By Josh Boyd
During the fall of the year, many man-made reservoirs undergo a significant annual transformation. These lakes experience a substantial reduction in water level, well below their normal holding capacity, in preparation for the winter months to come.
This yearly occurrence has a way of creating hardship for numerous anglers, as many of the honey holes that were flocked to during the prior spring, summer, and early fall, are now left high and dry. While some anglers store their tackle away for the season, and take to the woods in search of adventure of another type, those that remain steadfast must change their strategies in a bid to accommodate the falling water level.
The following are several key tips to keep in mind when attempting to find success on the water during this trying time of year.
Chasing Bass in Falling Waters
Perhaps the most affected by seasonal drawdowns are bass anglers. Bass relate heavily to structure, especially in murky or stained water. When a reservoir’s water level suddenly begins to drop, bass are forced to abandon the cover to which they have been holding.
At the same time, baitfish are also forced from their prior locations, leaving them to school elsewhere. Both of these events play off of one another and ultimately influence the location of bass during the annual drawdown.
How bass react to falling water varies from lake to lake. On lakes where the water is not lowered excessively, bass will typically remain in many of the same areas where they were located during the late summer, and during the first few weeks of fall. In these cases, bass are often found in bays, holding in water that is shallower than what most anglers would think.
On the contrary, bass generally pull back to deeper points and breaks when a lake’s water level is dropped quickly, and to a greater extent. In many cases, fish will be found holding to cover near deeper humps, which lie along various points.
When in doubt, the movements of schooling baitfish can be followed to pinpoint the location of actively feeding bass. The use of a crankbait can be productive during this time of the year, as it mimics the movements of baitfish, and allows an angler to cover a significant amount of water in a given day.
Slab Hunting During the Drawdown
Many die-hard crappie anglers consider the fall of the year to be among the best times to catch sizable fish in numbers. However, one must first locate crappie on a given body of water before results of any kind can be expected.
During periods of low water, cover for crappie becomes scarce, and many of the brush piles and stake beds that have been submerged by anglers sit exposed along the bank. In turn, crappie are typically forced to forsake many of the creeks that they have clung to during the early fall, instead focusing their attention on bluffs and drop-offs to deeper water.
Many of these fish will be found suspended along these steeper points, waiting for a reservoir’s water level to eventually stabilize. Occasionally, crappie can also be found away from a lake’s main body, holding in coves of substantial size, where steeper banks are present. Upon reaching such locations, crappie will await the passage of schooling baitfish, especially minnows.
If cover is known to exist along any number of a lake’s drop-offs or ledges, an angler can drop a jig vertically through the water column, anticipating a bite from structure-oriented crappie when the correct depth is reached. Alternatively, many crappie anglers choose to throw small crankbaits, working one drop-off after the next, while searching for schools of actively feeding fish.
Catching Low Water Cats
During the fall of the year, catfish begin to migrate from the shallows, into deeper water flats. While this migration does not happen all at once, falling water levels do play a role in this annual pattern shift, and eventually, limit shallow water foraging.
Any flat that lies adjacent to a lake’s main channel can be an excellent starting point when searching for catfish of every type during the fall drawdown. These spots often hold a significant number of baitfish, who have also been forced from the shallows. Additionally, these flats allow catfish to escape to deep water with no hesitation.
One popular method of fishing for catfish during the fall of the year is to slowly troll, or wind drift, bait along deeper water flats. Alternatively, bank fishing can be conducted in areas within close proximity to the main lake channel.
As is the case during any time of the year, catfish can be caught in the fall on a variety of baits. Cut bait, live bluegill, nightcrawlers, and crawfish all tend to be favorite meals of catfish on most any body of water.
Finding Success Among Less Than Ideal Circumstances
The annual fall drawdown often leaves anglers scratching their heads. However, those who adapt and overcome are often rewarded with some of the best fishing action they have experienced all year. By remaining flexible in your approach, and following fish to their new, low water stomping grounds, you will be poised to fill your boat, despite what many would refer to as less than ideal circumstances.