White River

Wading minimum flow, White River

Posted by John Berry on August 21st, 2013
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After many years of waiting, minimum flow on the White River is finally here. The general idea is to make the lowest flows coming through our dams a bit higher. This will provide a larger wetted area that will provide more habitat for trout and other aquatic plant and insect life forms. It will also aid navigation. Before minimum flow the amount of water leaking through the generators was around 50 CFS (cubic feet per second). The new target flows are around 600 CFS. This is twelve times the volume of water of the previous low flow. The water will only be a few inches higher but the flow will be significantly increased.

When I called the dam this morning to check the level of generation, the recording said that they had one generator on. When I went to the Corps of Engineer’s website and checked current flows, it indicated that the flows were 674 CFS, which is approximately 20 % or one fifth of a full generator. It is important that you realize that one generator can be a full generator (3300 CFS) or something much less. For that reason, I consider the Corps of Engineers website, which has current flows listed by CFS, to be a more useful indicator of safe wading conditions.

Under minimum flow, wading will be more difficult but not impossible. There will be a learning curve to adjust to the higher flows. Sections that were marginally wadable under the lower flows will be treacherous. You will have to be more careful when selecting your route. I would recommend that you wear studded wading boots for more traction particularly on bedrock and always carry a wading staff for more stability. Monitor the water level more closely. Any increase in the height of the water will be more critical and must be acted on immediately. As soon as you detect rising water, you should leave.

My wife, Lori, and I have safely waded flows in Cotter up to 1500 CFS. It should be noted that we are experienced waders with good gear. I wear waist high waders in the summer, because they are cooler. I found myself with only about a half inch of free board on one occasion and had to change my route, to prevent the water from entering my waders. Chest high waders may be a more practical alternative for heavier flows.

The fishing will not be adversely affected, in fact, it should be better. It has been for Lori and me. It is important to remember that the trout are still there. They may or may not be in the same place but they are still there.

On our first trip under the increased flow regimen, we chose a spot that did not fish as well on very low flows. It was a spot that held plenty of fish but generally fished better before all of the flow dropped out. On absolute low flows, it was difficult to fish as there was little current and the water was generally too shallow to nymph or fish streamers effectively. Under those conditions we fished soft hackles or dry flies.

We found that the deeper spots that we favored on previous trips were still quite productive. I found that we needed to use a bit more lead on the leader and set the strike indicator a little deeper in order to get the nymphs down in the increased flows. Lori found that fishing small streamers (size ten woolly buggers) was very effective although she found that she had to place a bit more lead on the leader to get the fly down to the bottom of the water column. The soft hackles and midge emergers that we usually use still produced fish.

After fishing my usual spots and doing well, I decided to go exploring and see if I could find new holding water. With the increased flows I found several and did not have to look that hard to find them. Spots that were previously too shallow and did not have constant flows through them were now great feeding lanes that offered the trout concentrated food and protection. I fished them and did well.

Don’t be intimidated by the higher flows associated with minimum flows. Be cautious when wading and alter your rigging to accommodate the higher flows. Seek out and fish new trout holding water. I think you will like it!

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