Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

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.


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.


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