February 18, 2020 by Kyle Wood
Spring can be one of the best times to launch a boat in the clear waters of Lake Hartwell. That’s why the Georgia-South Carolina border reservoir might be the perfect venue to start the Eastern Division of the Toyota Series on March 3.
An unseasonably wet winter has plagued the region, leaving the lake level at or above full pool for a decent part of 2020. While the water is on its way down, weather patterns between now and tournament time will still be the deciding factor. Still, no matter the conditions, Hartwell is full of big largemouths and spotted bass, and March is no doubt one of the best months for the lake to showcase what it’s capable of.
Toyota Series Eastern Division
March 3, 2020
Hosted by Visit Oconee South Carolina
How the lake sets up
Built on the Savannah, Tugaloo and Seneca rivers on the border of South Carolina and Georgia, Lake Hartwell sprawls some 56,000 acres. While its size is respectable, you don’t truly appreciate how well a large field of anglers can spread out until you start exploring all the pockets, nooks and crannies found along the lake’s shoreline.
Considering Hartwell is a deep, clear body of water, it’s no shock that it holds a stout population of spotted bass. There’s no grass in the lake, but there are still plenty of big largemouths that call Hartwell home. Docks, laydowns, brush piles and rock are the primary types of fishable cover. Though there are shad and bream in the system, the primary forage for growing big bass in Hartwell is blueback herring, a nomadic baitfish that becomes more predictable in the spring.
What to expect
Local stick and former FLW Tour pro Jayme Rampey is excited about the timing of the event, even though the weather thus far this season has left the lake in flux.
“Hartwell is a very weather-dependent lake,” he says. “Every time the lake is high, the lake is tough, so we’ll see what happens by the tournament.
“But March is a way better time for the event to be here than if it was here in April. It’ll be a pure prespawn tournament. The fish shouldn’t be in a weird mood, and they should be putting the feedbag on. Plus, Hartwell is a real good pattern lake, so if you figure something out you can run it from one end to the other and the lake will fish big.”
Since the majority of the fish will be trying to bulk up for the spawn, Rampey believes we could see some of the best weights Hartwell can produce all year.
“When you want to see big weights on Hartwell, the prespawn is the time for it,” he adds. “The tournament will be won with largemouths, I think, but a lot of top bags will have spots – probably a 50/50 mix. Those spots that time of year weigh a lot. I won a BFL a few years ago with three spots over 4 pounds, so that time of year they can be really big. I think it’ll take close to 17 or 18 pounds a day to win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a little higher. It just depends on the weather.”
Baits and techniques
With the event lining up nicely with the heart of the prespawn period, there should be a lot of options on the table for how to catch a bass.
“We’ll see typical March stuff,” Rampey says. “The herring will move up, and so do the bass. You can catch fish then from 50 feet up to 6 inches. It just depends on weather. The deep bite will be good. There will be a ditch bite and a shallow crankbait bite. I really think it’ll be a good tournament.”
Expect to see a lot of baits in play, from football jigs, spoons, Keitechs and jerkbaits to spinnerbaits, shallow crankbaits (like a Rapala Shad Rap or Berkley Frittside) and maybe even some topwater for a schooling bite around herring. The lake should be fishing wide-open, and anglers will be able to pick their strength and dial something in to fit that program.