Archive for the ‘wing dams’ Tag



Catfish anglers know the water and its surrounding structure above and below the surface.  For those who ply the rivers of Illinois this often can be quite a challenge.

They study the vegetation to find where the fish feed and why.  They know which rocks provide shelter from current and are good places for ambushing forage.  They know where bluffs have broken off and boulders lie beneath the surface.

Known as river rats these anglers study current breaks created by the things that fall into the water to find the shelter and food the fish require.  To be a successful catfish angler one needs to be a river rat.

By observing water quality, they are usually the first to notice any problems from pollution and/or run off that damage the ecosystem.  At various times of the year river rats will use varying techniques and tackle.  Their plans relate to the conditions on the river.

Beginning by fishing for flatheads early in the year over deep water structure, they change in June and July to seek out the deep holes over which to drift. The big fish will suspend only in light current.

Flathead feeding during this period is somewhat selective.  Flatheads remain in deep holes by day venturing up on the flats late in the day and during the night.

On the Mississippi River, anglers will fish the back of a wing dam, as there is less current.  The wing dam of choice must be one that is not silted-in.  They also like the end of the wing dam in the swirl working the outside edge of the swirl. Damaged wing dams create two currents and are very good.

Perhaps the most popular areas are the tailwaters below dams.  The astute angler will fish the grooves.  When water flows over a dam, there will be slower water in some areas.  These are the grooves.  A heavy weight on a three way swivel will get the bait down deep.  The bait will float off the bottom above the weight.

Once the weight is on the bottom, the angler can lift the rod tip slightly and the current will move it down stream.  By allowing the current to carry the bait, it moves right to the fish holding in the groove.  After a short period retrieve the bait and repeat the process.

Early in the day, it is a good idea to fish fast moving water as it meets still water.  Catfish will feed along the borders such slack water.

Downstream, one can look for rocks that break the current in fast moving areas.  Behind them can be an eddy hole where fish will stack up.  One can cast upstream, let the bait wash around the rock and into the hole.  Feeding fish will feed on the upstream edge of the hole.

If one fishes from a small boat or canoe, the use of an electronic depth finder comes in handy.  Look for bottom breaks that drop off 1 to 4 feet.  Anchor downstream below the break.  Cast upstream, allowing the bait to role along the bottom and fall off the edge into the hole where catfish are waiting in ambush.

Points of land or large trees that have fallen into the water block current.  Many times the part of the tree above the water is only about 20% of the entire tree.  The rest is beneath the surface.  This often creates an eddy hole behind the current break.  Fish the eddy.

Late summer means low water conditions on most rivers.  Water temperatures often get into the 80’s and low 90’s as the channel catfish move to the shallow water up tight against dams.  The flatheads move to the deep holes.  As a result, catfish are in deep water, fast running well oxygenated water, or both.

Beneath most dams are deep holes created by the water cascading from one level to another.  Casting up under the dam can catch fish.

On the Ohio River, some anglers use crankbaits to catch fall cats.  They will get their boats right up in the shallow water at the dams and then cast floating Rapalas.  The river flow helps to provide action to the lure.  They prefer blue ones in the #13 and #18 sizes.

September is a time when artificial lures also are productive.  A 1/4 ounce jig, crankbaits or a 5-inch salt craw are good choices.  As the fish move into their fall feeding, movement of the bait becomes the key.

In the fall, use a trolling motor on a Jon boat.  Troll over deep holes in the 30 foot depth class.  The electronics identify fish in the bottoms of the holes.  Experience has taught that they are flatheads about to go on a fall feeding spree.

Other structure in the holes such as submerged trees, rocks and some other kinds of “home habitat” the catfish likely hold fish.  Bounce jigs right on their nose.  A 2- ounce jig with salt craw attached works well.  In order to get the fish to take the jig, it must be right on top of the fish.  Not being a bottom feeder by nature, the flatheads eyes are located to find food slightly above it.

Rivers are a constantly changing ecosystem.  Floods, temperature changes, civilization, and currents are just some of the factors that cause change.  If one wants to have success, he has to study it like a river rat.


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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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