Carlyle Lake 0003

A summer of record rainfall has resulted in high water situations in most of Illinois lakes and rivers. As a result many fish washing over dams creating rejuvenated fisheries n the tailwaters downstream.

Tailwaters are changing habitats and fishing them can be frustrating. What is a good area one day washes away by changing water conditions. Floods move logs and wash away points. Tailwater addicts welcome the challenge providing some of the best action regardless of the species sought.

Catching a first fish downstream from a power dam in northern Iowa made an instant tailwater addict out of the 5 year old. It was a 6 pound bass and was caught on nightcrawlers from his grandmother’s garden. The nightcrawler floated below a bobber on “cat gut” line attached to a bamboo pole. I was the youngster in question.

The roar of water rushing over a dam or through a spillway makes the water flow become highly oxygenated. Baitfish seek shelter in eddies which attract predator fish. One can fish for numerous species. To an angler, on shore or in a boat, it provides action not often available in other water.

Tailwater is the generic term for all water downstream of a dam. Although spring is best for tailwater fishing, these waters provide fishing action through the year. The fishing is consistently good because the fish tend to congregate near rough water where they find ample food.

Dams fall into four basic types: navigational, wing dams, stationary and spillway dams.

Deeper pools upstream from a dam tend to be more popular with recreational boaters and swimmers. Often the water backs up into low lying areas to form wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife. Wetlands also filter the water which is later used for human consumption.

Tailwater below a dam contains water of relatively stable temperature. The churning action oxygenates the water making it useful in attracting and holding baitfish. The current creates shoals, pockets of slack water, fast turns, rocky points, creek moths, eddies and deeper pools.

Although fishermen ply the humps, underwater islands and secondary points downstream, the best action is right below the dam.

The immediate area downstream from most dams contains wing dams, rip rap, turbulent water discharged by turbines and often deep pools. Changing water configurations present a challenge to anglers. Wing dams are often good places to find white bass, catfish, drum, saugers and walleye.

Patterns, lures and presentation vary from one tailwater to another. Some basic tips include remembering that tailwater fish are feeding on dead or injured baitfish. Spoons and jigs imitate wounded prey and are a good choice. Depending upon the current larger fish is generally found along the edges of the fast water. It is easier for them to sustain their position in the slow water and yet dart into the fast water as “lunch” washes past.

Eddies formed below dams have a current that runs opposite to the direction of the main river flow. They occur behind logs, stumps, large rocks, and points of land. When the current flow hits one of these obstructions it changes speed and direction. The flow becomes either a slack water or a slow water area. Cast upstream and allow the bait to drift into the eddy. Bucktails and rubber-skirted jigs can be drifted into the dead water areas and then pulled back out into slow water.

Slow water areas attract crawfish and insects washed from the fast water into the calmer area. Predator species see this as an easy food source. The upstream portion of an eddy contains the more aggressively feeding fish.

Side channels beneath a dam are water separated from the main channel containing current during normal water stages. Often they are passages around small islands. The population of fish in them is generally the same as that found on the edges of the main channel. Fish such as white bass, catfish and drum like the side channels.

Perhaps the most popular way to fish tailwater is with a heavy weight on a three-way swivel. As water washes over a dam it creates groove areas down stream. The heavy weight will settle on the bottom and allow bait to suspend just a little above it. This rig is most commonly used for catfishing, a very popular tailwater activity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: