Trout fishing below Smith dam in 90+ humid heat

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Posted by Kerry Grissett on July 12, 2001 at 23:15:55:

This is a "story" about my experience on July 10, 2001 at Smith dam and the tailraces thereof, of the Sipsey... looking for trout...

I didn't plan on going trout fishing today but I found myself heading south on I65 sometime after noon - letting my wayward truck lead the way. The thought of turning around kept coming to mind, but after I passed the first Cullman exit all those thoughts went away.

Turned right (west) on exit 299 for hwy 69 south and enjoyed the air conditioning in the truck since it was over 90 degrees and very humid outside. I wasn't sure exactly where I was going to fish, but I remembered Shane telling me about a road that turned north just east of the bridge that crosses the Sipsey below the dam. I took that road and ended up at the pumping station. I didn't know whether they were releasing water out of the dam or not because I neglected to check before leaving on this "spur of the moment" trip. This won't happen next time. (foreshadowing)

The water seemed to be flowing quite well when I walked to the rocky shoreline, but I didn't realize that this was a bad sign for anyone intending to fish below the dam. With the sweat starting to pour out of every pore I went back to the truck and retrieved one rod and reel with a small jig already tied to it. After returning to the rocky bank and casting several times with no luck or any indications of any interest from the fish which I could only presume were there since I didn't see any, I noticed an increased rush in the sound of the running water and realized that the rock I was standing on was now nearly flooded. I returned to the truck and observed the pumping station.

Having never been here before, although I have been to the lower and upper sides of the dam, I wasn't sure if I was allowed to walk around the pumping station and follow the road that I could see on the other side, and not seeing anyone around that I could ask, I decided to drive back to hwy 69 and go on to Smith dam and take a look and maybe ask the guard on duty.

Aaahhh!, the cool air from the air conditioner felt so good on my completely sweat soaked shirt. Did I mention that I sweat buckets just thinking about hot weather? Thoughts that I might lose a few excess pounds from hiking around in the heat came to mind as I crossed the bridges over the Sipsey and turned right towards the hill that leads to the lower and upper sides of Lewis Smith dam.

As I came to a stop in the parking lot after gearing down (automatic transmission) to take the steep grade heading down to the overlook, I noticed a couple sitting under the shelter at a picnic table. I parked next the their car and got out of the truck with a "Hey, how's it going!" to which they responded politely.

A middled aged (like me) couple who were taking a break at the dam since their power had mysteriously gone out at their nearby home, taking with it their air conditioning. I asked them if they knew where I might catch some trout or other fish with the water flowing like it was

(I got to this area about 2:10pm and they (Alabama Power) started at least one turbine at 1:00pm and more at 2:00pm or so)

and they engaged with me in a nice conversation about nearby areas that are good fishing when the water isn't flowing like it was now and they had eaten rainbows the night before, which they had caught in this very area, and they were "the best tasting trout" (baked) they had ever eaten. As for me, my chances were not very good given the current water conditions although they said there were some "old locals folks" who knew these waters, and nearby waters, who could catch trout and other fish "anytime" in this area, but my chances with the water flowing fast and furious from the bottom side of the dam were, at best, minimal.

I had to agree, but I was determined to give it at least one more try before driving the 60 or so miles back to Decatur. They advised that I talk to the guard(s) in the reception area and see if they had any advice, so I did, but not until after I descended the steps going down to the lower level of the overlook to "see what I could see" which was nothing as far as fish are concerned. I practically jogged back up the steps, amazed at my energy and walked to the guard, reception center. The few paces to the guard house made me very aware of the mistake of "running" up the stairs... can you say "buckets"?

I noticed a glass door directly in front of me as I walked to the guard house, but it was obviously not being used so I walked around to the dam side of the house and noticed the guard inside through one of the many windows. She waved and I waved. Found another door on that side, but it was also not being used. I observed the water from here hoping this new vantage point
would show me something I hadn't seen from the lower level of the overlook and also make me look more like THAT was what I had intended all along. It didn't. (Sometimes we feel foolish for the least of reasons..)

Went back around and found the chain link motorized gate had been left open after a UPS truck had exited moments before... an invitation? The door to the guard house, inside the motorized gate, on this side was open and the guard inside was very nice and seemed to be glad to have someone to talk to. Invigorated by the cool air inside the guard house, my gift (curse?) of gab came out immediately and I found a kindred spirit; i.e. a person who has never met a stranger.

She welcomed me in and I thanked her for the cool air inside as my sweat dripped onto the carpet. After a little while of politely chatting about the heat I got around to asking about fishing the area when the water was flowing fast like it was. She motioned toward the north side of the Sipsey below the dam where there was a small slough and said that they might be holding there with the water flowing so fast in the main stream. I agreed since that area was actually my intended destination when I was at the pump house earlier.

She didn't seem to have any more valuable fishing information other than that, but I apreciated the air conditioning and the conversation was pleasant, so I plugged the NAFF, writting down the pertinent info for her to pass along to others at Alabama Power while we chatted about her brother and his car troubles.

After bidding her a polite goodbye, I once again entered the "oven" and headed to the truck...

(I guess I ought to tell you now that this "truck" is a 1991 Nissan Pathfinder 4wd, which I inherited when my older brother, Robert Scott Grissett, died on November 25, 1998 in Cumming, Georgia in an "apparent" motorcycle "accident", and that is a long, painful story which I don't think will ever be resolved to my satisfaction... but life does go on...)

Scott insisted on calling it an SUV or "sport utility vehicle", but I can only call it a truck. Sorry Scott, but if it walks like a duck, flies like a duck, quacks like a duck, and lays eggs like a duck, then it is a truck and the last Nissan I will ever own, but that is another long and painful story...

Since the duck... truck wasn't running very well, I took it easy coming back up the hill from the dam. It actually didn't do too badly, but I wasn't taking any chances so I "suffered" not having the air conditioning on until I reached the top of the hill and had gotten down the road to where it was mainly downhill. OooohhhAaaahhh, fan on high, recirculate on, A/C ON! All vents aimed in one direction, me. Yessssssss!

Made my way back to the pumping station and this time took out the fly rod and 2 rods and reels along with my, now massive, gear/tackle bag and started the walk around the pumping station towards the area below the dam about 1/2 to 3/4's of a mile from the parking area. It was actually a nice walk/hike and near the dam one hillside looked like it would be well worth investigating for fossils, but I didn't dare stop for that with my mission now clear to me in the heat. FIND FISH, catch fish, go home, shower, enjoy cool air from air conditioner!

The inlet or slough didn't look as promising now that I was right next to it and looking into its clear waters with my polarized sunglasses on, but the breeze coming from the cool water on the Sipsey was like air conditioning! At least 10 or 15 degrees cooler than the air just a few feet from the edge of the water.

I tried my fly rod first, casting out into the fast water and letting the small white fly get pulled downstream and into the inlet where the fast and slow water meet. My hopes were actually up at this point during the first cast, but it didn't take long for me to realize that I didn't have a chance. There was no overt evidence of any, ANY fish in the water. Not even a minnow. I never got a hit on the fly rod nor the jigs I cast with the other rods. Maybe live bait or something else would have helped me but I am still doubtful.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of useless casting I looked over my shoulder and noticed the sky was getting very dark, then I heard the first thunder. Picked up all of my gear and headed, at almost a trot, up the hill back to the road taking me to to the pump house. At the top of the hill, where I would have liked to have searched for fossils, I realized how winded I had gotten in the heat and in my rush to "get going". (Not to mention 20+ years of smoking...sigh... trying to quit, seriously for the first time now...) Heart throbbing, breathing heavily from my mouth I finally found my pace, a moderately fast walk which would still outrun most folks at their fastest walking/jogging pace.

The weather moved in as I got to the tall trees along this dirt road and since I wasn't sure how long it had been since these trees had seen this degree of wind, I hurried along at a run for a little while, until the threat of falling branches seemed to dwindle only to return again and force me, breathing heavily through my mouth, to break pace and jog/trot at a relatively fast rate. Sorry heart and lungs, I promise to do better...

As I got out of the trees with the pumping station in sight, there was a fellow standing inside the fence of the station and I made a salutory motion with my hand. He responded and spoke something that became garbled by the machinery noise of the pumping station. I held my hand to my ear indicating that I couldn't hear him and he held both hands in front of his mouth and shouted "CATCH ANYTHING?"

I responded in the negative and he held his hand over his ear... I yelled my responce... This nice conversation was interrupted by the rain which made me run (again) to my truck where I quickly loaded my equipment into the back and jumped into the driver's seat. Need I say that the first thing I did after getting seated was to start the truck and the a/c?

I drove the 60+ miles home...

At the end of the road leading to the pumping station on Hwy 69 there is a "fly shop", but don't look for a sign telling you it is there. Oh..., there are a couple of signs, but they are nearly rags and the building looks, while driving by, like something that was condemned several years ago. Maybe it is a local "landmark"?, but if it is a haven of information for others, like me, it is sure danged hard to spot as other than a dilapidated looking builing! I never really ever saw it before... a message on the NAFF caused me to LOOK for it. Since I didn't stop there, I will have to make it a point to stop there on another trip. More then...

Long drive short, I made it home and relished the cool air at home! No, I didn't catch a singe fish on my trip, but it was an "adventure" and I think I am better for having experienced it and I hope you have enjoyed reading about this experience.


The story above is based on a true adventure I took to Lewis-Smith dam on July 10, 2001.

I returned to the same area on July 12, 2001 and had a very much different trip. I actually did catch fish and met Keith Floyd orf the DCNR Fisheries department, District I. I have posted a couple of meesages about that trip already, but haven't started a "writing" on that one yet... waiting to hear from you the "public", YOU, as to whether or not I should seriously take up my pen/keyboard or just give it up now! (less humiliation, grin)

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