As the 2017 Major League Fishing Challenge Cup unfolded on eastern Alabama’s Lake Eufaula, much of the angler dock talk has centered around the tough fishing conditions.
In such discussions, the topic of turnover has been frequently mentioned by anglers, something that is common all across the southern U.S. at this time of the year.
What exactly is lake turnover?
For the answer to that, I turned to veteran MLF pro Kelly Jordon, winner of the 2014 MLF Challenge Cup on Lake Ray Roberts and Lake Grapevine near Denton, Texas.
“In the early summer every year, as lakes start warming up, you get a thermocline (setting up),” said Jordon, a Flint, Texas resident.
“That thermocline becomes the (line or) barrier (for where fish will be able to live.) Above this line is where the fish live, (because there is oxygen in the water) and everything is alive.
“But below the thermocline, there’s zero oxygen (in the water) and everything dies.”
By early to mid autumn, as the weather and water temperatures trend downward, an event known as turnover happens when the lake’s surface water cools down, making it more dense.
At some point, the result will be a turnover of the lake’s top and bottom portions of the water column, the flipping of the oxygen rich top layer with the oxygen less layer towards the bottom of the water body.
When that happens, anglers will often smell a foul sulfur like, or rotten egg, smell as the oxygen depleted water is suddenly mixed to the surface.
“In the fall, water temperatures become close enough where the water will roll and the layers will flip,” agreed Jordon, an East Texas pro who happens to be the first angler to ever record tour level wins on the MLF, B.A.S.S. and FLW Tour circuits.
“What happens is that you get a lot of really bad water,” he added. “It takes a lot of the oxygen out of the water, it’s nasty, it breaks up the thermocline and the water quality is poor.”
The result of all of this is predictably tough fishing since the bass aren’t feeling as chipper as they did earlier in the year.
And according to KJ, that’s something that usually puts the fishing off for a few weeks during the fall of the year, including right now as the MLF pros are visiting the Eufaula area.
“It takes about a month for things to clear out,” said Jordon, a four time winner on the B.A.S.S. circuits and a one time winner on the FLW Tour. “It scatters the fish – the little fish go crazy and the big fish usually go dormant for about a month. It’s pretty hard to target anything until they start setting up for the real fall bite.
“You know it’s going to turnover when you get scum lines on your boat and you see bubbles (trailing) behind your boat,” he added. “And of course, you can smell it (a lot of times).”
Despite all of the talk of turnover and tough fishing here at Eufaula, Jordon did pretty well versus the field earlier in the week.
When I asked him why he had been able to persevere, he pointed to his angling past.
“Because I’m very familiar with turnover fishing,” said KJ. “You’ve kind of got to understand what you’re fishing for during the fall of the year.
“(Knowing that), it’s just from fishing and guiding for years on Lake Fork,” he added. “When you’re guiding, then you have to be able to catch fish when they’re not biting at all, (even during fall turnover).
“So I’ve had to learn to get real comfortable (catching tough bass) in tournaments.”
While Jordon’s reputation is for catching big bass (at one time he owned the MLF big bass record, not to mention the fact that he has recorded more Bassmaster Elite Series daily big bass awards than any other angler) that’s not the goal during turnover time.
“If you’re going to (keep) looking for better sized fish, you’re probably going to be real disappointed,” Jordon said.
Why is that? KJ says it’s because the fish – especially the larger ones – scatter to all corners of the wind.
“I didn’t catch any big fish in the first round – two and a half pounds was a giant,” said Jordon with a hearty chuckle. “But I caught a whole bunch of fish on the main lake.”
Jordon said the key for a big fish specialist like himself is to commit to the smaller fish pattern, something that is often a key in the MLF style of competition.
As he gets ready for today’s Sudden Death round in a different portion of Eufaula, KJ understands that if he keeps wading through the little ones, eventually a showstopper might show up at the end of his line.
Since today’s fishing zone for Jordon’s group is in the lake’s river section, the East Texas angling pro is optimistic about his chances.
“Typically when you have turnover, the most consistent place you can go on a lake (like this) is way in the backs of the creeks and up the river,” said Jordon. “A lot of times, they are not quite as affected (as they are on the main lake).
The reason for this is two-fold according to KJ. First, such sections of the lake are shallower, therefore there is less oxygen depleted water to turnover. Second, there is often some sort of current which can help to deliver some oxygen to the system.
Add in the fact that shad are gravitating to the backs of the creeks and up the river channel during the fall and there is even more hope in Jordon’s voice for a solid day of fishing.
“This section of the lake may fish normal today,” KJ said. “Meaning that you can fish normal (techniques) and there may be some good fish caught today.
“And if that’s the case, then you can go fish for the good ones and you can (move up the SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard in this thing) quick.”