The Fall Lake Turnover

By Ken Sturdivant
Southern Fishing School Inc. |

The early months of fall for the anglers can be a very tough time to find and catch fish with any degree of success. The lakes all over the South are going through the turnover effect. This can be confusing to anglers. Basically, warm surface water begins to sink and the cool water under it floats over the warm water back to the surface. Lots of oxygen is then scattered to all levels of the lake. Bass can now roam at any and all levels so they are roaming the lake at all depths.

Large reservoirs do not all turn over at the same time. So what is that smell? That is the turnover process, and it’s time to move away from it.

This turnover occurs every year when the colder water in the mid ranges of lakes begins to float to the surface. Once this happens, the lake’s water temperature, and most importantly, the oxygen layers are now the same at all levels. In many lakes, the color of the water also changes and becomes cloudy. Look at the river below the dams and you can see this off-colored water.

Many experienced anglers have learned how to still be successful during this time of year, and it’s not all that hard to do. The key is understanding what the fish actually do during this time of year.

Oxygen is the life-giving ingredient for all living creatures and plants on the earth. Nothing can survive long without oxygen, and fish are no exception. In their underwater world, oxygen levels can change at different water levels and at anytime during the year.

Fish have learned to deal with low oxygen as well as high oxygen levels, and they will adjust their locations around this fact. When the oxygen in a lake is low, fish will be slow and not react to lures, and may even become dormant for periods. They must try to find better oxygen in order to actively feed and to survive.

Once this turnover is fully in place, oxygen levels are exactly the same at all depths, and all game fish can now roam the lakes to feed in preparation for the winter. And for the anglers, there are two choices.

The first choice is to accept the tough conditions and fish as hard as possible by casting shad and bream colored crankbaits to every piece of cover all over the lake. Smaller baits are more effective and easier to cast as well. This method is very effective, but the angler needs to remember that this is a true pattern that can be duplicated even the next day.

Because of the changing conditions every day, the fish will be moving around and not holding on any cover at all. These fish are just roaming the lake looking for food.

The second option, should the lake have a long river feeding into it, is to head up river and get into the current. The fish that live in river systems deal with high oxygen levels all year long and are not affected by the turnover effect, In this case, these fish are using up a lot of energy all year just fighting the current every day.

In any case, fall turnover can be a lot of trouble to deal with so the angler might decide to sit in the woods for a month. After all, hunting season usually opens about the same time the turnover takes place. To fish this event, tie on a crankbait, a spinnerbait, and a buzzbait and start down the bank. The trolling motor should never stop turning.

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