Consider the plus side
“The way I look at the drawdown is that it condenses everything,” said Bassmaster Elite pro Skylar Hamilton. “You still have the same number of fish in the lake, you still have the same amount of bait in the lake, but you’ve taken away places they can go.
“That can make it easier on anglers because you don’t have as much area to cover — whether it’s a 2-foot drop or a 40-foot drop. You just have to adapt.”
Noting how his local east Tennessee fishery, Douglas Lake, sheds 30-plus feet each fall, Hamilton said the mostly barren bottom will occasionally reveal pre-impoundment relics like old house foundations, graveyards, etc. Typically, it’s rock, some more rock, a bunch of other rocks and, well, you get the picture.
“It’s kind of boring,” Hamilton joked. “It looks like the moon, but the fish don’t care what it looks like.”
Game planning definitely takes on a new dimension, as you simply have to remove some of your favorites from the hit list. Again, think addition by subtraction.
“You’re not going to be able to target fish the way you can on bank cover like laydowns or docks,” Hamilton said. “Some people may be disappointed, but for me, that’s just two things I don’t have to worry about.”
Fellow Elite Keith Combs notes that early in the drawdown cycle, increased current flowing through a lake stimulates feeding and predictably positions predators. Also, with moving water comes higher turbidity.
“On a lake that has a lot of clear water, whenever you get more dirty water, that always makes it easier to fish,” Combs said.
Looking for them
So where do fish go during a drawdown? Given the range of reservoir diversity, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
“Lakes that have a 2- to 3-foot drop, you still have a lot of stuff like laydowns that are still in the water; whereas in lakes that have extreme drawdowns, you can have a place where a fish has been living all summer that’s completely out of the water,” Hamilton said. “Those fish will relocate completely.
“On a place with a (more moderate drop), they might have to move trees, but there’s still a tree for them to be on; there seems to always be something left,” Hamilton continues. “But on a lake with an extreme drawdown, when you take all that away from them, they try to replace it with a rock pile or something else.”
Hamilton anchors much of his fall drawdown hope in his Lowrance ActiveTarget, which gives him a real-time look at what’s in front of him. Specifically, he looks for flatter banks and channel swings — places where fish can push bait.
“Bait is always important wherever you’re at, but on a body of water that’s drawn down, it seems like the fish relate to bait way more,” he said. “I don’t want to say they use it for cover, but it’s almost like they do. That’s because of the lack of other habitat.”
Combs said ditches, guts and drains become gold during the drawdown, especially as winter approaches.
“Typically, I’m looking for some kind of deep-water access; a channel, a bluff wall or a steeper bank,” Combs said of these pull-back areas. “With fall and winter, you’re going to have fronts coming through, so an area with deep access is always going to have more fish in it because they have lots of options.”
Another biggie — riprap. Similar to a bluff, the fish simply slide up and down with water fluctuations and various temperature preferences. Riprap lining a bridge causeway can be particularly attractive during a drawdown, as fish departing the shallows of its terrestrial terminus have an easy transition to comfortable depths.