Carlyle Lake 0002_edited-1

The roar of water rushing over the dam or through a spillway is music to an angler’s ear.  The flow of water means highly oxygenated water.  Tailwater fishing is popular, with those who plan their fishing by being able to read the water.

Dams provide recreational lakes, flood control, provide wetlands, for navigational purposes to provide water of sufficient depth for commercial traffic, and to provide ponds for private landowners.

Tailwater is the generic term for all water downstream of a dam. They provide consistently good fishing because fish congregate in the rough waters.

For angling purposes, there are four types of dams: navigational, wing dams, stationary and spillway dams.

The navigational dams are on large rivers.  They hold back water forming pools similar to long, narrow lakes.  Such dams create a stairway of water that allows boat traffic to travel to and from different points.  Water raises and lowers using underground tunnels and filling/emptying valves.

Wing dams are partial dams.  They consist of rock walls constructed perpendicular to the current.  The walls extend from the shoreline out toward the main channel.  Wing dams divert water into the main channel helping to preventing sedimentation in the river.

Stationary dams are those that block the entire river with a single piece of concrete or with stone piled in such a way as to block the flow of water from bank to bank.  They create a pool behind them and once the river reaches a desired depth, the water flows over the dam.

Spillway dams are similar to stationary dams except that they have a removable or lower portion through which water can flow.  The removable section can be a gate of metal or wood.

The deeper areas above dams provide recreation such as boating, swimming, and angling.  They back up into low lying areas to form wetlands.  Wetlands help to filter the water which later used for human consumption.

Below dams is some of the best year-round fishing.  Seasonal temperature variations at dams tend to remain rather stable.  Because of the churning action, the water below dams is highly oxygenated attracting and holding bait fish and other food sources.  The fast current creates shoals, pockets of slack water , fast runs, rocky points, creek mouths, eddies and deep pools.

In the immediate area downstream for most dams is the wing dam, rip rap, turbulent water discharged by turbines and sometimes deep pools.  The different water configuration presents a challenge to anglers learning successful fishing techniques.  Wing dams are good places to find white bass, cattish, drum, sauger and walleye.

The eddy is current that runs opposite to the direction of the main river flow.  They are behind logs, stumps, large rocks and points of land.  When the current flow hits one of these obstructions it will change speed and direction.  The water becomes either a slack water or slow water area.

The eddy and other slow water areas attract baitfish.  Additionally, crawfish, and insects wash from the fast water into the calmer areas.  The larger predator fish are attracted to this easy source of a meal.  The upstream portion of an eddy usually contains the most aggressively feeding fish.

Side channels are sections of a river separated from the main channel that have current during normal water stages.  Usually they are passages around small islands or oxbows.  The habitat is similar to that found on the edge of the main channel.  Fish such as catfish, white bass, crappie and drum prefer the side channels.

Patterns, lures, and presentations vary from one tailwater to another.  Most tailwater fish feed on dead or injured baitfish washed over the dam or come through a lock.  Spoons and jigs imitate wounded prey and are good choices.  Depending upon current strength anglers can try fishing the edges of fast water where large fish wait in ambush.  The fish can sustain their position in the slow water, yet are able to dart into the fast water as “lunch” washes past.

In fishing eddies cast the lure upstream and let it be pulled into the swirl.  If it reaches a dead spot, pull the lure back out into the slow water area.  Bucktail and rubber-skirted jigs are good as the water is constantly pulling down on the bait.

Another presentation includes vertical jigging in pools or eddies.  Drifting downstream with bottom bouncers is an effective way of presenting live bait or even a crankbait.

Perhaps the most popular way to fish tailwater is with a heavy weight on a three-way swivel that gets the bait down deep.  When water flows over a dam, there is slower water in some areas in these groove areas.  A heavy weight settles on the bottom allowing the bait to suspend just a little up from it.

Once the weight is on the bottom, the angler can lift the rod tip slightly and the current will move the weight down stream.  By allowing the current to carry the bait and weight along a little before bringing it back, the angler covers more water with a single cast.

Rivers are changing habitats.  What is a good area one day often washes away by changing water conditions.  Floods move logs and wash away points.  Generally tailwater provide some of the best action regardless of the specie sought.


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