Anglers often ask the question, where do fish the go when the various fish species complete their annual spawn? Most of the lake species in Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee complete their annual spawn during the months of February through early May. During the annual spawn, all the fish species locate in shallow water to spawn.
During the annual spawn when the fish are in shallow water, they are territorial, they are feeding, and they will strike or bite a variety of lures or baits. Anglers find it much easier to catch fish when they are in shallow water in large numbers. Once the fish have completed spawning, they will relocate and in many cases they will leave the shallow water completely for deeper locations.
Once spawning is completed, the lake moves into what is referred to as the post-spawn period. This is the period immediately after the spawn when fish species will begin a migration or movement that will eventually take them back to areas where they were located just prior to the spawn (pre-spawn) and eventually to their summer hangouts where they will stay until fall arrives. The post-spawn period can last anywhere from one week to several weeks.
Hybrid and striped bass will now become creatures of the open and deeper water areas. Crappie will also move to deeper water but will often be found around deeper docks during the summer season. Once the spawn is completed, the crappie are more likely to be found in deeper water around some type of structure like brushpiles or underwater trees.
As I discussed in last week’s article, the largemouth bass will for the most part move away from the banks and out of coves to the main lake and relatively deeper water. The catfish that have also been in shallow water spawning have begun to move out to the channels and ledges where they will spend the summer months. The one exception to movement away from shallow water is the bluegill or bream and they will stay in relatively shallow water areas for a good part of the summer.
The shad populations are now completing their spawn in the lakes and they will begin gathering in large schools and migrate back to deeper and open water areas. The shad’s location will now hold one of the important keys to locating and catching gamefish like crappie, catfish, largemouth bass and hybrid/striped bass during the summer months.
There are in fact two important keys to catching fish in the post-spawn and summer period. Number one is food (shad) and number two is finding cool oxygenated water. Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair do not stratify during the summer months like other reservoirs. That is due to the pump-back operation at the Wallace Dam that constantly mixes the water.
That constant water mixing means that the water temperatures in the lakes are virtually the same from top to bottom. Dissolved oxygen can be at acceptable levels throughout the water column, but cool water may be hard to find in a lake that does not stratify.
Due to lack of stratification in both lakes, the gamefish can be just about anywhere in the water column. Heated water discharged from Plant Branch continues for the present time to have an impact on both Lakes Sinclair and Oconee but much more so in Lake Sinclair. Even though the water temperature is virtually the same from top to bottom in both lakes, the water must have acceptable dissolved oxygen levels for gamefish bass to survive.
Due to the warm water discharge in Lake Sinclair, there are areas in the lake that have high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels that put the fish under stress.
“Fish can become acclimated and adapt to higher water temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen as the summer progresses in both lakes,” said Steve Schleiger. “The fish are under stress more so in Sinclair than Oconee but they can survive.”
Due to the pumpback, the surface of the lake generally has the highest levels of oxygen but acceptable levels of oxygen can be found at various depths due to the pumpback flushing. “I think that the potential exists in Sinclair and Oconee to harbor gamefish at greater depths during the summer than would be found on other piedmont reservoirs,” said Steve Schleiger, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) Fisheries Biologist.
Summer is approaching and the gamefish are aware of that fact as the water continues to warm each day. Eventually summer water temperatures will reach the mid to upper 80s and again those temperatures are virtually the same from the top to the bottom.
Since the water temperature is nearly constant from top to bottom and the acceptable amount of dissolved oxygen varies throughout the water column, locating the food source becomes the primary challenge for catching summer gamefish.
Summer gamefish will always be close to schools of baitfish. Their metabolism is high and they must eat often. As the summer fishing season gets underway, keep these principals in mind while attempting to do battle with whatever gamefish you target.
Good fishing and see you next week.