Cool water, HOT BOAT

The only thing better than spending an afternoon or weekend at the lake may be enjoying your lake-time in a hot new boat.

Several marina managers shared what trends – and what boats – are popular this year. One thing they all agree on is that tritoons, or pontoon boats with three pontoons instead of the traditional two, are more popular than ever.

Brant Tew, owner of Hartwell Marina, said engines have become more powerful in the past few years.

“Two stroke (engines) have kind of gone away,” he said. “It’s more of a four-stroke outboard environment. The old two-stroke engines ran like a chainsaw, noisy and smoky. The new ones are real quiet and easy on fuel. Engines are a lot more efficient and reliable.”

Shown is a 2019 Four Winns HD 200 boat with wake board tower. PHOTO/BOATING ATLANTA

Shown is a 2019 Four Winns HD 200 boat with wake board tower. PHOTO/BOATING ATLANTA

Tew said a lot of boaters on Lake Hartwell have always used pontoons. “Those are getting bigger with much bigger engines,” he said. “You’ll have a pontoon with a 250 or 300 horsepower engine, which was unheard of years ago.”

Tew said, in the old days, people would own a pontoon and a second boat, such as a ski boat.

“Now they’re just getting one boat with a real big engine on it,” he said.

Tew said wakeboard boats and surf boats are also popular.

“You don’t see much water skiing anymore, but guys are doing wakeboards,” he said. “Those inboard ski boats are made just for it. They’re like a tractor. They pull real hard.” There are also boats specific to wake surfing, which is surfing on a wave created by a powerful boat.

“They’ll have these boats with wings coming off the back, to kind of push down in the water and make a real big wave behind the boat,” Tew said. “They get on a surfboard and ride (the wave) across the water.”


Jet boats are popular with families because they use jet engines rather tan propellers, making them safer for pull-behind sports. (Photo/Boating Atlanta)
Jet boats are popular with families because they use jet engines rather tan propellers, making them safer for pull-behind sports. (Photo/Boating Atlanta)

Another trend is that many people dry-stack their boats at the marina, rather than towing it with a truck.

Tew said Hartwell Marina offers dry stacking, and was one of the first marinas in Georgia to offer it.

“That’s one of the bigger chang-es in this industry,” he said. “Not everybody is driving big trucks. Cars today, and some small trucks, can’t tow these heavy boats around. So a lot of people do away with the trailer completely and use us. They call us and we set their boat down in the water. It’s like valet parking.”

Nathan Rhodes, who owns N&C Marine in Martin on Lake Hartwell, and Boating Atlanta on Lake Lanier, agrees pontoons are a hot item.

“Pontoons have been hot for about eight years, and they’re continuing to grow,” Rhodes said. “Because of the performance packages they’re putting on them, they’re getting quicker, better handling. They’re growing in popularity every year. We’re seeing that same trend this year.”

Rhodes said he has also seen “good growth in the jet boat market.”

“They’re very popular with the younger generation with kids,” he said. “They don’t have a propeller down in the water, so they’re safer for the family. They’ve become really popular, simply because they’re safer.”

Rhodes said tritoons have largely replaced traditional ski boats, because they have the speed and agility of a ski boat.


Shown is one of many tritoons available for rent at LaPrade's Marina on Lake Burton. (Photo/LaPrade's Marina)
Shown is one of many tritoons available for rent at LaPrade’s Marina on Lake Burton. (Photo/LaPrade’s Marina)

“They’re still big party boats, but now they’re faster and they perform a lot better because of the technology,” he said.

Rhodes also sells a lot of bass boats, especially with bass fishing in high school and college becoming a trend.

“A lot of high schools are doing fishing tournaments, so we’re selling a lot of boats to parents of high school kids, as well as college, because fishing has become real popular,” he said.

Katie Brotherton, general manager at LaPrade’s Marina on Lake Burton in Clarkesville, agrees that tritoons are a big thing these days.

“More and more of the lake (residents) are buying tritoons,” she said. “They can take a little more horsepower and you don’t get that huge rocking you get with regular pontoons.”

Brotherton said boats are generally getting bigger, at least on Lake Burton.

“People would normally buy a boat that’s 22 feet long, and add a motor, it’s two more feet, so that’s 24 feet,” she said. “But for whatever reason, people are buying bigger boats, and they’re not going to fit in their boathouses.”

Brotherton said wake surfing is fun for participants, but not so much for lake house owners.

“A lot of homeowners are not very happy with wake boats, because they’re tearing up docks, but I’m seeing more and more water sports on this lake,” she said. “In the past, I’d see more families just boating, but now all these families have grown up and they’re wake surfing and wake boarding and skiing. They’re not just tubing anymore.”

Brotherton said popular wake surfing boats are the Nautique and the Centurion, which is specifically for water sports. Brotherton said the Centurion is new to Lake Burton.

“I had never seen that boat (Centurion) on this lake, or not as many as I’ve seen now,” she said. “There are probably three or four on this lake now.”

Brotherton said the beauty of a pontoon is that people can relax, and “have a little more room to spread out.” But, with a tritoon and a “decent sized motor,” she said, “You can pull kids all over, all day long.”


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Fog used to settle in the bottomland in the 1940s and hang over the Savannah River as it meandered its way from Hart County to the Atlantic Ocean, blanketing the rolling foothills of Northeast Georgia and the farms that dotted the landscape.

Dirt roads crisscrossed the hills, connecting farms and communities like Sardis and Alford to places across the river in South Carolina and beyond via bridges like the Alford’s Steel Bridge.

Dean Teasley walked those dirt roads as a child and teenager, heading to family and friends’ homes or to town in Hartwell, where farmers and merchants would do business on weekends. He remembers vividly the fog from his days in the field, working first with a mule-drawn plow and later on a tractor.

“You could stand up on the hillside and see fog, the fog that went down the river,” the now 80-year old Teasley recalls. “I can picture that in my mind right now. that fog would stay there until it warmed up, about 10 or 11 o’clock.”

At that time, farmers were raising an ample amount of cotton in Hart County and the surrounding areas, Teasley said. It was a different time, a time when people sat on front porches until late into the evening talking about the day’s work, or perhaps a little small-town gossip. Children found their entertainment through games they created, running through the woods or cooling off in the river with a dip.

“We didn’t have TV until the mid-1950s here, so everyone sat on their front porch into the night and talked,” Teasley remembers. “And of course, we listened to the radio a lot.”

His family was so enthralled by the new technology that they drove out to see the first radio station built in Hart County when it opened.

The arrival of televisions in Hart County came with another major, modern development that forever altered the landscape and the course of history for Hart County and the surrounding counties.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the Hartwell Dam in 1955, after the project was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1950. The dam would not only control flooding in places down river like Augusta, but would also produce hydroelectric power via four hydroelectric generators with a combined 264-megawatt capacity. Room for a fifth generator was designed into the dam that would eventually span a total of more than 15,000 feet when the earthen and concrete structure was combined.

The project meant the birth of Lake Hartwell, the 56,000-acre reservoir with more than 960 miles of shoreline we all know today.

For Teasley’s family and many others in Hart County, the dam project marked a major transition, one that was both welcomed and reviled at the same time.

“Up until the dam was built, it was just a completely different county, you know,” he said. “Everybody was farming. I don’t know if I can tell you how many, but there were a lot of farmers and a good many had to move. A lot of folks from our area ended up in the Goldmine Airline area (of Hart County).”

Many of those farmers were less than enthusiastic about having to move from the land they had tilled, some for several generations, in the name of progress. Teasley remembers property being purchased by the Corps for $75 to $100 per acre.

“A lot of those farmers thought they were ruined,” he said. “Bottom land (by the river), that was prime land.”

The feelings were mutual on the other side of the Savannah River as well.

“In the Carolinas, there was an old woman who would bounce a few rifle balls off the bulldozers. That’s the truth,” Teasley said.

His family’s land was where the Army Corps offices sit today, and where Watsadler Campground offers campers spectacular views of Lake Hartwell’s big water.

Teasley pointed out his family’s property recently on aerial photographs taken of Hart County in 1938 by the Corps. He showed where roads, now submerged deep under the lake, used to wind through the farmland and where they crossed the Savannah River on bridges like the long and narrow span that carried motorists traveling Old Highway 29 into South Carolina, or the Alford’s Steel Bridge, which was roughly where the dam is today. The remnants of the Old Highway 29 bridge today rest silently under the lake not far from the Long Point Recreation Area, perhaps a healthy habitat for the thriving fish populations that attract many thousands of anglers every year.

“We traveled those bridges many times,” Teasley said.

He pointed out in the aerial photos where the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers meet to form the Savannah River, an area now under Lake Hartwell, roughly 45 miles of the Tugaloo and Seneca stretching to the north.

By 1957, Teasley was 18 and on his own working as a surveyor. Although much of his family’s property was to be submerged upon the dam’s completion, the construction presented an opportunity. Teasley began surveying on the project and worked on it until it began operating in 1962.

He was there when the first concrete was poured.

“It just got taller and taller,” Teasley said. “It was interesting for me because I got to see just about every phase of it.”

Concrete-filled forms laid out by construction crews in 7- to 8-foot sections, little by little growing taller and eventually reaching its 204-foot apex and 1,900-foot length.

“They would pour 7- or 7-1/2-foot pours, then they would go in and wash it down. Then you do a new layout for the next set of forms for whatever the piece of equipment went in there,” Teasley said. “It just slowly went up. They had viewing stands on both the Georgia and South Carolina side, and you would see people watching the construction.”

All the while, life in Hartwell went on much like it always had. Movies at the Emily or Judy theaters, complete with a drink and popcorn or candy, went for 26 cents. Basketball teams from the community schools peppered throughout Hart County competed for area championships. Farmers plowed their fields and went to town on Saturday to shop at retail staples like Bailes-Cobb or Gallant-Belk. Haircuts cost a quarter and teenagers found their entertainment at the local bowling alley or skating rink.

Slowly but surely, as farmers moved from where the lake would eventually be, homes, barns, churches and even the Alford School were razed. Cemeteries were moved and progress on the dam steadily pushed forward toward a new Hart County.

Once the dam was finished, Teasley remembers it taking only about a year to fill up.

“They were saying it would take several years, but it was a rainy season and it filled it right up,” Teasley said.

He remembers a smell of sulfur as vegetation rotted under the new conditions.

People eventually began to get used to the new Hart County. As time passed, the vestiges of the old Hartwell gave way to a different sort of community. Farming and agriculture were still important cogs in the economic wheel, as they still are today, but a new sort of industry began to appear — tourism. Lake houses that only a couple of decades ago would have been in the middle of a field were built along the shoreline and with them came new residents and visitors.

“It brought a lot of people in over the years,” Teasley said of the lake. “We got a lot of people in from up North, from Florida and out from Atlanta. When we were growing up you pretty well knew every family in the whole county. If you knew one group of people, you could tie it in to someone else.”

Hart County continues to grow today. Several high-tech industries have moved in with the promise of thousands of new jobs emerging in the next five to 10 years. Subdivisions have popped up around the lake and downtown Hartwell remains a hub for shopping and dining.

Hard feelings about the lake simmered for a while, Teasley said, but with time, many of the people who were angry realized they could still farm the land and maybe make a little extra money with real estate.

“It definitely changed Hart County,” he said. “It took several years for people to see the benefit. For a while, they only looked at the negative. But then they saw they could sell lots on the lake.”


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Summer heat hits striped bass hard


No one argues that summer heat in the South climbs well above the comfort level – for humans and animals.

The beaming August sun makes the cooling waters of the Savannah District’s three reservoirs inviting for a cool dip or swift boat ride. But while the surface water feels cool to humans, some fish find it most uncomfortable – particularly striped bass and blueback herring.

During the summers of 2013 and 2018 Hartwell Lake officials discovered a large number of striped bass died during the hottest part of the season. Members of the public noticed the large sport fish floating on the surface.

Since these were the first instances of fish kills in the history of the reservoir, their deaths caught the attention of Corps officials, representatives of the two states’ Department of Natural Resources and the public.

“Two things really impact striped bass in Hartwell,” James Sykes, fisheries biologist for the Savannah District’s reservoirs, said. “One is temperature and the other is dissolved oxygen.”

While humans find most open water below body temperature “cool” fish don’t. Their body temperature matches the water temperature – and they must have it cooler.

As summer heat drags on, the surface of the reservoirs warms up during the day but doesn’t cool enough at night. By August the surface level is much warmer than the lower levels, Sykes explained.

In addition, the upper warm layer, exposed to the atmosphere, has plenty of dissolved oxygen, but the cool deep layer experiences an ever shrinking amount of oxygen as the summer progresses.

So fish, particularly striped bass and blueback herring progressively dive deeper. There they reach another obstacle – little oxygen at deep depth. It just doesn’t exist at greater depths naturally.

The fish get caught between low-oxygen below and declining oxygen and high heat above, according to Anthony Rabern, also a fisheries biologist who works for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Rabern has spent years studying reservoirs and lakes in northeast Georgia, including Savannah’s Hartwell reservoir.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Anthony Rabern explains how a shrinking “bubble” of oxygen-laden water in Lake Hartwell contributed to never-before-seen deaths of striped bass in late summer of 2013 and 2018. The Georgia DNR tracks fish movements within the reservoir using transmitters surgically embedded inside 39 striped bass released into Lake Hartwell earlier in 2019. Rabern compares the fish movements with water quality information gathered by the Savannah District’s fisheries biologist, James Sykes and Natural Resource Specialist Jess Fleming.

As the water warms and the deeper layer continues to lose oxygen, the zone of cool, oxygenated water in the reservoir gets smaller and smaller. In 2018, it finally disappeared altogether, Rabern discovered. Georgia DNR has an ongoing study of water quality in the fisheries of Hartwell Lake. Rabern heads the data-gathering effort.

Rabern and colleague Tony Anderson spend much of their time on Lake Hartwell tracking fish movements. They use tracking devices surgically implanted into 39 striped bass that send a signal that sensors attached to buoys in the reservoir to detect and record the fish as they move about the 55,900 acres of Hartwell Lake.

The shrinking oxygen habitat for fish commonly occurs in Southeastern U.S. reservoirs, according to Rabern.

“We call it ‘the bubble’ or ‘the summer squeeze,’” Sykes said. In most years the bubble is of sufficient size to support striped bass and blueback herring through the summer, but in 2018, according to Rabern’s data, ‘the bubble’ finally disappeared altogether.

Then the dead and dying fish floated to the surface near the dam grabbing the attention of anglers and the passing public.

Biologists like Rabern and Sykes can detect when the bubble begins to shrink and know the fish will soon suffer distress.

“It’s like a train,” Sykes said. “You can see it coming, but there’s not a lot you can do about it.”

Not all the bass died. Most managed to find safe haven somewhere else in Hartwell Lake. In order to find cool water with oxygen, some fish travel many miles.

That includes one tracked striper nicknamed “The Wanderer,” a 12-pound specimen, which has passed receivers more than 4,000 times since its capture, tagging and release early this year.

Some “pings” have happened more than 28 miles from The Wanderer’s release location. The study aims to find where the other locations in the reservoir that support fish in the summer may be.

Natural Resource Specialist Jess Fleming takes water quality measurements in Lake Hartwell on the Georgia-South Carolina state line. The Corps of Engineers shares water temperature and dissolved oxygen data with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in an effort to learn more about fish habitat and survivability in the reservoir.

Besides fish movement, Sykes and Park Ranger Jess Fleming provide water quality data in the joint effort. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources also contributes to the three-way partnership. They all want to determine the reasons behind the possible decline in heavy-weight bass populations.

“Until about five years ago, folks would pull in 40 to 50-pound stripers from time-to-time,” Sykes said. “Those are very rare now.” Stripers grow about two pounds per year, Rabern explained.

Unusual rainfall or high water release rates in 2013 and 2018 may have factored into the loss of the bubble those years, Sykes speculated. In both years Lake Hartwell received well above average rainfall which led to higher discharge rates, according to project records.

The root cause that led to the fish mortality in those years may remain a mystery for a while. However, Georgia and South Carolina continually stock Hartwell Lake and other reservoirs and lakes in the region with striped bass and other sport fish to replenish the population.

Many of the stocked fish carry tags easily visible to anglers. Those tags include a message for reporting the catch, which also carries a small reward. The DNRs use the information about the catches to aid in their management of the fish population.

As the summer heats up, fishing will likely remain a popular pastime for those seeking relaxation and who want the challenge of finding and catching those elusive fish. It may take extra skill to find them, but an old American proverb says, “The worst day fishing beats the best day working.”

~ Billy Birdwell, Corporate Communications Office

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