Townsend, Tennessee - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Welcome to the Fishing Report.  One of the weather sites is reporting the current temperature at 36 degrees in Townsend.  I’ve got news for you.  It is 29 degrees.  And that is a shame because trees are blooming all around here.  Frost is covering the horizontal surfaces.  It is cold.  But, the sun is shining and the high today is supposed to be in the mid 60’s.  It is going to be nice.

Little River has dropped 9.5” at the gauge since yesterday morning.  The flow is very strong.  Currently the river is flowing at a rate of 829 cubic feet per second (cfs).  Median flow for this date is 382 cfs.  The water temperature was a very chilly 44 degrees at 7:05 am.  I took that reading at the swinging bridge.  That number is going to begin its climb back to the 50’s very soon.  We have a very warm 10 days ahead of us. 

Fishing is going to be excellent throughout the week.  It is going to be really good.  And, it has been.  Trout are taking dry flies and nymphs.  Anglers are finding swarms of Quill Gordons, Blue Quills, Caddis and Stoneflies.  What is hatching depends on the elevation you are fishing.  The water is colder in the higher elevation streams. The early Spring hatches have tapered off in the lower elevations.

Today I would wait a while to fish for trout in the Smokies.  Let the water warm up a little.  You should have a good day on the streams but watch out, the water is swift.  I would probably fish in a smaller stream, maybe the East Prong above Elkmont or the Middle Prong.  You are going to encounter higher than normal flows wherever you go in the Smoky Mountains. 

The smallmouth bass have become active in the rivers.  The chill last night might put them down this morning but from the pictures I’ve seen, there have already been some nice smallmouth bass caught.  I will be going fishing for them next week both in the river and on one of the lakes.  I’ve got a feeling the smallie flishing is going to be great.

The tackle orders keep pouring in.  Most of our first Spring shipments have arrived.  And it’s already time to do some re-ordering.  The early Spring and good fishing caught us all by surprise.  Most of our Spring orders were placed in October and November of last year.  We had no idea the Spring hatches would start in early February.

In June of last year about 20 of us got together and formed a group to re-build Larel Lake, a 50 acre impoundment that was drained 20 years ago.  That lake was one of the most beautiful places you could visit in the Townsend area.  On that same list would be Cades Cove and our rivers and mountains.  But Laurel Lake was special.

Seepage was found below the dam but the source was unknown.  The State Safe Dam Project required Townsend, then the owner of the lake to do some core samples to find out if the dam was safe and where the seepage was coming from.  The City did not have the money to spend and the dam was breached.

When the group met they asked me to be Chairman.  I have a special passion for Laurel Lake and I live close by. We formed a smaller group to develop a concept plan and presented the first draft to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation yesterday morning.  We met at Ed Mitchell’s office.  He is our County Mayor.  There were 7 of us in the meeting. Senator Doug Overbey and Representative Art Swann were there.  Gordon Wright who is one of our County Commissioners, the one who is really behind making this happen gave a presentation.  I was there and we were joined by two people from TDEC, one is a dam engineer and the other is a aquatic biologist. 

This is not going to be an easy task.  The legwork that must be done to obtain a permit is going to be time consuming and expensive.  I think we can get graduate students to do the environmental assessment work. But we also have wetlands to avoid or mitigate.  We have possible water temperature changes to deal with and determine the impact on the biomass below the dam. 

After the environmental assessment is complete and we get the nod to move forward, the engineers have to decide what needs to be done with the dam to make it compliant and safe.  We may find out everything is OK, build a new spillway and away we go.  Or, we may find some sink holes.  There is still some water in the lake.  We need to find out how high we can raise the lake.  Our goal is to raise the level from 4 feet to 20 feet.

The lake won’t be as large as the original that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Things have changed.  We have wetlands to preserve or move.   

The stakes are high and the potential for recreation and enjoyment is obvious to all of us.  Senator Overbey and Representative Swann are going to start working with TDEC in Nashville where the environmental decisions will be made.  The TDEC field office here will be deeply involved in the process.  The actual dam analysis and permit work will probably be approved here.

I don’t know anything about dams or engineering.  But I have worked with aquatic biologists for the past 20 years.  So, I think I somewhat understand the environmental assessment part of this. I think I can help get that work done. We have engineers on our committee.  They will handle that part. 

I guess we’ll keep pushing forward.  It is great to have our government working together on this at all levels.  The United States Government will be involved too.  Our U.S. Senator is aware of this and the Corps of Engineers have been contacted. 

Below are two photos of Laurel Lake taken by Dean Stone before the dam was breached.

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

Byron Begley
March 10, 2012

 Laurel Lake Photo take from the Air Before the Dam was Breached

Laurel Lake Photo taken during the winter with snow covered mountains.

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