So, what's going on with the Cumberland River? It's been a while since the last fishing report as a few of you have reminded me. With the weather turning nice I'm getting more and more calls, e-mails, and texts wanting to know about river conditions and availability. Well, here's the latest skinny on the state of the Cumberland River.
There hasn't been much fly fishing on the Cumberland River this past late winter and early spring . The drainage basin of the Cumberland River has been inundated with round after round of significant precipitation events for the past several weeks. In fact, most of the entire Southeast section of the United States has been effected by these weather events. The result has been that lake reservoirs are full and river systems are swelled to capacity.
The Corps of Engineers and TVA have had release schedules at Wolf Creek Dam maxed for several weeks now. For sometime, all spillways and generators at Wolf Creek Dam had been running until recently. If you've been keeping up with the Project Operations Reports regarding the dam you have been seeing 270 (6 Generators) across the board 24 hours a day for a while now. I was at the dam last Thursday and it just so happened that all generation was shut down for two hours and only 2 sluice gates were running. That was the lowest the Cumberland River has been in a long while. You can see the sluices in the short video below.
So, what are current water conditions? The river is running high, clarity is low, and color is a shade lighter than pea green. What does this mean? It means that it's time to practice patience. Sure you can get out and fish, but fish landed in the net are going to be few and far between right now. Of course there is always streamer fishing, but I rarely get out on the river when 5-6 generators are operating.
Two sluices operating at Wolf Creek Dam.
The Cumberland River is in the trees as seen from the launch at Helms Landing
Water has been high and over the parking lot at Helms Landing as seen in the pic above. The ramp is silt and sludge now, but will dry and clear quickly for easy access to the river.
As a reference, you can see how high the water has been over the parking lot at Helms Landing by the water marks on the sign posts. I've parked my truck and trailer in front of these signs hundreds of times.
Usually the winter months are when I enjoy some of my favorite floats on the Cumberland. During winter there is usually no one on the river, I can chuck streamers, try new flies, fish and nap at my discretion and simply enjoy the river. During the winter season the quality of fish also seems to increase. This winter there were very few opportunities to fish the river and I missed it, terribly. I'm sure you did too.
Lake Cumberland is at very high levels (727.62) which equates to continued generation by the Corps and TVA in the near future. However, the situation is not even close to all gloom and doom. We go through this almost every winter/spring to some extent. Almost every tailwater in the Southeast is going through this same cycle. Experienced Cumberland anglers know the river and it's cycles. We know how to plan our schedule by spending time with family, catching up on the honey do lists, and of course tying flies, lots of flies when river conditions are unfavorable.
On the plus side, the hatchery has been releasing fish like crazy into the river. If you don't follow the hatchery, you should. You can find them on Facebook at: Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery and on Twitter at @WolfCreekNFH. They publish their stockings and it's fun to keep up with. I'm still baffled after 19 years fishing the Cumberland at just how many trout are stocked in the Cumberland River tailwaters.
By the way, here's a link to an nice little article about fishing the Cumberland River in the winter from Lee McClellan: Lake Cumberland Tailwater Offers Excellent Winter Fishing.
With the high water we've been seeing there will be some changes to the river. There will be some new trees and root wads appear and some will have been swept away. Some areas of the river bed will have changed also. That gravel bar that use to be a few feet from your favorite lunch pull out spot may have shifted some. That root wad where you pulled out 15 rainbows with a single pheasant tail may have turned over and is now ten feet further down river. However the majority of the rivers infrastructure will have remain unchanged.
With the river out of commission many anglers have been hitting Hatchery Creek. I fished the creek a couple of times over the winter and found it to fish well. There still seem to be plenty of decent fish in the creek to be had. Be aware that the water clarity in the creek has been a bit murky for a while, but this actually works to the anglers advantage. If you can employ high stick nymphing techniques, you can easily catch fish on this creek. Be careful with your footwork on the well worn slick paths on the banks of the creek.
Decent 21"er caught last Thursday on Hatchery Creek.
I would like to thank everyone who stopped by the Cumberland Bottom Ticklers booth at the Greater Cincinnati Fly Fishing Show in February. My 11 year old daughter helped man the booth and we had a lot of fun together talking and visiting with anglers. Congratulations to Brian Miles on winning the hand tied fully stocked tailwater fly box in the raffle.
I would also like to thank everyone who visited the our booth at the Kentuckiana Fly Fishing Show in January. Congratulations also goes out to Mike Brockman on winning the other fully stocked tailwater fly box.
These flys will catch fish on any tailwater. Congrats Brian and Mike!
The Cumberland will continue to be out of commission for a little while longer, but rest assured that when things are lined out again, the fishing will once again be very good and trout will be eager to put weight back on after fighting current and being confined to lies for so long. If you do happen to get a chance to get out on the river, hit the creek tributaries and behind islands. Fish are probably stacked up in each of these areas. Just be safe and smart. It's easy to get in trouble during high water, but difficult to get out of trouble when it hits you. It goes without saying that with the higher water we are experiencing right now, wading would be extremely difficult.
With the temperatures and foliage coming on strong, it will be hard to watch the river continue to be blown out for a while longer while the weather is nice. Use this time to dial in your smallmouth game, head to the Smoky Mountains and fish for wild fish, or head up north and go for some steel.
Of course you should already about have your fly boxes full and your rods and reels, and fly lines cleaned and ready. Rest assured that the Cumberland will return to brilliance soon and when it does you need to be ready. I will be.
Thanks to each of you that take the time to follow the website, Facebook and Instagram media. If you have any questions about the river, want to shoot the crap, or want to schedule a trip, don't hesitate to contact me. 'Go' time isn't that far off!