Fishing Stair Steps on Prairie Reservoirs
There are many parts of western Canada that utilize reservoirs to store water for hydro – electric power generation, irrigation and community water supplies. Often these locations provide the local populace with recreational opportunities including boating, camping and fishing.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are areas with an abundance of reservoir systems. Each system was designed to support the agricultural communities and cities bordering our semi arid climate.
Fishing reservoirs in this part of the country will allow you to fish cold water species as in trout, cool water species and in Walleye and Northern Pike as well as Perch, Goldeye, Lake whitefish and coarse species to name a few.
As large as these reservoirs are, consumers will remove the entire reservoirs’ volume of water as many as thirteen times each summer. This makes the fish population transient and opportunistic.
When we remove these enormous volumes of water, we expose the boundaries of the reservoir to wind and water erosion. The erosion can be seen in times of low water and all points in between which I refer to as stair steps.
Obvious signs of erosion are found in the development of mud lines off points and along the shoreline.
Depending on the stability of the water level and the number of days an area is exposed to wind and water erosion; we find a series of stair steps
throughout the water column.
The best stair steps to fish are normally found on the windward side of shoreline points and along the banks of incoming streams and rivers.
Pitching jigs to shore is my favorite method to fish this type of contour.
Hopping, popping or dragging jigs across the flat of the stair step and watching as they fall to the next level is poetry in motion.
The key that I use consistently include minimizing jig weight, adding bulk, going weedless and using high visibility lines.
Many times the bite is extremely shallow and there is no need to toss more than a 1/8th ounce jig. In most cases, I use a 1/16th, bulked up with a 2″ plastic twister tail or a 3″ Powerbait minnow. Other times a combination of a twister tail and half crawler or a salted minnow will suffice.
My standard is 8# Berkley Sensation or Berkley XT in a high visibility green. If I know I have Northern Pike in the same waters, I will tie a short section of very light gauge stainless steel wire to the jig and back to a small barrel swivel.
As the fish move deeper or conditions move you too quickly along the shoreline to fish effectively, I will switch up to heavier jigs. Seldom do I pitch a 3/8th ounce jig for this purpose. The 1/4-ounce jig is usually good enough to get to the desired depth and light enough to slow the drop speed. This in theory allows the fish to take the offering on the drop.
Other key elements to eliminate water on reservoirs is to focus on windward shorelines and spending additional time exploring under water points and cups while fishing stair steps.
Fish that take a jig on the drop are difficult to feel. The high visibility line will allow you to watch the line as it enters the water. Fish that take the bait during the drop will give themselves away. The line will wiggle and make rings on the water or go slack as the fish rises with the hook. All you have to do is set the hook. This is such an interactive way to fish and so exciting.
There are numerous ways to troll stair steps. If we refer to contour trolling, we are following the shoreline and attempting to stay at prescribed depth. We can troll bottom bouncers and crankbaits with great success, especially if we catch the developing mud lines.
To prevent spooking fish in shallow water, or taking the chance of damaging a boat motor, I will suggest using planer boards. This will allow you to place the boat out of harms way and still keep you on top of the active biters.
Always look for the high percentage spots when trolling and keep eliminating water. Use the same analogy of points and bends, inside and outside corners to improve your catch. Stair steps are under water structure where the predator corrals and herds the bait until the bait has to move towards the predator. This is when the walleye will feed, then follow the bait around the reservoir.
Aug 1, 2008