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.