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Never Low at the So Ho

Drought, heat don’t affect tailrace river
Thursday, Oct 4 2007, 10:43 pm
Hugh Koontz  Shelby News Article
Clouds dark as coal dust roiled up from Georgia and the first bit of rain began popping me on the head as I walked to the post office. A few minutes later, the bucket emptied on Shelby just as I made it back to the office. Then, it stopped. I guess the drought is still with us. mountains, the report was a little better. It was raining Wednesday night and all day off and on Thursday. It was supposed to rain more today. This rain helps, though most of the little streams and mountain creeks remain frightfully low and the trout stay in a constant state of stress.

The Delayed Harvest fishing should kick up this weekend, with those special streams getting stocked Monday. For the next couple of weeks, until they become educated and wise, the DH trout will be more than cooperative with fly fishers, hitting just about every type of fly you can throw.

Shane Buckner of Hunter Banks Outfitters in Asheville said the trout will still hammer a beetle, and the wet weather should bring out some of those little blue winged olives in tiny sizes.

On the South Holston River, the water never gets low. The water level is controlled by the gates at the largest earthen dam in the nation, letting it loose to generate power and then shutting it down so the lake doesn’t dry up. The water stays bone-aching cold, even during heat waves of a Tennessee summer.

Trout like cold water.

Warm water above 70 degrees can kill ’em.

In waters affected by the summer’s drought, the temperatures can approach that danger level, but so far I have seen only a couple of dead trout bobbing like soda bottles next to the banks. I have no idea if they died from the heat, but it is possible.

Kings Mountain father-son fly fishing guides Rod and Matt Champion have been operating out of a little 1948-era building that was originally built as a restaurant for workers for the Tennessee Valley Authority while they built that massive dam. They’ve had the fly shop open since May, almost within casting distance of the water.

They fish the 18-mile stretch of trout water 12 months a year. The younger Champion, “Matt the fish magnet” as his dad refers to him, has been on rivers and streams since he was born — picture him 20-some years ago on his dad’s back holding on tightly while dad catches fish — and seems to have the knack for catching trout when nobody else can. He can also show others how.

Is there such a thing as a “fish whisperer?”

That would be Matt.

I watched him catch three or four rainbow trout out of the river after I had failed to get a nibble in the same feeding lane a year or two ago. It was a frustrating feeling, like after 20 years I still did not know what I was doing.

When I do something like that, it’s called luck. When Matt does it, it’s called trout magnetism. I think they line up for him, waiting their turn to hit the fly he tosses.

This past spring I visited the South Holston, spent a couple days catching more trout than I could count and was feeling pretty good about my fly fishing abilities. That river can make you feel like an expert one day and a fool the next.

I felt like an expert that one late afternoon as the sun melted over the hills. My last fish was a nice sized brown that glowed in the waning daylight. Then, I looked up to see Matt, his rod held high and bent double. The fish actually led him around and downstream, toward where I was trying to catch some smooth water fish. I quickly reeled in and spent the next few minutes trying to keep from stepping on Matt’s line.

The trees on the bank trembled with excitement at the thought of a really big fish.

Did I hear Matt whisper something?

The heavy-bodied brown measured out a little over 20 inches long and sparkled in the dying light. He quietly netted him, held him up for the camera and let him slip gracefully into the South Holston to perhaps fight again.

Just knowing such fish are there will get me back.

For now, though, I’m just hoping this rain fills and cools my home stream up the mountain.

Are the trout ready?

Just whisper your answer.
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