List of Common Lake Hartwell Fish Species [Updated]
With 962 miles of shoreline, Lake Hartwell is a nearly 56,000-acre reservoir located right on the South Carolina-Georgia border with much of the water in northwestern South Carolina.
The lake was created by the completion of the Hartwell Dam, which was the second construction project in the overall U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ development plan for the Savannah River. Prior to the development of the Savannah River, the surrounding areas often dealt with the consequences of flooding. The Flood Control Act of 1950 authorized the construction of multiple dams, including the Hartwell Dam, as a means to help control flood waters as well as provide hydroelectricity for the surrounding areas.
Lake Hartwell offers a variety of recreational activities to do year-round, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alone has 61 public-use areas to camp, swim, walk, picnic, and participate in other various activities. One of the most popular areas to visit around the lake is the Lake Hartwell State Park, which has 56,000 acres of land surrounding the lake for camping, hiking, RVing, geocaching, and bird watching. The park also has two boat ramps and a fishing pier to allow access to the water to explore and fish, although there are other areas outside of the park that allow fishing.
As Lake Hartwell technically resides in both South Carolina and Georgia, the states have agreed to have universal fishing laws for the whole lake to make regulations a bit simpler. Below are some of the most common species of fish that can be spotted swimming throughout Lake Hartwell.
List of Fish Species in Lake Hartwell
1) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Largemouth bass are a popular sport fish in Lake Hartwell, and they can be found in backwater areas of the impoundment where there are rocky or vegetated coverings. Largemouth bass get their name from their mouth, which extends past the eye, unlike smallmouth bass.
Largemouth bass have olive-green bodies with dark mottling along the back and speckles along the sides. This species typically grows to about 15 – 18 inches long, although the largest largemouth ever recorded was 22 pounds and 4 ounces. Largemouths are carnivores that primarily feed on crayfish but will also eat other fishes and insects.
2) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Smallmouth bass are slightly less common in Lake Hartwell compared to largemouth bass, but anglers can usually find these fish in just about any area that is not incredibly murky and has cover. Smallmouth bass are an olive-green color with vertical bands on the side of the body, and they range from 12 – 18 inches in length and weigh around 1 – 4 pounds.
While smallmouths look very similar to largemouth bass, the major distinction between the two is that smallmouth bass have a smaller mouth that extends to the midpoint of the eye. This species is relatively opportunistic when it comes to feeding, and they often feed on insects, amphibians, crayfish, and other fishes, including juvenile fish of their own species.
3) Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
Spotted bass are a highly abundant species in Lake Hartwell, and these fish really enjoy very clear waters. They will often be found deeper than largemouth bass in areas with rocky bottoms and steeply sloping sides. This species has an olive-green back that fades to silvery sides and a light belly.
Spotted bass gets their name from the rows of small dark spots that line their belly. These fish average around 10 – 17 inches in length, and they weigh 0.5 – 3.5 pounds. Spotted bass also have a tooth patch on their tongues, which helps them to eat crayfish, insects, and smaller fishes.
4) Redeye bass (Micropterus coosae)
Redeye bass in Hartwell Lake are a type of fish that are native to the Savannah River basin. These fish prefer waters with lots of structure, but they enjoy submerged rocky coverings the most. Redeye bass have slender bodies that are olive-brown towards the back and white on the belly. They sport dark vertical lines or blotches across their bodies as well as horizontal rows of small spots towards their bellies. This species also has bright white edges on its caudal fin, which is a distinguishing characteristic from other species in the Micropterus family.
Redeye bass get their name because they usually have red eyes. These fish grow to about 6 – 9 inches in length and will typically weigh around one pound. This species predominantly feeds on insects, but they have also been seen feeding on crayfish, salamanders, and small fishes. For Lake Hartwell, the daily creel limit for all black bass species combined is 10 fish, and there is a minimum length requirement of 12 inches for largemouth bass.
5) White perch (Morone americana)
Despite their name, white perch are actually members of the bass family that can sometimes be found in Lake Hartwell. White perch have silvery or green-gray deep bodies with white bellies, and the base of their fins tend to be reddish in color.
These fish average around 7 – 10 inches in length and will weigh less than a pound. This species also has a projected jaw with small, pointed teeth that helps them eat other fishes, eggs, larvae, insects, crustaceans, and detritus.
6) White bass (Morone chrysops)
White bass are found in Lake Hartwell near channel breaks or along the dam, where the water has a slight current. These fish are a silvery white color, and they wear 6 – 8 black stripes laterally across their bodies. They have an underbite mouth, much like the largemouth bass; however, white bass are more closely related to striped bass.
White bass are mid-sized fish, and they average about 12 – 14 inches in length and weigh around two pounds. This species is highly aggressive when it comes to feeding, and schools of white bass will hunt together for items such as gizzard shad, perch, carp, and other fish species. Currently, the daily creel limit for white bass is 10 fish.
7) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)
Striped bass can be found mainly in waters that are cool, clear, and deep, so they will move to different parts of Lake Hartwell during the changing seasons. Striped bass have bodies that are laterally compressed with green or blue backs and silver iridescent sides. These fish also have 6 – 9 black stripes that run horizontally across the body.
Striped bass are larger fish that can grow to about 2 – 3 feet in length and weigh between 10 – 30 pounds. This species is generally piscivorous and will hunt for other fishes at night.
8) Hybrid striped bass (Morone chrysops x Morone saxatilis)
Striped bass hybrids, also known as wipers, are crosses between striped bass and white bass, and they are produced in hatcheries in order to be stocked in bodies of water like Lake Hartwell. These fish prefer waters similar to that of true striped bass in areas that are cool, clear, and deep. Striped bass hybrids have bodies that are laterally compressed and are silver in color with broken dark horizontal lines. This hybrid also has an arched back, much like white bass, in addition to two tongue patches, which they inherit from the striped bass.
Striped bass hybrids grow very rapidly, and they can reach 18 – 20 pounds by eight years of age. These fish travel in schools, and will hunt for items such as shad, minnows, crustaceans, and insects. There is a 10-fish daily creel limit for striped bass and hybrid striped bass in Lake Hartwell, and only three of these fish can exceed 26 inches in length.
9) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Channel catfish are one of the most abundant types of catfish in the United States, and they are commonly seen along the banks of Lake Hartwell. Like all catfish, the channel catfish does not have scales and has barbels on the upper and lower jaw; however, the channel catfish can be distinguished by its deeply forked tail, silvery body, and overbite.
These fish grow to about 10 – 20 inches long and weigh anywhere from 2 – 10 pounds. Catfish tend to eat quite a bit of food, so they use their barbels covered in taste buds to sense their surroundings and find food like snails, fishes, snakes, frogs, insects, aquatic plants, and possibly birds.
10) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)
Flathead catfish can be found in areas of Lake Hartwell where there are plenty of rocky or woody coverings and deeper waters. Flathead catfish are generally bigger than channel catfish, and flatheads are a mottled brown color with a square tail and an underbite.
This species, like the channel catfish, has barbs on its dorsal and pectoral fins, which are used to poke predators or humans that may have startled them. This species usually averages 20 – 30 inches in length, and they can exceed 100 pounds. Flatheads are fierce carnivores, and they typically prey on a variety of fish species such as drum, shad, and other catfish species including their own.
11) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Black crappies are relatively common in Lake Hartwell because they enjoy still, clear waters. Black crappies have compressed bodies that are darker green on the back with dark mottling on the silvery sides. They also have 7 – 8 spines on their dorsal fins, which distinguishes them from white crappies, which have 5 – 6 spines.
This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, so the males tend to be larger and darker than the females. Black crappies typically grow to about 8 – 12 inches and weigh 0.25 – 1 lb. These fish are able to see relatively well in the dark, so they will generally hunt during the night or early morning for small fish, crustaceans, and insects.
12) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
White crappies are slightly less abundant at Lake Hartwell compared to black crappies, and the best chances of finding these fish are in vegetated areas near windier shorelines. This species has compressed bodies that are silvery olive on the back and silvery white towards the belly. These fish have dark vertical bands along the sides of their bodies, and their gill covers have spines.
During breeding season, males look slightly different than females because the males develop a dark throat. White crappies average about 9 – 10 inches long and are around 2 pounds as adults. These fish generally eat smaller fishes like minnows or shad, but they will also eat insects like mayflies. There is a daily creel limit of 20 crappies combined in Lake Hartwell, and no crappie can be less than eight inches long.
13) Walleye (Sander vitreus)
Walleye can be found in waters that are slower moving and cooler, and they are stocked in Lake Hartwell for anglers to catch. Walleye get their name from their big, glassy pupils, and their eyes look like this due to a reflective layer on the inner eye called the tapetum lucidum, which helps walleye see prey in times of low visibility.
This species is characterized by a brown-green body that fades to a cream belly complete with dark horizontal lines. Walleye average about 11 pounds and can grow up to 30 inches, which makes them highly desirable sport fish. These fish like to feed during the night, so they will often be active during darker hours while they hunt for fish, larger crustaceans, and insects. There is an eight-fish daily creel limit for walleye in Lake Hartwell.
14) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Bluegills are a common sunfish in North America, and they can be found in shallow, vegetated areas of lakes as juveniles, but adults will tend to be in deeper waters during the day. These fish are characterized by having disk-shaped bodies with an olive green back, an orangish-yellow belly, and a black dot at the base of the dorsal fin. Bluegills get their name from the bluish hue surrounding the gill covers.
This species averages around 7.5 inches in length and weighs around half a pound as adults. These fish have very little mouths, so they will only eat smaller prey such as zooplankton, insects, worms, and snails. Bluegills are a main source of food for many larger fish species such as largemouth bass, so they have adapted to be maneuverable. For instance, this species can make very quick stops by spreading out their pectoral fins.
15) Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus)
Pumpkinseed sunfish can be found in areas of Lake Hartwell where the water is clear, warm, and has lots of vegetation to hide in. This species has a disc-shaped body that is speckled with olive green, blue, orange, and yellow, and they have orange and blue waves running across their faces.
These fish grow to about 5 – 8 inches long and weigh around 8 – 12 ounces. These fish are active during the day and will feed on insects, larvae, mollusks, snails, crustaceans, leeches, small fish, and detritus. At night, pumpkinseeds will rest near the bottom of the river or in vegetation, so they will not be spotted by predators.
16) Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
Redbreast sunfish can be found throughout Lake Hartwell in areas with sandy or rocky bottoms and aquatic vegetation to hide in. These fish have blue-green backs and sides and yellow- or rust-colored bellies.
Breeding males develop bright red upper bellies, which is how they get their name, redbreast sunfish. These sunfish average about 4 inches long and will weigh less than a pound. Redbreast sunfish are opportunistic feeders and will prey on many different smaller food items including juvenile insects and larvae.
17) Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
Redear sunfish are found in Lake Hartwell in areas where the water is warmer and has a moderate amount of cover. These fish have laterally compressed bodies that are usually green, gray, or olive, and they will sometimes have dark flecks and vertical lines along the length of them. Redear sunfish get their name from their black opercular (ear) flap which has a bright red border in males and an orange border for females.
This species can grow up to 12 inches long and generally weigh under two pounds. Redear sunfish are benthic feeders, and once they become adults and develop a strong jaw, they will almost exclusively feed on aquatic snails. These fish are slightly harder to catch compared to bluegills, but they are still willing to bite many kinds of bait, which makes sunfish a perfect starter fish for new anglers.
18) Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)
Warmouths, also known as redeye, are found in Lake Hartwell where there is lots of vegetation and logs and where the sides of the river have steep slopes. Warmouths are a type of sunfish that has a thick olive-brown body with dark brown mottling and three to five red-brown stripes across the gill cover.
Warmouths average about 5 – 8 inches long and weigh around two pounds. Warmouths get the nickname “redeye” because they have bright red eyes. These fish also have the name “warmouth” because they have very large mouths that extend to the pupil of their eyes. They use this mouth, along with teeth on their tongues and the roof of their mouths, to eat crustaceans, insects, and small fishes.
19) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
Yellow perch are one of the most common types of perch, and they are found in brackish waters and near the reservoir in Lake Hartwell. This species is known for its golden-yellow to greenish body covered in 6 – 8 dark vertical bars. These fish have yellow or green eyes and orange-red tinted fins.
Yellow perch generally grow to about 7 – 10 inches long and weigh around a pound, although this species is prone to having stunted growth in areas where food is limited. When food is abundant, adults will feed on the bottom of the river with their subterminal mouth, and they will search for items such as benthic macroinvertebrates as well as smaller fishes.
20) Gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)
Gizzard shad can be found near the shorelines of Lake Hartwell where there are higher winds and turbidity. This species has silvery blue backs that fade to white sides, and they average between 6 – 8 inches long and 1 – 8 ounces in weight. These fish also have a long final ray on the dorsal fin that resembles a whip.
Gizzard shad get their name from their unique muscular stomach that acts almost like a bird gizzard, which breaks down plant matter and phytoplankton that the fish filter feed on from the water column. This species is very important for the health of many ecosystems including Lake Hartwell because they help control plankton populations, and they are a prey item for many other fish species including crappies, white bass, and black bass.