The best youth anglers in the country will head to Lake Hartwell for the 2023 Strike King Bassmaster High School Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors July 27-29, and Justin Kimmel, who competes in the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens, says the tournament couldn’t be at a better time.
“This is my favorite time of year to fish the lake,” the Athens, Ga., native said. “My biggest bags on Lake Hartwell have come in July. I’m talking, like, 25- to 28-pound days. A lot of these kids may come in thinking this is a blueback herring lake and that is what they have to do to win, and that is just not the case.”
The High School Championship — featuring more than 480 teams from 35 states and Canada — will take off from legendary Green Pond Landing each day at 6:20 a.m. ET and return at 2:20 p.m. for weigh-in. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
Lake Hartwell continues to be one of the premier fisheries for prestigious tournaments. Last year was the first time the High School Championship was held on the upstate South Carolina reservoir, which has hosted four Bassmaster Classics.
Last year, Wisconsin anglers Reece Keeney and Bryce Moder won the three-day high school event by catching mostly largemouth on a buzz frog, finishing with 43 pounds, 1 ounce. While Moder was still in high school, Keeney moved on to the college fishing ranks, competing for Kentucky Christian University.
Kimmel, a multitime BFL champion on Hartwell as both a co-angler and boater, believes there will be plenty of opportunities for high school anglers to repeat and expand on those largemouth tactics Keeney and Moder used to win.
Those shallow-water largemouth could be around laydowns, docks or around shade lines, but most of those largemouth are going to be eating bream. Kimmel said these bass will get super-shallow. A good largemouth bite also opens up the entire lake.
“Buzzbaits and other topwaters will play,” Kimmel said. “Poppers and bream bed-type stuff like a prop bait. A swim jig is a really big deal for me that time of year. A frog bite will be good around bluegill eaters. The whole tacklebox gets opened up.
“Largemouth should win in July.”
With blueback herring roaming the bottom end of the lake, spotted bass have gotten much of the attention on Lake Hartwell in recent years, and rightly so. A one-day tournament this year was won with over 21 pounds of spotted bass.
“A lot of local stuff gets won with spotted bass because they are more consistent,” Kimmel said. “They will be in the same places, and there are more of them.”
Canepiles, brushpiles and points are classic areas for spotted bass to school up and chase herring. A topwater and fluke could be key to catching those bass that are actively feeding on herring.
“Hartwell is known for the blueback herring deal now and anglers figuring out one of three things — brushpiles, canepiles or standing timber — and finding bass on the lower section or the Andersonville Island area. It usually ends up being whoever has the best milk run. There is always a section that is firing better than others.
“If you stay longer than 10 minutes, you ruin a particular spot for the day. You really have to run and gun to be successful doing that.”
The Strike King Bassmaster High School Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors is being hosted by Visit Anderson.
2023 Bassmaster High School Series Title Sponsor: Strike King
2023 Bassmaster High School Series Presenting Sponsor: Academy Sports + Outdoors
2023 Bassmaster High School Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster High School Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster High School Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew's, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
2023 Bassmaster High School Series Youth Sponsors: 13 Fishing, Seaguar, Shimano