The Woodsman Magazine

Tail Dancing the Tailrace

By Bob and Ginny Riege

 Trolling Taildancers in the Tailrace.  Photo Submitted by Rapala 

Living in Minnesota and not to far away from the Mississippi River, allows me the opportunity to get out to a very productive area that holds walleyes in a short period of time.  The areas below the dams on the river are called tailrace areas.  These are areas that most fishermen inhabit during the winter months when ice locks up many lakes and the walleye season is closed.  This area is productive all year round and the summer time is a great time, because it is not crowded, and the fish are still below these man made structures.

This is the time of the year that summer river walleyes are in their prime. The walleyes like this area because the "hole" below the dam is a resting place and a feeding area.  This area is high in oxygen and fish migrate to this area to rest and to lay in ambush for an easy meal in current situations.

A river walleye unlike lake walleyes have to fight current all of their lives.  Therefore, the walleyes in the rivers have adapted to be in areas that offer current breaks so they don’t have to fight the current all of the time.  These current breaks are anything that diverts the current and allows slack water.  The slack water areas are found below the dams where an eddy is formed by the water being drawn over the dam and rushing downstream causing a slack water area on each side of the dam.  Other obstructions that cause slack water might be below wingdams, behind rocks, a depression in the floor of the river, a stump or fallen tree, or man made obstacles such as bridge abutments.

The key to locating walleyes in the river starts with locating a series of obstacles and then allowing your bait or lure to present itself in a natural manner so the walleye can race from behind the obstruction to acquire the offering and then race back into the slack water area to digest his meal and await another

Look for breaks in the current.  They may be behind islands, points, and below bars in mid channel.  In strong current, walleyes group tight to structure.  In softer current or low water periods, like late summer, they often scatter, and hold on edges of barriers or current breaks.

Other spots may be structure like gravel or sandbars, shallow rocky shoals near drop-offs, wave-washed points, deserted sandy bottom beaches, or bottlenecks between two different landmasses.  Riprap is also good, particularly where current hits the rock; such as on a windy point with deep-water access, or near a culvert where fresh water is filtering through a rock causeway.

Feeder streams funneling into a river represent yet other spots which fisherman should check out.  The mouths of these tributaries often turn into fishing gold mines, especially after a heavy rain washes fresh food and fresh water into the river.

Depending on the force of the current and the water clarity, fish may be as shallow as a couple feet deep, or in the bottom of a washout hole, or river channel 15 to 20 feet deep.   If the current is stronger than normal, the fish probably are hunkered in a slack water area.  All anglers must learn that "current" sets the rules for location and presentation when fishing rivers.

If the walleyes are concentrated at the dam I will fish them with a new lure called a Tail Dancer.  The Tail Dancer is a full figured, “banana styled” balsa lure from Rapala.  It is Rapala’s balsa lure with an internal rattle, making the Tail Dancer ideal for almost any casting or trolling application.

This new lure is unlike anything Rapala has created before.  The swimming action is unique and the tail motion so pronounced, fish literally attack this lure.  It comes in the # 7 and # 9 size, and colors such as the Redtail Chub and the Emerald Shiner are true to life in appearance.

Selection of a crankbait is not difficult to determine, if you keep just six factors in mind.  Choose your crankbait according to shape, size, running depth, action, color and sound.  These six factors will increase your success while fishing this summer.

Usually the tailrace areas are not crowded with boats in the summer months, but you might start moving downstream to holding areas.  Flooded timber can be good at times.  Try casting a Tail Dancer into pockets in the cover.  Use your MotorGuide bowmount electric trolling motor.  The trolling motor is quiet and usually in stained water you can stand right over the top of the fish without spooking them. 

Another structural element that I key on, are the wingdams.  In most of the pools on the Mississippi there are several wingdams either near the tailwater area or down river from the dam.  When fishing a wingdam, I concentrate on the up current side of each wingdam or the flats between them.   An angler should look for the boil line (disturbed water on the surface) that signifies the presence of a wingdam and check out the scour hole behind the wingdam to see if it is large enough to hold inactive fish.    Wingdams hold fish all year long but I like to fish them in the early summer.

Fish are unusually spooky along wingdams and noisy gas engines will spook the fish.  I prefer to use my bow mount MotorGuide electric motor, because it is quiet.   The key element here is, to keep the bait in front of the fish.   Point the bow into the current and "slip" down at about current speed.  Keep baits in the strike zone longer by sweeping the baits across the structure allowing the bait to fall at a slow rate, naturally presenting the bait to the fish.  It is essential; to slow down your drift with the Drift Control sea anchor as you go over the structure and watch your depth finder for "breaks and barriers".  You might have to run your big motor or a kicker motor in reverse to slow the presentation down even more if the current is increased.  If the fish are shallow, you might want to anchor and use your bow mount motor to swing your bait and change your position on the face of the wingdam.

This summer if you live near a dam or plan a vacation to an area that has a dam try some Tail Dancing and you will see that the tailrace part of any river is very productive.  

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