Photo of the Month: Red Adipose

Photo of the Month: Red Adipose

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. 

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Great Smoky Mountains Grand Slam Challenge 2022

One of the fun challenges for anglers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is to catch all three species of trout the Park has to offer. Known by a variety of names including a grand slam, slam, hat trick, and others, this challenge is to simply catch a rainbow, brown and brook trout with some set of specified limitations sometimes imposed. These can include catching the fish all on the same day or from the same stream or on the same trip. Having accomplished a slam many times over the years, I now enjoy helping other anglers achieve this challenge through my work as a fly fishing guide. Still, I'm always happy for new motivation to go and enjoy the bounty of the mountains on my own. 

When I heard about the 2022 Grand Slam Challenge from Little River Outfitters, I knew that my motivation was back. LRO has graciously created a pin to commemorate catching the slam this year. All you have to do is stop by the shop, find out the "rules" and let Daniel know you are about to embark upon the challenge, and bring back photo evidence. Of course, you need to keep in mind excellent fish handling techniques in all of your picture documentation. 

I first heard about this challenge from my friend, client, and fellow angler Buddy Randolph. Somehow he had gotten wind of the idea early on and was keen to complete the challenge. Since we already had a trip scheduled for April, we decided to make an effort to incorporate this challenge into the guide trip. I intended to do some fishing for myself outside of the guide trip, so we planned a camping trip that would take us to where this challenge could reasonably be accomplished. 

Cataloochee Valley is one of my favorite places in the Smokies. This quiet and out of the way valley gets more than its fair share of traffic thanks to the good fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. This was one of the first places that elk were reintroduced inside the Park, and late summer into the fall offers an excellent chance to see these magnificent creatures during the yearly rut. While the elk are a fun bonus, I'm nearly alway there for the fishing. With lots of tributary creeks plus the main stem of Cataloochee Creek, there are plenty of good options for fishing. Even better, brook trout show up throughout the valley along with rainbow and brown trout, so catching the Smoky Mountain slam is usually relatively easy. 

While I'll let Buddy share the details his own story, I will say that we eventually found the slam for him. I got lucky and managed the trick my first evening in camp, fishing within walking distance of my campsite. The brook and brown trout are usually the ones you have to work for and for very different reasons, but I had good balance in numbers between each of the three species. 

A dry fly with a caddis pupa dropper seemed appropriate, and I never really deviated from that approach for my own personal fishing throughout the trip. The fish ate a large Parachute Adams at least as well as the caddis pupa dropper, probably because of all the March brown mayflies that I observed. Both duns and spinners were on the water at different times. Yellow sallies, some other mayflies, and of course caddis were all hatching, but never in particularly big numbers. 

rainbow trout for the Great Smoky Mountain grand slam

Great Smoky Mountain brook trout for the grand slam

brown trout from grand slam in the Great Smoky Mountains 

Upon completing the challenge, I knew there would be a few days until I could claim my prize. The wait was well worth it, however! On Friday, I had a guide trip in the Smokies which allowed me to stop in and see Daniel at Little River Outfitters. Soon, I had my pin in hand. I hope that LRO will continue this challenge or perhaps even expand to include some other challenges in the future. What a fun motivation to get out on the water! 

Smokies grand slam pin


Friday, April 01, 2022

Midging For Musky

Muskellunge, also known as musky or muskie, is the fish of 10,000 casts, or at least that is the rumor. In my experience, sometimes that is accurate and other times people show up and throw a mere couple hundred casts before catching one. Having the right fly is relatively important, but I'm not convinced it is as crucial as putting in the time. Musky are weird fish. They'll eat when they are good and ready but usually not otherwise. That is, unless you can trigger some instinct. That is just one reason that big streamers can be effective. The fight or flight they can trigger usually doesn't scare something this big and bad. No, a musky will stay and fight. If they feel like it. Or else they'll just stare and wander off, too lazy to do anything about it. 

Why Musky Eat Small Meals

Sometimes, instead of big flies, you have to downsize a little. Think about throwing a small snack instead of a big meal. M&Ms instead of a steak. To accurately utilize the advantages that small flies present, you need to consider the life cycle of the muskellunge.

Musky are spring spawning fish. Females and males swim around together and "broadcast" spawn in weedy areas. Those eggs don't take long to incubate and usually hatch within a couple of weeks. The tiny fry grow quickly, going through a list of food sources that are increasingly larger. Once they get "big", favored foods include suckers and other bottom or near bottom feeders, although they are opportunistic enough to eat just about anything. However, even at larger sizes, they still have a memory of those good meals when they were small. 

Another way to think about it that many more fly anglers can relate to is this. Brown trout are often considered the perfect species to target while streamer fishing. Their aggressive nature and willingness to chase down and kill smaller bait means they are susceptible to large flies. However, they at least began their life eating bugs just like any other trout, and given the right conditions, they will return to those old habits. A large hatch is often just the right trigger to get large brown trout eating those little snacks again. 

Last year, the largest trout I had anyone catch on a guided trip with me (27.25") was a brown trout which ate a small #18 midge pattern fished on 6x. That fish undoubtedly ate sculpins, smaller trout, and the odd mouse or other goodie, but it still went back to the tried and true snacks that were always available every day of the year on this particular tailwater. Musky are no different.

Midge Fishing for Musky

Midging for musky first appeared on my radar during an early musky float. This whole obsession started when I got a call from my good friend and fellow fly fishing guide, David Perry of Southeastern Fly. He had got the bug himself and wondered if I wanted to join on a musky expedition. I still remember that first trip. We didn't see fish most of the trip, but close to the end we did have a small musky flash a streamer that wasn't much smaller than it was. Not far downriver, we saw something else strange. At first, and for a few trips after, I thought that the musky were gulping air much like you will see with gar. Eventually, I started putting a few things together. 

These apparently "gulping" fish were exhibiting this behavior almost exclusively during the late hours of evening when swarms of midges were over the water. I don't like to think that I'm slow, but it did take a few times seeing this before the wheels really started turning. Eventually, I finally decided to tie a midge on and the rest is history. 

Area anglers have long wondered why we show up to takeout ramps with what appears to be trout rigged rods. In reality, I just like to take advantage of those latent habits that musky still revert to every once in a while. Just like large brown trout will go back to their favorite snacks from their young days, musky will also start eating bugs, even tiny ones. When they start exhibiting this feeding behavior, they will rarely engage with a traditional large musky fly. They become rather selective, focusing on the tiny emerging midges or at other times, caddis, mayflies, or stoneflies. In the summer, hoppers and other terrestrials are important for the same reasons. You'll catch more smaller fish (think 20-35"), simply because they are closer to the time in life that they regularly ate these types of meals, but large fish can be caught on occasion as well using midges.

While I have enjoyed keeping this under my hat, I finally started feeling a little greedy. Finally, one day I was taking a picture of a midge caught musky and realized I couldn't share the picture with the little midge hanging out of its mouth without giving away my long time secret. So, I decided to share the knowledge with the hope that it will help some other anglers unlock the mystery of the fish of 10,000 casts.

Musky Caught on a Midge
"Midge caught musky for Kendall." ©2022 David Knapp


Rigging Midges For Musky

Probably the best news I can share is that musky are NOT line shy most of the time. Thus, I use the heaviest fluorocarbon tippet that I can fit through the eye of the little hook. Unfortunately, this doesn't usually end up being very big. Something between 0x and 2x is usually the heaviest that you can get through a #18. The tricky part about this whole thing is getting a good hook set without shredding the tippet on their sharp teeth. Because you really can't use the standard steel or super heavy fluorocarbon on such a small hook, you have to rely on good luck. Thankfully, you usually get enough eats when this fishing is at its peak that you can afford a few break offs. Once the hook sticks in the outside edge of their mouth, the key is to fight carefully and take things easy. 

I usually rig just about the same that I would for trout. I prefer hanging a small midge under a tiny strike indicator. When muskellunge are rising to hatching midges, they are normally taking many more bugs just under the surface. A midge pupa pattern will fool most rising musky. I like a pinch of wool for an indicator like the New Zealand strike indicator system. White looks a lot like the bubbles that are also drifting downstream and won't spook fish. While musky are usually not super spooky, they do get cautious when eating bugs since they are sitting high in the water column and visible to areal predators. While eagles, osprey and herons probably can't capture a large adult musky, they will still occasionally try and can leave some serious wounds. 

The rod should be fairly stout, because you will be doing battle with a large fish, but you don't want something that is overkill for the flies you are using. I usually go with a 6 or 7 weight rod, but just make sure it has a good sturdy butt section that will allow you to quickly play the fish. Since you are using light tackle, it is imperative that you push the fish hard. It isn't ethical to play a big fish to exhaustion on light tippets, so at some point you'll need to just start pushing hard and hope for the best. That advice applies to playing large trout as well. 

A basic floating line on a good quality reel rounds out the setup. Don't forget a large net or musky cradle. Because you are using unusually light gear, a good net will often make the difference between landing the fish or losing it at the last second. Don't forget some forceps or long nose pliers for removing the tiny hook. You don't want to get your fingers too close to the business end of a musky. 

A Few Last Tips on Midging for Musky

I don't usually midge for musky except in the cooler months. In the heat of the summer, you don't want to add any extra stress to these fish. If you must fish for them in the warm months, stick to super heavy tippets and get those fish in fast and above all, keep them wet. In the cooler months, water temperatures are not a concern and you can probably do some lighter tippets and smaller flies. If you are out musky fishing and a big hatch starts, look for the tell tale rise forms that first got me started on midging for musky. Once you see them, switch to an imitation of whatever is hatching. You'll be glad you did. Good luck!

Monday, March 28, 2022

Stealth in Fly Fishing is Inversely Proportional to Water Levels

I'll try to keep this one short and sweet along with a quick illustration of the idea. For the mathematicians, the statement should be fairly obvious. For everyone else who forgot what inverse or proportion means, here is my point: fish are much easier to catch and usually don't act as intelligent when water is higher. In other words, high water means you need less stealth. Low water means spookier fish and the need for more stealth in your fly fishing. 

For anyone who has tried fly fishing in the Smokies during the low water of late summer or fall, you know how cautious those fish can become. I've joked about fish running from their own shadow, and I'm only half kidding. A couple of weeks back, I had a guided trip that perfectly illustrated this point. 

We were fishing on Little River, known for big but hard to catch brown trout, my favorite combination. During the spring hatches, some of the larger fish can lose their caution when big bugs are on the water. We had already caught a quality wild rainbow trout and just caught a very respectable brown trout in the 13-14ish inch range on dry flies. On any normal day in the Smokies, these would be worth a celebration. 

Dry Fly caught brown trout from Little River
Jason with a great dry fly brown trout on Little River. ©2022 David Knapp

Still, I knew there should be a larger fish in those pool. I was carrying a second rod for Jason and suggested that he run the nymph setup through the pool a few times. He had fished the pool rather thoroughly with the dry fly, and I figured something else had to bite. 

He started casting and high sticking the pheasant tail nymph through the pool. On just the third or fourth cast, the sighter in his leader stopped and he set the hook. A big commotion immediately commenced as a large brown trout realized it was hooked. There were several times I was certain that the fish had us whipped. Yet, Jason stayed cool, calm, and collected through the fight and eventually worked the fish back to us for me to slip the net under. This fish taped out at 21 inches and is easily one of the best fish I'll have anyone catch in the Smokies this year if not the best. It was all made possible because of higher water flows.

Big brown trout on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Jason's trophy Little River brown trout in the Smokies. ©2022 David Knapp


The crazy thing about this fish is where it had been sitting. He hooked it one rod length from where we had been standing, casting, splashing around, and even dragging hooked fish over on their way to the waiting net. During the vast majority of the year, any self respecting Great Smoky Mountains brown trout would have spooked long ago. This fish was tolerant, however, because we had much higher than usual water. Flows on this day were between 550 and 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) on the Townsend Little River USGS gauge. Anyone who has fished Little River knows that is considered the high side of good. However, with a little work, we were able to fish just fine and even make some incredible memories for a lucky angler. 

That is why I enjoy fishing higher flows in the Smokies. Those larger brown trout are more likely to come out to play. Low water presents its own opportunities, but they always include spooky and much more challenging trout than the ones we encountered on this March day. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

New Series Started Over On My YouTube Channel

Recently, I finished the first short video in a new series that I'll be developing slowly over time. The idea is that of making adjustments. How many times have you gone fishing with a certain game plan that never ended up working out? The ability to adjust your strategies to fit the conditions and also to fit the response of the fish is crucial to consistent success.

Of course, while you are over at YouTube, give my channel a follow please and much thanks!


Watch at: https://youtu.be/d-gg5HFeRVg OR in the player below...