What's Up with the Caney Fork?
I know, I know it’s been two months since I have posted an article and I have received hate mail from my reader asking for an update. Well, two things have happened, it’s been busy and it’s been cold. Really busy and really cold. The really busy part is all personal not professional. I am in the lumber business and right now that sucks more than a carp.
The cold has been consistently averaging about 20 degrees below normal for the last twenty days. As you may know the water temperature normally does not vary much from the 50’s at anytime during the year for about the ten miles of the Caney Fork River below the Center Hill Lake Dam.
So today, the first Saturday in several weeks that I was available, the generation schedule was favorable, and the temperature above freezing, I stepped into my waders and then into the river. The fishing reports were not encouraging. Even before the weather had turned adversarial fishing had been poor for most of the fall. Heavy rains in September and October had forced the TVA to aggressively generate to keep the level of Center Hill Lake at a safe level as the construction continued to repair the dam. Heavy generation during a time that large quantities of relatively warm water were entering the lake had raised the temperature of the tail waters and reduced the clarity of the water. On my last semi productive trip to the river in November, of the 17 fish I caught 12 were bluegill. I have only caught one bluegill in the last 5 years, a sure sign of warmer water.
So today why did I bother to go? I had two secret weapons. First, inspiration, as
I received a Christmas present from my son-in-law, Matthew, arriving in a plain brown wrapper. Yes, you guessed it, the 2010 calendar from “Women in Waders”. Each month shows a fisherwoman sporting an incredible pair of, you guessed it, waders, and not much more. Second, Santa left me a fly box full of one of a kind midges and streamers designed specifically for the Caney Fork. I even had the artist, Miles Warfield, who tied them as my partner for the day. Unfortunately, Miss January was unavailable though Miles called her twice.
We arrived on the Happy Hollow boat ramp at about 8 AM. TVA was to turn on a generator for one hour at 8 AM giving us about 2 hours before the rising waters would reach us. The temperature was in the mid 30’s the sky was cloudy with no wind. An approaching low was forecast to bring about an inch of rain starting after noon. We entered the water and waded upstream. This area has yielded copious quantities of trout, but today the surface was completely smooth except where the current showed surface turbulence and eddies. There were no ripples from rising fish. Miles started with a zebra midge and I tied on one of his purple zebras with a micro black fly larva dropped about 8 inches below. Before Ronnie Howard at Cumberland Transit talked me into buying 5 of these I did not know there were flies that small. Under a microscope you could see the tiny barb on the hook. The person who tied the fly must have been a Lilliputian.
We fished hard for 2 hours. I kept the same rig on as my fingers were too numb to retie and fortunately only had few minor tangles. Miles changed midges several times. We never saw a fish rise or taken by another fisherman. We never even saw a fish in the water. If I had not had a hit and kept it on long enough to get a glimpse of it, we could not have verified there were any fish there at all.
By 10:00 the rising water sent us packing to the ramp at the dam. We were met in the parking lot by a TWRA agent advising us not to take the main path down stream as there was a juvenile deer hunt in progress but that we should be safe wading down stream. Great, we might not catch a fish, but we might catch a bullet. We decided not to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous teenage hunters, but stay near the dam and except taking the path on the edge of the bank for a short distance we stayed in the water. By 10:30 we were back in the water and had seen a power baiter reel in a trout. We now had proof that there was at least one trout in the area. We stayed with out midges and fished the drift of the receding water. A drift boat which had just put in produced another catch and this time on a fly. Our hopes rose, but the trout did not. At 11:30 the micro black fly larva claimed our first catch. A 12 inch brook made it to the net but it flipped out breaking the 7X tippet connecting the larva to the midge.
I used this as an opportunity switch to one of Miles’ new streamers. See picture. It is a creative mix of rabbit fur and iridescent green thread and unlike the midges the hook has a barb. I need all the help I can get. It didn’t take long to get a strike that brought a 10” rainbow to the net that gave me the naming rights to a new fly so the Hey Sewanee Green was christened. It has a red partner.
Unfortunately that was it for our success. Even though we did begin to see the occasional rise, 12:30 saw the end of our trip. The weather co-operated, the generation schedule provided opportunity, Miles had created some beautiful and unique flies, but something about the river has changed. Miles measured the temperature of the water as 51 degrees which should be perfect. The generation schedule had not excessively riled up the waters for several weeks and the thermometer had kept most of the fisherman home. Fishing can be such sweet sorrow. We should have done better and we will. Stay tuned.
(Pictures to follow)