Spillway Fishing: Tips for Bass, Walleye, Trout and Panfish

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Spillways are engineered structures that are designed to divert excess water from a dam or a reservoir. They are often overlooked by fishermen, but they can provide excellent opportunities to catch a variety of fish species, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, and many other fish species. 

Spillways create turbulent water conditions that make it easy for these fish to find food and shelter, making them ideal locations for you to cast your lines. If you’re looking for a new and exciting fishing spot, spillways can offer a unique and rewarding experience. 

In this article, we’ll provide tips and tricks for catching bass, walleye, trout, and panfish in spillways, helping you get the most out of your next fishing trip.

Why You Should Try Spillway Fishing

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Spillway fishing offers concentrated fish populations, abundant food, oxygenated water, and the chance to catch resting fish in slack water.

Concentrated Fish

One of the biggest advantages of spillway fishing is the high concentration of fish that can be found in these areas. As water flows through the spillway, it creates turbulent and oxygen-rich water conditions that attract a variety of fish.

Food Supply

The turbulent water of a spillway can dislodge insects and other aquatic creatures, which are then carried downstream, providing an abundant food source for largemouth bass and other fish in the area. 

This concentration of food makes spillways a prime location for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and many other fish to congregate. Anglers who fish in spillways often have a higher chance of catching more fish than they might find in other locations.

Oxygenated Water

Oxygenated water is another big reason to try spillway fishing. Fish such as bass, walleye, and trout are known to prefer well-oxygenated water, and spillways can provide just that.

The turbulent water created by the spillway can also create pockets of slack water where fish can rest and conserve energy making them more attentive to your offering. 

Spillway Fishing for Bass Species: How to Guide

Spillway fishing
Spillway fishing for bass requires scouting, accurate casting, patience, and practicing catch-and-release to preserve the ecosystem.

White bass, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass fishing in spillways can be an exciting and rewarding experience for anglers of all levels. The turbulent water and abundant food supply in spillways make them an ideal habitat for many bass species. Here’s a guide to spillway fishing for many different bass species:

Scout the Spillway

Before you start fishing, take some time to explore the spillway and look for potential spots where bass might be lurking. Look for areas with pockets of calm water, eddies, and drop-offs. Bass like to ambush their prey from these spots, so they make excellent areas to fish.

Choose the Right Gear

A medium to heavy action rod and reel combo with a 10-20 pound test line is suitable for bass fishing in spillways (see here for more thoughts on line strength for different fish). Bank anglers will normally use a spinnerbait or crankbait to cover a lot of water and trigger aggressive strikes. Jigs and soft plastics can also be effective particularly when fishing around drop-offs or other structures.

Cast Accurately

It’s essential to cast accurately in spillways as the water can be fast-moving and unpredictable. Try to get your hook close to any areas where bass might be hiding. Let your hook sink and then retrieve it at a steady pace, making sure to vary your retrieval speed to entice any nearby fish.

Be Patient

Bass can be cautious at times, so don’t be impatient and expect a bite right away. Consider changing up your offering until you find what works for these fish. Be patient and persistent, and you’re sure to hook a few bass from the spillway waters.

Practice Catch-And-Release

Spillways can be delicate ecosystems, and it’s important to preserve them for future generations. If you catch a bass, handle it gently, and release it back into the water as quickly as possible so other bank anglers can enjoy catching it on another day.

Spillway Fishing For Walleye: How to Guide

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To enjoy fishing for walleye in spillways, time your trip, target structures, use suitable gear, and retrieve bait slowly.

Fishing for walleye in spillways can be an enjoyable and thrilling experience regardless of your level of expertise. These fish are often found in spillways because the water conditions are rich in oxygen and abundant in food. Here’s a spillway fishing guide for walleye:

Time Your Fishing Trip

The most active time for walleye is early morning and late evening since they like slightly cold water. Plan your spillway trip accordingly and try to arrive at the spillway during these times of the day.

Look for Structures

Walleye tend to hide around structures like rocks, boulders, and drop-offs. Look for these areas and toss your line close to them.

Bring Suitable Gear

A medium to heavy action rod and reel combo with 8-10 pound test monofilament is a great option for catching spillway walleye. Most anglers will use a jig or a live rig with a minnow.

Retrieve Your Bait Slowly

Walleye move slowly and deliberately, so it’s important to retrieve your bait at a slow and steady pace. Try a stop-and-go retrieve, letting your bait hit bottom and then reeling in slowly, occasionally pausing to let the bait rest.

Be Patient

Like bass, walleye can be particular and require patience. Keep trying different lures until you find what works for these fish.

Consider Catch-And-Release

Spillways are enclosed habitats and can be delicate. Consider releasing the fish you catch so they can continue to thrive and spawn in the spillway, and so other anglers can enjoy catching them in the future.

Spillway Fishing For Trout: How to Guide

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Trout fishing in spillways requires fishing during cooler times, using light to medium gear, finding current breaks, and casting accurately.

Fishing for trout in spillways is somewhat unique but can offer a very rewarding experience. Spillways can be the ideal habitat for trout because of the abundant food supply and high levels of oxygen in the cold water. Here’s a guide to spillway fishing for trout:

Fish During Cooler Temperatures

Trout are most active during the cooler morning and late evening times of the day. Try to focus on dawn and dusk to get the best chance to catch these fish.

Go With Light to Medium Gear

A light to medium action rod and reel combo with 4-6 pound test monofilament is suitable for trout fishing in spillways. Use a small lure or bait, such as worms or power bait, since these fish have smaller mouths.

Look For Current Breaks

Trout like to rest in areas with slow-moving or slack water areas. Look for spots behind rocks that have a current break for these fish to relax.

Cast Accurately

The water can be fast-moving and unpredictable in dam spillways. Try to toss your lure close to calm water areas around structures where trout might be resting. Let your lure sink, and then retrieve it at a slow and steady pace.

Take Your Time

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a bite right away. Trout can be a timid and suspicious fish in many cases. Keep trying and changing up your offering until you figure out what works for these fish.

Always Release Your Fish

Most anglers will support catch-and-release fishing in spillways. These areas are delicate, and removing too many fish can crash the entire ecosystem.

Spillway Fishing For Panfish: How to Guide

Fishing for panfish is a great way for even beginners to land their first trophy. Bluegill and crappie are common in spillways since they love feeding on the higher abundance of available food. Here’s a guide to spillway fishing for panfish:

Consider the Time of Day

Panfish are active throughout the day, but they tend to be most active during the early morning and late evening hours, like many other fish species.

Bring Finesse Gear

A light to ultra-light action rod and reel combo with 2-4 pound test monofilament is suitable for panfish fishing in spillways. Use a small jig, worms, or crickets.

Look for Cover Spots

Panfish often hide around cover areas such as rocks, logs, and weed beds. Look for these areas and cast your line close to them.

Retrieve Your Line Slowly

Panfish are known for their delicate bites, so retrieve your bait slowly and steadily. Try a slow and gentle retrieve, and if you feel any resistance set the hook with a quick jerk of the rod.

Take Your Time

Panfish are shy and cautious, so it may take some time to attract them to your line. Keep casting and changing up your offering until you find what works.

Release Your Catch

It’s important to help the enclosed spillways retain fish for future generations to catch and enjoy. If you catch a panfish, release it back into the water as quickly as possible for other anglers to catch.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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