It is nighttime — the crack of dawn is still and hour or more away — and South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell is dark. Chip Hamilton points the bow of his striper boat straight at the bank of a point jutting out into the lake and revs the engine briefly to drive the front of the boat up on the bank.
There are no boat lights nor any lights rigged to shine on the water near the boat, but Hamilton uses a small light in the boat to start baiting Carolina rigs with live blueback herring. One by one, four baits are cast out the back and off the sides of the boat. If the fish are there, the first rod will have a fish on before the fourth bait hits the water.
It’s spring and that means it is striper/hybrid bonanza time on Hartwell, the sprawling reservoir on the Savannah River along the South Carolina-Georgia border.
By dawn’s early light, the feeding frenzy is beginning to wind down, but on a good day, that’s fine, because the cooler is filled with limits of stripers and hybrids — and on a really good day there will be a bonus of nice spotted bass and largemouth bass in the mixture.
“If you can get on a point where the fish are stacked up, a four-person limit of 40 fish is not a problem,” said Hamilton, who runs Lake Hartwell Fishing Charters. “This kind of fishing can start as early as March, and I have seen it go all the way to the end of May and the first of June. Usually, it is wrapped up by the middle of May, but it will go into June if the water temperature has not gotten too hot.”
The feeding frenzy starts to kick in, he said, when the water temperature hits the 60- to 62-degree mark and holds on until it gets into the low 70s.
“Once the water temperature gets into the 70s,