During the summer, surface water is warm and light, while the lower layers are cooler and heavier. The top and bottom layers contain less oxygen than the middle section, so the fish tend to hold in the oxygen-rich middle. In autumn, surface water cools, and sinks, mixing with the lower layers. The process causes currents, which mix the sinking surface water and the colder layers below. Wave action from fall winds facilitate the circulation of the various layers (turnover) and the mixing of the whole lake. By late fall, the water has cooled off from top to bottom. The change causes a good supply of oxygen at all levels of the lake, and the fish tend to spread out and seek new habitat.
Professional anglers Guido Hibdon and Denny Brauer are unsure what happens to bass during the turnover, but they agree that the fish are affected. "I think it almost affects them like a cold front situation; it disorients them a little bit about what they're wanting to do," Brauer says. "I think they're a little bit goofy about that time," says Hibdon. Before the turnover, fishing tends to improve with the cooling water conditions. During and after the turnover, however, fishing tapers off.
Hibdon and Brauer, both former Bass Masters Classic champions, agree that the average fisherman can use the turnover as a good excuse for a poor fishing trip, but they don't have to. "At times, it's probably the No. 1 reason people don't catch fish for a certain period of time," Brauer says. "It's not that they're doing a whole lot wrong, it's just that the fish aren't biting very well at all. If they haven't made adjustments, they're not going to catch them."
If anglers can make the proper adjustments, though, bass can be caught. "I think it's always been a big myth that you couldn't catch fish during a turnover," Hibdon says. "It makes them tougher to catch and makes them hit differently, but you can still catch them." Hibdon cites his first pro tournament as an example of how fish can be taken while the water is changing. During the two-day tourney, Hibdon and his amateur partners concentrated on the upper end of the Lake of the Ozarks, which was turning over at the time. Hibdon found suspended fish in the upper end and hit the jackpot. He won the tournament by a 20-pound margin, and his partners finished first and second in the amateur division.
If an angler feels uncomfortable fishing in turnover conditions, he has some options. "The majority of the time I try to avoid the turnover," Brauer says. "You can pull into one cove and it can be turning over, and you can run three or four miles down the lake and you do not have the turnover problem. Even if you're locked into one cove, there's going to be certain areas in that cove that the turnover isn't going to affect as much."
The back half of a cove will turn quicker, or it might be unaffected by the turnover if a creek is flowing into it. "If you've got good current, more than likely you're not going to have turnover," Brauer says. "Current is absolutely great for avoiding the turnover." Anglers can merely glance at the water to tell whether or not they're fishing the dreaded condition. The affected area almost looks like sewer water with decaying material releasing from the bottom and floating to the top.
Hibdon notes that turnover water will have a different color (usually pea green) and "foamy stuff" from the rocks will be floating on the surface. "You can follow that right down the lake and get ahead of it and generally catch more fish than you would fishing right in the middle of it."
The affected area will look like a watery graveyard--devoid of fish and fowl. "The area just seems dead," Brauer says. "If you can find an area that's got the water birds and shad, it's a good indication that it hasn't turned over yet."
The length of time the turnover affects fishing varies. "It can knock fish for a loop for two to three weeks," Brauer says. "A real protected area can be messed up for quite a while." Severe cold weather, wind and current accelerate the turnover. Hibdon estimates that the turnover will normally run its course in five or six days on impoundments without fast-moving water.
When catching fish means cashing a paycheck, changing conditions might be an excuse, but it won't feed the bull dog. You've got to know how to react to transitional periods. If you understand what's happening, you can still get the bites instead of being bitten by the bull dog.
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