Bass have been on earth for millions of years, or, as any paleontologist would tell you, before the freshwater lakes were formed and when only vast rivers crisscrossed the land. It doesn’t take a Stephen Jay Gould to figure out that these fish retain something of their ancient affinity for water currents. Most fishermen who prowl impoundments regularly for bass are convinced that the fish’s Latin name, Micropterus, means “that which will not bite unless the water is running.”
According to Dr. Hal Schramm, a fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division in Starkville, Miss., the reason impoundment bass are more active when the current is moving is because the food chain is activated.
“In shad-dominated impoundments, current tends to concentrate the zooplankton, which shad feed on,” says Schramm. “Bass eat as much as they can when possible, while expending as little energy as possible in the process. So when the shad start congregating in areas where they can find plankton more easily, bass also start moving to the places where they can find shad more easily.”
Locate where that is and you’ll catch fish. In central Alabama’s Lake Jordan, for example, one such sweet spot is a submerged, rocky point that extends from the bank and ends in about 15 feet of water. When the turbines below the dam are activated, the point can be detected by the swirls and eddies made as water streams over it.
Rick Redmon, a fishing buddy from Wetumpka, Ala., and I used to fish the point when the water was running. Redmon would position his boat so we could cast up-current or at least cross-current beyond the point, and we always used white spinnerbaits or jigs. The bass lifted in the current and picked off errant shad. We fished with quarter- or half-ounce jigs, and would cast them far up-current and then pump them back in a depth of about five feet. We caught lots of fish there.
Anywhere there is a current break that causes plankton and shad to collect is a likely place to cast a lure: * Shoreline eddies, main-lake points or the downriver mouths of feeder creeks.
Upriver ends of submerged islands and sandbars.
Downriver faces of sharp bends.
Current breaks such as wingdams.
Managers of dams maintain a generation schedule and provide information about when the turbines will be in operation.
On-the-water observation is the next best way to determine current in an impoundment. If you’ve beaten the water to a froth without a strike but then see leaves on the surface start to float by against the wind, it’s time to redouble your efforts. The bass are about to bite!