No Doubting Thomas
Anglers may have a hard time believing that in the middle of winter they can find tons of feisty, actively feeding fish of all species within a stone’s throw of a launch ramp, and that they’ll find this wintertime action in a lake that actually warms them as they fish.
Those left doubting should take a trip to Thomas Hill Reservoir in Macon and Randolph counties. Parts of this 4,950-acre reservoir fairly steam all winter long. That’s because the lake was built to provide cooling water for the Associated Electric power plant located on the lake’s south end. When warm water discharged from the plant bumps cold arctic air a moist fog arises. If not dissipated by wind, the fog removes some of the chill from the air, even on the iciest days.
When it’s really cold, the fishing itself can heat you up, according to Jeff Purcell, a Conservation Department protection district supervisor who drives from Brookfield to fish the lake when conditions are right.
“When it’s 10 degrees and really bitter, that’s when the fish move up into those warm areas,” Purcell said.
The “warm areas” at Thomas Hill consist of the Brush Creek Arm in the lake’s southeast section and the channel discharging from the power plant. The warm water, which might be in the 60s on even the coldest days, filters out past a small island at the mouth of the arm and eventually dissipates in the lake.
Purcell and his fishing partners target hybrid striped bass. These tough, determined fish follow schools of shad into the warm water. Purcell said hybrid fishing is best when the plant is pumping out lots of warm water. It’s then that almost any bait will attract them.
“They put up an amazing fight,” Purcell reported. “That’s the reason we fish for them. We once weighed a 21-incher and it was 3 1/2 pounds, so any legal fish (longer than 20 inches) is going to weigh nearly 3 pounds.”
Purcell also fishes other lakes for hybrids. He says the traditional methods of trolling rattling lures and casting crankbaits don’t work very well at Thomas Hill, at least in the warm-water arm in winter.
“The best approach is more like a catfish method,” Purcell said. “We almost always anchor. We look for fish on the depth finder or maybe some kind of dip, where the water might go from 4 feet down to 6 feet and back to 4 feet