4 Reasons to Try Spillway Fishing

By Andy Whitcomb

Jul 12, 2021

Spillways offer a unique fishing opportunity. Here’s why you should give spillway fishing a try in your next outing, how to find spillways near you, and more. 

Spillways are sort of the relief valve for water impoundments. They vary greatly, from a wide, flat section on one end of a farm pond dam, to release areas below massive dams of lakes and rivers. Spillway fishing can be a consistent source of fun. Here’s why:


Except for flooding events on smaller low water dams, fish movement upstream is greatly impeded. Thus when fishing a spillway, anglers often can find large numbers of fish stacked below. In Iowa one afternoon, I eventually had to leave a spillway after catching and releasing over 100 white bass.


What kind of fish are in the spillway greatly depends on the water resources in your area but may surprise you. Grab a good map or start by researching “spillways near me.” Early season anglers often seek trout while spillway fishing. As the water begins to warm, species such as white bass and walleye attempt to head upstream during spawning activity. Fishing a spillway later during the summer, you may find largemouth and smallmouth bass and catfish are the more dominant species, along with other less targeted fish such as gar, carp, or drum. While dam spillway fishing all year on one small stream in Oklahoma, I have recorded 18 different species.


Current carries fish food such as insects, invertebrates, and weakened bait fish. This congregates below spillways and often holds in churning current eddies. Opportunistic fish take advantage of this food delivery service especially after rain events. Big catfish often can be found below spillways, just waiting for the next meal to float by on a moving buffet. The best bait for spillway fishing will vary because of the wide range of freshwater fishing opportunities, but it is hard to beat traditional small minnows or nightcrawlers.


Waterfalls and the resulting splashes help to dissolve Oxygen in the outflow. Some fish are more tolerant of low oxygen than others. As long as the water is cool and oxygenated, any resident fish potentially could be found below the dam in the spillway pool. However, if the spillway stops running during a hot, drought period, tougher fish such as carp, gar, and bullheads may be the only remaining species.

If you are learning how to fish, once you have a valid fishing license, spillway fishing is not to be overlooked. It may take a while to figure out the best lure or rig presentation to cast in the existing current but there is great potential here, both in quantity and quality. Spillway action also changes seasonally or around rain events so your next visit may hold even more surprises!

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer (http://www.justkeepreeling.com/) and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to takemefishing.org since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.