Heavy Rains Dampen Anglers' Spirits; Lake Levels Rising Fast
Written by Steve McCadams - Published on February 20, 2019
Just when Kentucky Lake anglers thought they had dried out their rainsuits comes another week of flooding! Heavy rains pounded the region again at midweek and lake levels were rising rapidly. Just when the crest will occur no one seems to know; it won’t stop raining long enough for anyone to make a prediction. TVA had the reservoir down below winter pool elevation recently despite a lot of recent rains that had nearby Barkley Reservoir swelling up above its normal summer pool elevation. Although the two massive reservoirs are joined by a canal just south of Kentucky and Barkley dams and usually share similar elevations, that wasn’t the scenario recently. Presently, Kentucky Lake is rising fast as massive amounts of rain have inundated the TVA valley the last few days. The Paris-Murray area was expected to received almost six inches of rain this week, if not more! Elevation started the week off at Kentucky Dam around 354.7 but had climbed to 357.2 by Wednesday, a jump of almost three feet in a short period of time. Odds are the reservoir will exceed summer pool, which is 359, before the weekend even gets here as more rain is forecast in the days ahead. TVA was pushing a lot of water through Kentucky Dam---around 214,000 cubic feet per second (cfs)---at midweek, which means swift currents in the main river channel and especially below the dam. Anglers haven’t had many days lately that welcomed them to the water. Cold temps have lingered and when it did warm up heavy rains descended, keeping fishermen on shore for the most part. Surface temperatures has lingered in the 44 to 45 degree range. A few rare days allowed some crappie fishermen to venture out but it separated the men from the boys as to the endurance test of cold conditions. Despite the hurdles a few crappie have been taken by the die-hard fishermen stalking deep ledges and some midrange manmade fish attractors. Most fish were coming from 18 to 25 foot depth ranges but fast rising lake stages will likely throw a curve to normal winter patterns. Those deep fish aren’t likely to stay put very long with a rapidly rising reservoir plus a lot of current in open water areas. Crappie don’t like to battle current and usually attempt to dodge it by moving to areas where it’s not present or perhaps seek spots where eddies might offer them a break from fighting swift water. That could be behind bridge piers or submerged points and structure that provide a comfort zone where baitfish might be attracted to such an area to also avoid current. Targeting some of the bigger bays off the main lake areas will likely be more productive for crappie anglers whenever they’re able to get back out on the water. Odds are crappie will move up to shallow areas in the days ahead as rising water pushes shad schools to shallow zones with crappie and bass in hot pursuit. Dingy to muddy water is present in a lot of main lake areas and the upper ends of some bays. However, anglers can likely find some good colored water in spite of the drastic amount of runoff entering the bays and pockets. Trouble with too much water coming in too fast is the chance that fish scatter and roam instead of staying put around a deep brushpile or manmade stakebed. Since their forage base goes on a tear, seeking fresh water bringing in an abundance of zooplankton and other microscopic morsels, crappie follow them which means no set spot or location. Bass fishermen are in the same boat but may well see some shallow fish hanging out in shallow spots where feeder creeks are pouring with fresh water and washing crawfish or attracting baitfish to the locale. Finding the runoff spots can be a productive pattern during fast rising lake levels. Loud colored crankbaits should be productive as will slow rolling spinnerbaits. Meanwhile, as lake levels begin to inundate shoreline habitat in the days ahead anglers are about to get a million and one places to toss a jig and pig, crankbait and spinnerbait. Buck bushes and trees will quickly be attractive as bass move up fast with the water toward visible shoreline habitat. With this much change taking place fishermen on Kentucky Lake are waking up to a new lake almost everyday! Meanwhile, from TVA’s River Neighbors news comes word that last year was a record-breaking rainy year. And, it appears 2019 could give it a run for its money. "The year 2018 was the wettest year on record going back 130 years,” James Everett, senior manager at TVA’s River Forecast Center says. “We had a Valleywide average of 67 inches, eclipsing the prior 1973 record by two inches—we cruised right by it. We even had locations in the North Carolina mountains receive up to 100 inches of rain.” “The 2018 rains were different than the 1973 rains in that they were more consistent and spread out. “There was never a big flooding event, as there was in March of ’73,” he notes. Water levels in the Tennessee River system are high due to a very large amount of rain received in the second half of December, as well as a rainy January. “January rainfall was at 120 percent of normal, and runoff was 170 of normal,” Everett says. “The ground is so saturated from all the rain, it drives runoff levels up.” To keep up with all that water, the river forecasters are using the tributaries to store flood waters, then releasing the water down through the Tennessee River to get ready for the next big event. “Spilling and sluicing at Cherokee, Douglas, Norris and Fontana was more common than normal this year—it doesn’t normally happen to that extent, but we had to release all that water that's been stored.” Spilling and sluicing are happening on all the main stem river dams, from Fort Loudoun to Kentucky, and—because of the sheer volume of water moving through the system—river flows are quite strong, creating dangerous conditions below dams. Everyone is hoping sunny days soon return and early spring fever chases away these wet winter blues! Best keep the raingear handy; it appears it’s going to be standard attire for a spell!