near flood pool early in January. This caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open all 12 spillway gates – a very rare occurrence on Hartwell – in an effort to bring the lake back to normal levels.
Not only has the massive amount of rain brought fluctuating water levels, it also dirtied the majority of the water on the lower portion of the lake, which usually remains clear. The water has cleaned up some, but it’s still not back to what would be considered normal.
It’s been more than a month since the season-opener on Lake Okeechobee. Given the downtime and the changing conditions, several anglers took full advantage of the pre-practice period that ended Feb. 29 to venture up to Hartwell and learn what they could about the lake.
We checked in with a handful of them to see what their thoughts were from the last time they laid eyes on Hartwell.
Brian Latimer, Belton, S.C.
We got a lot of rain late fall and into the winter. That put the water up really high – the highest I’ve seen it. It also made the water really dirty. It has cleared some, but even the main lake still has some stain to it and isn’t as clear as usual.
I’ve never fished a big tournament here on my home lake. I was so perplexed at how to prepare for it. I actually called Casey Ashley just to ask how to prepare for something like this, and he told me to approach it like a lake I have never seen before.
So, that is how I spent my pre-practice. I avoided a lot of stuff that I already knew about. There is a lot of dead water on Hartwell, so I tried to cover as much as I could. I never ended up finding anything new or groundbreaking. I did graph a lot of brush piles and just tried to simplify things.
If the weather stays warm it’ll put a lot of fish up shallow, and I wish it would get cold just to slow everything down. But regardless of weather the whole lake will play, from deep to shallow. That’s just how Hartwell is.
I really can’t foresee a bad tournament. There is a lot of food in the system thanks to a good shad spawn. It’ll be fun for sure.
Jayme Rampey, Liberty, S.C.
I made it out to pre-practice for a few days just before it went off limits, and the fish were biting really good. I live 10 minutes from the lake, and I really just wanted to get out on the water to see what the water clarity was like and check water temperatures.
Fishing wise, I tried to check some things that have been good in the past as well as some off-the-wall places that could work because of the weather (the area is in a warming trend that is forecast to continue in the days leading up to the tournament).
The biggest thing is going to be the weather. If we stay on this warming trend I would be surprised if we aren’t looking at them (on beds) by the tournament. We just haven’t had a winter around home this year. Even the dogwoods and cherry trees are starting to bloom.
I’m looking forward to fishing this tournament because it should be really good.
Austin Felix, Eden Prairie, Minn.
I made it up to Hartwell a few days after the Okeechobee Tour event. I fished for five days, and I just wanted to see the whole lake. I have been on Hartwell for about five hours before this trip back in 2014 prior to the FLW College Fishing National Championship (on Lake Keowee, where he finished first with partner Chris Burgan), so my goal was just to get a feel of what the lake was like.
The lake is just deceivingly huge. I spent the first two days doing a little fishing, but after that it got so cold I just rode around and did some graphing. I wanted to check creeks, docks and brush piles. I tried to do a little bit of what I did on Keowee (dragging jigs and shaky heads on deep points and humps), but Hartwell sets up way different. I did throw some of the same baits, though, and caught some fish.
I had a blast while I was there. I got on a little pattern that I could run and almost call my shots until the weather got cold and the water temps dropped.
Hartwell is a pattern lake and seems to be pretty consistent, which I like.
Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn.
I usually don’t like to pre-practice for events, but since there was such a long break between tournaments I figured I’d go check it out. I just like to fish so much I went to go fish.
I went to Hartwell right before the lake went off limits. I was trying to look for where the fish might be going or stopping. I checked a lot of stuff in the 20- to 30-foot range and some shallower stuff around 15 feet.
A few years ago on Hartwell guys were catching them deep and doing really good, while I was catching fish off beds and barely made the [top-20] cut. I remember thinking, “How was that possible?” I definitely didn’t want something like that to slip by me again.
Luke Dunkin, Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
I spent three days on Hartwell just because I have never been to the lake before. I wanted to see the lake, so I spent most of the time riding around and looking.
I did fish a little bit and wanted to get acclimated with fishing deep water. I was catching largemouths in 40 feet of water, and when that happens nothing makes sense anymore for a Tennessee boy like me. If I ever caught them that deep back home, they’d make a statue of me.
Hartwell actually reminded me of Wilson Lake (his home lake) in a way. Still, Hartwell is a super-intimidating lake because so much of the water looks the same, from above the water at least.
I wanted to look deep because if you find something like (Brent) Ehrler did in 2012, it’s game over. I didn’t catch a lot of fish, but I don’t think I caught one under 2 pounds.
I’m really looking forward to this tournament for some reason.