Chattahoochee Links

A group of us met up at Jones Bridge this morning anticipating a couple of hours of fishing. We apparently anticipated that someone else would have checked the conditions on the river as well since it was both high and muddy from a release last night – too high and muddy to even try. Someone had checked that there was no release scheduled for today; but we all missed looking back to last night.

There were some folks who are new to the area with us, so we did have a chance to look at and talk about some of the online information about the Hooch that we could access from our smartphones and how to interpret it, so we made good use of being together and several saw that they could move up river behind the release and get some fishing in after all. The rest of us could smile ruefully and remind ourselves that having the information to hand only made it more embarrassing not to have looked.

The Chattahoochee below Buford Dam is one of the best cold water fisheries in America, but before we consider what flies are working, we need to consider whether it is safe to be on the river where and when we plan to fish and whether conditions are worth the drive.

The following are links the have been helpful to many of us. They can be kept in a folder on a home screen on a phone and saved as favorites on browsers. While these are specific to the Chattahoochee below the dam, there are applications or equally useful links available for other rivers in Georgia and elsewhere. Our thanks to our friends at North Georgia Trout Online and the Atlanta Fly Fishing Club who have put these and others up on their sites and we think it worthwhile to share them further.

Dam Releases

The first item is not a link but a phone number (770) 945-1466. This is a recorded message from the Army Corps of Engineers concerning scheduled releases at Buford Dam. The next day’s schedule is usually available after 4pm of the prior day; both Saturday and Sunday’s schedule is posted Friday. The recording gives release time in local time.

A good link concerning releases is http://spatialdata.sam.usace.army.mil/hydropower/default.aspx.

This link provides pull down menus for a number dams including Buford and allows checking both the previous and current day’s release schedule. Here again, the time of release is given in local time.

While on this spatial data page, check out the links to the lower right on the page. In particular, notice http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ga/nwis/current?type=flow. This will allow you to see very useful current information about a particular site you are planning to fish.

Also notice, that the amount of release is given in megawatts and there is a handy conversion chart to the upper right. There is always flow through the dam at 6 or 7 MW, which is essentially no release. You can also see how quickly releases result in what the recorded message calls “rapid rises and turbulent flows.”

Other links for Buford Releases are http://water.sam.usace.army.mil/todaySched.htm and http://water.sam.usace.army.mil/tomorrowSched.htm. These sites are older than the spatial data link and are sometimes available when the other is down. However, you must note that on these sites the times are Central Standard Time. That means they are an hour earlier when we are on Eastern Standard Time and two hours earlier when we are on daylight savings time.  The closer you are to the dam, the more you need to ensure you know the local time of a scheduled release!

While very useful, none of this release data replaces paying attention on the water. There can be unscheduled releases. Near the dam, there are warning sirens. Further away keep an eye peeled.

Water Flows

What ruined our plans this morning was our not looking at the previous day’s releases. We knew there was no release today, but a late night release yesterday was just coming through the area we planned to fish almost 10 hours after the dam release had ended. Here’s a great chart for the areas below Buford Dam down to Morgan Falls Dam in Roswell - http://www.atlantaflyfishingclub.org/resources/. Using the release times and this chart can help determine whether it is okay to fish for a planned period downstream from a release or whether to change plans to go upstream behind a release or plan for another day.

We haven’t seen a chart for the delayed harvest areas below Morgan Falls Dam at Cochran Shoals, Whitewater and Paces Mill and getting information on releases there is not all that reliable. Most of us are guided by dead reckoning of about 8 hours after a Buford release you can plan on a Morgan Falls release to start and be thinking about heading to the parking lot.

Local Conditions

Sometimes there are unannounced dam releases. At other times, rain flow can affect conditions as well as dam releases.

Earlier we posted a U.S. Geological Survey link for water data that is on the lower right of the spatial data page that gives release times. Checking release and flow data can help plan the next day’s fishing, but USGS charts are an important look at the current conditions where you plan to fish. Here’s the chart for Jones Bridge (Chattahoochee River near Norcross) - http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ga/nwis/uv?cb_00060=on&cb_00065=on&cb_63680=on&format=gif_default&period=7&site_no=02335000.

Before saving a link to this or other charts, take a minute to set it up for the information you want, refresh it and then save the link to your browser. Normally, discharge and gauge height are checked by default in the available parameters section at the top of the chart. You can add what you want, but you should check the box for Turbidity and you will want to choose enter 7 in the days block. Then click “Go” which will refresh the charts and then save that URL as a favorite.

Turbidity is the measure of how dirty the water is (and how much e coli bacteria is present). Simply put, turbidity below 10 is best for trout fishing and safe wading. Over 10 by a little you will want to know the water very well and as it goes up so does E Coli.

Setting the chart to show 7 days instead of a specific date range means it will show the current day and the previous 6 whenever you open it. If you don’t set it for 7 days, you’ll need to remember to set the date range and refresh the charts every time you open the link

Other than the specific turbidity number the graphs are easy to read, the bottom of the wave lines is the flow or height when there is no release. This is the optimal condition for wading and fishing the area. The closest the graph is to the bottom, the better. Over time, you can interpret this information based on your experience.

Many of us save as favorites two or three locations along the river from nearer the dam to down nearer Atlanta. Once you are familiar with the water flows you can reasonably estimate the conditions at other places you might want to fish.

Turbidity

Sometimes, particularly after heavy rain storms, the Chattahoochee may settle down in terms of height and flow, there may be no releases, but the river remain unfishable for days. Rain water washing in from tributaries carries dirt and silt and may cloud the water to the point where it is unsafe to wade and trigger warnings about the level of E Coli present. Here’s a useful USGS link to turbidity levels and health warnings at Norcross and downstream near Atlanta: http://ga2.er.usgs.gov/bacteria/.

Any of these links would have saved us a drive this morning had we bothered to look, but we did have them available. In hindsight, we needed to look for a dam release the number of hours before we planned to fish that it takes the flow to get to our location; we needed to check the turbidity and as several did, whether the release, flow and water conditions would be better elsewhere.

Only after we know how release, flow and water clarity are affecting the where and when we would like to fish is it time to think about what flies might work.