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Getting’ Wingy with it
By Glenn Walker

 

Across our nation’s large, commercial navigable waterways there is a common piece of structure that is a fish holding magnet, that structure is a wing dam.

Wing dams are finger like structures made up of rock that are placed nearly perpendicular along a rivers bank.  Their purpose is to stabilize channels and to keep water levels stable in the main channel for barge traffic. Many are visible by looking for a disturbance in the water that runs from the shore towards the center of the main river.  Most wing dams were built in the 1930s and '40s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in effort to keep the channel deeper for barge traffic, and increase water velocity in the main river when the water level is low.

These rock structures that are important pieces to shipping on river ways are also magnets for holding largemouth and smallmouth bass.  Since a river may have wing dam after wing dam, it is important to know what to look for and how to effectively target the bass holding on them.  My favorite time of year to target bass on wing dams is during the summer and early fall when the flow on rivers is typically low and bass are looking for food and a source of current.

When you find a wing dam, identifying the key areas to it is a must.  Items to consider include, is the wing dam out of the water for the most part, besides the tip or is their a large majority of the rock still underneath the water line?

When I first pull up to a wing dam and am not sure where the bass are located, I like to get a feel of not only what mood the bass are in, but also what the bottom content and make up is.  Two lures that allow me to do this are a topwater plug, such as a Storm Chug Bug or Rebel Pop-R.  These are great lures to see if the bass are aggressive and feeding. 


This Mississippi River smallmouth hammered a
Carolina-rigged Bacon Rind as it was drug over a
submerged wing dam

To get an idea of what the bottom is like and how deep the wing dam is below the water a Carolina-rigged plastic bait does wonders.  The size of your weight will depend on how much current is coming over the dam.  Plastic baits such as the Gambler Bacon Rind, Flapp’N Shad and lizards all work well, it is just takes some experimenting to see what the bass want to eat.   

If you have determined that the bass are feeding, they will position themselves near the tip of the wing dam, since this is where the current is pushing bait fish and insects.  Another area where the bass will hold in the current is if there is a hole or break in the rock that forms a chute where the water is funneled through, this is again a prime spot to fish for actively feeding bass.  Throwing a fluke or senko style bait into these current laden areas and letting it float through naturally is a great way to mimic an injured minnow that a hungry bass won’t pass up. 

If the bass are just holding adjacent to the wing dam, they could either be tight to the rock or holding out in front of it in open water.  Above or below the wing dam depends on how much current is present and how deep the water is.  I personally have done well below the wing dam, throwing a crank bait or Yo-Zuri Rattlin’ Vibe parallel to the rocks. 

A Texas-rigged tube in a crawfish imitating color is a good bait to use when the fish are tight to the rock and want a lure dropped right in front of them.  A ¼ oz weight and an Eagle Claw HP tube hook allows the bait to not only float natural through the current, but also give you a strong hook to get a big bass hooked.

Sometimes bass will also be holding in the deep hole that is present behind the wing dam, the depth of this hole will vary from 5 to as deep as 15 or 20 feet.  These holes are great spots for deep diving crank baits or jerk baits if the bass are suspended.

As you are fishing a wing dam, it is important to pay attention to the finer details, such as the rate of current, presence of baitfish, additional cover that is present and relationship of the wing dam and it’s location on the river channel.  By paying attention to these details you can put together a fine tuned pattern that will allow you to make your way up and down the main river channel catching a lot of bass and in many instances some quality fish as well!!