Finding the Dam Fish: Patterning Water Release Bass

Water releases from a dam cause reservoir bass to settle into a daily routine that anglers can easily pattern.

Water releases from a dam cause reservoir bass to settle into a daily routine that anglers can easily pattern.

 When water is released from the dam, the lake level starts dropping so bass vacate the shallows and congregate on offshore structure. This is the classic pattern for bass on a solitary impoundment, but the scenario becomes muddled when trying to figure out water releases in the middle and lower links of a chain of reservoirs.

 Spread throughout the United States are numerous impoundments on various river systems linked by a series of dams. Some chains have only two impoundments on a river system, but others can have as many as four to six reservoirs linked to one waterway. Figuring out how water releases from a series of dams affect bass on a particular reservoir is a challenge BASS pros frequently encounter. From their tournament trail experiences, they have discovered how bass react during the various water release phases on a chain of reservoirs.Three BASS pros who have spent plenty of time on reservoir chains and have developed game plans based on water releases are Brian Snowden, Mark Menendez and Harold Allen. Here's a look at how these tournament competitors find bass during water releases on reservoirs that have dams at both ends of the impoundment.


 Reservoir bass relate to current the most when both the dam above the impoundment and the dam on the lower end release water at the same time to create a heavy current. Snowden encounters this situation often during power generation periods in the summertime on his home lake of Table Rock, a middle link in the White River chain of reservoirs that also includes Beaver, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals. Because Table Rock is a massive, deep lake, the current during power generation is undetectable on the reservoir's surface."That tends to make the fish suspend, and a lot of times it will make them suspend on the insides of points," suggests Snowden. "A lot of times the fish will face upcurrent so you will want to throw to the upcurrent side. Even though you can't feel any current against your boat, you want to make sure you position yourself to where you are retrieving your lure downstream."

 When water is released from the Beaver Lake and Table Rock dams at the same time, Snowden notices the best action for bass is usually on the upper ends of the rivers and the lower end of Table Rock, sections of the lake in which the current is strongest. He usually avoids fishing the midlake section of this massive reservoir because it is the area least affected by current.The Missouri pro's favorite tactics for dual flow situations include jerking Suspending Rattlin' Rogues, swimming plastic grubs, vertical jigging drop shot rigs and working Carolina rigs at a fast clip. Bass will usually be in their summertime haunts on this deep, clear reservoir, so Snowden keys on dropoffs in the 15- to 20-foot depth range.On his home waters of Kentucky Lake, Menendez finds postspawn bass moving out to gravel bars at the mouths of bays and creeks when water is released simultaneously from the dams at Pickwick and Kentucky lakes.

 "Every time the water is running hard it really positions the fish on the downcurrent sides of anything that sticks out in the main lake," advises Menendez. The Kentucky pro favors fishing the lower end of the lake during this time because it contains more large bays than the upper end so greater concentrations of bass congregate on the long gravel points in front of these bays. He also finds largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass holding in main lake eddies during dual dam flows.Deep diving crankbaits such as a Strike King Series 5 or 6 in chartreuse or white work best for bass on the current-swept points. "Once that water gets rolling it generally colors up a little bit, so you need something bright for them to see," says Menendez of his color choice. Other effective lures include Carolina rigged plastic lizards and 5-inch plastic grubs attached to 1/8-, 1/4- or 5/16-ounce jigheads.Keying on eddies during a heavy flow on Neely Henry Lake helped Harold Allen qualify for the 1996 Bassmaster Classic. While practicing for the Alabama Top 100 season finale, Allen found bass at the ends of laydowns in 8 to 10 feet of water on the upper end of Neely Henry, but during the tournament he encountered heavy flow in the area as water was being released from both Neely Henry and Weiss dams.The strong flow caused the fish to move up into the eddies closest to the bank. "If I pulled my bait away from the bank very far, it would wash it up under stuff and get hung up and I would never get it off," recalls Allen. "I must have lost 15 jigs that day. There was a fish on any little thing that broke the current, though. We could almost call our shots."


 Water being released from the upper dam while the lower dam is shut off causes a lake to rise.

"If it has been several days since they have been running any water at Table Rock Dam the fish will move up shallow," says Snowden. This situation usually occurs in the spring and summer on Snowden's home waters and he notices all sections of the lake can produce then.Snowden keys on flat gravel points during the initial rise and throws either a Carolina rig or a plastic grub. However, when the lake level inundates the banks he targets flooded wood cover and pitches a jig or spinnerbait.When Pickwick Dam's water releases cause Kentucky Lake to rise, Menendez heads for ultrashallow water in the spring and fall. He notices smallmouth will make a quick move from the gravel bars to the shallows of main lake gravel pockets, where the fish will crush a white 1/2-ounce spinnerbait (tandem willowleaf blades) retrieved at high speed.Largemouth also will move extremely shallow in this situation. "If there are three or four overcast days in September, those fish will be in naked shallow water next to a stick," says Menendez. "I've caught them in spots where I thought I wouldn't even get back there with my boat."When only the upper dam is releasing water, Allen avoids fishing the lake's upper end because bass can spread out long distances along the area's vast flooded flats. So, Allen targets the lake's lower end because its steeper banks minimize shoreline flooding and bass tend to stay closer to the original cover. He suggests if you catch bass off the end of a dock or a laydown prior to the lake rising, you should target the back side of the dock or the base of the log during the rise.


 Fishing gets toughest on deep, clear reservoirs when the upper dam shuts off, but the lower dam keeps releasing water. "That seems like the most difficult scenario because the fish suspend the most then," says Snowden. The two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier resorts to swimming a plastic grub for fish suspended 15 feet deep over depths of 20 to 30 feet.Snowden can catch some bass on the upper end of the lake when a drawdown starts and the fish are still in shallow cover. As the lake continues to fall, the Missouri pro moves to the lower end of the reservoir where he keys on channel bends that swing into long tapering points. He positions his boat over 50 to 60 feet of water and casts the grub into the 20- to 30-foot range to catch suspended bass.No matter which season he fishes, Menendez follows the same rule of thumb when targeting bass during a drawdown. "Falling water always points fish out regardless of whether it is up in the trees and in the picnic benches and falling or if the lake is below the summer pool and headed to the winter pool level," he says.The lower end of Kentucky Lake turns on when the reservoir is falling either during May and June or in late autumn. Menendez catches fish along the main lake points with topwater baits such as chuggers and walkers. In late fall, heavyweight smallmouth move into depths of 5 to 9 feet along the points and can be taken on topwater plugs or by ripping a magnum-size spinnerbait. When the water starts getting colder, Menendez can still catch these drawdown fish along the points by dragging a plastic grub or tube bait on the bottom.Allen also catches a few bass in the shallows during a falling lake situation if he can find any pieces of cover remaining in the water. If most of the cover is high and dry, Allen concentrates on the lake's lower end and runs a crankbait along points and other main lake structure to catch suspended bass.Contending with water releases from two dams makes it a little tougher to pattern bass on some links of a chain of reservoirs. However, if you learn how bass go with the flow of the dams, you'll be in the right spot at the right time to catch these nomadic fish.


Checking out the water release schedules on a reservoir chain can help you pinpoint when and where to catch bass on certain impoundments.Brian Snowden suggests calling a reservoir's powerhouse, which usually provides a recording of the dam's water release schedule for the next couple of days. On his home waters, Snowden notices certain spots produce better when four generators are running at Beaver and Table Rock dams, while other spots turn on when three generators are operating at both of the dams. By calling the powerhouse, Snowden can figure out which spots will work best that day.Mark Menendez suggests anglers also can go online to find out a lake's generation schedule. You can check out the daily release schedules of Tennessee Valley Authority dams by visiting, or forecast elevations of Army Corps of Engineers dams at the Corps' various district Web sites.

 When water is being released from both ends of an impoundment, target points and retrieve your bait downstream. Brian Snowden likes to use jerkbaits and Carolina rigged plastics for this situation.

Illustration: Chris Armstrong; Photo: Gerald CrawfordAs a lake rises because of water being released into the impoundment you are fishing, move shallow. Fish will move into the newly flooded cover to ambush prey.
Illustrations: Chris Armstrong

When the lake level falls because of a water release, target offshore structure. Bass will tend to suspend during these times, but will congregate near channel bends and deep main lake points.