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Well October has come and gone and here I sit on the second day of November in my shorts and flip flops. The forecast calls for temperatures well into the lower eighties today with only a slim shot at rain over the next day or two. A slim shot is not what East Tennessee needs at the moment. We need a whole bunch. Point in case, TVA is reporting that in October we're seeing the lowest runoff totals in 142 years of record. That’s dry, so dry in fact that John reported to me that an old timer in the mountains told him the water was so low that the trout had ticks!
Indeed, the low water in the mountains has led to less than stellar fall fishing in the park. That’s the down side; the upside to the low water is low flows on most if not all of the Valley’s tailwaters and that’s a condition that should last well into the Winter. Right now it looks like TVA is predicting minimum flows on the Clinch for the next couple of days. With the weather as nice as it is it will afford a lot of wading opportunities to get out there and fish. Most of the reports on the Clinch are a mixed bag with some anglers having good luck and others not much at all. Location plays a big role in that in the Fall when most of the trout in the Clinch move upstream and go through their spawning motions.
Another factor which is likely affecting all of the area tailwaters is reservoir turnover. Thermal stratification in southern reservoirs is an annual occurrence. Over the course of the summer our reservoirs stratify and pronounced thermal barriers, or thermoclines, and anoxic barriers (oxygen depleted waters) develop. TVA does a lot to mitigate this process such as pumping liquid oxygen into the reservoirs at depth, none the less, the thermal barriers “turnover” or mix about this time every year. You can typically notice it in the tailwaters as a pronounced turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water color. The result is lowered dissolved oxygen content and decreased fish activity.
I was on a smallmouth trip last month (the 17th) on the Holston and the water was definitely not its typical gin clear self. We caught plenty of fish but not as many as I thought we should have. Since we hadn’t had any rain in quite a while, the most obvious explanation for the water clarity was that Cherokee Reservoir had turned recently. By now I expect that all of the other reservoirs have as well. Joe Congleton was in the shop yesterday speculating that Norris had turned recently and Michael, another regular, said as much about Douglas and the French Broad. The good news is the effects of the reservoirs turning over are pretty temporary and the fishing should get back to normal in the next day or two if it hasn’t already.
The smallmouth bite on both the Holston and French Broad Rivers is still pretty strong despite the reservoir issues. Most of the fish are beginning to fall back into their winter haunts so if you go fishing for them it’s a good idea to look for them in areas that border deeper water habitat which will become the wintering holds for the fish. Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm temperatures have kept the water temperatures on the Holston at the danger mark for trout in the upper stretches. With the temps hovering around the lowers 70s we are still advising anglers to avoid fishing on the Holston for the next couple of weeks.
Despite the persistent heat and lack of rain here in East Tennessee, the fishing has remained pretty solid straight through August and September. Most of the reservoirs in the TVA system failed to achieve full summer pool this year and as a result we are actually getting some wadeable flows on most of the area tailwaters. Norris Dam’s schedule has seen zero generation during the morning and early afternoon providing lots of opportunities. There are a lot of reports trickling into the shop with reports of caddis on the clinch with some claiming that they are not the typical black caddis we’ve grown to associate with hours of frustration on that river. I haven’t personally made it on to the water to confirm whether or not it’s the infamous black caddis or something all together different, either way, it means the fish are active. Most anglers are having success with midges and I’d expect that to be the case through the remainder of the week.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Cherokee Reservoir has officially exhausted its coldwater reserve and water temperatures are now well into the danger zone for trout and will remain that way until late October when surface temperatures finally begin to bring the water temperatures down. Having said that, we are imploring all anglers to lay off the trout in the upper reaches of the Holston for the next 6 weeks or so until the temperature issue resolves itself. While the fish you catch may actively swim off the likelihood of it surviving are extremely low. The middle and lower portions of the Holston are still fishing very well for small mouth bass and it has been a phenomenal year for top water fishing for small mouth. I haven’t fished a streamer with clients the entire summer and I can’t recall a time I’ve been able to make a statement like that. If you haven’t tried top water flies for small mouth bass then you don’t know what you’re missing.
Like the Holston, the mountains are suffering from the current dry conditions with low flows, warm water, and skittish fish. Weather forecasts don’t show much relief in sight though a few are predicting some rain for the weekend. I’m hoping they’re right not only because we desperately need the rain but also because it may get me out of soccer duty!
Summer has hit its end, or at least it has if you have little ones like I do who are now safely back at school. That doesn't mean its over for everyone though. Young Brett (pictured) is down in Florida visiting his folks while doing a little fishing and John, we aren't even sure where John is now...probably lost on some back road in West Yellowstone. Reports from his western trip have been thin since he dunked his phone in the river but from what I understand both Brett and John are due back in town by the middle of next week.
If you've been paying attention to generation schedules then you've noticed that TVA has been pushing a lot of water through most of our dams of late. August is the beginning of the draw down period and despite most reservoirs not having achieved full pool this summer; TVA has begun this process in earnest. As of last week, there were complications with the generators on Norris Dam and TVA was sluicing about 6,400 cfs around the clock. By most accounts, if you got out on that flow the fishing was still pretty darn good. As of this week, however, they've got at least one generator back online and they're now sluicing and generating simultaneously. I mention this because if you go and look at their website it looks as if there might be some wadable periods in the morning on Clinch. Unfortunately, that's not the case. There are some decent flows for boating anglers in there and so it is probably worth a poke if you've got the time.
The Holston has likewise been receiving plenty of water through it with TVA turning on the taps mid-morning and leaving them on all day into the night. There is a little bit of wading available early in the morning for trout up top, however, water temperatures are beginning to get into that dangerous zone and we don't recommend pressuring the trout at this point in time for the foreseeable future. To that end, we typically suspend our guide trips for trout on the Holston during this period of the year until we start to get the cool weather of Autumn. It's what's best for the trout and we hope that you all can understand why that's important. Unfortunately, some guides don't.
The good news is that fishing for small mouth bass on the tailwaters, both the Holston and the French Broad is a great option. Even with TVA pulling water on Douglas and Cherokee, there are spots in both rivers with low water that is perfect for fly fishing for small mouth. If you haven't given this a try yet you absolutely should do it, it is a blast!
Another great option is fishing for whites and hybrids on the area lakes. The shad are schooled up on most of our lowland lakes and the game fish are absolutely destroying them in the early morning and late evenings. I was headed out to Maryville yesterday and looked down from the Pellissippi bridge and noticed a big school of hybrids busting on the surface. That is some hot and fast fun on a fly rod and doesn't require a ton of time.
As per usual this time of year the Mountains are suffering from low flows, no flows, or high water depending on what drainage you are on. With temperatures as high as they are your best bet is to absolutely get up to the upper elevations and try and find some cooler water. The fish shouldn't be too picky with your fly selection and you might just find yourself a break from the Valley's temperatures.
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