Checking in from South Carolina

The March thaw is one of my favourite times of the year around home.
The late-season ice fishing is great because we catch some of the biggest walleye, pike, and lake trout of the year (while the ice is still safe, of course) and it’s simply a nice time of year to be outside.
While I’m missing some of the hot ice-fishing bite going on back home, the good news is I’m fishing out of my boat this week down at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina getting ready for the second FLW Tour bass tournament of the year.
After a couple days of practice, things have been okay for me but not great. I’ve been catching a decent number of fish but most are random, so I don’t have a real solid pattern figured out yet.
Hartwell is an interesting lake because it’s big and has a lot of variety in terms of water to fish. The main reservoir is deep and clear, with literally hundreds of little creek arms off of it and all kinds of water clarity.
The weather has been nice down here for the past couple of weeks, so the water is warming and fish actually are starting to spawn.
I’ve seen a few bass starting to make nests over the past couple of days, so I’m sure some anglers are going to fully commit to fishing for spawners during the tournament.
These pre-spawn or spawn tournaments are my least favourite because most of the fish are in shallow water—hanging around the areas where they’re going to spawn.
The reason I don’t like fishing these conditions is because it’s hard to find solid patterns doing anything other than fishing in these areas. The problem is most of the 170-angler field is going to be focused on these areas, so there are boats constantly going in and out of all the shallow bays.
I’ve found a few places where there are some nice fish. But then as I leave, another two boats pull in to fish the same place. If there wasn’t a big tournament going on, it would be a fun place to fish right now.
I’ve a found a few main lake points where bass are schooling up early in the morning, chasing schools of herring around. But by about an hour after the sun gets up, they disappear and get pretty tough to catch.
As such, it’s going to be important that I take advantage of the early-morning bite right off the bat.
We had one more day to pre-fish before the tournament starts tomorrow (March 17) so hopefully I can keep working on what I’ve learned so far and put a good plan together for the tournament.
Lake Hartwell has a very good population of striped bass and while they are fun to catch, they have been a pain in the butt for me over the past couple days. I’ve caught six of them through two days, including a couple that were in the 15-pound range.
They take about 20 minutes to land on light line, so they eat up quite a bit of time. Hopefully, I don’t hook up with one in the tournament.
The closest fish I can compare stripers to, in terms of fish we have here in Sunset Country, are lake trout—but they are even tougher. They are strong fish and they don’t give up.
If you’re getting out for another trip on the ice, please be careful because according to a few of my friends that I’ve talked to, the conditions have deteriorated quickly.
It’s not worth going for a swim at this time of year just to catch a few fish. Stay safe!