Mid to late summer is the perfect time to fish for trout in the tailraces below dams. “Even though the air temp may hit 100 degrees,” says Nashville guide Chris Nischan, “the tailrace often stays below 60 degrees, providing ideal habitat for rainbows and browns.” And the perfect spot to catch them.

Highs and Lows
The location of tailrace trout is dictated by the rate of flow from the upstream dam (A). “When the river is low, trout behave like stream trout and will locate in riffles, behind rocks, and around submerged moss beds,” says Nischan, a former Total Outdoorsman Challenge winner.

“They range farther from cover now when foraging for minnows and crayfish and will rise to take insects off the surface.” When the water rises, trout gravitate to the bank and stick tighter to larger pieces of cover. “They’ll tuck in beneath undercut banks and sit on the bottom in deep holes. From here, they’ll rush out to grab passing prey.”
Be Level-Headed **
Nischan lets the water level dictate his fishing. In low water, tailrace trout can be spooky, so he’ll approach them by wading from downstream (B), causing fewer ripples and less bottom disturbance. “Once I’m within a long cast of my target, I’ll make several presentations from different angles before going to another spot.”

The trout bite can be fast within the first 30 minutes after the dam’s turbines kick in. The rising water sweeps insects off the bank and churns up bottom debris, exposing sow bugs and crayfish. “I try to be on my best spot when they start generating. This is when it’s possible to nail a trout on every cast.” (Note: A tailrace can rise high very quickly. Return to shore on the shallow side.) High water can mean a shot at a trophy trout for anglers drifting in a small boat (C). Make accurate casts upstream and retrieve the lure or fly past your target so it barely ticks the log or rock they’re hiding behind.

1.) In high water, trout hold tight to big structure like submerged trees.

2.) While the generators crank, trout will sit in deep holes along undercut banks and snatch passing prey.

3.) Trout hang in riffles during light generation, behaving as if they’re in a small stream.

4.) In low water, tailrace trout spook easily. Wade lightly and make long casts.

From the August 2012 issue of Field & Stream magazine.

Illustration by Mike Sudal