Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Water Too High in Mid-July?

July trout fishing in Southern Appalachia normally calls for major stealth: dressing in drab colors, staying low and well back from promising runs, moving slowly, using small and ultra-natural offerings... And the water can get warm enough for the fish to move into survival mode. Best bets typically are to fish tailwaters, which get turbocharged with cold water throughout the summer; extreme headwater streams, which remain more constant in temperature and character; and waters that are heavily stocked and heavily fished, so freshly stocked fish haven't had time to get fussy.

This summer's challenges are totally different. Given the seemingly endless rain we've had since mid-winter, our streams are running well above normal spring levels in the middle of the summer. Even between the rains, larger river have mostly remained too high for safe wading. And each time another big rain comes, streams of all sizes surge to flood stage.

I often peek at the USGS site that shows stream conditions for the Chattooga River at the U.S. Highway 76 crossing because I know norms for that stretch of stream and it gives me an idea about what is happening. At 2.5 feet, the rafting companies have to end trips upstream of Five Falls, which is the grand finale of the Section IV trip, because that section of river becomes too dangerous. Normally that happens on only a handful of spring days, immediately after a major day-long rain. The river is currently at 2.86, and it is remaining well above 2.5 feet between rains. The median flow for July 16 through 73 years of record keeping is 398 Cubic Feet per Second. It's currently at 1800, and after big rains a week or so ago, it pushed close to 3000 CFS.

A combination of high-water conditions and my own schedule have kept me from getting out in any local streams for several weeks, but my best guess is that conditions would call for bigger than normal offerings for July in just about any stream, and that a wading staff should be considered critical gear for most Georgia trout waters. It does appear that the rainy pattern is shifting some, so streams should settle somewhat in the next couple of weeks, providing improved opportunities for trout fishing.

In the big picture, I believe that all the water will serve as an extension of spring and will be excellent from our mountain streams, possibly sparing normal late-summer problems from occurring in many streams. Most streams also probably have a lot of trout in them that haven't gotten as much pressure as normal simply because anglers haven't had much opportunity to fish.

By blogging about this, I've just about convinced myself that I need to go trout fishing fairly soon. If I do, I'll most certainly report back about how it goes!

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