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A really fun way to fish a tailrace with a boat is what I call back trolling. Effectively You are drifting backwards in a controlled manner using your trolling motor allowing your bait to be activated by the current As you drift backwards you pay attention to the changes in the depth adjusting your rig and your boat using your trolling motor or even gas motor if need be in order to place your bait in front of some hungry tailrace lunkers. You simply need to tie a leader the length of you rod (the longer the better) with a heavy egg weight just above your swivel. The weight will have to be determined by the depth and speed of the water you are fishing. Here again if fishing clear water, fluorocarbon would be the way to go. The lightest line possible is also a good bet. I use an 8' 6" medium heavy graphite rod with an ambassador 6500 with 12 to 15 lb line. Here is where things get critical. Tail races are usually full of shad and make up the largest part of the diet of most game fish found in these areas. Bait being plentiful and oxygen being rich often leads to large numbers of quality fish, and matching the bait can be critical. I like the Gizz-4 shallow diver in black back or blue back made by Smack Tackle. It dives around 4-5 feet. Tied to an egg weight with a seven to eight foot leader the bait typically will run only 2-3 foot deeper than the weight.
Now that we are loaded and are ready for action we (with extreme caution)motor as close to the dam as possible without violating any laws and or putting myself or a friend in harms way. I then after becoming familiar with the current shut off the gas motor and run the trolling motor just to help keep the boat from spinning as we try to maintain a controlled drift. With a gizz4 tied to the end of my leader I look at the depth of the water and using the length of my rod as a measuring device I allow enough line out to come with in a couple feet of the bottom. As long as the water is clear this is usually sufficient I begin to back troll covering my favorite holes slowing my drift with the motor when I approach abnormalities in the bottom that I believe will hold fish.
Nothing will replace experience at this point. Each time you drift try to pay close attention to as many things as possible, where are you in relation to different structures, what is the water doing, what is your line doing, what is the bottom doing, where are the bites coming from. Over time with the help of your fish finder you will begin to get a feel of what the bottom is doing . current shifts and boils will indicate things below that can be critical to hold fish. Watch your graph and watch your line and you will begin to get a feel for the tailrace you are fishing. Often times when I am fishing this way I will watch my line seem to go against the current and actually head upstream. The reason for this is that 10 feet below the surface the current is actually headed the opposite direction. This is caused by the horizontal surge of surface water that forces the water below to circulate in a rolling method. The very opposite can happen on some spillways when there is a vertical surge and this can be very dangerous. This flow will actually draw a boat toward the rushing water and I am sad to say has taken the life of many unsuspecting fisherman who couldn't get their motor started fast enough, so again be sure your boat is safe and sound as possible and watch for this kind of thing before you even turn your motor off. It is always a good idea to make a couple of drifts before you start fishing with your motor running to see what the water wants to do to you. Once you begin to get a comfortable feel of what the water is doing and how the bottom is playing into that you will begin to use these characteristics to develop a mental picture of what is going on below the surface. This accompanied with what you know about stream fishing can be applied. There are eddies and current breaks and drop offs just like in the creeks and rivers you fished as a kid. The same principals apply here. Fish are fish, they use all these things to ambush their prey. Think about this while you fishing. I think this is why I like this kind of fishing so much you have to use your mind to imagine what is going on below the surface to effectively fish it. Another thing that is cool about this kind of fishing is you don't know if you going to hook into a monster catfish or a 20lb striper or a 10lb hybrid or a 5lb saugeye.
So the next time you want to try some out of the box fishing grab a couple of gizz4's and head to the tailrace and hang on!
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