Warm Water Discharges and Spring Influence

Posted on January 10, 2002

During the winter season, river smallmouth anglers have three choices; warm water discharges, spring fed water, or the outdoor channel. Reruns get old, so die hard anglers look for a way to catch fish instead of watching someone else do so. This article will suggest research strategies to find areas with warmer waters to fish. The article will also discuss tactics used by waders and boaters to find fish in known warmed water areas.

Warm Water Discharges
The most obvious warm water area is downstream of a powerplant or waste water treatment plant. In most cases, the water immediately downstream of the discharge is well known, and well fished. If it is not well fished, consider yourself lucky. If it is well fished, avoid the crowd.

Jeff with a warm water discharge smallie Quality fishing is dependent upon fishing pressure. If a section of water is pounded by anglers on a daily basis, the larger more intelligent fish will find other nearby waters to inhabit, regardless of temperature. Most anglers think that you need to fish very close to the warm water discharge in order to be successful. Try unpressured water downstream of where most anglers fish, and you may be surprised.

The movement of fish around a warm water discharge is dictated by the river level and river flow. If the river is low, the band of warm water influence will spread out across the river. The fish will also spread out. If the river rises, the same band of warmed water will be squeezed toward the shore. The fish will then stack up on the available structure on the warmed shore.

Finding where the discharges are can be difficult. Word of mouth is the most reliable method. Talk to tackle shop owners or DNR employees. Local newspapers may have a fishing report column. Online resources are probably the quickest way to find information on warm water discharges. Find out where people are catching fish during the winter months. A discharge area will likely be mentioned. Most maps do not mark power plants or waste water treatment plants. Here are a few in the Mid-Atlantic region:

* Dickerson, Maryland – Power plant
* Blue Plains, DC – Waste water treatment plant
* Brunner Island (Saginaw), Pennsylvania – Power plant
* Bremo Bluff, Virginia – Power plant
* Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania – Power plant
* Sunbury, Pennsylvania – Power plant

A thermometer is essential in winter fishing. Although smallmouth bass can be caught below 40 degrees, they will actively bite in water 40 degrees or above. There are always exceptions, but no one should have to search them out with all of the available warm water discharges and spring influences.

Springtime Fishing in Winter
The average temperature of water coming directly from a spring is 57 degrees. This means that in summer, the water downstream remains cooler, and in winter, the water downstream remains warmer. Depending on the regular water temperature, this could lead to active bass in the winter months.

Spring influences are not as obvious as warm water discharges. Therefore, they aren’t noticed as much, and are not as pressured as warm water discharges. Word of mouth spreads quickly. That’s why I’m not discussing my favorite spring influenced holes. I will discuss how to find them.

Jeff shows a smallie caught from a spring influence area Winter is not the time to find spring influenced water. Winter is the time for spending time on a small, specific section of water, close to a heated vehicle and a change of dry clothes. During the summer months, remember to check your thermometer frequently. This habit will help you find your next spring influenced winter hole. Finding these holes while wading comes much easier. Next July, when you see a change in temperature from 74 degrees to 63 degrees, mark the spot on your favorite map. Certain areas are more prone to spring influences than others.

If a river lies between two mountains, then that water has a better chance of having spring influence than a river flowing through a piedmont region. Some maps show springs as a circle at the most upstream end of a tributary. In general, the springs are more prevalent further up in a watershed. This prevalence of springs in the upper watersheds can influence the region on the whole. If you don’t know of any springs, but would like to take advantage of spring influence, target the upper sections of your watershed. They will run warmer on average when compared to the middle or lower watersheds.

While floating a section of upper watershed, keep an eye open for clues to a spring location. If a spring comes up from the bottom of the river, the water may have a greenish blue tint that differs from the greenish brown tint of the river or creek around the spring. If a spring comes in from the bank, you may even see it as water trickling over rocks. Springs are usually surrounded by moss that grows thick on any surface immediately downstream of the spring. Subaquatic vegetation will also flourish in the dead of winter due to the relatively mild water temperatures. Geese and ducks will frequent spring influenced areas, because they recognize it to be a place where the water will stay open. River dams will drastically limit the distance a spring can increase the water temperature. Staying upstream of dams can help you remain in spring influenced water.

Warming Trends
If you don’t live within driving distance of either a warm water discharge or a known spring influence, don’t lose hope. Winter fishing can be even better in non warmed areas, as long as mother nature helps out. Jeff caught this smallie during a warming trend If the five day forecast shows well above average temperatures for several days, you may want to venture out and try targeting winter holes. Actually, the shallow water near a winter hole will be the most likely place to catch them. When the river temperature climbs, the shallows are the first to warm up. Not every shallow area should be targeted. The shallows need to be right next to a wintering hole to hold fish.

When fishing for winter smallmouth, remember that even though they are moving around, they are slow to bite. Your presentation should also be super slow. Many fish will only pick up a jig or tube after watching it drop to the bottom, and sit motionless for well over a minute.

40 degrees is the mark when most fish become active. However, the temperature is not as important as the trend. A day when the water temperature climbs from 38 to 44 could be better than a day when the water temperature drops from 52 to 46.

Plan Ahead
Whether you have an available discharge, spring influence, or warming trend, you need to plan for hypothermia. Research the area ahead of time. Bring a friend and a dry bag full of dry clothing, in case you get wet. Only short float trips are safe during the winter months. If you do get wet, even if you feel fine, get warm and dry as quick as you can. Hypothermia sets in before you realize it.

Guest Article by Jeff Little


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