Fishing Dam Tailraces


I have fished only one tailrace area and that is the Captain Anthony Meldahal Dam. It is located below Chilo, Ohio and above New Richmond, Ohio.

If you have never fished a dam area then you need to do it at least one time, the many times I have fished this area I have gone away each time with my arms aching and very tired, but I have never caught as many fish in one area as I have here.

First time I ever fished it I went by myself, reason being I had never locked thru the gates and if I started freaking out after entering only God, the Lockmaster and I would know it.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but each time I enter the locks it is overwhelming. The locks are about 10 football fields in length, and as wide as a football field as you enter them you blow your horn or pull the horn on the approach wall to let the Lockmaster know you are there, after you enter you tie up your bow to the moveable posts which are painted yellow at this dam, the doors are closed behind you, then you here a series of sirens and horns that warns people that the lock is being lowered or filled,in this case it was being lowered. It was kind of spooky in there this day, I was the only boat in there. I had looked at the Lowrance before the sirens had started and the depth was registered at 65 feet, it took a mear 13 minutes to go from 65 feet to 17 feet, quite awesome when you think about it considering the size of the locks when you are in them.

My 16 foot boat was dwarfed by these huge concrete walls and these enormous gates, but I survived my first episode in the locks. I fired the motor up and idled out all the time looking up and around at the great structure. I motored down past the retaining wall and turned the corner and was not prepared for the next surprise. Water was rushing past me like I had seen many times fishing the Ohio River. What I wasn't prepared for was the deafing noise of the water exploding from the gates. It was terribly loud, like the roar of a jet plane and me standing behind the engines, just happen to be I had a pair of ear plugs in my jacket. I now carry ear plugs as part of my needed equipment for the boat. Again I was in awe as I looked back at the huge structure, water was rising about twenty or thirty feet into the air and it looked like a giant boiling caldren. But my attention was drawn away from the dam area when I looked down at my Lowrance. On the screen it was black with bait fish and arches everywhere, happened to look over the side of the boat and tails and backs were coming out of the water right beside me. Wow!!! I was on the mother load of fish, it was a regular catfish smorgasboard and I was in the middle of it. I had never seen anything like this but have heard people talk about it.

Since I was marking baitfish and predator fish this was where I was going to anchor down, what happened next I was totally unprepared for. I was a long way away from the main gates, so I motored towards the dam about 100 feet and dropped my 22 pound Crabclaw anchor with the bow facing the dam, it grabbed and I started to get poles ready, the water was rushing by at a pretty good clip but I had fished in rougher condtions than these, baited both poles with live shad about 6-10 inches in length and dropped them to the river bottom, about this same time I heard the sirens go off and looked towards the dam area and noticed that several of the gates had opened up and these gates move up and down in a pendulum fashion, the boat after about 2 minutes rotated 180 degrees and now my stern was facing the dam and the bow was looking downstream and a fish had picked up a shad and was surfing towards New Richmond, my first thoughts were that of utter panic because I knew water was going to be spilling up over the transom any second but it didn't happen, the opening of the gates had caused the water to be pulled back towards the dam area even though it was rushing by me. So after I got my heart out of my throat I had to get all of this mess straightened up, lost the fish, lines where tangled around the anchor rope so I lost about 30 minutes of fishing time. Now that I had been totally broken in to the dam area I was ready to fish.

For the next two hours life passed by in seconds, these were the most exciting time of my life that I have ever had on the Ohio river, I was forced to go to one pole because too many things were happening with two, I was carrying about 75 shad in my forty gallon tank and they were very frisky, good thing because when I lowered them over the side they were being pulverised before they hit the bottom, water depth was 36 feet and I was fishing the head of a washout hole.

Active cats feed at the head of a hole and resting one's are down in the bottom of the hole, but resting cats can get turned on in a hurry when you drop lively shad to them, I caught a lot of fish that day, from Blue cats, to Channels, Flatheads, Stripers and I landed a Paddlefish that I thought before I saw him could be the biggest Flathead that I had ever landed. It took two hours to go thru 75 shad, I lost several big fish that day because they had spooled me running for the dam, I feel these may have been Stripers or Blue cats because of the sheer speed that they unloaded the line off of my reel, I had the drags tight and my gloved thumbs were pressing hard on the spool, had the pole leaned back as far as I could go and just never could slow them down. I'm sure glad that I carry lots of extra line and reels in my bag. This is the one time that I have felt sorry for the shad that I use for bait, I had pulled several of them from the water and they were torn to shreds or there sides where skinned back, but these were what the fish wanted. Thats why they were here. It was dinner time Catfish style.

Fishing the Dam area you have to use your head and you have to be safe, First and foremost, never take your PFD off!!! Conditions change rapidly in this area, keep a knife near the anchor rope in case a tree decides to push you down towards New Richmond, you can cut the anchor rope loose and drift till you get free, I have a milk jug tied to my rope so if I have to cut free I can come back and retrieve my anchor. Third and this is my own personal preference stay as far away from the gates as you can. At the Meldahal Dam they have a Do Not Go Beyond this area line that streches from the Ohio side to the Kentucky side and you are not allowed to go beyond that, me it is just too close to those gates, when there is very little water flow then I will get near them but I am still cautious with my approach.

When fishing this area look for holes and pockets in the river bottom, there are not a lot of rocks in this area only along the shoreline but I have marked a lot of timber and large debris areas going away from the dam area where the water starts to settle down.

I use a lot of live bait here and never have used cutbait except when the water is very quite, when it is boiling live bait is the key but cutbait should work just as good. I like using live bait. Carry plenty of sinkers with you because there is a lot of trash on the river bottom and you will get hung up.

Fish the tailwater areas as soon as the water temprature approaches the 55 degree mark, fish and baitfish head for this area and the fishing is great till the cats decided it is time to start the spawn and that is around the 70-75 degree mark but there are always cats in the tailwater areas. When some leave more hungry ones arrive.

My wife Lynn has never fished the tailwater areas, this year will be her first time and boy I'm glad I have already been through what I have, Together we will enjoy the thrills of fishing for cats at the Meldahal Dam Tailwater area.

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