Brandon Cobb dissects Lake Hartwell

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Phillip Lawless

ANDERSON, S.C. – Fishing is like golf, but the pin is always moving and going for par on a lake dominated by blueback herring could be the most difficult of all.

That’s particulary true this week for the anglers competing in the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors on Lake Hartwell. "The herring are really nomadic, especially this time of year. It becomes hard to pinpoint their location,” said B.A.S.S. Opens and FLW pro Brandon Cobb, who spent more than 200 days on Lake Hartwell during his college years at neighboring Clemson University. 

Anglers from 47 states and nine different countries will ply the waters of Lake Hartwell during the Nation Championship, which Cobb believes will be won primarily targeting blueback herring feeding fish.

“You can find a lot of fish schooling on smaller shad, but if you can find the fish eating herring they tend to be the larger fish,” said Cobb.

With the spotted bass population of Hartwell growing and becoming larger, the quantity of bass should not be hard to come by.

“You could potentially win this tournament with less than 100 percent spots, but with a lot of spots included in your limit,” Cobb continued.

The American Bass Anglers two-day tournament held on Hartwell last weekend took close to 31 pounds to win.

"In a two-day tournament right now, 15 pounds a day is strong,” Cobb said. “But with a three-day tournament, expect that average to drop to closer to 14 pounds (due to the inconsistency of the herring). The person that backs that with a 16- to 18-pound limit will be sitting in good shape.”

Lake Hartwell is unique and Cobb, who has two BFL wins there, and finished in the top five at the FLW Championship in his first three years on tour understands the lake better than most. Most of the anglers competing in this week’s Nation Championship won’t have much experience with the blueback herring, a regional baitfish. Cobb’s advice to them is to find the deepest water with habitat close to an area the bass can relate to.

"I've always thought the biggest myth with herring fishing is that bass follow the herring, when really the bass sit on some sort of structure and wait on the herring to swim by."

Unlike some herring fed fisheries such as nearby Lake Murray, where Cobb finished third in the FLW Championship in August, the bluebacks roam throughout Hartwell.

“In Lake Murray the population of herring seem to stay down the lake. Hartwell is completely different.

“In Hartwell there are so many rivers and creeks [that all have blueback herring], someone could figure out something that fits their style in one creek and expand on that throughout the rest of the lake,” Cobb said on patterning the fish.

Cobb expects walking topwaters such as the Yo-Zuri Pencil, a Zoom Super Fluke and a drop shot to be common tactics this week.

The three anglers that best unravel Lake Hartwell will receive a berth to the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell, March 16-18, 2018. The overall champion will receive a bid to the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series.