Townsend, Tennessee - Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina

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Welcome to the Fishing Report.  It is overcast, breezy and 40 degrees this morning.  Traffic was very light on the streets when I drove to work.  The air is clear and we can see the mountains again.  I was surprised.  When I walked out the front door this morning I could see Rich Mountain and Scott Mountain from the front porch.  The tops of the peaks were covered with a brand new layer of pure white snow.  None of the other mountains except one that I can see from my office at the shop are white. 

The Park Service closed Newfound Gap Road yesterday due to ice and snow.  That road is still closed and probably will be for a while.  Anglers told us it was snowing at Elkmont yesterday.  Mount Leconte reported 11” of snow yesterday.  The National Weather Service thinks accumulations in the high elevations will be 2 ½ to 3 feet by the time this storm has past.  They are not expecting any snow in our valley.  We will settle for  rain and wind today.  You can read the story on the KnoxNews website by CLICKING HERE.

Little River looks very good.  Flow is 133 cubic feet per second (cfs).  Median flow for this date is 80 cfs.  I looked on my way to work.  The water is clear.  The water temperature dropped to 47 degrees when I checked at 8:10 am. 

The “Headhunters” are out and doing well.  Daniel from Blackberry Farm was in his truck in our parking lot when I got here this morning.  He showed me a picture of a 22” brown he caught yesterday on Little River.  He and Alex are heading up there again right now.  Jack caught a 26” brown Sunday.  He was casting to 3 males fighting over a female.  He said he thinks he caught one of the smaller fish.  Joe evidently caught three big ones this weekend, all in the same day.  They measured 26”, 24” and 22” unless they grew as the story was repeated and finally got to me. 

So, the Fishing Gauge is pointing to excellent, right?  Hold on.  It’s not. It is not realistic to believe you can just wade out into Little River and catch a 24” trout.  These guys learned how to do this over time.  It takes an enormous amount of patience.  They might fish 3 or 4 days and not catch one trout.  They are stalking the big males.  Of course, after the photo is taken, the trout are carefully released.  They are careful not to catch the females.  Nobody wants to disturb them this time of year when they are spawning. 

Jack spends an hour at times just getting into position to make a cast.  This sport requires hours of driving, stopping and watching the river.  This is not for everyone, including me.

Fishing in the Smokies may be good right now but you need to be careful where you go.  We are expecting strong wind but not at the strength predicted earlier.  The National Weather Service thinks the wind might gust to 30 miles per hour today in the valley.  The wind speed could be much stronger in the mountains.  Trees can blow over onto the roads.  You can get trapped.  I would stay in the lower elevations to be safe.  Have some hiking boots and warm clothes in your truck.  You could find yourself walking out on a road or waiting in your vehicle until the road is cleared.  Heavy snow and wind could cause blizzard conditions higher up.  Stay down low and you should be fine.  You may catch the trout of a lifetime.  Or, you could get skunked.

I talked to Bart Carter yesterday.  I met Bart about 20 years ago when he was a young fisheries biologist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I worked with him as a volunteer.  He and I spent a lot of time together.  We have stayed friends over the years.  Now, Bart is the Regional Fisheries Manager at Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).  He is still young, compared to me.

I sent Bart an e-mail yesterday, discussing the stocking of threadfin shad in the Little Tennessee River.  TWRA used to do that.  The practice provided more forage for bass.  Since that ceased, the fishing has slowed according to local anglers who grew up here. 

I was not advocating in my e-mail that TWRA should add shad stocking to their management plan.  For one thing, if those little impoundments became a great fishery, they would be crowded.  Frankly, I like them just the way they are.  People go fishing there, get skunked a few times and find more productive water.

Bart called me when my e-mail arrived and we decided to check into the shad stocking that was done years ago.  He is going to talk to Rick Bivens. I’ve know Rick for years.  As a young fisheries biologist he did some research on the Little Tennessee River. 

The limiting factor in the Little Tennessee River is the lack of nutrients.  Shad eat plankton and there isn’t much to go around.  The drainage has almost no farms or towns.  The watershed is primarily National Forest and National Park land.  The populations of threadfin shad that do live in the river never reach a normal size.  They are not eating well.  Threadfins start dying when the water temperature reaches 45 degrees F.  At 40 degrees there are massive kill-offs.  Those that do survive spawn when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees the following Spring. 

Stocking threadfin shad in the Little Tennessee would probably be a waste of money and not actually improve the fishery over the long haul.  In fact, it could harm the fishing there.  The populations of forage fish are most likely living at the carrying capacity based on their own food source.  If the shad stocking ceased at some point, the fishery would crash.  Also, threadfin shad compete with newborn bass for food.  They both consume plankton. 

It is interesting and it will be fun talking to Bart and Rick to learn more about this old management practice.  We also talked about alewives.  Stocking alewives would be a huge mistake.  They compete with young bass and walleye for food.  Remember when alewives were stocked in Lake Michigan?  They took over.  So, the state agencies stocked king salmon to control the alewives. Now that the alewives are under control, what are the salmon going to eat? Smallmouth bass?

Sometimes it is best to let nature make the decisions.  Sometimes a biomass balance is best though it may not be your or my preference on a particular day when the fishing is dreadfully slow.

Have a great day and thank you for being here with us.

Byron Begley
October 30, 2012

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