Fishing Tailwater

Jeff Paisley

Many anglers are discovering the opportunities that fly fishing tailwater can provide. Tailwater is defined as being the water below a dam or other hydroelectric facility that is subject to changes in flow cause by varying water release rates. The author fishing low water.The constant temperatures found in tailwater allow aquatic insects to flourish and provide trout with a constant source of food allowing them to grow at astonishing rates. This means that tailwater can afford an angler an opportunity to catch large fish year round.  The world record brown trout at 44 pounds 4 ounces was taken on the Little Red River tailwater below Greer’s Ferry in Herber Springs, Arkansas in 1992.

Tailwater is actually two very different fisheries in one river. When little to no water is being released from the hydroelectric facility, low water conditions exist. Low water conditions make an excellent opportunity for the wading fisherman. High water conditions occur when power generation is in process and once this starts the river will rise significantly and the flow will increase in force substantially.  The only safe way to fish high water is from a boat or from the bank. Both low and high water conditions can provide the prepared angler with excellent chances for catching fish.  When fishing tailwater the angler must pay careful attention to water levels and what is going on around him. The rate of flow of the river can increase so quickly that even an experienced angler can find himself trapped by the rising water.  Watch for the amount of debris floating in the river to increase as the water starts to rise.  The movement of birds and other animals can often give you clue that the water is about to rise. It is always a good idea to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when fishing tailwater.

Tailwater’s constant temperatures make it an ideal home for aquatic insects. Hatches will occur several times a day and sometimes multiple hatches will be going on at once. If you are able to figure out which insects the trout are keying on you will probably have success. Doing this can be a daunting task for even the most experienced fly fisherman but with patience, a bit of luck, and an observant eye anglers should be able to figure it out. Once an angler has figured out what the fish are eating all it takes is a good presentation of the fly and they can catch more fish in a few hours out of one hole on tailwater than you would normally catch in an entire day on regular water. 

Tailwater provides large hardy fish that are willing to take a fly under almost any condition. Fisherman will be amazed at the number of fish in these rivers and the fierce fight they put up. I have fished my whole life but I’ve never found waters that unlock the joys of a boy’s childhood like tailwater. I wouldn’t suggest light tippets and rods because both will be broken under the stresses of tailwater fishing. Due to high dissolved oxygen levels in the cool water these fish fight with unyielding zest. If you want to have a real chance at catching a trophy each day that you are on the water, take a trip to a tailwater river. You’ll be happy you did and with a little luck your trophy could be realized. Tailwater can truly provide the chance for the fishing trip of a lifetime.



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