By Tim Huffman
Lake drawdowns are normal during the winter. The lowering of water gives the Corp of Engineers a buffer when spring rains create flooding. Some lakes are dropped a few feet while others are dropped 20 or more feet.
A drawdown lake is a place with new advantages and disadvantages. A lower lake level gives more fish per acre so they are easier to find. Disadvantages can include launch ramps not reaching into the water, and navigational problems.
Where to Look?
Obviously, the three depths to consider are deep, mid-depths and shallow water. The following are tips for each.
#1 Deep Water. Deeper water might give fish a comfortable temperature zone, places to hide and a food supply. But what’s deep? It depends upon the body of water. A clear lake with bluffs will likely have crappie in 40 to 60 feet of water, maybe deeper. A flatland lake might have 15 to 20 feet as it’s deep water. But in general, most consider anything over 20 feet being deep for fishing purposes.
For an example, remember the log you found during a summer trip and marked on your GPS? On a lake that drops 5 feet at winter pool, the log at 25 feet will now be at 20 feet during drawdown. Your GPS spots, or those you triangulate with landmarks, can still be good during the winter no matter what depth they’re located.
#2 Mid-Depth Water. The mid-depth spots can produce excellent fish during winter drawdown. Baitfish often cruise in this zone. Where you find the baitfish you’ll also find crappie.
The ideal situation is to find cover on a small contour with baitfish present. Crappie will openly follow schools of baitfish but they would much rather hold on cover waiting on food to come to them. Expending energy during the winter is not what their cold bodies prefer.
#3 Shallow Water. Warm southern winds and sunshine for a few days can warm shallow mudflats a few degrees causing baitfish to move into ultra-shallow spots. When this happens, you can catch crappie in a foot or two of water. Only by testing spots will you learn when fish move in. Northern shore shallow areas in the afternoons are your best bet.
A basic depthfinder will give the primary details you need to find drawdown crappie. In deep water look for structures including drop-offs, cuts, and other typical contours that hold crappie. The second important item is cover. Fish can group tightly in cold water so find the cover and you might fill you livewell at one or two spots.
Mid-depths are the same. Look for cover, contour changes and fish.
Shallow water is different. Below a few feet of water you still look for cover on your electronics. But much of the cover will be visible above or just under the water so electronics isn’t as important. Any good contour change, maybe a quick change from 3 to 4 feet deep, can lead to a great spot. Water is too shallow to be worrying about seeing fish on your locator.
Like with most situations, a wide electronics coverage, like you get with Humminbird Side Imaging or similar unit, will reduce your search time when looking for contours, cover and fish. This is a good time to use its advantage features if you have it.
Like with most seasons, there are several techniques that work. Casting a freefall jig is fun in mid-depth water. 20 feet is about the maximum practical with 7 to 14 being the best range.
Slow trolling is good all year long. The technique allows multiple baits in the water giving an obvious advantage of getting more bites. It’s good to use at any depth.
Shallow fish can be spooky, so anchoring a boat and using slip-float minnow rigs is deadly. You can anchor so you’ll have some crosswind or current. Cast to the side on the up-current side. Let the slip-float drift along. It works whether fish are 6 inches deep or 8 feet deep. You can cover different areas keeping the floats apart and moving.
Jig & Float
Jig and float is a top pick when fish are less than 8 or 10 feet deep. For example, fish are holding at 5 feet on the top of a sharp drop-off. Get your boat parallel to the drop, away from but within casting distance of the ledge. Use a long 8- or 9-foot light or medium-light spinning outfit. The long pole is needed to cast the jig under the fixed float. An example is the Duckworth Float & Fly rod collection by BnM.
A fixed float is the key. Slip-floats compromise the presentation. The fixed float keeps a solid connection with the jig, lets the fisherman put whatever action is working, and gives great bite detection. Fishermen have different float preferences with stick-type and weighted-styrofoam being two popular picks.
The cast is the tricky part. The more room in the boat the better because it’s easy to put a jig into another fisherman with the cumbersome line. It’s similar to casting a fly with a flyrod. Bring the rod back causing the jig and float to go directly opposite of the target. Bring the rod forward with and overhand cast making sure that the rod tip speed is appropriate to cause the float and jig to travel safely by you and to the target. Any sideways motion of the cast will cause a loss of momentum and a twirling bait rig.
Actions can vary. A pop-pop-pause and a pull followed by a pause are two good actions. Hits are often on the pause.
Setting the hook is tricky too. The angle created by the float means a fisherman must move the rod tip several feet to get the line straight enough to start putting pressure on the jig to set the hook.
Jig and float fishing may sound complicated but it’s fairly simple and a great, fun technique. The shallower the water the easier it is to do, but it can be deadly at 8 feet, too.
Any jig will work but the tougher the body the better because there is a lot of force applied to the jig on a cast. If it doesn’t hold tight to the jighead you’ll have a lot of problems. Soft plastics are best if glued to the jighead. Tougher plastic bodies work best. Or, this is a good time for a hair or feather jig.
Drawdown is a great time to scout. Items at water level during a 6-foot drawdown will be 6 feet under the water by spring. If it’s the base of a tree, that means it probably starts at five feet and goes down to ten or fifteen feet. Mark ditches, cover and other fishy spots with a GPS to try when water comes up in the spring.
Be careful. Navigation during low water level can be very dangerous. Also, a fall into the water this time of year can be deadly. Pay attention to safety.
Mark spots where you catch fish. The same spots will likely be good next year, too.
Drawdown is a fun fishing time even though weather might be a little brutal at times. Don’t miss the action.