THERE IS a mantra among those in the real estate business that emphasizes success with mere repetition: location, location, location.
Although the sport of fishing has many of these sayings, the same one may be applied as it may be the simplest and often overlooked. You gotta find the fish.
There is much discussion about the best bait, the best color, the best time of day, and any other of the million variables involved with catching fish. In the end, none of them matter if you don’t find the fish. In addition, once the fish are found and effectively approached, any number of baits of myriad colors might be successful at all times of the day.
Location is surprisingly the most underestimated facet of angling adventures and it is easy to see why. Casting from a dock is fun and comfortable but severely limits the area that is being fished. The same might be said for a big, flat rock on the side of a river, or the only calm water in a cove unobstructed by trees. Some fishermen have a tendency to simply cast and hope for the best.
There is one location that I have found to hold fish more than any other. It is a section of moving water that invites fish with cool, oxygen-rich water and steady turbulence that provides cover. In addition, the water I’m describing prevents fish from moving any farther and holds them in place for unparalleled fishing opportunity.
The section of a river below a dam is referred to as a tailwater (or tailrace) fishery. It may be where a river actually begins, the source and origin by definition. There are many of these in New England and I fish them constantly. Some of the best in New Hampshire include Murphy Dam on the Connecticut River in Pittsburg, and Moore Dam on the Connecticut River in Littleton. As mentioned, these areas provide a constant rush of cold water that may attract fish from miles and miles downstream. Once they reach the dam, they can go no further and seem to enjoy the conditions they find.
Many species including bass and trout seek out tailwaters for several reasons, the most important being water temperature — the single most important abiotic factor of a fish’s existence. The design of the best tailwater fisheries begin with a dam that feeds water from the bottom of the impoundment. This is known as a hypolimnetic draw and is important for several reasons. Because of “turn over” and subsequent stratification in lakes and ponds, these dams release the coldest water in the summer and the warmest in the winter. A successful fisherman recognizes the importance of this temperature regime and really couldn’t ask for more ideal conditions.
The turbulent nature of a dam’s release has other benefits that translate into good fishing. First, the oxygen levels are often very rich, which appeal to fish at any time of year. Second, the downstream passage for small fish is often a violent one and many baitfish enter the tailwater significantly dazed by their whitewater journey. This makes them easy prey for hungry predators. Big fish can always be found where little fish are abundant.
To summarize, a fish spending time directly below a dam is often relaxing in cool, oxygen-rich water with abundant cover as food items are being delivered at a constant rate. As if these conditions weren’t good enough, the fish are, in some ways, trapped with no option for moving on. Everything about this location, location, location should translate into dam-good fishing.