Photo of the Month: Golden Explosion

Photo of the Month: Golden Explosion

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Small Details

For some people, this will be a boring blog post. If you are here for fishing info, you can skip this one. Hopefully this will resonate with someone other than myself when I say this, but I don't go fishing just to catch fish. There is the old cliche story about first you want to catch a fish, then a lot of fish, then a big fish, then a lot of big fish, then you come full circle and just want to go fishing. Well, this is similar to that concept, sort of. 

It is probably the photographer in me, but patterns, shapes, colors, light or the lack thereof, and interesting flora and fauna all interest me. In fact, that is one reason you are just about as likely to find me roaming the woods with a camera (or even just my cellphone) as with a fly rod. However, it is the small details that often greatly enrich my fishing trips, adding immense value to what is already a special experience. 

Sometimes, those small details are the fish themselves. A closeup of a native southern Appalachian brook trout never gets old and why I have way more fish pictures on my phone and computer than necessary. Even after seeing thousands of wild and native fish, I still have to snap a picture because they are so pretty. 

©2020 David Knapp Photography

Still, it is often more about things other than fish. In other words, it is easy for a fish to catch your eye. That is what you are targeting after all. But how about that interesting mushroom? How about stream side wildflowers and other plants? Or maybe spiders? Seriously. All of these are things I tried to take pictures of on my recent backpacking trip in the Smokies. 

Near camp, these ferns growing off a bridge caught my eye. The contrast of bright green against the watery background kept me coming back again and again. In the end, I settled for what my cellphone could do, but left wishing for my "good" camera. 

©2022 David Knapp Photography

Sometimes, my efforts aren't particularly successful. I found some neat pink turtleheads, but my cellphone pictures were less than stellar. They didn't make the cut to share. Maybe next time I'll have a "good" camera. The few bright leaves around also drew my eye and at least a couple of them weren't half bad. Can you find the angler in the background on this one?

Fall colors in the Smokies
©2022 David Knapp Photography

This next one was one of my favorites. I'll call it the "Cat's Eye" for obvious reasons. No joke, this is exactly how I found these leaves. Nature never ceases to amaze me. What are the odds that these two leaves just happened to link up so perfectly? 

The cat's eye made of leaves
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Even the smaller details near camp were interesting. I found jack in the pulpit seeds, bursting bright red and ready to grow the next generation of these interesting flowers. I found spider webs with spiders who weren't camera shy. This was another one that begged for a better camera, but the cellphone did not do too badly either. 

Great Smoky Mountains spider
©2022 David Knapp Photography 

One of my favorites from the trip was also one of the plainest. Something about the meeting of deciduous and evergreen here made me happy when I saw it. Of course, with so many evergreens in the Smokies eliminated by things like woolly adelgid, I'm just happy to discover one that is happy and healthy along a trout stream. 

©2022 David Knapp Photography

I like to eat, so every time I see some type of mushroom, I always wonder if it is edible. This one was no different, although I wasn't really prepared on this backpacking trip to cook a mushroom. It would have been a fun task back in camp if I was. There are only a very few wild mushrooms I feel comfortable with. If you are versed in wild mushrooms, let me know what this one is and if it is good to eat! 


©2022 David Knapp Photography

By now, you are probably beginning to get an inkling of the types of things that catch my eye while on a trout stream. Often it is birds or other wildlife, but they are usually too quick for me to catch with my cellphone. On these backpacking trips, that is usually all I carry. Too much weight with the other options. Even on day trips, it is all the extras that bring completeness to my experience. Without the small details, it would just be a fish catching excursion, and those aren't always super successful. Fishing trips, however, are always successful. Catching a fish is just icing on the cake...

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 3

If you haven't read about the first couple of days of my fall backpacking and fly fishing trip adventure, you might enjoy reading those first. If you are already caught up, then skip these two stories and continue on with day 3!

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 1

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 2

During the lead up to this backpacking trip, my friend Buddy and I had many detailed conversations about gear. As a retired engineer, Buddy is more diligent than most about counting every ounce of weight in his pack. I got to reap some of the benefits, because it motivated me to pay more attention to pack weight than usual. One of the things Buddy had decided to do to limit his overall weight was eliminating his fly rod and just fishing Tenkara rods on this trip. While I enjoy casting and wanted a "regular" fly rod, I often carry a Tenkara rod as backup and decided this would be the perfect excuse to finally fish this rod for a whole day, something I hadn't done in a good long while. 

The rod I usually take on brook trout trips is a Suntech Kurenai HM 30. It is an excellent choice for a backup rod because it weighs under 1 ounce. In other words, I'm not adding much extra weight by taking it. This rod was gifted to me by a good friend and quickly become one of my absolute favorite rods. I also have some nice Tenkara USA rods which are fantastic fishing tools themselves, but this rod is by far and away one of the nicer rods I own. Anyway, if you have any questions about this rod, don't hesitate to ask. 

The morning of our second full day in the backcountry and third day out overall dawned just about perfectly. Skies were partly cloudy, and there was just enough cool air at this high altitude to remind me that fall was on its way. I was excited about the day of fishing and ready to get going. After a quick breakfast, Buddy and I hit the trail. My favorite fly rod was stashed back in camp, and I was going for a Tenkara only experience. 

To complete my setup, I had a size 3.5 level line and 6x tippet. While we wanted to fish dry flies, I had got started on a bad trend the day before fishing a Barbie Bug. It had worked so well, I knew it wouldn't take me long to put one back on. Sure enough, after not finding any fish willing to rise early in the day, I went to the Barbie bug and never really looked back. I was fishing the whole setup like a high stick nymph rig. The Kurenai rod enabled me to place the fly wherever I wanted and was so delicate that even the smaller brook trout felt like monsters. 

Small native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


While the numbers were incredible, the overall size seemed smaller on this stretch of water. Buddy prefers a stretch just a little higher than where I fished on day two with Russell. For me, in addition to the insane numbers of fish, the highlight of the day was fishing a little higher up this drainage than I have ever been. I also took the opportunity late in the day to scout further up the trail and look for additional new access points to that upper end of the drainage. I don't know about the whole way up, but I did find an access point that could be used to enter or exit the stream far enough up to open up almost another whole day of fishing. 

Next time, I intend to explore this stretch. That said, with the overall average size being down compared to further downstream, I don't expect to find too many monsters. Of course, around here, we don't go fishing for brook trout with the expectation of catching big fish. The trip is about so much more than the size of the catch. Otherwise I would have quit these excursions long ago. Here is one of our better fish size wise this day.

Nice native brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography

The majority of fish in this section didn't seem to be as bright with their colors either. I don't know why that is, but it has tended to be the same on other trips as well. Either way, this was probably one of the prettier fish of the day.

Gorgeous native brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography

By the time we had fished up into new to me water, the day was getting late. I wanted to snag one more to reach a nice round number for the day. I rarely count, but very occasionally on these highly productive small streams I do. This is mostly just a curiosity. For example, when it feels like you caught a ton of fish, was it 40? 50? 70? 100? Most days I don't have the first clue, but occasionally it is fun to keep track. On the other hand, I don't want to take things too seriously, so I also tend to forget as soon as possible. I have good memories of days spent on the water with friends, and pictures of gorgeous native char or wild trout. What more do I need?

After reaching the trail, I hustled up to look for new/additional access points. One likely spot that I had originally located from the stream bed turned out to be even better than I had hoped for. It will be the entry point for a future expedition to push ever farther up this favorite drainage. I'm still eyeing some spots MUCH further up the drainage for possible entry/exit points, but so far haven't turned anything else up. 

Buddy had started back towards camp when I headed up the mountain, but I caught him nearly back at camp on the way down. We got back and enjoyed one last evening in the mountains before hiking out the next day. There is always a bit of a letdown as the end of the trip approaches. Yet, at the same time, there is also excitement to get home and see my family, eat home cooked food, and sleep in my own bed. My backpacking setup has gotten pretty cushy thanks to a Big Agnes Q Core deluxe sleeping pad, but it is still sleeping on the ground no matter how comfortable the setup gets. Still, there is nothing better than spending the night in the woods next to a rushing mountain stream, so it is always best to end a trip soon enough to leave you wanting a little more. This trip was just a warmup for an epic adventure merely a few days later, but I'll save that story for another time...

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

This year, I am thankful for so many things. Good friends, family, health, and of course, the great outdoors that always gives me more than I deserve. Of course, I am thankful for trout, char, and all those other fishy favorites. I'm thankful for the blessings God has showered upon me and my family, and that includes each and every one of you. Thank you for your friendship and thank you for supporting me as a fly fishing guide. Every day I feel so blessed to be out in nature doing what I love. Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Thanksgiving brook trout


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 2

After a soggy but good start to my backpacking trip, I was excited for a couple of dry days. There are so many great places to fish in the Smokies, and I was ready to sample a few. The main target species on this trip is native brook trout. Wild rainbows are abundant as well. There would be no shortage of fish to catch. 

On this first full day of fishing, Buddy was heading for his favorite section of water. Another friend, Russell, was hiking in for the day with plans to fish my favorite section with me. In many ways, this is a better way to do some of my favorite backcountry trips. You don't have the 40 pounds of gear on your back which makes hiking in and out much easier. However, it is a long day to fish some of the water we like to hit and still have time to hike out. 

Russell has been known to hike out in the dark on occasion. Personally, I am a little nervous about hiking in the dark during the warm months. There are too many rattlesnakes and copperheads roaming the trails for comfort. In the cold months, I love night hiking and have done it on a few different occasions. There is something about being in the woods at night. This is especially true for night hiking without extra light during a full moon. Talk about an amazing experience! 

Anyway, to get back on track, Russell showed up a little earlier than expected after making good time on the way in. I was getting close to finishing breakfast. Russell and Buddy spent some time catching up while I ate, cleaned my breakfast dishes, and packed my waist pack for the day. This includes fishing gear, lunch, a water bottle, water filter, knife, and lighter and matches plus fire starter. In other words, I wouldn't want to, but I could probably spend the night semi comfortably with this small pack's contents. 

None of this took long as most of my gear was already packed. I just needed to add my lunch/snacks and we were ready to roll. A short walk later, we were standing at the edge of my favorite stream just above a fairly good sized waterfall. This whole area has numerous falls and plunges. In other words, it is exactly the type of water you think of when you think about brook trout fishing. Russell and I started a fast paced leap frog style of fishing, and we were soon catching some beautiful fish. 

Russell fishing up a small brook trout stream
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


This stream is incredibly beautiful. Sometimes it is hard to focus on the fishing. I have been known to carry a DSLR camera with me on stream. I've largely gotten away from that for weight considerations, but I still spend a lot of time with my camera out. On this trip, in addition to scenic stream shots, I also found some interesting wildflowers. This black cohosh was blooming a little late in the year, but definitely not outside the realm of possibility. 

black cohosh in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Black Cohosh. ©2022 David Knapp Photography


While I looked for wildflowers, Russell was busy catching some fish. In fact, he found our largest brook trout for the day. Here is a closeup of his special fish. 

Trophy native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


Interestingly, while we both caught plenty of good fish, the average size seemed down slightly from years past. If anything, numbers were higher than ever which would make sense if the size is down a little. These fish have a very limited amount of food in their small ecosystem, so an increase in numbers usually corresponds to a decrease in size across the board. Still, the fish were nice sized. We are talking differences of an inch or so, nothing more. The colors were also subtly less then on past trips. That is likely because this trip was 2-3 weeks earlier than I normally go. When you hit it right before the spawn starts, they are all dressed up in their fall best. We were there during the transition season between summer and fall outfits. 

Colorful southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


The day seemed to go on and on while the number of fish we caught approached the absurd. This section of stream is fairly lengthy. You can't rush either. The rugged terrain would make quick work of anyone in a hurry. Slow and steady definitely wins the race here and gets you back to camp in one piece. We were keeping a general eye on the time, however. As it started to get late and Russell needed to make the long walk out, we eventually picked up our pace. 

David Knapp fishing for brook trout
Photo courtesy Russell Duncan. ©2022


One last beautiful southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


I was starting to think about supper by the time we got out on the trail to walk back to camp. Buddy was already there and busy with his evening meal preparations and I soon joined him. After a relaxing evening, I went to bed early to rest up for another big day of fishing on day three...

Saturday, November 12, 2022

After the Sun Goes Down

No, I'm not talking about nighttime fishing, although I have covered that topic some before and found great success fishing through the night. In this instance, I'm actually referring to the late afternoon and early evening hours on bright sunny days. As the sun sinks below hills and ridges, fish that were almost impossibly shy just minutes earlier begin to feed. 

Interestingly, this is not always consistent, but when it happens the results are striking. The difficulty of bright sunny days is exacerbated in the Smokies in particular early and late in the season. This is due to the lack of leaves on the trees. This year, we lost all of the leaves earlier than has been usual the last few seasons. Thus, we have been dealing with bright sunny days since the last week of October. Last year, I was still enjoying a reasonably decent canopy on Veteran's Day week for my annual fall camping trip. For this year's camping trip, the leaves were all down.

I drove over to the Smokies on Wednesday to camp and fish the Oconaluftee River with my buddy and fellow fly fishing guide, Pat Tully. We had a great time fishing, but the catching was slow. This isn't entirely unheard of this time of year, but the super low water from our recent drought conditions along with the sunny day was making things more difficult than usual for fall fishing. Eventually, Pat had to leave to make it back home at a reasonable hour.

Since I was spending the night at Smokemont campground, I headed over to set up camp. By the time this task was finished, the sun was beginning to sink below the hills above camp. This time of year that happens early each day. I had enjoyed a late lunch, so instead of proceeding to supper, I decided to get back on the water for another couple of hours. That proved to be a great decision.

In the first small run I fished, I had numerous strikes on a small parachute Adams. Best of all, the fish were hitting it within just a few feet of where I was standing. They weren't spooky any more. As I always like to say, fish have to eat eventually. I was about to be rewarded for hanging in there after a long tough day. 

Over the next hour or two, I caught double digit numbers of trout. Two were very nice brown trout for in the Smokies while the majority were rainbows. Often, I was catching what was probably the "best" rainbow trout in each little run and pocket. These fish would have run from their own shadow just hours before. Now, they needed to get those calories in. Winter is coming soon after all.

Great Smoky Mountains brown trout near Smokemont Campground North Carolina

By the time I decided to call it an evening, I had caught more than enough fish to make up for the slow day. As I headed back to camp, I was reminded why it is worth fishing as long as possible. On some days, responsibilities back home or otherwise mean I quit before the end of legal fishing hours. In fact, it is rare that I have the luxury of fishing as long as I want. Still, it is always good to be reminded to keep after it even when I'm having a difficult day.

And isn't that what drives us on as anglers? The chance of a new superlative, be it a monster fish, a big numbers day, or maybe just an incredibly unique experience on the water. Perhaps a particular hatch keeps bringing you back or even a particular fish. 

I have a brown trout on Little River that I've been keeping tabs on for about a month now. It is built like a torpedo. A super fat torpedo. I'm still not certain it would break 20", but it will be extremely heavy for its size if I can ever get my hands on it, that I'm convinced of. When I go after it again, I'll stay out as long as possible, hopefully after the sun goes down behind the nearby ridge...

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 1

The last few years has seen me return to backpacking at least once or twice a year. I've developed a habit of visiting my favorite brook trout streams in September. The spring or early summer trip is a revolving trip that visits different streams each time for the most part. This year's September trip was scheduled a little early. Normally I wait until closer to the end of the month, but this year it had to happen a couple of weeks sooner due to a family Colorado trip. Regardless, the brook trout were beginning to color up in their finest fall apparel and were feeding with the abandon that one expects of trout in the fall.

I loosely planned the trip in conjunction with a couple of friends. In other words, we intended to arrive at the same campsite around the same time and hopefully fish together, maybe some or maybe the whole time. Keeping things casual left open more options than if we had a rigid game plan. 

As with most campsites I stay at on these types of trips, this one is right on a stream. That makes things like meal prep and water gathering easy, but you do deal with a lot of condensation. Once things get damp, the high humidity along the creek keeps them that way. Still, the benefits far outweigh any small negative aspect, especially walking out of my tent and immediately starting to catch trout.

Ready to start hiking on my backpacking trip
David Knapp heading out on a backpacking adventure. ©2022 David Knapp

The first day, our goal was to arrive at camp early enough to maybe catch a few fish. When I saw the forecast, I almost bailed on the trip entirely, but since I had friends expecting to see me, I decided to slog it out, literally.

Things started out nice and dry as I got my pre hike selfie in. I got about a mile up the trail before it started raining. In the next couple of miles, I walked through one of the worst downpours I've ever experienced while backpacking. The only one that compares was a cloudburst while hiking up Clingmans Dome out of Forney Creek. That hike wasn't as bad as this one, mainly because I knew I had a change of dry clothes waiting in my car along with climate control. 

When I arrived at camp, I told Buddy that I knew exactly when he arrived to set up camp because the sky had opened up on me. His camp was up although damp. Thankfully the rain eased off and gave me time to get my stuff set up without the massive downpour. Having a dry retreat during a wet backpacking trip can really make things seem much better. 

After setting up camp, I decided I might as well go fishing. I certainly wasn't going to get any wetter in the creek than I already was. The water was up a little and stained with the dark tea color. The tannins in the leaves and pine needles more or less makes tea out of the water. Hoping that a flood wasn't imminent, we worked our way up the stream catching fish here and there. 


Fishing a backcountry stream
Buddy working his Tenkara USA rod on this Smoky Mountain stream. ©2022 David Knapp


I was pleasantly surprised to find myself catching more brook trout than rainbows. While I usually catch some brook trout, I usually catch a lot more rainbows. On this evening, that script was flipped. It reminded me of my first trip to this drainage where I caught several beautifully colored brook trout.


Great Smoky Mountains backcountry brook trout
Closeup of a native southern Appalachian brook trout. ©2022 David Knapp


Native southern Appalachian brook trout
Native brook trout are absolutely incredible. ©2022 David Knapp


Eventually, things started to revert back to normal and the rainbows began to dominate as we worked out way upstream. We each found a few fish with some coming from surprisingly skinny water. The fish were still largely in summer mode. The riffles were producing at least as well as the pools and deeper runs.

Wild rainbow trout in the Great Smoky Mountain backcountry
Wild Smoky Mountain rainbow trout. ©2022 David Knapp


With the threat for more rain and potentially rising water, we soon decided to head back down to camp and start supper. That task was completed before more rain caught us and I was able to enjoy getting into a dry tent and dry clothes for the night. I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the creek charging past just to my left. My dreams were of brook trout attacking dry flies that I would hopefully find on the morrow...


Thursday, November 03, 2022

Dull and Bright: Thinking About Color and Light in Your Scenic Shots

As a followup to my last short photography piece on light and dark in your fish pictures, here is another quick photography tip to help you think more broadly about framing your pictures. This will apply whether you are shooting quick cellphone pictures or taking more time with some quality camera gear. No matter what you are shooting with, you should always consider your subject, framing, and the light. In these particular examples, I was just snapping quick pictures with my cellphone while out fishing for hiking. 

In this first example, I want to point out something that is so obvious as to be often overlooked. First, let's look at the picture. 

Fall Color and Light on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As you can see, the peak fall colors made my job as the photographer easy. This is an unedited picture straight from my cellphone. What really makes this picture work is the golden reflections on the surface of the water. You can see more pictures from this day from my friend and client Simone Lipscomb via her blog post about it. It was an incredible day with the mountains showing off in their fall finest. 

Still, a couple of small details bring this picture together. In addition to the aforementioned golden reflections on the water, also note I more or less considered the simple and ever popular rule of thirds with Little River disappearing around the next bend about where the intersection of one of those lines of thirds is. The golden light was also crucial. Positioning myself in such a way to see those reflections made this shot much more than it would have been otherwise. If I was on the wrong side of the creek, those reflections would have been nonexistent. 

So, what about when the fall colors are past their peak? How do you draw a picture together when the subject isn't showing off as well? Here is another example to examine. 

Lingering color on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains

In this picture, the one bright burst of gold really sets an otherwise somber scene off. Furthermore, instead of finding the reflections, I framed the picture from an angle that shows the clarity of the low water of autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains. Rocks alongside Little River add texture and pleasing shapes to an already interesting scene while the main subject, the golden leaves, are positioned approximately following the rule of thirds. 

Hiking in Pickett State Park on the Hidden Passage Trail

In this last picture, an otherwise drab scene draws your eye in because of the bursts of bright green. These magnolia trees were somehow still green while almost everything else was well past the peak colors. With so much brown and rust around us, these green explosions made me stop and snap a quick picture on my phone. The large rock bluff/outcropping on the left bring another interesting element into the picture as the trail curls off in the distance around the bend. I don't know about you, but looking at this scene makes me want to see what is around the next corner, kind of the same as when I'm looking up a trout stream.

I hope these tips help you take better pictures. All of these were taken with a cellphone, so remember you don't need a fancy camera to take great pictures these days. The fancy camera opens up some further possibilities, especially in post processing, but a cellphone does much better than the first point and shoot camera I took with me on fishing trips back around 2005 or 2006 or so when this blog was just getting started...

Friday, October 28, 2022

Light and Dark: Thinking About Light On Your Trout Pictures

Recently, I was with a friend/client of mine on a guided trip and we landed a rather respectable Smoky Mountain brown trout. It didn't take much prodding on my part to get him to take a picture, so we got things set up. After snapping a couple of him, we then switched to just pictures of the fish. 

I was facing one way and snapped a few in my hand in the water. Upon glancing at the screen of my phone that I was taking pictures with, I noticed how incredibly dark the fish looked. The light just wasn't what I wanted to show this beauty off. So, instead of considering it a lost cause, I simply turned around. The morning sun was reflecting off of the bank behind us and by turning around, I was able to take advantage of this better quality light. 

Here are the two unedited versions of this same fish. 

Dark brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bright brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While the angles are slightly different, I can assure you these are the same exact fish, taken just seconds apart. You can see the reflection of the darkly shaded bank behind us in the second picture, while the first picture is strongly backlit by the sunny bank beyond, making the fish appear extremely dark. 

So, to make this short and to the point, consider light sources as you set up your fish pictures. This can be a quick scan of the scene or even glance at the camera or phone screen. Either way, light will make or break your photos, so take advantage of what it offers. 

Furthermore, if you are the one operating the camera for a friend, check the light in the viewfinder or on the screen. I often ask clients to tilt a fishes back or belly towards me, and it is all about getting the light correct. I'll do a separate post sometime on this potential light issue to explain better, but for now, consider what the fish looks like to you and then work to get the camera to interpret it the same way. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

My Comments to the Corps of Engineers on the Center Hill Water Control Manual Update

For those interested in what is happening with the Caney Fork, here is what I sent to the Corps of Engineers about the changes that need to happen on the Caney Fork. Please consider sending in your own comments to Cody.A.Flatt@usace.army.mil and note that they need to be in no later than June 4.



Hello,


Thank you for allowing the public to get involved in the process of updating the water control manual for Center Hill Dam and considering all pertinent data in the decision making process.

As a fly fishing guide whose livelihood relies on healthy rivers, this is a topic of special significance for me. Prior to the dam repairs which began in 2008, the Caney Fork River below Center Hill Dam enjoyed an excellent minimum flow due to the leakage around and under the dam. Due to the very real risk to the dam, this leakage was appropriately remedied through the 3 phases of the dam repair, but in the process, eliminated the needed minimum flow that had created one of the best trout fisheries in the southeast.

The dewatered riverbed no longer supports anything close to the biomass it did before the dam repairs and the trout population is suffering as a result. What we need is to not only return the Caney Fork River to the level it once was, but add additional improvements in the process.

Natural reproduction in the trout population has long been something that would be nice to see but hasn't happened to any significant level. Water quality is one of the prime suspects in the lack of natural reproduction in the Caney Fork River, particularly low dissolved oxygen levels. As funding is always a problem for hatchery programs, natural reproduction would be a great (although not guaranteed) by-product of better water quality.

To achieve the goal of a vastly improved fishery, I recommend the following items be mandated in the upcoming water control manual.

The Caney Fork River needs continuous minimum flows. This will achieve several things.

First, continuous minimum flow will keep more of the riverbed wetted and quickly boost biomass. The macroinvertebrates that trout depend on for food cannot survive in dry riverbeds. The gravel bars that have made the Caney Fork famous need continuous minimum flow of between 200 and 500 cubic feet per second (cfs). Ideal targets would be in the 300-450 cfs range. This should be accomplished through utilization of the orifice gate during times of no generation. Some of the best fishing in recent memory happened in 2016 when minimum flows were utilized via the orifice gate. That gives us some idea of what the river is capable of when the proper flows are maintained.

Second, more water in the river will reduce user conflict. As a fly fishing guide, I routinely have people say ugly things when I float through "their" water. Unfortunately, with the current flow regime, there is often a 6-10 foot wide corridor that is deep enough to float a boat (canoes, kayaks, drift boats like mine, etc). Years ago, prior to the dam repairs. there was vastly more water with enough depth to float small craft. Spreading users out means that boaters can be polite and avoid ruining wading anglers' water. It is means we don't have to be as hard on our boats. I routinely have to drag my boat through shallow water that used to stay deep enough to hold fish.

Third, more water in the river will give refuge to the fish. The ability to spread out means fish will be better at avoiding predators, both anglers and natural predators. This in turn will help fish to hold over and grow better in the river, increasing angling quality through larger average catches. Prior to the dam repairs, it was common to catch several heavy trout in the 14-18 inch range each outing. Now, the river is primarily full of small recently stocked fish. The water quality and space to grow just isn't sufficient to support large numbers of holdover trout.



Next, after establishing continuous minimum flow, we need to make sure and keep that water well oxygenated. Low dissolved oxygen (DO) is a well documented problem on the Caney Fork River. During periods of low DO from the generators, the sluice gates should be utilized to help boost DO levels. Further, I recommend utilizing liquid oxygen on the dam side of the embayment at depth to help improve oxygen content before the water passes through the generators. This has worked very well on rivers like the Clinch in east Tennessee and has improved that fishery immensely. Specifically, oxygen needs to be maintained in the Center Hill tailwater that is at least a minimum of 6.0 mg/L at all times.

If these two goals are accomplished, other important goals should also be addressed including:

-Keeping temperature change rates to less than 3.5 degrees fahrenheit per hour

-Maintaining water cold enough to support trout at least down to Stonewall Boat Ramp

Currently, I often measure water temperatures approaching 70 degrees on the river before daily water releases hit. Having water temperatures swing by 15-20 degrees in a matter of minutes is hard on the fish and the macroinvertebrates and even the weed beds that provide habitat for both. Water is rarely cold enough to support trout in the summer months as far downstream as Stonewall. Prior to the dam repairs, trout could often be found all the way to the Cumberland River. The current lack of minimum flow has pushed the trout fishery into the upper 7 miles of river below Center HIll Dam, concentrating anglers and leading to more pressure than that much river should deal with. Spreading anglers out further down the river will also aid in reducing user conflict.

Finally, I would recommend limits be placed on the number of generators that can be turned on or off per hour to no more than one unit at a time. Abrupt changes often have the unintended effect of stranding fish where they cannot get back to the main riverbed. Slower changes give all the fish the chance to move back and forth from high water to low water spots.

All of these changes will have a tremendous economic impact on the local area. Currently, as a fly fishing guide, I won't book trips past September 1 on the Caney Fork due to the very poor fishing that happens by late summer through the fall. This means that there is at least half a year of lost economic opportunity for local communities.

Many of my clients travel from out of state, and stay in local hotels, bed and breakfasts, cabins, and eat in local restaurants, etc. They will fish with me for anywhere from 1-4 days in a row. Since I mostly only book trips on the Caney Fork May through July and recommend people don't bother fishing it later in the year, that adds up to a lot of people not spending their money in the local area, instead opting for better options further east. Water quality improvements on the Caney Fork will open up more economic possibilities in the local area. A great byproduct of good water management!

Let's see the Caney Fork River below Center Hill Dam turned into a quality trout stream instead of a river that happens to have some trout in it.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this very important goal.

Sincerely,

David R. Knapp

Trout Zone Anglers

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Absolutely HUGE Opportunity To Improve the Caney Fork River Tailwater



I'll try to keep this as short as possible. The water control manual for Center Hill Dam is up for revision/renewal. This is a very real opportunity for trout anglers in middle and east Tennessee and beyond to help bring this river back to life.  Above is an example of what this river is capable of if we have good flows consistently to grow these big fish. 

Prior to the work on Center Hill Dam to address leakage around the dam structure, a good minimum flow was maintained in the river due to seepage around the dam. Now, that minimum flow is all but eliminated and the Caney Fork River is in real danger of completing the switch from cold water trout fishery to cool water fishery where trout are no longer as healthy nor as large a portion of the number of fish in the river. That can be largely fixed if we can get a reasonable minimum flow requirement enacted on the river. Currently, the water can be shut off for sometimes entire days. The whole river begins warming up. In fact, even under "normal" flows with daily generation, the daily water temperatures just a few miles below the dam are pushing 70 degrees before the generation water hits each day. 

A better minimum flow could prevent this and greatly enhance and extend the trout fishery downstream from Center Hill Dam. Prior to the dam repairs, trout did well on the entire river all the way to Carthage. Now, TWRA has ceased stocking at the Gordonsville boat ramp (Stonewall) because the water is generally too warm for trout.

So, what can be done? Simply this. Broad public support for minimum flows and a good turnout at the public meeting addressing this situation. 

You can find out more at https://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Releases/Article/3018981/nr-22-12-public-meeting-set-to-revise-center-hill-water-control-manual/ and plan to attend the meeting which is 5 to 7:30 p.m. (Central time) Thursday, May 26, 2022, at the Smith County Agricultural Center in Carthage, Tennessee. 

You can also read the notice requesting public input for this project at https://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Media/Public-Notices/Article/3018969/corps-seeks-public-input-for-revision-of-center-hill-dam-and-reservoir-water-co/ which includes contact information to send your comments to. Specifically, you can send your comments to: Cody.A.Flatt@usace.army.mil

Please note that the current operations manual only requires ONE HOUR of generation every 48 hours. That is absurd and a death sentence to all of the trout in the river during hot weather. Even if you cannot make the public meeting, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send in your comments to let them know that lots of people value the trout fishery below Center Hill Dam. 

Unfortunately, since word about this meeting just came out, I am already booked in east Tennessee that day and likely won't be able to make it back for that meeting. If there is anyway to get it done, I'll be there, but that might be optimistic of me. I WILL most definitely be sending in my own comments and hope all of you will also. The Caney Fork River can be a great trout fishery again, but it needs a little help to get there.