For some reason many anglers have an obsession with water levels in lakes and reservoirs and it is not uncommon to see water levels drop significantly during the summer months. I know anglers that check lake levels every single day so they can stay up to date on the conservation pool of the lake they fish. This is somewhat of an obsessive behavior that I have never really understood.
The area where I live (North Texas near Fort Worth) has experienced a severe drought and all the local lakes levels are dropping by the day. The combination of high water use and the severe drought has presented some real challenges on some lakes in my area, but compared to many other Texas lakes like OC Fisher the challenges in my area are minimal.
It is relatively common for lake levels to drop in the summer months but the water levels are definitely much lower than usual this year. When lake levels drop significantly, it can present some major challenges and definitely changes a lake. These changes can be anything from traditional boat lanes being too shallow to navigate in your catfish boat to water hazards like trees, poles and a variety of other hazards being right at or below the surface that don’t traditionally pose a risk.
Years ago on Lake Lewisville I was running across the lake and spotted something in the water just inches from the side of my boat. I marked it on my GPS. Within a couple of weeks the lake had dropped a couple of more feet and I discovered this object was the roof of an old pickup truck. I had traveled through this shallow water area probably hundreds, if not thousands of times and never hit it through some small miracle.
Over the last few months, I have heard a lot of complaining from local anglers about the dropping water levels on our local lakes, as well as a variety of other lakes across the United States but rarely do I hear of anyone actually taking advantage of the low water levels and using this as a learning tool.
If given the choice, during most of the year I prefer to have the lakes I am fishing at conservation pool or higher. I say most of the year because there is one specific period of time that I prefer for the lakes to be less than pool. There is a long drawn out explanation for this that I will probably cover in a future episode of Catfishing Radio.
I have talked at length in the past about my fondness for shallow water catfishing. Whether it be catching shallow water channel catfish using punch baits (like the Sudden Impact Fiber Bait) and the Secret Channel Catfish Rig or fishing for shallow water blue catfish using fresh caught threadfin shad or gizzard shad and a slip sinker rig or santee rig I spend much of my time during the year fishing in water that is very shallow (also often referred to as skinny water).
I feel like as a general rule anglers have tendency to overlook shallow water and focus on the deepest water in the lake, and often times don’t understand how to approach catfishing in shallow water or why the catfish would actually be there. Truth is, you can catch catfish in a few feet, or even inches of water during a majority of the year, even trophy class blue catfish and flathead catfish.
Taking Advantage Of Low Water Conditions
When water levels drop it changes the entire landscape of a lake and you often times have to tailor your catfishing techniques or approach based on these changes. Water that was once productive will no longer be productive, or may not even be accessible.
Much of the shallow water I was fishing on my local lake several months ago is no longer accessible and is now dry land. Take a close look at the photo above. Much of these areas with lush green vegetation are areas I was fishing several months ago.
As lake levels drop, it presents a unique (and sometimes rare) opportunity to educate yourself, if you do any shallow water fishing or plan on doing any shallow water fishing in the future. It doesn’t matter if you fish from the bank or from a boat, when there are low water conditions this is a prime time to educate yourself.
Arm yourself with a cell phone or a digital camera and head out to the lake, either on foot or by boat and educate yourself about the terrain that is no longer covered in water. Taking some pictures and recording the locations you find interesting will provide some excellent educational material and something for you to reference for the future. You might not get the opportunity to do this again in the near future.
Some things to consider are:
- What is the bottom composition, is it sandy, rocky etc.
- is there structure in or near the area, like small humps, indentations or other structure that might hold fish?
- Is there cover in the area like tree stumps, brush piles or other cover that would hold fish? This is also an easy time to set shallow water brush piles or structure?
- Is there an area you have fished that you constantly get your fishing line hung up? Maybe there is some trash or debris that can be removed?
- Are there old road beds, house foundations, concrete slabs or other structures that might hold fish (I found one of my most productive fishing areas this way).
Taking some time and driving around by boat, or driving around a lake or reservoir by car and getting out and doing some walking will open your eyes to a whole new world of fishing areas and allow you to educate yourself on these areas, so when the water does come back up, you are more knowledgeable about the shallow water areas you will be catfishing.
Using Photo Geotagging For Catfishing
You can always use a Plain Jane digital camera to take your photos but with the popularity of smartphones like the Android and iPhone you can take advantage of the geotagging capability of the phone. Most smartphones have the ability to turn this service on and off.
Geotagging basically means that when you take a photo, the phone records the time, date and GPS location that the photo was taken as part of the image file.
You can then upload these photos to the web through free services like Flickr or use open source software like Geotag and show where the photos were taken on a map. This saves you the hassle of trying to remember where photos were taken or going to the trouble of recording the location of photos manually, especially if your taking a lot of photographs and covering a large area at one time.
For an example of this you can see a quick map I made on my Flickr account (note the locations shown on the map are not where these fish were caught).
Whether you take photos or not, if your in a drought or facing low water conditions on your local lake or reservoir, it’s a great time to spend some time out on the water learning about the lake your fishing. You might be surprised at what you find!