Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Byrd Lake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Byrd Lake. Show all posts

Friday, December 26, 2014

Drained Lake

Earlier this week, I was over on the south side of town and decided to make a run by Cumberland Mountain State Park.  The rumor that the lake was to be drained had me wondering if it was empty yet as well as wanting to figure out why they were draining it this time.  My first glimpse confirmed that it was drained.  I've seen it drained several times over the years and this one was as low as I have ever seen the lake.  As it turns out, that is a good thing.

For many years, in fact for basically my whole life, I have been enjoying this Tennessee state park.  Byrd lake, while not large, provides decent fishing as well as a great environment for seeing birds and even some good wildflowers in the spring.  More often than not, when I just want to get out of the house, I'll head over to Cumberland Mountain SP and enjoy a walk around the lake.  For most of my life, there has been a footbridge over the lake at the boat dock.  On the other side a trail extends up into the woods to the swimming pool.  Additional trails loop around the lake and the footbridge provided an important cutoff to keep the walk from being too long.  Imagine my shock when the bridge was gone.  Here is a shot from the first time I saw the bridge missing.

Despite high water, the bridge is very obviously missing...

On Tuesday, after taking some pictures of the lake, I stopped by the Park office to see if anyone was around who could tell me the details of what was going on.  Sure enough, I was lucky enough to catch one of the rangers in the office.  Monica Johnson has been working at Cumberland Mountain State Park for several years and kindly answered all of my questions and even a few I didn't know I had.

Looking up the lake from the boat dock. 

Looking down the lake from the boat dock. Check out that structure on the left!

First and most importantly, the lake should be brought back up to full pool sometime around the end of March or in April.  The exact time depends on when they complete their work.  They are hoping to rebuild the footbridge across the lake. Yes, that is GREAT news!

Local trout anglers have been inquiring if the trout stocking will happen and according to Ranger Johnson, the stocking is tentatively planned for sometime in February.  This all depends on the progress of the bridge building project of course, but once the supports are set in the lake bottom, the overall lake level can be brought up somewhat which should allow the yearly stocking of rainbow trout.  If fish are stocked in February, we will have at least 3.5 months of fishing before things get too warm.

As a fisherman, I find the low lake level fascinating.  It allows you to examine a lot of great underwater structure and plan future fishing trips.  I have identified some good drop offs that I plan to fish with sinking lines sometime in the summer.

There is the dam. See how low it is? 

While I was getting my questions answered, I also asked about some rumors that have been going around in regards to privatizing the Park.  Depending on who you were talking to, the plan was for the Park to become a private entity charging for any type of entry.  Naturally, those of us who have been enjoying this Park our whole lives were not happy to hear about that.  Ranger Johnson informed me that they are currently exploring the possibility of having certain aspects of the Park privatized.  A good example of that is the General Store at Fall Creek Falls.  In other words, the overall Park will still be there and those of us who enjoy hiking will still be able to hike.  The Park itself will still be a State Park but some things might be run by a concessionaire, much like many of the amenities in Yellowstone National Park or many of our other great National Parks.  Theoretically it should allow for better services and allow the Park to focus on improving the visitor experience.

Considering that our state parks are free here in Tennessee, I think this is a reasonable tradeoff instead of instituting an entrance fee.  As with most parks (both state and national), our state parks are generally understaffed and underfunded and each park is doing a remarkable job considering the resources they have available.

This brings me to the last item which is how you can help.  As I just mentioned, state parks are generally short on both funding and staffing which makes it difficult to keep up with everything that needs to be done.  Helping out is quite simple.  All you need to do is stop by your local state park and let them know that you would like to volunteer.  You will need to fill out a volunteer form and then they will put you to work.  I'm planning on doing some trail work here at my local state park in the coming weeks.  With a considerable amount of free time in the cold months as a fly fishing guide, I have plenty of time to help out and give back to a local park that has provided countless hours of enjoyment throughout my life.  If you appreciate your local park, I recommend finding the time to help out as well.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Mix

Have you ever been in the grocery store salad section and noticed how many types of salad mixes there are?  The one that always makes me wonder is called a "spring mix," but for some reason it is available year round.  Maybe there are just a bunch of confused plants somewhere.  As it turns out, my favorite spring mix is not the salad, but the mix of fish available this time of year in some of my warm water ponds and lakes.

Two good options exist nearby that are stocked with trout during the winter.  That means that as the waters warm, I can go on a trout trip and also scratch a bluegill itch while I'm at it or the other way around if that's what I'm feeling for that particular trip.  Anyway, this past Thursday it was a trout trip first of all.

Back at my local state park, I found the creek's waters even calmer than before, same thing with the lake for that matter.  So pictures of the reflections I found along the banks and shoreline were back on the agenda.


The midge hatch that was barely happening on my last trip has progressed nicely.  In fact, after brushing off one insect it occurred to me that I probably should have checked to see if it was actually a midge or a mosquito.  I'm hoping midge on this one, but I guess it is close to that time of year.

Anyway, so the fish were rising to a pretty decent midge hatch, but I wanted to watch them chase down my fly.  Since they are still relatively fresh stockers, I knew that I could count on them to chase whatever I tossed at them.  The bead head Simi Seal Leech was put back to work.  My success on this particular trip was tempered by much clearer and lower water than before, and I was glad that I had brought a 4 weight instead of the 5 weight I used on the last trip.


Just to be clear, I'm definitely not complaining at all.  Just stating the fact that I didn't catch as many trout as the last trip.  Of course, the locals are still hard at it, each person trying to catch their limit that I'm sure will be headed home for dinner.  To be fair, it is better that these particular trout are caught and consumed.  In another 3 months the water temperatures will be getting a bit warm for trout.  I've spooked trout in the summer that have run way up into the little tributaries and are gasping for cooler water near small springs.  We are talking about streams that are a couple inches deep and maybe 2 feet across.

In the meantime, the fish will continue to take on more natural coloration.  By May, the rainbows will be downright beautiful, at least the ones that are left.  After that, it is a shame that they have to die in the heat.  There are some BIG mayflies that hatch later in the year in the creek.  Imagine if there were 20 inch browns and rainbows in there.

By the time I decided I had entertained the rainbow trout enough, I started wanting to catch some bluegill.  No problem! I just needed to hike down to the lake and look for some sunny spots.  Along the way I paused for more pictures, then continued my hike.



As I hiked around the lake, I kept one eye on the trail and the other on the water.  The bluegill are grouped up right now, mostly in warmer sunny shallow spots.  They will be spreading out more and more over the next few weeks as they feed heavily right up until the spawn.  I finally found my fish and had a blast catching a few.


Each good fishing story has at least one tale about the one that got away.  I'll keep this brief, but will say that I never actually saw the fish so it could have been a true giant.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  The fish hit on the second strip after I had cast to a down tree along the shore.  I thought I saw a shadow racing after the fly but that could be my imagination.  The fish ran hard so it could have been a big 'gill using it's body to fight or it may have been an early season bass.  Either way the 4 weight couldn't turn the fish and the fly came loose shortly after.  At least I know where to go back and try again.

By this time, the sun was getting low, and I was getting both tired and hungry.  Heading back to my car, I was pleased with another successful outing and glad that I didn't have far to drive back home.  I'm sure I'll be back here again soon!