Low Water, Big Opportunities

Written By: Cal Kellogg, April 16, 2014
Species: Bass Trout Panfish

Low Water, Big Opportunities
Low Water, Big Opportunities Low Water, Big Opportunities
Low Water, Big Opportunities

It’s raining hard today, so I feel a little strange sitting here at my keyboard writing an article about low water fishing opportunities. Yet the reality is that we are in a drought. How severe the drought will be is anyone’s guess.

The more it rains this spring the less intense the drought will be, but anyway you cut it we aren’t going to approach normal rainfall totals this year because there simply isn’t enough time left in the rainy season.

With headlines touting low reservoirs and mandatory water rationing it’s easy for anglers, especially those that enjoy plying our inland lakes and reservoirs, to become discouraged.

If you feel yourself coming down with a case of “low water depression” snap out of it, because I’m here to tell you that we stand to enjoy some outstanding action this spring and summer despite low water conditions.

Think about it this way taking Lake Shasta, our largest reservoir as an example. When at full capacity Shasta features 365 miles of shoreline. As of today Shasta is about 100 feet from maximum pool. That means the lake currently offers about 247 miles of shoreline. Now there are approximately as many fish in the lake now as there were last year at this time, but the lake is quite a bit smaller. Less water with the same number of fish equals higher fish concentrations and this situation sets the stage for higher angler success rates.

Would an angler be more successful fishing a one square mile body of water that holds 1000 trout or a two square mile lake that holds 1000 trout? The smaller body of water is going to fish a lot better because the fish are concentrated and competition for forage is higher. Let’s take a look at how you can use the current low water conditions to your advantage.

One of the big concerns anglers have when the water levels get low is boat launching. The fact of the matter is that here in California we do get heavy rains at times, yet at other times rain totals slump and the Golden State becomes quite arid. The folks that constructed our larger reservoirs took this into consideration and a lot of these reservoirs feature low water launching facilities that are under deep water during years that feature normal precipitation and high water levels.

Beyond that I’ve launched boats right off the beach a number of times when I didn’t want to deal with a designated launch area. The key here is to make sure that regulations allow you to drive on the lake shore. If driving to the waterline is legal, find an area with the right slope, scan for hazards and launch away!

No floating dock, no problem. More than once I’ve dropped my boat off the lake shore and left the truck setting right on the edge of the water with my trailer submerged. After a day of fishing I motor the boat right back on the trailer. The process is actually easier then dealing with crowded ramps and congested parking lots.

Okay, now there may be some locations and situations where you simply can’t launch that 10 millions pound 30 foot aluminum sled with it’s 1000 horsepower motor. Does that mean you can’t fish? Absolutely not, it just means you’ve got to get back to basics.

Very few of us started our fishing careers from the deck of a $50,000 boat. Most of us got our start while slinging baits and lures from the bank. It was only after we’d mastered bank fishing that we purchased float tubes, canoes and skiffs from Klamath and Gregor. Bank fishing and fishing from small watercraft remain super effective approaches and anglers that utilize these approaches this spring and summer are going to enjoy top rate fishing.

Here are a few things to think about when fishing from the bank or small watercraft. This time let’s use Folsom for our example. When at full capacity Folsom has 75 miles of shoreline. Let’s say you head out to Folsom in late spring and the lake is only around 50% of capacity. That means you’ll still be faced with 30 plus miles of shoreline. You’re not going to hike that shoreline in a day or navigate it from your float tube or kayak in a single day either.

Even when a lake is low, you’ve still got to identify those key features that either draw and hold fish or features that naturally concentrate fish. Back in the days when I didn’t have a boat and was still living in the East Bay, I’d drive all the way to Lake Del Valle to fish for trout in the narrows. Del Valle is heavily stocked with trout. Trout cruising from one end of the lake to the other have to pass through the narrows. This concentrated the trout and put them on a collision course with my PowerBait and worm adorned hooks.

Narrows are awesome features that should never be over looked. Other potential hot spots included creek channels, drop offs and rock covered humps that extend upward out of deep water.

Fishing techniques in terms of lures and baits remains the same drought or no drought. Kings at Berryessa love rolled shad regardless of the lake level and the lake’s bass will still pounce on Senkos even if the lake is down 50 feet. So I won’t burn any space discussing techniques.

Other Opportunities

Beyond the outstanding fishing low water conditions can create, there are other more subtle benefits to explore. First and foremost you are going to have an unprecedented opportunity to see the bottom of some of your favorite lakes. You’ll be able to walk the structure in areas where you’ve enjoyed great action in the past. This on site knowledge will help you identify other key areas in the future.

You’ll also notice some features you didn’t know existed at all. That area you thought was flat and featureless might actually boast a small rock hump, a patch of standing timber or even an old elevated roadbed. When you stumble on potential hot spots like these you’ll want to enter them into your GPS and visit them next year when lake levels return to normal.

While walking the banks you’ll also be able to beach comb for tackle and other goodies. Remember when you snagged your downrigger two years back and lost that $100 “Shark” downrigger weight. This might be the time to do some exploring and see if you can’t get that weight back!

Speaking of weights I was at Collins Lake a few years ago when the lake was down and managed to pick up more than two dozen tungsten drop shot weights simply by walking the top of a rocky hump where bassers like to work drop shot rigs when the lake level is up. Those weights run about $1 each or more. A drop shot weight here, an Excel spoon there and perhaps a Vance’s dodger hung in an old tree, heck you’ve already paid for your day use fee and you haven’t even caught a fish yet!


You inspired me so much! Thanks for a great article. Jackson Meadows.. here I come.

By: bjaquez on Apr 28, 2014

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