Ohio River – McAlpine Dam

IMG_2203The Ohio River at the Falls below McAlpine Lock and Dam offers an exciting fishery with the potential for large fish.  It is also a challenging place to fish with potetially difficult wading and boating conditions.

Lou with a nice Wiper at the "Duck Pond"
Lou with a nice Wiper at the “Duck Pond”

The best fishing is probably with about 12 to 19 feet on the lower gauge with some dam open on the upper gates.  The hydro plant at the dam operates a hotline at 502-775-5056 where conditions are updated every four hours; at this number, you can get information on both the upper and lower pool as well as the number of feet of dam on the upper and lower  gates and the number of hydro units being run.  There are also on-line gauges for both the Upper Pool and the Lower Pool.  The normal navigational level on the upper pool is about 12.5 feet; you can expect the Corp to open the gates to reduce the pool level if it is above 12.5 feet.  At higher flow rates (as indicated by number of feet of dam and higher lower gauge readings), the  water conditions can get treacherous; significant currents and standing waves can be expected.  It’s always a good practice to wear your life jacket below the dam.

McAlpine Lower Gates at low flow
McAlpine Lower Gates at low flow

Wade in and bank fishing opportunities exist at the Clarksville, Indiana side of the upper gates to down below the Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center, depending on the lower gauge level.  The parking lot at the railroad bridge has a path to the upper dam gates.  Parking downstream of this lot is subject to State Park fees and regulations.  Be wary crossing the river channel by foot to the fossil beads; you can get stranded with no means of return by foot if the upper gates are opened.

Using a small craft to get to the fossil beds across the main channel offers opportunities to fish moving water by wading from the fossil beds.  Depending on water conditions, kayaks or small boats can be safely navigated from the Clarksville boat ramps to the fossil beds.  The advantage of using small craft to reach the fossil beds is a means to return to the Indiana shore if the upper gates are opened.

Kayak on Fossil Beds
Kayak on Fossil Beds

Fishing from a motorized boat offers more opportunities to explore the area and increase the availability of fishing options.  There are boat ramps on the Indiana shore at both Clarksville and New Albany Indiana.  Depending on water levels, navigational hazards include rock and shallow ledges below 14 feet on the lower gauge and dangerous waves above 19 feet on the lower gauge.  Use caution and go slow until you know the channel!

A good source of additional information about the area is the Falls of the Ohio State Park Website.  You will find information on parking, fishing, and a map of the area on their site.

For the flyfisher, steamer imitations for shad or skipjack hearing are the fly of choice.  Chartreuse over white clousers are a good first choice, but most any predominantly white streamer can be equally effective.  Wipers will take topwater flies like pencil poppers and Gartside’s Gurgler.  Be patient, it is not unusual to be skunked at the Falls; when the fish are “in”, however, the action can be very hot!

Fly fishing in and around Louisville Kentucky