The only trouble is that we’ ve seldom obtained more than a couple days’ worth of respite from the wettest summer many of us can remember.
Clint Lensgraf of Mahoney’s Sportsmans Paradise in Johnson City is a living case in point. He’d been looking to his Project Healing Waters float trip on the South Holston tailwater. Early water conditions on Tuesday indicated that the veteran he’d be taking on a float trip could look forward to a fun day of fishing.
When he got there, Lensgraf realized he’d arrived without his rain jacket. No matter. He pushed on.
“The water was fine and the fishing was decent. The San Juan Worm and Pheasant Tail were picking up a few fish,” Lensgraf said. “Then the torrential rain came and blew us off the water.”
Well, not immediately. First, Lensgraf had to hunker down at the oars and white-knuckle his way downstream to the takeout. Water levels jumped up so suddenly that the TVA had to stop generating at the dam to stop further flooding.
“It was the highest I’ve ever seen it,” said Lensgraf.
The missing rain jacket was very badly missed indeed. Rain poured down his back and into his waders. When he finally got out of the boat. The water was up to his knees.
As you might expect, the fishing has been blown out in all area rivers. Not only the trout streams, but also the smallmouth waters.
Our little pretty weather break has given things the chance to clear up a little bit. But if we get slammed again, things could go back to square one.
If you have a spirit of adventure and the legs of a mountain goat, you might be able to find trout water high enough in the watershed to stay relatively clean.
“I guess if you’ve got time and inclination you could out-hike (the weather),” Lensgraf said. “But inclination is probably the key word here.”
The good news is that the trout Lensgraf has caught in the South Holston this summer don’t seem the worse for the high-water wear. He’s caught and released a lot of brown trout — wild stream-bred fish — that are fat and healthy.
But the Watauga has been unfishable for longer than the South Holston this summer. Angler access isn’t Lensgraf’s concern. Possible stress on the fishery is.
“I think fish get used to periods of high water when it’s consistent. What makes it tough is high water on top of high water,” he reflected. “The Watauga has been running something like 3,200 c.f.s. for a month and typically it runs at 1,700. Add any more water to this and it’s just not of this world.”
The reservoirs afford a little bit of a buffer, but even they muddy up. Cathy Lawson at The Tackle Shack in Surgoinsville reports that the Holston River in Rogersville is muddy. Downstream, Cherokee Lake is feeling the effects.
“From what I’m hearing, it’s a little slow right now because of water levels going up and down. Most of the bass people are catching are deep,” Lawson said.
Deep-diving crankbaits have been go-to bass baits for many anglers. The Strike King 6XD and even the 10XD have been popular baits. The Spro Little John and Norman DD-22 are also in play. Baitfish colors with chartreuse highlights — Sexy Shad, for instance — are the trend.
Catfish anglers, however, aren’t complaining about the water conditions. While the up-and-down lake levels can make it tough on limb-liners, jug fishermen and rod-and-reel anglers continue to catch channel cats and flatheads.
The best catfish bite has been late in the evening on live goldfish and shiners. If you like to fish for bluegill — live crickets and nightcrawlers are winning baits in any water conditions — the smaller ‘gills you’d normally throw back also make awesome catfish bait.
George Thwaites is a Sports and Outdoors Writer for the Kingsport Times-News. Email pictures of bragging fish to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KTNSptsThwaites.