Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Sunday, August 19, 2007

East Tennessee Disaster

The extended drought is causing conditions to be much worse than I anticipated when I returned from the west. For some reason, my lofty expectations (perhaps wishful thinking) involved stream flows on the Little River approaching normal and even the drought problem to be getting better. Instead, I have returned home to find the exact opposite. The flows on Little River just above Townsend Tennessee are registering at historical all-time lows. With water temperatures spiking into the upper 70's each day, things are getting dicey. Some East Tennessee fisherman still appear to be downplaying the problems even suggesting that good fishing can be found in the park. I believe this is a dangerous stance to take and commend people like Little River Outfitters owner Byron Begley for being honest and encouraging people to stay away until conditions improve. This despite the fact that his business revolves around fly fishing the East Tennessee streams.

Personally, I was looking forward to returning to my home waters, especially the mountain streams of East Tennessee. However, I will not be fishing them until both the flows come up and the temperatures come down. The park streams are already crowded without the low flows. The stress simply from the crowding associated with the extremely low flows is enough to cause problems for the fish. I would encourage anyone thinking of trout fishing here in East Tennessee to consider the tailwaters until conditions improve. In the meantime, be sure to check back here for further reports from my trip west!!!


  1. Anonymous5:22 PM

    David: I was a little suprised by Byron's somewhat apocalyptic statement about fishing the park, so I called my friend Ian Rutter (who lives in Townsend and guides/fishes the park more than pretty much anyone).

    The temperature meteByron referred to is outside the park and the only trout you'd find there are stockies.

    Ian's been taking water temperatures inside the park for a couple weeks, and has found that a short trip up the drainage gets you into temps that are maxing out in the upper 60s (often far below that).

    IN fact, he fished a backcountry brookie stream the other day and found 62 degree temperatures.

    I think there's plenty of safe, good fishing available in the park as long as you ignore the lowest elevation streams. I wouldn't touch Little River at Metcalf, but I bet a couple miles above Elkmont it's in great shape.

    Hope you kids get some rain soon. We're suffering a pretty serious drought out here, but fortunately, the Upper Sacramento (my home water) is an interesting combo of a tailwater and freestoner, so the fish are doing just fine.

  2. TC, I'm sure there is water that is plenty cool enough but I also am concerned about the water levels. With the river this low, it is almost too easy to catch fish and undoubtedly the concentrated fish are competing for proportionally much smaller holding water and food. Honestly, I'm sure you could fish in the areas you mentioned without causing too much trouble for the fish. I'm more concerned about people that don't know any better fishing lower on LR from Elkmont down to Townsend where the large browns lurk. The water particularly below the Sinks and down to the Wye holds some very nice wild fish that are probably having a pretty rough time now.

    I'm definitely with you in hoping for rain. This has been a crazy year with basically the entire west and a large portion of the southeast in a drought. Hopefully things will get back to normal in the near future!

  3. Anonymous11:23 PM

    No doubt you've been following this debate on the LRO board. I can understand the emotion on both sides. We've been up to the Smokies several times this summer - twice in June, once in July, and once at the beginning of August, before this latest heat wave hit. In June and July we found Little River very low; I fished Tremont one evening in June, and even then, well into the gravel, it was 68F. After that, we avoided that entire area; in July, the level of LR along the road was sickening. We also fished the Cosby area in June, and found the water to be getting very low, although it was still cold. The fish were beginning to be locked in isolated pools - of course, they become easy marks for snakes and birds, so I decided not to fish Cosby until it got some more water.

    For the most part, we stuck to the Straight Fork area on the N.C. side; we found plenty of water and good temps, and pretty good fishing. It was amazing to see the difference in the two sides of the park. At the beginning of August, my oldest daughter and I came up alone for one weekend, mostly to look at property, but also to fish a little. The park had just had a fair amount of rain for a few weeks, and LR looked a lot better. We still didn't fish it - we ended up on Road Prong, and had some success. Since then, there's been no rain and hot temperatures.

    I'm heading up again this weekend - more property to look at. If I get to fish, it will be high up, and if the levels are too low (fish in isolated pools), I won't fish. Hopefully, the mountains will get a little rain before then. The point I tried to make on the thread was, you have to pick your spots, and use your best judgement. Take the temperature, and look at the water. Low water isn't necessarily a no-go, as long as there's still some flow. Frankly, I wouldn't fish Tremont or LR until well into the Fall anyway; I'm not a big fan of performing in front of an audience.

  4. Ijsouth, I'm not a big fan of the audience either but don't overlook it as a charm in the catching dept. Don't ask why, but the second a crowd gathers, the fish start biting like crazy...

  5. Anonymous9:26 PM

    I caught my first wild trout in the Smokies at Tremont, at the end of the road, back over last Thanksgiving. However, I caught the trout bug earlier that summer up in SNP, in the headwaters of the Rapidan River. I guess I naturally gravitate to the smaller streams - the more out of the way, the better. Reminds me of when I was a kid, I guess...bushwacking through the woods to get to the next great spot. So, just the thought of fishing by that road, with all those cars, puts me out of my element. When we fished Road Prong three weeks ago, we had a bit of an audience from all the hikers headed for the Chimneys - made me feel like an exhibit at the zoo.