Hot Dam, the Fishing’s Great!
By Mark Blauvelt
knows that the fishing is always good below dams, but the real question
here is why is it good? Dams within the Midwest were built for
many reasons and most were built during the last 50 years and based on the
type of dam, can determine how good the fishing may be. Ill show you two
different types of common low dams found in the region and explain why
some fish better then others.
common dam found in Ohio is the old mill or low/roller dam found on just
about every major watershed in the state. The newer ones are built for
recreation and older ones were built for use for hydro power and those are
now where the USGS ( U.S. Geological Survey) river level gauges are
found. The stable pool environment is a perfect place to place these 24
hr recording devices. The picture below shows a large roller dam on the
lower Great Miami River near Hamilton, Ohio.
2 step drop on the falls itself, this was an older design that used the
step halfway down to dispense the energy and this style offers excellent
wading opportunities as you can see because the scour pool is close to the
dam and the sediment that piles up makes a nice shallow and safe way to
fish the face of the dam all the way across without getting near the
dangerous undertow found below low dams. As a reminder, all dams are
dangerous even at low flows so extreme caution and sound wading judgment
MUST be used at all times. These dams typically have rip rap under them
and also have undercuts back under the lip and offer many places for fish
picture shows a dam just 1 mile below the upper picture and shows a more
modern Roller Dam that was built in the last 20 years for recreation
purposes. (Meaning, the pool behind it is used for boating, skiing,
fishing and other water sports)
picture, you can se that the flow is uniform all the way across the face
of the dam and it is a straight drop over the dam face into a concrete
bottom that is “U” shaped to absorb the power of the water and this
circular motion keeps the dam from eroding itself from the excessive water
weight scouring the bottom. The scour hole on this style is a smooth
concrete bowl where the fish do not have much cover to hold on in higher
flows. Also notice where the sediment is piled up, its much further
downstream and not as evident as the previous picture. The reason is
because this style is much more efficient at removing the power from the
water and that the 50 yards of stream bottom after the concrete bowl is
all rip rap so it further breaks down the powerful speed of the water so
less sediment is available to be deposited.
that you have some comparisons here, lets talk about “why” fish are drawn
to these dams in numbers. First and foremost is that most species are
migratory by nature and when mother nature steps in and tells a fish to do
what comes naturally, fish tend to move upstream in search of two things,
another fish to do it with and a place to do the deed. Throw a dam into
the mix and you have current, gravel and a blockage of fish migration so
the spring/fall timeframe is always a good time to find high numbers of
fish in the tail waters. Here is a hint, during this time, fish way
downstream around the spawning gravel and out of the big rip rap rocks,
this is where the majority of the fish will be found.
reason why dams attract fish is because of the food that is found here.
Bait fish and crayfish thrive around the big rip rap and offer lots of
nooks and cranny’s for them to hide in. It is here in these rocks that you
can find large numbers of schooling baitfish like shad, shiners and even
skipjacks if you are close to the Ohio River. When there are large
numbers of baitfish, you can bet the game fish will be right behind or
below them having there way with the school as they are getting plump
either fattening up for Winter in the Fall or fattening up in the Spring
after a tough Winter. These dams also tend to stun or shock baitfish as
they get tumbled over the spillway and this is fish candy as injured
baitfish try to swim around below the dam only to get gobbled up by the
sea gulls hovering around the waters just below this dam on the Great
Miami near West Carrolton. When birds are around, you can bet the baitfish
is in abundance with game fish right below them.
This is why
the Spring and Fall are good time but what about the heat of the summer?
It is the time of year when flows are the lowest and oxygen is also at the
lowest levels of the year. Looking back at the area below a dam and you
will always have heavily oxygenated water from the spillway as well as
some current to keep the bottom scoured clean from mud and algae buildups
which tend to absorb sunlight and create the water to warm up when the
temps are already pushing the lower 90’s. Lastly the shade from the
undercuts and the deep water below the dam offer a cooler, cleaner and
protected area that tend to hold game fish. As a rule, river game fish
such as saugeyes, saugers, white bass, smallies and even predatory catfish
will always be found over gravel while rough fish species like suckers,
carp, buffaloes, bullhead and drum will usually be found on soft bottomed
areas where there is no current. Current always removes sediment and
keeps the bottom clean.
back to the 2 types of low dams mentioned here in the article, the 2 step
type will often have more water on one side then the other cause a large
backwater or eddy area which is a key place to fish while the newer
recreational roller dams almost always are evenly dispersed by water over
the edge of it so in this type of fishing, there is usually a small eddy
on each corner which is a key area to fish below these types of dams.
Along the current seams of fast and slow water is a prime spot for game
fish to ambush baitfish and along foam lines (see picture below for foam
line and eddy) and as a rule, the most successful anglers will use a
baitfish style of fly/lure for the tail waters as the main forage here
will almost always be shiners, minnows or shad with crayfish being the
secondary type of food for most game fish species.
Ill put in
a few pictures here for you to see the different dams and by the way,
these are all on the Great Miami from Dayton down to Hamilton. From the
pictures, try to see where you might fish and how you might fish these
holding areas while staying safe and yet being close enough to find,
approach and catch these fish.
large eddy on the right and the sediment piled up behind it to show you
that there is deep water in this eddy found at West Carrolton, always a
good spot to find fish.
personal best LM Bass and Walleye came from this eddy not 5 minutes apart!
picture of Steele Dam near downtown Dayton shows the older style low dam
where the water drops and hits the secondary lip before running through
lots of small channels loaded with pocket water full of smallies, panfish,
carp and catfish. This water is perfect for spawning and in the spring is
loaded with fish.
picture shows the lip a little better and the water was up over a foot
when I took this picture. At low water you can safely walk along this lip
to fish but never at this flow!
reminder, fishing safely around these dams is imperative and can not be
stressed enough, always fish with a partner, always have a cell phone on
you and if you do wade, always do it at base flows only, with a wading
staff, always wear waders since much of this rip rap has rebar in it and
felt bottom boots also help. Be safe and enjoy fishing these areas that
attract game fish year round.