Story by Justin Brouillard | Photos by Tanner & Travis Lyons
BURNSIDE, KY. – Stop number two of the National Professional Fishing League begins this week April 21 – 23rd at Lake Hartwell. Hosted by the Visit Anderson, the anglers and their families kick off the second event of the season with warming temperatures and plenty of ways to catch fish on this week’s playing field.
About the Lake
Home to several major championships in recent years, Lake Hartwell is a fishing destination with plenty to offer anglers. It’s a man-made reservoir between Georgia and South Carolina and is one of the most popular fishing and recreation lakes in the Southeast. With about 962 miles of shoreline and 87.5 square miles of water for anglers to choose from, Lake Hartwell encompasses parts of three big rivers – the Savannah, the Tugaloo and the Seneca. The anglers are hitting Hartwell at a desirable time and will get to choose from a number of ways to fish this week.
Despite not getting any recent time on the water before the cut off period, first year NPFL angler Justin Kimmel is no stranger to Hartwell, having won several times on the lake in the last several years, with a 3rd place BFL finish back in February. With all the success, Kimmel knows he has to fish the conditions present and not fish history.
“Even with the wins here, it’s still a very humbling lake – look at Brandon Cobb at the classic. With a large playing field and different parts of the lake turning off and on, I try to break the lake down into 4 different lakes, maybe 5. You have the lower end, the islands area, the Tugaloo River and creeks, the Seneca River and creeks, and Six and Twenty Creek.”
Kimmel will make a decision how he will fish this week after practice has ended, but noted several things could be going on. With a large group of fish having spawned previously, if another pulls up with the full moon coming, the sight bite can definitely be a factor.”
“That is not how I want to fish, and it’s not what I like to do. If I end up falling back on it, that will not have been my plan of attack – I get anxiety doing that because you may get one bite in an hour and you may not even get it in the boat.”
The other thing that may take place is the post spawn funk stage. With fish having spawned in some capacity prior to the event, portions of the lake could be “tougher” than others, making it important for anglers to samples different sections of the lake.
“My game plan is to fish the current conditions and what I call ‘sneaky’ type deals. Certain pieces of structure, certain stretches, and some history. In the spring time, history will play a little, and the reason is the fish spawn in similar places every year, which is depicted by the water level. But I have to samples these areas in practice to see what is going on. This year is similar to 2020 when due to Covid-19, I spent so much time on the lake learning each of the different sections.”
Between Largemouth and Spotted bass, Kimmel believes a solid mix of each will take the win this week. He plans to fish from less than 1-foot to as deep as 40-foot plus and knows a good bag of spotted bass needs a largemouth to separate from the rest.
“I know the lake and I have to take advantage. It’s a big lake, and very hard to get on the same thing for three straight days.”
Another angler with some history on Hartwell is Jesse Millsaps. Living only an hour and a half away, Millsaps has 10 to 15 years of experience on the lake and has fished a lot of BFLS over the years. Like Kimmel, he believes all three phases of the spawn will be taking place, as well as the shad spawn.
“With temperatures warming, the shad spawn could be going on all over the lake – there should be a ton of fish caught. I do enjoy sight fishing and will probably be doing some of that as well. I live very close to Lake Lanier and it sets up similar. Hartwell Largemouth act similar to Lanier because of the Herring and if you can on one of those deals, you can get rich fast. It’s all about knowing the lake and the key areas for the baitfish spawn.”
With the spawn a possibility to some extent, Millsaps warns that the later in the season that fish spawn, the less they can be relied upon in the tournament.
“I have seen bass the night before and had them gone the next day. The cooler temps this weekend will help keep them there some, but a lot of fish these guys catch spawning will be found throughout the tournament. They get so keyed on the Herring, I have seen them pull up, drop their eggs, and be gone in one day. There will be some heart break happening.”
Despite all the factors, there should be a lot of fish caught a lot of different ways. Millsaps approach is to break the lake into three chunks, and they should be all good this week. Everyone’s going to catch some and they should be biting well – the key will be to find some five pounders. Well see, someone is going to wreck 16 to 20-pounds in 10 minutes.”
How to Watch
Tune in daily April 21st through the 23rd to thenationalprofessionalfishingleague.com to watch daily action from Lake Hartwell, with Live Coverage beginning on Friday. Follow along and watch the daily LIVE Leaderboard, LIVE Blog, and on the water photo galleries and blogs of the anglers on Grand Lake!