Open analysis: Day 1 at Hartwell full of fish catches

ANDERSON, S.C. — Catching fish was no problem on Lake Hartwell on Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open presented Mossy Oak Fishing, as 170 boaters caught five-bass limits on Day 1 and all but one boater in the 187 boat field caught a bass.

On Day 1, the biggest bags came from anglers who were primarily targeting largemouth. Shane Lineberger and Derek Lehtonen each secured bags of four largemouth and one spotted bass and are tied for first with 17 pounds, 13 ounces entering Day 2. They are followed by Jon Jezierski, who had 16-13 and the same largemouth to spotted bass ratio.

Big bags of spotted bass were caught as well with Tyler Williams, Matt Pangrac, Tristan McCormick and Hunter Sales all catching more than 16 pounds of mostly spots.

On paper, the weights and fish catches look good, but several anglers were left scratching their heads on how to find consistent size and if and where a pattern exists. For the last several weeks, Lehtonen’s bag would have landed him around 10th place in the local derbies he participates in, with between 20 and 22 pounds as winning weights. But today, he finds himself tied for the lead.

There are a couple reasons for this. For one, several anglers have confirmed that they believe the lake has turned over, which has dirtied up the water and scattered the offshore bass.

“These fish that are over the cane piles and stuff are sight feeders,” Lineberger said. “You will be in 40 feet of water and draw them up with a fluke that makes no noise. So when the water turns over it stains the water up, and they can’t see as well. That combined with the pressure, it has jacked them up a little bit. But my fish aren’t getting a lot of pressure.”

The lake has also been low for most of the year, but in preparation for Hurricane Ian last week, the lake was lowered even more which is sucking bass out of shallow water areas. 

“The turnover has ruined it and the drawdown from where they are pulling water,” Lehtonen said. “It has moved these fish big time. They are sucking it out every day. There are less and less fish filtering in where I am fishing.”

As a result of the conditions, covering lots of water seemed to be the strategy for a lot of anglers as boats were constantly zooming across an otherwise calm Lake Hartwell on Day 1.

Here’s a look at what some of the top anglers had to say about their Day 1 performance.

Jon Jezierski (3rd, 16-13)

Jezierski caught the big bass of the day at 6-6 to land his biggest bag this year. The Michigan pro has a section of creek largely to himself that has wood, bait and most importantly bass that he feels are migrating to him.

“The water temperature was 67 degrees back there,” Jezierski said. “Around noon I caught one of my 3-pounders and it was bright white like it just came in from the lake. So they might be moving in there which could be a good thing. It could be pretty exciting. Any piece of wood lodged on the bottom was key. The big one came on a piece of wood. I caught her in the first 30 minutes and then came back and caught the 3-pounder off that same piece of wood. Maybe new fish will pull in on it every hour.

Matt Pangrac (5th, 16-4)

Two bigger bites carried Pangrac to over 16 pounds and put him in the top five after Day 1. He landed somewhere between 30 and 40 bass total while making somewhere between 75 and 100 stops on the day.

The ”Bass Talk Live” host had several big bites each day of practice as well, but he said he hasn’t found a specific way to target that bigger bite. With so much fishing pressure, Pangrac anticipates Day 2 will be a more challenging day and capitalizing on those bigger bites will be critical.

“I treat Hartwell and spotted bass lakes like a football game. I had my first 15 or 20 spots mapped out and it just ran, ran, ran,” Pangrac said. “I weighed in fish from the Six and Twenty (Creek) bridge all the way to the dam. I made two laps and stopped 75 to 100 times. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. It was a lot tougher than it had been. The fish were roaming more, and you could tell they are pressured.”

Hunter Sales (7th, 16-1)

The head bass fishing coach for Carson Newman University ran all over the place on Day 1, from a good way up several rivers all the way down to the dam. The result was a Top 10 performance in his second trip to Lake Hartwell.

“Your first cast over something was going to be your highest chance at catching one,” Sales said. “It seemed like the big ones were either going to eat or they weren’t. The more places you could run, the percentage seemed to go up.”

While bait seems to help the bite, Sales has also been able to pull into an area and catch fish that don’t have bait around them. He has a rotation of about six baits he can catch his spotted bass on depending on where they are at in the water column.

“I’m pulling up and there are lone fish cruising,” he said. “I’m keeping my head down and LiveScoping and throwing at whatever I see. They aren’t really relating to a whole lot.”

David Gaston (12th, 15-5)

A big bite early in the morning was the highlight of Gaston’s day. He spent the rest of it grinding out the rest of his limit. In practice he found the afternoon bite was the best, so after being in the first flight today that checked in at 3:15 p.m., he is happy to be one of the last anglers to weigh in on Day 2.

He is also covering a ton of ground, essentially running from point to point.

“What I caught today I am really thankful for,” Gaston said. “I have a long day (on Day 2). I know I am the last flight. I was worried about today and not having enough time to catch them. They don’t start biting until right now. Hopefully tomorrow I can have a better chance at catching a better bag.”