Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fishing Rising and Falling Water Conditions

With all the rain we've experienced over the past couple of weeks, we thought we would ask Landon Williams to be our guest blogger and help you understand how we continue to catch fish even under adverse water conditions.

How to Deal With the “Rise” and “Fall” of Winter Weather
Landon Williams

The monsoon of last week may be over but our rivers and streams are just now starting to get back to recognizable flows. Fishing when the water is lower is always less demanding physically but when it’s high from events such as the recent rain, conditions can not only be unfavorable for the fishing but also dangerous with the raging water and decreased visibility. However, there are the periods of rising and falling water that provide very challenging and sometimes even rewarding fishing conditions in themselves.
Raging Dukes Creek - The Swimming Hole
The “rise” occurs when water levels begin to come up in our streams when a heavy rain period occurs.  Rises are very interesting fishing-wise as conditions generally become more dangerous for the fisherman as time continues and water levels rise. At the same time, they also provide a wonderful fishing opportunity if you can time the period right. Fish that have often been restricted of movement during low flows often move out of the deeper slow pools into the runs and riffles to feed on dislodged food items from both below and above the water’s surface. Below the surface, increased flows often knock mayfly, caddis, and stonefly nymphs from the stream bottom and into the drift, easy pickings for a hungry trout. As water levels continue to rise due to rain, the soil alongside the streams often become saturated enough for perhaps the highlight of the event, the worms! If you are fishing in higher water, check the parking area wherever you are fishing. If you see our long tubular friends, then there is often a chance that the trout are also seeing them and actively feeding on them as well. This is your big hint on perhaps what you should be fishing that day (hint: San Juan worm varying with the color of the stream. Go brighter with your fly selection the dirtier the water gets).
Dukes Creek Bow in High Water
Depending on the level of rain that our streams receive, water levels may become too dangerous to wade. That is not to say that even after a heavy rain, fishing opportunities are not available. Areas below dams (hint: Smith Creek and the Hooch immediately below Buford dam) are always clear as the dams act as a big buffer. Also smaller creeks and rivers clear fairly quickly if their watersheds are small. They run high really quick but also drain that water just as quickly. This is especially true of watersheds such as Dukes Creek, Noontootla Creek, and even the Hooch around the Helen area.  The falling period of water is often times just as productive fishing wise. The same principle applies in that you should fish big and ugly flies when the water is higher and downsize and naturalize your offering as the water recedes and clears.
Finding the High Water Refuge
I took my own advice the last few days and put some fish in the net while many thought the water levels too high to fish productively. This past weekend, I had to watch my step while the Hooch through Helen was ripping past me and I stuck to the banks for both easier wading and to find the fish seeking refuge from the heavy flow in the middle of the river.  I dragged a mohair leech and a bright pink San Juan worm through pockets along the bank with enough split shot to get them down and was rewarded with many scrappy holdover rainbows and even a couple of wild fish. Today, I fished Dukes Creek with water just now getting back to good flows. The fish were there but had much clearer water to see my offering and a size 20 zebra midge accounted for the majority of the fish, even with plenty of water still over their heads. This trend isn’t exact but is a good general rule to follow.
More importantly, keep yourself safe when wading this time of year. Wear a wading belt, use a staff, and fish with a buddy if possible. Also keep an extra pair of warm clothes at hand in case of a dunking. Perhaps most importantly, have a camera… Just in case!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meetings on Corps of Engineers Plans to Close Six Tennessee Tailwaters

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Public Meetings This Week on Plan to Close Tailwaters
Help Us Save World-Class Fishing Below Our Dams
Dear Friends, 

TWF 1946 LogoWe wanted to remind you of two public meetings this week on the Corps of Engineers' plan to close six incredible Tennessee tailwater fisheries to boat fishing. We hope you'll join us:

TODAY, Jan. 15 in Nashville, Tenn.  McGavock High School Auditorium
 3150 McGavock Pike
6 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST

Thursday, Jan. 17 in Baxter, Tenn.  Upperman High School Auditorium
 6950 Nashville Highway
6 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST

We're excited to announce a new advocacy platform that will give you a true and lasting voice on issues of importance, and allow us to serve our supporters better. 

The Federation was founded in 1946 with a critical mission: To represent the sportsmen of the state, and to advocate for effective wildlife management policy. 

This new system offers a strong means by which to preserve your hunting/fishing rights while allowing TWF a simple way to show how the entire group feels on a variety of legislative issues.

What we need you to do:
PLEASE sign up. The job of advocacy is much more difficult without you! We ask you to sign up ONCE -- that creates an account from which you can take numerous actions, and where TWF can communicate directly with you and our elected representatives. It takes less than one minute to sign up.

What you can do with the advocacy account?  
1. Quickly see key local, state and federal legislation that affects hunting, fishing or conservation
2. Cast your vote on the issue, and leave a comment
3. Send an email or letter to your representatives
4. Share the legislation with others to draw more attention to it

YOUR involvement makes the difference!

Based on your action, the Federation can:
1. Quickly measure all advocacy actions through the system, gauging statewide interest on key issues
2. Show elected officials--in real numbers--how we as a group feel and want THEM to vote
3. Develop strategies to win on issues based on the knowledge gained

This online platform allows us to leverage our time and yours... together, we can safeguard our rights!

The Corps needs to hear from the sportsmen and women of this state on this dam closure issue. Please click here to access our system and let your voice be heard. Thanks for your support--we couldn't be successful without you! 
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Did You Make It To The Chattooga This Weekend?

If you did, you experienced spring-like weather, black stoneflies, 52 degree water and, overall, just a great day to be on one of the most beautiful rivers in the country.  We didn't rush to get there early, left Cornelia around 10:30 Saturday morning for a leisurely ride north.  We were fishing a little after 12 noon.  The  South Carolina parking lot at the DH was almost full; we got the last spot and assumed the river would be full of anglers.  Turns out there were several anglers up and down the river but it certainly was not crowded at all.

Hey, anyone can hook a fish in the mouth!
About 1:00 the little black stones began flying around, touching the surface now and then but rises were few and far between.  The rains from Friday had pushed the Hwy. 76 gauge up just barely over 2 feet but by the time we stepped in the river it was probably around 1.95' and dropping.  The water was stained but not muddy at all.  It almost had a tannin stained appearance to it.  We briefly discussed whether or not the stain was preventing the fish from keying in on the stones but then decided it really didn't matter.  We were happy dredging and steadily catching fish.

I did manage several fish on a small black soft hackle but they wouldn't touch a black stonefly nymph.  A glass bead pheasant tail nymph with copper wire wrapped around the body was productive early on but eventually quit producing.  All the small flies I tried were dropped off behind a Pat's Rubber Legs and a few fish took it through the afternoon.  Enough that I never took it off and my big fish of the day (this nice brown in the photo) was compliments of Mr. Pat.  Just before hooking this nice fish, I had noticed an angler upstream who appeared to be in a wild battle with a good fish.  Later as he walked by I asked if he had caught a nice fish.  He told me it was about a 20" brown...on a Pat's Rubber Legs.  Big fly, big fish!

A Black Elk Hair Caddis will match the Stoneflies
My fishing buddy Jeff was dredging most of the day as was I but he decided to return on Sunday with his 3 wt. and fish nothing but dry/dropper rigs.  The little black stones were coming off again after lunch and he had steady success.  He also reported that the water was clearing from the rains so maybe the stain did have something to do with it.

It's raining almost every day this week and things are expected to turn colder but this is prime time on the Chattooga DH.  If you can get away, and the water level is 2 feet or less, you need to plan a trip there.  And you may want to pack some Pat's Rubber Legs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

From the Tennessee Wildlife Federation

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Corps of Engineers to Close Six Tailwater Fisheries 
Help Us Save World-Class Fishing Below Our Dams

Dear Friends, 

Some of the best fishing waters in Tennessee are about to be removed from public access. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently confirmed plans to ban boat access below several dams, including Old Hickory, Cheatham, J. Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Center Hill, and Dale Hollow. 

District Commander Lt. Col. Jim DeLapp is claiming safety as the chief concern, but the numbers don't support it. Of all the deaths that have occurred on Tennessee's rivers and reservoirs over the last 50 years, less than three percent were below the dams. And almost all of those were the result of failure to wear or properly inflate a life jacket as required by law.TWF 1946 Logo

Former Cheatham Lake Resource Manager Mike Patterson said it best in an open letter recently: 

"I served over 30 years as a Corps of Engineers Resource Manager at Cheatham Lake in Tennessee and Assistant Resource Manager at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.  I and my staffs worked on water safety issues on a daily basis, and we are professionals with extensive knowledge and experience regarding tailwater safety.  During my 18 years as a Resource Manager at Cheatham Lake there was never a single drowning of a boating fisherman in the tailwaters immediately downstream of the dam. Nor was there a recorded drowning in the history of the facility previous to my stint as Resource Manager.

"Statistics throughout the District simply do not support the Commander's decision to prohibit thousands of safe fishermen from enjoying the quality fishing in the tailwaters immediately adjacent to our dams. But LTC DeLapp ignores those facts and instead proposes to unfairly penalize tailwater fishermen.  His perceived safety issues are simply not realized by accident statistics and accident rates. During my career, I served under approximately 18 previous district commanders, and none of them ever saw the need to ban boating fishermen from our tailwaters, because there was never a valid reason to do so." 

More than a million Tennesseans enjoy fishing each year, with an economic impact in the billions of dollars. This action would undoubtedly have significant impacts on untold numbers of guides, bait shops, hotels and other associated jobs and revenues. It seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and the way the Corps has gone about it is alarming. 

There are alternatives to this proposal that LTC DeLapp's own resource management personnel, Tennessee and Kentucky Wildlife Resources Agencies, and Senator Lamar Alexander and Congressman Jim Cooper have recommended. But Col. DeLapp has refused to consider them.

The Corps needs to hear from the sportsmen and women of this state at the highest level. Please click here to access our public policy outreach system (you'll only have to register once). From there, click on LOCAL BILLS to send an email to Commanding General Thomas P. Bostick and our Congressional delegation, and let them know you oppose the unnecessary closure of our world-class tailwater fisheries. 

Two public meetings have recently been set in Tennessee, and we hope you'll join us:

Tuesday, Jan. 15 in Nashville
McGavock High School Auditorium
3150 McGavock Pike
6 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST

Thursday, Jan. 17 in Baxter
Upperman High School Auditorium
6950 Nashville Highway
6 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST

With Thanks,
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation