UPCOMING EVENT: Rayovac FLW Series - 2015 - Lake Champlain

4 Keys to tailrace success

Many dams attract local fishermen as well as tournament anglers.

A quick primer on when and how to fish tailwaters If you ask Walmart FLW Tour pro Jonathan Newton where the best tailraces are in the country, he'll tell you the tailraces of lakes Pickwick and Wilson. If you look at the tournament schedule for June, you'll see that the fifth 2014 FLW Tour event and the Walmart BFL All-American will be held at Pickwick and Wilson, respectively. Both are hosted by the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Bureau. You don't need a crystal ball to predict where plenty of anglers in both events will be heading. It's no secret that dams hold fish pretty much year round, both on the lake side and in the tailrace below. That especially holds true in summer. With the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers consistently pulling water through the dams, baitfish get pulled together on the lake side before being flushed through to the tailrace. It's hardly a fun ride, as baitfish are often injured or disoriented, but that makes them easy meals for schools of bass waiting below. Tailrace fishing is not your average offshore fishing, though. Combine strong currents, bass-holding spots that require pinpoint casting accuracy, endless snags and roaming fish, and there is no shortage of challenges to fishing the tailwaters. Yet, anglers such as Newton and fellow Pickwick local Randy Haynes continue to fish them time and again because the extra effort can be well worth it. Here are their four keys to achieving tailrace success in the summer months. Editor's note: Click on each photo for more information on the tailraces featured here. 1. Current and timing The Wilson Dam is a popular fishing location all year long. Tournament anglers can find schools of bass grouped up in the tailwaters of the dam during the summer months. When it comes to tailraces, everything revolves around the current. "The more they [damkeepers] are pulling water, the better the bite," says Haynes. "It's really a timing deal," adds Newton. "The fish will position differently depending on the flow. If you time it wrong and are not on the right area when they start pulling water, you'll miss the bite." Each tailrace is different. You'll need to study them from the water to figure out how changes in current impact fish position and behavior, in order to find the best locations at low- and high-flow times. There are usually little windows, such as the moment water begins being pulled or periods when the current fluctuates, that will trigger fish activity. To maximize productivity during ideal current flows, an angler definitely wants to know the generation schedule for the dam for the given day. It's also helpful to know if they're only generating on one side of the dam. If they're only pulling water through the left side of the dam, for instance, then that's where the bass are going to congregate to feed. One last area to keep in mind is where the current "switches back" against the shore or face of the dam. This large eddy forms in most tailraces where the water swirls back upstream. It's more pronounced in tailraces where the channel narrows just downstream of the dam, and the flow is "squeezed down" into a more narrow area. That area of swirling, relaxed current will disorient baitfish and provide a feeding area for bass. 2. Rocks and slack The Nickajack Dam is a popular spot for local fishermen with a convenient boat ramp nearby. Anglers spend most of their time in the swift water of the dam Even with schools of disoriented baitfish being flushed by them, bass are not about to just sit out in the open and fight the current to eat them. Instead, they'll seek out rock piles and large boulders, which create eddies. These bubbles of slack water on the backsides of the structures allow bass to lazily wait, while the current brings the baitfish to them. When a meal washes by, a bass simply has to dart out, eat it and swim back to the calm eddy to wait for the next floundering feast. Large boulders and bottom depressions that create eddies can be located from above with electronics. However, anglers can often see the eddies right on the surface of the water, indicated by swirling currents or seams between currents of different speeds. The visual indicators are nice because mastery of electronics is not always necessary for location. However, just because an angler can see the eddies doesn't mean it's always easy to fish them. 3. Drift or camp There are two techniques - on good days - for fishing tailraces. If the current is light, an angler can camp on a particular rock pile in hopes a school of bass moves up on it. Just make sure your trolling motor batteries are charged, then go to work. Most days, though, it's all about lining up drifts that allow an angler to cast to multiple eddies as the current pushes the boat downstream. "When the current is really going, you might only get one or two casts at an eddy before you're past it," says Newton. 4. Pinpoint power fishing With such little time to potentially get a lure into the eddy, this is no time to be dragging jigs. Instead, Haynes and Newton opt for lures that can be fished quickly and accurately, namely swimbaits, crankbaits and heavy spinnerbaits. All three lures will get down to the structure creating the eddy, yet they can also be retrieved quickly. Even still, an angler has to plan his casts so that the current pulls the lure into the eddy at some point during the cast. Otherwise, a bass is less likely to dart out to grab it, especially if the current is really flowing. Usually, casting just upstream of the target, and at an upstream angle across the structure, will allow the lure to sweep into the strike zone by the time it gets down near the rocks. The length of cast can have an effect, since the current will pull against the extra line and can move the lure a considerable distance. So in heavy flows, it might be necessary to drift by closer to the target. "There's a lot to consider and take into account," says Haynes. "It's hard to fish tailraces, even for me and I've been doing it a long time. If you don't understand it, you're missing casts or getting hung up 90 percent of the time. Some guys really take the time to understand it, and those guys catch a lot of fish." Final tip: Slack-water structures Kerry Milner made the Chickamauga Dam famous when he won the 2013 Walmart BFL All-American off of the riprap point near the dam Not every productive tailrace structure is a natural eddy-forming feature out "in the flow." Often, larger man-made structures create expansive slack-water areas, and the seam that forms where that slack water meets moving water is a productive fishing spot in nearly any level of current. Arkansas pro Kerry Milner fished just such a current seam to win the 2013 Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American on Lake Nickajack. A long, narrow concrete and riprap break wall extending out from the dam created a slack-water area where boats passing through from Lake Chickamauga above could exit the lock without fighting the heavy flows. He parked his boat on the slack-water side, where control was easy, and cast out into the current. Similar structures exist on most major reservoir systems that support barge traffic. Other man-made features include large cylindrical barge tie-offs, dividers between the main flow and smaller diversion canals, or even spoil piles where construction rubble was piled up underwater.

Tags: pre-tournament 

/news/2015-08-08-a-country-music-festival-at-the-cup-

A Country Music Festival at the Cup

It’ll be quite the country music festival atmosphere, complete with an extensive hunting and fishing expo featuring the top tackle and outdoor brands in the country, plus the second annual Bass & BBQ Festival, where fans can sample the wares of the world’s finest low-and-slow cookers. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-30-flw-anticipating-largest-expo-of-all-time

FLW Anticipating Largest Expo of All Time

Bass fishing history and Arkansas walk hand-in-hand it seems. The Natural State was home to the first bass tournament. It’s where Ranger Boats was founded. And it’s hosted some of FLW’s most noteworthy events. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-28-previewing-champlain-

Previewing Champlain

Year in, year out, Lake Champlain presents a challenge that is almost totally unique. When the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division competition gets under way on Champlain later this week, competitors will have about 100 miles of water to choose from. The win could come from anywhere, and limits will be plentiful. The event, which is presented by Plano, is likely to be an exciting one to follow. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-27-fishing-the-cup-for-a-cure

Fishing the Cup for a Cure

n his first year fishing the Walmart FLW Tour, Jason Meninger placed 41st in the standings, earned more than $30,000 and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup. Oh, yeah, he also found out he had cancer. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-22-college-fishing-rolls-to-the-mighty-miss

College Fishing Rolls to the Mighty Miss

FLW College Fishing is headed to the Mississippi River July 25 for the third and final regular-season tournament in the Central Conference. A full field of college teams will be competing for a top award of $2,000 and a berth in the Central Conference Championship tournament. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-21-shane-lehew-gets-his-chance

Shane Lehew Gets His Chance

In 2014, Lehew began his Tour pro career by capturing 24th place in the first event of the year on Lake Okeechobee. His performances on the Big O last year and at Lake Toho this spring reflect his preference for fishing shallow water with mixed cover. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-09-ohio-river-event-rescheduled-for-august

Ohio River Event Rescheduled for August

The Walmart BFL tournament on the Ohio River at Tanner’s Creek slated for July 11 has been rescheduled to August 29 due to extremely high water levels. All takeoff and weigh-in locations and times will remain the same. Anglers will takeoff and weigh-in at the Lawrenceburg City Ramp, located at Tanner’s Creek Drive in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Up to 400 boaters and co-anglers will be competing for top awards of up to $8,000 and $3,000 respectively in the one-day event. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-08-2015-forrest-wood-cup-co-angler-qualifiers

2015 Forrest Wood Cup Co-Angler Qualifiers

Along with their pro colleagues, 50 of the best co-anglers in the country will take to the waters of Lake Ouachita Aug. 20-23 for the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup. Here’s the official list of qualifiers, in alphabetical order and by source of qualification. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-02-things-to-do-at-the-2015-cup

Things to do at the 2015 Cup

When 50 of the world’s best bass anglers arrive in Hot Springs, Ark., for the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup next month, they’ll be competing for the biggest honor in bass fishing – Forrest Wood Cup champion – and the biggest winning payday in bass fishing – $500,000. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-30-2015-forrest-wood-cup-field-announced

2015 Forrest Wood Cup Field Announced

READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-24-practice-with-alex-davis

Practice with Alex Davis

The final stop of the Walmart FLW Tour on the Potomac River is a homecoming of sorts for pro Alex Davis. Though Davis now spends his time guiding on Lake Guntersville, his early years were spent about 45 miles west of the Potomac in Strasburg, Va., where he learned to bass fish. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-24-historical-potomac-river-tour

Historical Potomac River Tour

While the field for the Walmart FLW Tour event was out looking for bass on the Potomac River we decided to see the sights as well. Launching at Smallwood State Park, we rolled out for a self-guided tour of the area in a Ranger Z520c. Below is a sampling of what we saw. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-23-practice-with-adrian-avena

Practice with Adrian Avena

Adrian Avena might not have the years on the water that some of the other locals have, but he’s currently sitting eighth in the AOY race and calculates that he only needs to catch one keeper to make the Forrest Wood Cup. I was happy to jump in the boat with him and co-angler Ian Renfrew for a few hours on the final day of practice for the Walmart FLW Tour event on the Potomac. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-17-anglers-to-watch-in-the-all-american

Anglers to Watch in the All-American

Clearly, there’s no such thing as home-lake advantage in the Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American. Consider the five most recent winners: Troy Morrow of Georgia in 2010 on DeGrey Lake in Arkansas, Jacob Wheeler of Indiana in 2011 on Cross Lake in Louisiana, Brian Maloney of Missouri on the Potomac River in 2012, Kerry Milner of Arkansas on Lake Nickajack in Tennessee in 2013 and Marcus Sykora of Missouri on Wilson Lake in Alabama in 2014. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-09-practice-with-casey-martin

Practice with Casey Martin

Last time the Walmart FLW Tour stopped at Lake Chickamauga, then-rookie Casey Martin sacked over 100 pounds and won the event. As well as being a tremendous win for a rookie, the entire experience was documented on Circuit Breaker for an inside look at the entire process of winning a tournament. Now that we’re back on the scene of Martin’s greatest triumph, I jumped at the chance join him for a few hours the last morning of official practice to see how he approached the lake. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-09-dark-horse-patterns-at-chick

Dark Horse Patterns at Chick

Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga has caught the attention of bass anglers everywhere over the past few years due to the giant stringers of largemouth bass being taken from the Tennessee River reservoir. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-02-bfl-okie-division-tournament-moved-

BFL Okie Division tournament moved

Due to unsafe water conditions, the Walmart BFL tournament at Fort Gibson Lake slated for June 6 has been moved and anglers will now compete on Skiatook Lake. Anglers will takeoff and weigh-in at Black Dog Park, located on Highway 20 in Skiatook, Oklahoma. Up to 400 boaters and co-anglers will be competing for top awards of up to $8,000 and $3,000 respectively in the one-day event. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-20-mdj-fitzgerald-battle-for-aoy

MDJ, Fitzgerald Battle for AOY

The Southeast Division of the Rayovac FLW Series will wrap up this week on Lake Seminole after what has been an action-packed season complete with record fields and 30-pound stringers. On top of battling for the $40,000 top prize for winning the event, anglers will also be competing to claim the Strike King Angler of the Year award and its $2,000 prize package, which includes deposits into the 2016 FLW Series. The AOY finale is likely to be a two-man race between Mark Daniels Jr. and Trevor Fitzgerald, but several other pros are within range of stealing away the title. Here’s how it breaks down. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-12-shad-spawn-grass-could-be-a-factor

Shad Spawn, Grass Could be a Factor

While the offshore specialists have discounted the ability to win the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Quaker State on Lake Eufaula on a shallow pattern, their quickness to count out the shallows might be premature. Eufaula’s shallow bite is nearly always strong, and it has only gotten better in recent years. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-12-practice-with-clayton-batts-

Practice with Clayton Batts

Of the locals in the field for the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Eufaula, sophomore pro Clayton Batts is about as local as they come. He has roots all around Eufaula and has about as much experience as anyone on the lake. Typically he competes out of a Ranger wrapped by Mid-State RV Center, but motor troubles had forced him to miss some practice time and borrow a boat from FLW Tour co-angler Josh Weaver. Luckily, he is well-equipped will local knowledge to make up for lost time. I joined him for a few hours the last morning of official practice to see how he approached the lake. READ MORE »