Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Technology & Fly Fishing

by Matt Walters

Photo by David Cannon
With all of the new technology available out there you can still remain active in the fly fishing community and discover new topics about our pastime without ever leaving your couch.  I believe the use of technology should be used wisely to enhance our knowledge and skills, but for me time on the water is a cell phone free zone.  It is my time away from modern technologies and a place where I can gather my thoughts and escape the daily grind.  The only thing that typically requires batteries is a quick camera shot on most days (although I'm not perfect and have carried on a phone conversation or two while wading).  My suggestion is to use the below items while planning and to help strategize for trips, but to keep the power button off while on the water as much as possible to fully enjoy the moment.

This week I wanted to go over a few websites, programs, and apps that I have found super helpful for retrieving current conditions and also planning and safely navigating new terrain.  Below is a list of the most used technology for these circumstances:

River Data iPhone App - this great app delivers historical and current river conditions throughout the U.S. The app allows you to check water temperature, stream flow, and gage height.  You can create favorites in the menu for even quicker information pulls.  This is especially great for tail waters or after heavy rains to quickly check your current river conditions.  The app even includes the tiny stream that flows through my neighborhood.

Tides & Multi Tide iPhone Apps - this is another crucial water condition app available at the tip of your fingers.  Although tide tables and predictions are readily available through many paper publications, this app allows the user to quickly search through tide tables for the entire nation.  The information provided back gives the time and height of the tides.  The app even integrates sunrise and sunset into the time lapse view. 

Trimble GPS Hunt Pro App -  although I started using this app more for hunting and scouting for hunting trips, I believe this piece of technology is great for fly fishing.  I especially believe this app comes in very handy on unfamiliar and remote waters.  It allows you to safely navigate over varied terrain and note your exact location.  The app gives you the ability to create trips with a start point.  During the course of the day the trip is active and a blue line on a topographical map will trace your exact steps throughout the day via GPS tracking.  You can mark spots, like a honey hole you may have found or a perfect camping spot.  Marking the spot on the trip also allows you to take a photo of the location as well.  The trips created can be saved and you can use them at a later date and retrace your exact steps.  The app will continue to work while stowed in your pocket in your waders and also functions without cell phone service because it only relies on GPS.  This app may be the only reason I pull my phone out during a fishing trip (but only for a quick second of course).

Fly Fishing Message Boards (NGTO-North Georgia Trout Online) - message boards are one the fastest ways to learn more about local conditions and the opinions of other anglers who have actually visited these locations first hand.  North Georgia Trout Online is a message board I visit frequently to get river\stream conditions and also to hear the experiences of other anglers in the local area.  There are many great write ups of trips you may be considering taking or are just curious to learn more about.  The perspectives can vary and as any great angler knows, most people are not going to give away their "secret spot" to a message board forum with thousands of users (I know I wouldn't).  The message board also displays maps created by users that show specific highlights and areas of interest.  NGTO is great for me locally and you can find other message boards available through a web search that applies specifically to your area.

Google Earth- we all are familiar with this one or at least should be.  This has to be one of the most fun to use.  You can fly around the world and view sites in incredible image quality in front of your computer screen with some pretzels and beer.  I'm a sucker for maps in general and could spend hours glued to the screen on this one.  Discover new sections of water you have never seen before or plan your hike in.  Nothing compares to real life scouting, but this can provide a great start and spark some interest in some new areas.

These are just a few of the technologies I use when planning trips and for retrieving current conditions.  The best part is that all of the above are available free of charge.  We'll explore more uses of technology as it relates to Fly Fishing in future posts.  

If you have any ideas to add to the list or if you have another creative use for anything above feel free to comment below. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Trophy Regs for the Chattahoochee?

by Matt Wilson
Fisheries Technician, Chris Looney, with a 14-pound, 31 inch brown trout collected during an electrofishing survey on the Chattahoochee between Buford Dam and Morgan Falls Dam in October 2013. (Photo from Georgia Department of Natural Resources)
I had the opportunity to meet with Patrick O’Rouke, Fisheries Biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia DNR to review some of the results from the Department’s recent study on brown trout behavior in the Chattahoochee tailwater. After discussing brown trout movement, diet, and spawning habits, I quickly reached a topic I have been itching to talk about. Will anglers ever see a strictly enforced catch and release, artificial only section of the river above Morgan Falls Dam?

Many anglers enjoy and appreciate the chance to catch wild trout in the Metro Atlanta area. And just as many anglers travel to other rivers throughout the United States in pursuit of big trout. However, we already have monster, boomerang-jawed brown trout right in our backyards. Is it selfish of us to want a section of the ‘Hooch dedicated to growing trout big enough to scare small children?
The discussion regarding a trophy-trout section of the ‘Hooch is not something new. If you hang around enough of the local fly shops and TU Chapter meetings the topic is sure to come up at some point.
I understand anglers have access to the Delayed Harvest section of the Chattahoochee tailwater but I am not the only angler who has expressed an interest in something more. There’s no doubt that the river is large enough and supports the habitat to grow big trout and lots of them. If we could protect a specific stretch of river and give that area the chance to grow some big fish and keep those big fish around, couldn’t we attract more anglers to visit and support this fishery? Why can’t we have some of the same “trophy” regulations as some of our other Southeastern rivers? 
Here’s our answer

According to Patrick, a lack of consistent nutrients in the river attributes to slower growth rates amongst trout. The evidence also supports that fish numbers as well as catch rates remain high throughout the river which defers the argument and/or need for a special “trophy” regulation section of the river. Essentially, the status quo of the ‘Hooch tailwater will not change any time soon. The science behind recent reports regarding insufficient nutrients and oxygen levels is unfortunate for the anglers that would prefer to see a separate section of the river ( catch and release, artificial only, etc. ) designated for those anglers looking to catch and release big trout on a more consistent basis.  (Click here for the link to the Brown Trout study).

If you as an angler and supporter of the ‘Hooch had the opportunity to create a “trophy” regulations section of the river, would you?  Would it be beneficial or detrimental to the long term success of the Chattahoochee Tailwater fishery?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tailwaters - Buford Dam & The Chattahoochee River

by Matt Walters    
Buford Dam below Lake Lanier 
Over the past few months everytime I hear the sound of rain I know it's going to be trouble for fly fishing on my home water, the Chattahoochee River.  It has been one of the wettest past years that I can remember and it has caused rivers to reach near flood levels and lakes to hover around full pool consistently.  The water we receive is the life blood of our city and others downstream. The abundant water that flows down the Chattahoochee provides a home for aquatic species and nourishment for other species that live nearby.  So even though I cringe hearing the sound of rain falling on the roof top I realize there is a greater good at stake. 

The other side of this equation is not enough water.  Not too long ago we were praying for rain as the water crisis in Atlanta was an alarming concern.  Lake Lanier's water level was so low that most boat launches were closed as the water didn't even come close to covering the bottom of the ramp.  This quickly grabbed the attention of many people who call Atlanta home as 70% of our drinking water comes from this river system and Lake Lanier.  

The volatile ups and downs we have witnessed over the past few years with droughts and too much water doesn't compare to how the Chattahoochee River used to behave.  It was once a wild and untamed natural resource that was capable of causing havoc and destruction along it's waterway.  The river was responsible for destroying many communities along it's banks as well as wiping out many agricultural lands during times of heavy rainfall.  Looking at a historical graph of the streamflow shows every few years water running as high as 25,000 CFS prior to the dam being constructed.  To give a comparison, preferable wading conditions on the Chattahoochee near the dam are around 800 CFS.  The water which was capable of such destruction could also be reduced to a trickle causing fear and anxiety in all who relied on it's life giving properties.    

Snow on Buford Dam.  View from Lake Lanier.
Completed in 1957, Buford Dam took about 10 years to complete through planning and construction.  Located about 50 miles north of Atlanta, the dam was built to tame these wild waters and create a consistency in water availability for the surrounding area.  The dam controlled the amount of water released into the river so that it stayed in a stable range not rising too high or dropping too low.  The other huge benefit of the dam is the electricity that it generates, supplying power to thousands of homes and people.

While none of us want to have another river dammed as they interupt a pre established ecosystem there are some great benefits to having this tailwater so close to my home.  One of the most overlooked reasons is the availability of trout fishing this far south.  Without the dam producing such cold water (on average around 48 degrees flowing from the bottom of Lake Lanier through the dam all year long) these waters would not hold trout.    Introduced soon after the dam was constructed, trout were stocked in the water through private funding.  Soon after, the government funded stockings of rainbow and brown trout.  Within the past few years, it was found that the brown trout population is able to reproduce on the river bottom creating a natural life cycle.  In my opinion this is a great accomplishment and something to be noted and appreciated the next time you hook into a brown on the "hooch".               

The reality of this tailwater is that it offers a trout fishing opportunity in a place where it was not possible before. The release of the dam and water level is completely up to two factors, mother nature and the operators at the dam.  The water is released due to the need for water downstream, hydro power demand, and/or the excess collection of water in Lake Lanier.  We are at least given an update of the water release schedule via a phone number with an automated message the day of and on Fridays for the entire weekend annoucing the water release schedules.  On other tailwaters many are not afforded this luxury and are at the mercy of a completely random and unpublicized release schedule.  The downside to this is the inability to plan trips in advance without a back up river to travel to.  Your guests (especially coming from out of town) and you will not know if the water release will occur on that particular day far enough ahead of time.
High muddy waters last summer at Jones Bridge on the Chattahoochee
Back to the rain.  I don't want to be a selfish angler as this water is used for much more important things, but the release schedules these past few months have made planning and going on fishing trips extremely difficult and minimal.  If it weren't for hunting, cabin fever would have set in long ago.  The dam has been releasing two times a day recently making the water rise to unwadable levels and at times too high for boats to run.  The water then remains high throughout the entire day. That being the case, I would not trade this amazing man made trout fishery for anything.  Even after consecutive days of heavy rain the high water flow currently pales in comparison to the days when the river was not dammed. 

The Chattahoochee tailwater is one of the most beautiful rivers and has been ranked in Trout Unlimited's 100 best trout streams for years.  The river changes as it travels from Buford Dam and through Atlanta.  Sometimes it is surrounded by steep cliffs, other times the banks are low as it meanders around slow turns.  The shoals are wide and plentiful and exploring with a boat can yield a new spot rarely fished by others.  I have enjoyed many afternoons taking a break on the rivers edge or on one of the many islands relaxing and gathering my thoughts to the sound of the water flowing by.

The Chattahoochee is one of the southernmost trout holding water and I am proud to call it my home water.  Even during high precipitation/water times I at least have the satisfaction of knowing the dam contributes to keeping the lights on at the fly shop.