Late summer in Tennessee generally means low clear water in the mountains and a mix of high and low water on the tailwaters. TVA begins to draw down reservoirs to winter pool about this time of year if necessary, but otherwise the tailwaters are low and clear. Last week brought a departure from the norm on the Caney. Recent generation has consisted of a two hour pulse at some point in the morning, but heavy rains that brought flooding to parts of the state affected the lower end of the Caney Fork.
Water levels in Center Hill Lake have come up some, but mostly the lake was spared from the worst of the onslaught. The tailwater is a different story. Last Thursday, it was obvious that large quantities of mud had entered the river somewhere upstream of Happy Hollow. I fished at Happy for probably a couple of hours and caught a decent number of fish despite the water conditions.
When I first pulled into the parking lot, I almost didn't even bother to get out of my car. Upon closer inspection though I noticed dark patches indicating the weedbeds under the surface. Realizing that the water was just very off color and not chocolate milk, I proceeded to rig up a four weight and headed down the ramp. The clarity of the water made simply searching the water much less productive than it normally can be. I've seen fish move up to 7 or 8 feet to take a Zebra Midge on the Caney, but this time the fly would have to be within a foot or two of the fish for them to even see it.
Careful observation is key to success in life, and fishing is no exception. After standing on the bank for 10 minutes, I located several risers and slowly started to wade in their direction. Once within range, it was a simple matter of waiting for the fish to give away its location by rising and then casting to it. Most fish would hit within the first few casts although a few took upwards of 10 or 15 casts before eating. Still, I can't complain about those numbers.
I don't know whether it was due to the reduced visibility or what, but probably half of the fish rose to my indicator dry whereas normally I would only catch a couple on the #14 parachute. The fish were a nice mix of 13-16 inch rainbows with a couple of browns thrown in for good measure. All fish seemed really healthy with beautiful full fins and fought very well. I'm hoping to head back soon to sample the river again under slightly more "normal" water conditions to see how things really are...