Anglers often ask the question, where do fish go when the lake’s fish species complete their annual spawn? Most of the lake species in Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee complete their annual spawn during February through early May. During the annual spawn, all the fish species locate in shallow water to spawn.
During the annual spawn, when the fish are in shallow water, they are territorial, they are feeding, and they will strike a variety of lures. Anglers find it much easier to catch fish when they are in shallow water in large numbers. Once the fish have completed spawning, they will relocate and in many cases, they will leave the shallow water for deeper locations.
Once spawning is over, the lake moves into the post-spawn period. This is the period immediately after the spawn when lake’s fish species will begin a migration or movement that will eventually take them back to areas where they were located just prior to the spawn (pre-spawn) and eventually to their summer hangouts where they will stay until fall arrives. The post-spawn period can last anywhere from one week to several weeks.
Hybrid and striped bass will now become creatures of the open and deeper water areas. Crappie will also move to deeper water but will often be found around deeper docks during the early summer and summer season. Once the spawn is completed, the crappie are more likely to be found in deeper water around some type of structure like brushpiles, underwater trees or around ledges containing brush or stumps.
The largemouth bass in large numbers will move away from the banks and out of coves to the main lake and more often to deeper water. The catfish that have also been in shallow water spawning have begun to move out to the channels and ledges where they will spend the warmer months. The one exception to movement away from shallow water is the bluegill or bream and they will stay in the shallow water areas for a good part of the summer.
The lakes' shad populations that have about finished spawning in the lakes will soon complete their spawn and then gather in large schools around deeper and open water areas. The shad’s location will now hold one of the keys to locating and catching gamefish like crappie, catfish, largemouth bass, and hybrid/striped bass.
There are two important keys to catching fish in the post-spawn and summer period. Number one is food or finding shad and number two is cool oxygenated water. Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair do not stratify during the summer months like other reservoirs. That is due to the pump-back operation at the Wallace Dam that constantly mixes the water.
What that means is the water temperature in the lakes is virtually the same from top to bottom. Dissolved oxygen can be at acceptable levels in the water column but a cool water level may be hard to find in a lake that does not stratify.
Due to lack of stratification in both lakes, the gamefish can be just about anywhere in the water column. Even though the temperature is virtually the same from top to bottom in both lakes, the water must have acceptable oxygen levels for the largemouth bass to survive.
Due to the pump-back, the surface of the lake generally has the highest levels of oxygen but acceptable levels of oxygen can be found at various depths due to the pumpback flushing. “I think that the potential exists in Sinclair and Oconee to harbor gamefish at greater depths during the summer than would be found on other Piedmont reservoirs,” said Steve Schleiger, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) fisheries biologist.
Summer is approaching and the gamefish are aware of that fact as the water continues to warm each day. Eventually, summer water temperatures will reach the mid to upper 80s and again that is virtually from the top to the bottom.
Since the water temperature is nearly constant from top to bottom and there is plenty of acceptable dissolved oxygen, then locating their food source becomes the primary ingredient for catching summer gamefish. Summer gamefish will always be close to schools of baitfish. Their metabolism is high and they must eat often.
Good fishing and see you next week.