HOW TO FISH POWER PLANT LAKES IN WINTER

by Curtis Niedermier

FLW Tour pro Colby Schrumpf isn’t one to let winter’s cold keep him off the water. The Illinois pro competes in a wintertime tournament league on small warm-water power-plant lakes in his area. Water from the reservoirs is used to cool the plants’ innards and then discharged back into the lakes. The heated effluent causes the reservoirs to be much warmer than surrounding fisheries, setting up a unique winter opportunity.

“I fish a couple circuits up there,” Schrumpf says. “They start at the end of October and run until March. They literally have tournaments there every weekend, so I’m able to continue to fish all year. Most of our hot-water lakes around here have grass in them and generally are a little clearer because of the vegetation.”

Many of the lakes Schrumpf targets have horsepower limitations, so in order to compete he swaps out the 50-hp Mercury on his aluminum Ranger RT 178 for a 25-hp Mercury. The boat is kitted out for competition (he fished BFLs out of it in 2018) with Power-Poles, Lowrance electronics and a Minn Kota trolling motor.

Along with having the right rig for the job, Schrumpf also has the bass pretty well dialed in during the winter months, when he typically finds them transitioning from true wintering areas to prespawn spots near where they’ll eventually spawn in early spring.

Some of the power-plant lakes throughout the Midwest are borderline legendary. If you live near one or are willing to travel to keep your open-water season alive, Schrumpf’s system could work on just about any of them that have grass.

TEMPERATURE ZONES
Power-plant reservoirs typically have a warm zone near the plant’s discharge, and water temperatures taper off the farther you get from that zone.

“It [water temperature] all depends on the plant,” adds Schrumpf. “The temperature is dependent on how much energy they need to produce. Generally, this time of year temps are in the upper 40s to mid-50s.

“I like to stay on the cold-water end because that’s generally where the better grass is, and that’s where the bigger fish hang out.”

HOT-WATER PRESPAWN STAGING
The spawn comes earlier on power-plant lakes in Schrumpf’s region, though the difference is not extreme. He says some bass make it to beds by late February up adjacent to the discharge while the bulk of the spawn kicks in near the end of March or early April.

Because the pro doesn’t spend much time fishing the hottest zone, and he starts fishing bigger waters and traveling for other events around the end of March, most of his focus is on prespawn patterns, particularly from December through February.

“The fish are more or less starting to stage and work toward spawning-type areas,” he says. “Right now the temperatures are getting as low as they will all year up here, and the bait actually moves shallow. It’s kind of a fall-type thing in a normal lake. Bass follow them into these feeding locations.

“Bait is very, very important,” Schrumpf adds. “If you can find the bait in areas or on points or stretches, that’s key. You have to have bait present to really get these fish activated.”

Schrumpf says some anglers like to follow the bait and bass clear up into shallower grass – say, 5 feet deep. He prefers to target them from about 8 to 15 feet.

“A lot of it is point-related stuff,” he says. “That’s the first place they’re going to set up. They’ll settle on points outside the spawning coves.”

The main-lake points and points in the mouths of creeks are early prespawn spots. As the fish transition, he follows them to large secondary points inside the creeks.

“As they move in, I’m still generally fishing a little bit deeper,” Schrumpf adds. “I don’t get shallow until they’re ready to take their location up shallow to spawn.”

Fish group up better out deep, says Schrumpf, and fishing there helps him avoid pressure up shallow, where other anglers like to sling lipless crankbaits in the grass. It also enables Schrumpf to fish out where the hydrilla beds taper off, where he can work crankbaits, jerkbaits, jigs, umbrella rigs and shaky heads easier than if he was to target the thicker grass nearer to the bank.

WINTERTIME TACKLE AND TECHNIQUES
What bait Schrumpf throws depends mainly on the water temperature.

Jerkbaits – “If it’s in the 40s to mid-50s, a lot of times I will throw the jerkbait,” he says. “That works really well. From that point I’m concentrating on a crankbait. At all times a jig will work. And ever since the invention of the Alabama Rig, that works really well up until the spawn.”

Schrumpf’s jerkbait of choice is the Lucky Craft Pointer 100 in a shad pattern. It gets about 5 feet deep, which is perfect for working over the top fringes of deep grass.

Crankbaits – “For crankbaits, primarily I’m throwing anything that’s going to dive 8 to 15 feet. I use natural baitfish colors,” says Schrumpf. “Occasionally, if the water murks up some or is in the lower end of the water temperature spectrum [low 50s], I’ll use an orangish-red color. I like the Bomber Fat A and Bandit 200 or 300 crankbaits.”

The crankbait technique is classic grass fishing. Rigged with 12-pound-test Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon and a G. Loomis CBR 783 moderate cranking rod, Schrumpf’s typical approach is to sit out on the deep end of a point and up over the outside edge of grass and bring the bait back. The edge will often form around 12 feet deep, and he works the bait out to 18 feet. Adjustments can be made based on the condition of the grass each year and the particular lake.

“I’m getting my lure down to where I can rip it through the grass,” Schrumpf adds. “It’s more dense the shallower you go. That’s generally why I put in the majority of my time in that 18-foot range. The grass is sparser and easier to move through.

“I’m triggering bites with the crankbait,” he continues. “With a Rat-L-Trap, I don’t seem to be as successful as with the crankbait. It just pulls through the grass totally different. The crankbait gets stuck harder, and it takes more resistance for me to rip it free. That extra rip breaking it free is what makes that bait work. Plus, I can fish the crankbait faster in deeper water. I get it down there and work it relatively quickly back to the boat while making contact with the grass.”

Jigs – The jig technique is similar to the cranking technique.

“I’m crawling it across the bottom, and as I feel grass I kind of rip it through,” Schrumpf says. “It’s the same type of deal; they’re biting it as it rips through.”

Shaky head – “A lot of times, once it gets in the upper 50s, I’ll introduce a shaky head with a finesse-style worm in green pumpkin or junebug,” Schrumpf says. “I cast up toward the banks or points and work it back. I’ll work it through a little easier than a jig just because it comes through easier due to its profile.”

STAY WARM
Schrumpf says some of his best days on the power-plant lakes in his region are the nastiest, coldest, windiest days to be on the water. Obviously, the bass don’t mind the cold above the surface. Their unique warm-water habitat keeps them active, and it provides a nice opportunity to stay on a hot bite during the chilliest months of the year.

Spring Bass Fishing In Flooded Water

Spring Bass Fishing In Flooded Water thumbnail

Spring bass fishing can be the best time of the year to catch a trophy. Many factors influence the ups and downs of bass fishing in the spring, including rising lake levels. By keying on a bass’ movements during this condition, you will increase your success rates and straighten out those chart lines on a higher plateau.

What To Throw And Where To Throw It

Stages of rising water present different options to you. When the lake level is at normal pool and starts to rise, you have fewer options, so try flipping a jig to any available cover, usually the first ambush points for bass fishing in the springs flooded areas. If the lake is already high and rising, then you have a lot more targets. However, if it’s already high and the water is in bushes, then you have to figure out how to get through the first line of cover to reach the fish. This can create some problems because bass can be difficult to reach back in the flooded trash.

Bass will also start scattering more if the water is warm. In early spring, bass scatter less in the shallows because the cooler water prevents them from moving far. Sometimes you can find bass along migration routes such as ditches, points or any creases in the terrain rather than in the shallow flooded cover. A prime example is when a lake is rising, but the water temperature is moderate and bass haven’t move up to the bank yet. When this occurs you should key on the bottom structure because the fish will move along the underwater avenues from one line of cover to the next.

Spring Bass Fishing Above The Waterline

spring bass fishing

When the water starts to rise on some reservoirs in the spring, you can head for the backs of creeks and search for 45-degree banks. As the lake level rises, bass will still relate to the old bank line even when water becomes so high it inundates miles of land in the back of the creeks. Bass might move off into a flooded grass field or a ditch, but these spots will still be near the creek channel.

While some bass in the spring will move extremely shallow into the flooded fields, the majority of the fish will still concentrate around the original bank. The fish relating to the creek channel will congregate around any cover such as flooded timber or log laydowns along the steeper inclines of the old bank line.

When You Should Be Fishing With A Barrel Swivel

When You Should Be Fishing With A Barrel Swivel thumbnail

Barrel swivels are certainly one of those topics in the fishing world that isn’t that glamorous but it can be very important. A swivel is a valuable (but relatively inexpensive) piece of terminal tackle that enables anglers to be more efficient on the water. This small piece of hardware can be the difference maker between a good and a bad day of fishing. They have numerous uses and anglers need to know when and why to use swivels. In fishing, there are a few types of swivels and each has its time, place, and purpose.

What Is A Barrel Swivel?

When you hear the word “swivel”, your mind probably pictures the most common type; the barrel swivel. A barrel swivel is nothing more than an (oftentimes) small line “connector”. In the most basic terms, this type of swivel allows an angler to tie two separate sections of line to each of its ends. The swivel then allows each section of line to rotate independently of each other.

Using Barrel Swivels In Deep Water

Barrel Swivels

Barrel Swivels are particularly useful when fish ultra-deepwater with a drop shot rig and the fishing line has the tendency to twist many times when reeling in. This twisting decreases the overall strength of the line and can cause breakage well below its poundage rating. Barrel swivels are also useful when fishing baits like weightless flukes, senkos, and pre-rigged worms. The constant flipping and twirling motion of these baits tend to also cause line twist and cause bad hook sets and unnecessary breakages.

Typically, anglers will use a two to four-foot section of line between the barrel swivel and the lure. This ensures the lure is far enough away from the swivel and its natural action is not impeded. The use of a barrel swivel also allows anglers to use two different types of line if they so choose but is not necessary.

Double Up With A Barell Swivel

Barrel Swivels

For example, when fishing a fluke, many fishermen will use a braided line as the “base” line, or the line attached to the fishing reel. This allows for longer casts, better accuracy, and no-stretch hooksets. For their “leader”, or the line from the bottom of the barrel swivel to the lure or hook, anglers will oftentimes use fluorocarbon line. Fluorocarbon is virtually invisible to fish but is typically stronger than monofilament. With this approach the angler’s finesse rig gets the best of both worlds; a strong setup that is unseeable to fish.

Line twist is a big deal. Losing the fish of a lifetime to this common pitfall is no fun and will make an angler rethink the basics of terminal tackle. The barrel swivel is an often overlooked piece of fishing equipment. However, just like other unglamorous aspects of the sport, it is necessary for anglers to know when and where to use this invaluable tool.