June 21, 2009

Finally Out For Trout

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Lou Komis of Louisville fly fishes with a "Wooley Bugger" near Helm's Landing Tuesday, June 2, 2009.
RUSSELL COUNTY - Two Cincinnati men laughed and joked on the Cumberland River last week as they reeled in fish after fish. Competitive barbs and jabs were traded between brothers-in-law Bill Bowman and Ed Morris of Cincinnati, who say they have seen the river at its best and worst. Bowman has made more than 1,000 trips to the river that draws anglers from near and far.

“It can humble you or it can make you very happy and you want to come back for more,” he said.
Anne, left, and Cliff Jenkins from Scottsville talk with Creel Clerk Jeremy Radford below Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River in Russell County on Friday, June 12, 2009.
Right now anglers fishing the Cumberland are coming back for more.

For the fishing enthusiasts drawn to this 75-mile Kentucky fishery that stretches below Wolf Creek Dam to the Tennessee state line, the good news is that the trout - and other fish - are biting. The bad news is it may not be able to stay that way unless recent adverse conditions change.

Spring rains, coupled with ongoing repairs at Wolf Creek Dam, have led to a tumultuous fishing situation on the cool, narrow river known for great trout fishing. If the ambient air temperature and water temperature continue to rise, the trout population could be in danger, experts say.

“Trout become lethargic in the upper 60's, and above 69 (degrees) they don't feed very well,” said Dave Dreves, Kentucky Fisheries Research Biologist.

The water temperature began to rise two years ago, but dry summers prevented the adverse effects from showing up in the river. It was then that the Army Corps of Engineers began repairing the 5,736 foot-long dam for seepage issues and were forced to release more water through the dam, warming the river temperature.

In warmer waters, trout become stressed and more susceptible to disease, causing their mortality rate to rise. While the fish are managing right now, experts worry that the situation may worsen when air temperatures soar into the 90’s.

Under the KY-61 bridge in Burkesville midway down the Cumberland tailwater below Wolf Creek Dam toward the Tennessee State line, water temperatures were close to 68 degrees last week, said creel clerk Jeremy Radford. This temperature fluctuation will cause the trout to seek cooler water closer to the dam. There, the Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the 117-foot-deep frigid water of the lake and ensures that ample oxygen enters the fishery through sluice releases. The corps released more water this year from April - to mid-June than either of the spans from April to December in 2007 and 2008, according to the USACE.

Retired computer system network specialist Ron Bernard observed that pattern as he fished the Cumberland last week.

“Up closer to the dam it’s getting better and better and better, cause that water’s cold,” Bernard said, as he fished using a reel just below the dam hoping to land a stringer of trout. For fisherman using reels, at least one remarked it was the best fishing he had seen at the Cumberland in the 30 years since he’d been fishing it. However, for traditional fly fisherman wading and floating, this year may not bring as many bites. Many aren’t having much luck landing fish in the river’s warmer temperatures and deeper waters.
Jody Dunn of Crestview, Florida lands a Rainbow Trout Friday, June 12, 2009. Dunn was fishing with friends up from Florida and had landed the biggest fish of the day at 12 inches.
While the changes have brought concerns for the trout population, a silver lining also exists. Creel counters report anglers hauling perch, white bass, largemouth bass, sauger, walleye and crappie from the normally cool waters of the Cumberland.

“They’ve been a lot of bass caught this year, which you hardly ever see one in here, and bluegill,” Radford said. “I believe it’s because of the warm water.”

Fishing enthusiasts of all kinds, however, are hopeful that the trout population will make it through the adverse conditions to preserve Cumberland River as a premiere trout fishery.

“Hopefully with the right conditions from Mother Nature we can skate through this year,” Dreves said.

As Bowman surveyed his line, he reminisced on the many good fishing trips he’s enjoyed on this picturesque river. “This is the best kept secret in America,” he said. “It’s been a lifetime of fun here.”

Danielle Palmer contributed to this report.

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