Guided Trips

UPDATE: 5/1/2016 Smokies Fly Fishing Report -- Current Hatches: Blue-winged Olives, Little Black Caddis, Brown stoneflies, Hendricksons, March Browns, Sulfurs, Light Cahills, Pale Evening Duns, Little Yellow Stoneflies, Tan Caddis, inch worms, and ants. Fishing is very good now in the Smokies. Hatches are quite diverse depending on which streams you are fishing and what elevation you are at. It is still early spring up on the high brook trout streams but almost summer down low. Both dry flies and nymphs are catching a lot of fish now. If you need to learn how to fish these streams, a guided trip with me can help you accomplish that!

Caney Fork Fly Fishing Report: The Caney Fork is fishing well now. Flows are great for both float or wade trips. Contact me about a float or wade trip if you want to enjoy this fishing at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884.

Clinch River Fishing Report: Fishing is anywhere from good to slow depending on the day and your casting ability. Long casts, long drifts, small flies. Sulfurs are starting now and the fish are noticing. When there aren't a lot of bugs on the water, stick with small nymphs and midge patterns and you should catch some nice trout.

Cumberland Plateau Fishing Report: Flows are good and water temperatures are warming. Smallmouth are coming on strong now and wade fishing the creeks and streams for smallmouth and various sunfish will only get better from here on out.

Help support the Trout Zone and purchase your Tennessee fishing license using this link!

Photo of the Month: High Sticking Smoky Mountain Style

Photo of the Month: High Sticking Smoky Mountain Style

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Guides' Day Off: April 2016 Smallmouth Edition

When two fly fishing guides with busy schedules plan an intentional guides' day off, you never know what is going to happen. When not taking clients fishing, we are just as likely to spend a whole day experimenting to just to try some new flies or tactics or maybe mess with some fish we don't target as often as the usual trout.

The day before our planned excursion, David Perry of Southeastern Fly and I were discussing where to fish and several options came up. None were on the current "hot" sections of our favorite rivers to guide for trout, but that was intentional. Sometimes these exploratory trips turn out well and sometimes they are a bust, at least as far as catching a lot of fish goes. The one thing that is always guaranteed when you fish with friends? A good time. It is not just about catching fish after all.

We finally settled on a game plan that involved smallmouth bass, always a good choice. Arriving at the river, David decided to back his boat way out in the middle of the river, mainly because the edges were simply too shallow for the boat to float. That would be a theme for the day. If the river had been another 100-200 cfs lower we might not have made it down. The fish didn't mind though.

To launch or not launch? How about taking a test drive (or is it a test cast?) before committing...


I caught several small redeye bass in quick succession despite David P. not catching any fish from the boat trailer, so it was determined to go ahead with our game plan and off we went. Floating along, we found a few redeye and briefly hooked up with a smallmouth or two, but it was obvious that a strategy change was in order. Thankfully, David P. brought the hot fly tied by smallmouth angler extraordinaire Gary Troutman (what a great fishing name right?).

After some discussion now how to fish said fly, David P. stepped into the casting brace and started working the magic fly. As a good guide, I was incredibly oblivious gazing at the scenery so I could point out interesting things to the guy in the front of the boat. Thankfully he was focused on the task at hand and when the fish hit he was ready. After a solid fight, the first nice smallmouth came to the net and we took a much deserved picture.


Insisting that David P. keep fishing for a while, I eventually lost my reluctance to leave the oars when a great hole with lots of structure came into view. I grabbed a heavy rod rigged for musky and started flailing the water. That produced a maybe follow. A maybe follow is when the angler thinks they see a fish but it could just as easily be the product of an overactive imagination. Despite my optimism, no other fish showed so it was back to smallmouth. In due time, I found my first nice smallie.

Thanks to David Perry for the photograph

We continued the day, taking turns fishing and getting a fish here and there. The pinnacle of the day came unexpectedly. Having caught the last nice fish, I was deservedly on the oars while David P. kept looking for another good fish.

We had already drifted down several exceptionally shallow shoals, but the boat was still in one piece. As we approached another obstacle, this one a huge tree laying across the river, David P. turned around and with a completely straight face told me to go left. I looked at him in disbelief. No way was I going to try to take the boat left but I did manage to blurt out a "I would like to see you row that."

Not one to back off from a challenge, he told me to switch spots. I got into the front of the boat while he grabbed the oars. On further examination, he told me I was right made the prudent decision to not try getting over the tree. Just as I started breathing normally again in relief, David P. told me to go ahead and fish since I was in the front of the boat. Not one to argue when the option to fish presents itself, I cast the hot fly into the run we were drifting past. The fly barely hit the water before getting slammed. After just finishing a long fishless stretch as the angler, the guy at the oars was a little shocked. I was glad to have snatched what should have been his fish but also felt a little guilty.

Thanks to David Perry for the photograph

After the pictures ,which he still graciously took for me, I tentatively offered, "You want me to row so you can fish again?" His answer was an unequivocal yes and brought no argument from me. That big smallmouth made the day for me, and I was content.

The rest of the float was anticlimactic. Despite our hopes, we only saw one or two more muskie and the smallmouth seemed mostly uninterested. The scenery was nice though as was the time with a good fishing buddy. We had set out to catch a few fish and have a good time and succeeded on both counts.

Floating for smallmouth is tough now with low water, but wade fishing for them is just picking up. If I can help you with a guided fly fishing trip on the Cumberland Plateau for smallmouth bass, please contact me via call or text at 931-261-1884 or email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Clinch River Float Trip

The Clinch River continues to fish well and produce quality trout. This fishing is not for everyone as it requires the ability to cast fairly well and manage your line, however those who are willing to work hard on this beautiful tailwaters will be rewarded with some large trout.

Recently, I had the good fortune to float the Clinch with Chris and Eddie and already know this will be a river I'll return to many times. Small flies, light tippet, large trout, it doesn't get any better. The majority of fish were caught on my own midge patterns although some nymphs worked as well.

Both guys caught some really nice trout but Eddie took top honors for big fish of the day. He played it well and kept his composure through several head shaking runs by the nice rainbow. Here are a few fish from out day on the water.





Monday, April 11, 2016

Fishing the Clinch River

This might be the year of the Clinch River, or at least for me anyway. I've now fished it twice within the last four days and that after not fishing it since, well, I can't exactly remember the last time I was down there but it has been a while. Based on the fishing last Friday I'll be down there a lot more. Based on the fishing today it might be a while before I'm back. Let me explain a little further.

Last week, with the nice weather, I've been contemplating fishing a little for myself. With the spring hatches in the Smokies has come a flurry of guide work. That is all well and good, but I do like to at least occasionally fish a little for myself as well. After a steady dose of the beautiful but small wild trout that are found in the Great Smoky Mountains, I was ready for some fish that were larger and more difficult. The Clinch offers both in great abundance.

The idea had been bouncing around in my brain for a while when my old fishing buddy, Trevor, checked in to see if I was available to fish on Friday. Amazingly enough I actually had a free day. Plans were originally made to fish the Caney Fork, but a last minute change of plans had us headed to the Clinch.

When we arrived at the usual Millers Island access, I was shocked to only find a couple of other cars in the parking lot. This place gets packed so to say the lack of people was a blessing is an understatement. We started with the usual midge rig that is so effective on this river. I quickly caught a little rainbow and later another. Trevor got into a hot streak in a good spot. Eventually I snuck in close enough to snag a fish or two myself out of his run when he got tangled momentarily and couldn't fish.

For the most part it was slow. The one high point of the morning was when Trevor got a solid 16-17" rainbow that was all colored up. Some of the fish spawn this time of year so their colors are usually extra vibrant. The real event had yet to happen for me though.

We moved well down the river to a spot near the town of Clinton. Having never fished there, I trusted Trevor's directions and judgement which included a lengthy walk. As we were walking along the river, the occasional rise would prompt me to ask if we should start fishing, but he kept telling me to keep going. Finally, just when I thought we had embarked upon a true death march, he announced that we had arrived at our destination. I looked around and almost immediately noticed a rise downstream just a few yards. Bugs were in the air including caddis and craneflies which prompted me to switch to the tried and true dry/dropper rig with a caddis pupa as the dropper.

In reality, this was my favorite Smoky Mountain rig, something that should never work on the educated trout of the Clinch. On the other hand, sometimes you just never know. On probably my second or third cast with the new setup, the dry fly shot under, and I was hooked up with a solid fish. This fish was strong and acrobatic, giving my four weight fly rod a better workout than it has seen in quite some time. Trevor soon had his net out with an offer of assistance which I gladly accepted.

Nice Clinch River rainbow trout

Soon I was admiring a great Clinch River rainbow trout, the first of many more to come. In fact, I continued to catch trout up and down that section of river, working my way across towards the far bank and back. While I know that I shouldn't expect the same from the Clinch every time I fish there, it was enough to tempt me back for several more times in the near future even if some of them turn out to be far less exciting in terms of fish catching. In fact, I say that after a very slow day on the water.

Today's plans were made just a couple of days ago. The forecast had been calling for partly cloudy skies although a chance for some wind was cause for mild concern. When I arrived to meet my friend John who had kindly offered to show me some of his favorite water, things were looking good. The river had a little bit of chop but nothing too intense. We were soon rigged up and ready to fish with small dark nymphs and midges, in other words, traditional Clinch fare.

After slowly getting in the water to fish, I proceeded to cast and mend, and mend, and cast again. Over and over, but without that nice motivation of a diving indicator and heavy trout on the other end of the line. Finally, one suicidal trout nailed the nymph which broke the monotony, but otherwise the day was slow. John eventually ended up with a fish as well, but we more or less agreed that the fish were not feeding. The weather was rapidly deteriorating and we both like to think that played a significant role in the lack of fish to hand. The wind was soon approaching gale force and when the rain started like stinging needles, we waded out and trooped back to the vehicle.

Despite the lack of large numbers of fish, the company was good, and I kind of like having challenging days because it keeps me interested. Problem solving is good for the mind and is one of my favorite parts about fly fishing. I guess that's the math teacher in me. The Clinch River promises many more days of both large trout and good problem solving opportunities so I'll be back again and again over the next few weeks.

Clinch River Rainbow Trout

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Light and Trout

As you probably already know just from a quick glance at the Trout Zone, I enjoy photography almost as much as I enjoy fly fishing which happens to be quite a lot. Finding that perfect shot where light and subject combine to create magic is nearly as fun as catching a nice trout. Sometimes, though, the two combine.

That is what happened the other day and I didn't even know what I had until I got home and looked at the pictures on my computer. Most pictures end up not quite as good as you remember the scene in real life. This time, however, I was definitely pleased with the result. When I snapped this picture I was just in the middle of taking several and had no idea what I had captured.

Rainbow Trout from Tremont

I love the mix of light in this picture. The below-water portion of the little rainbow trout blends in so well with the rocks that it is no wonder we have such a difficult time spotting fish in these rocky streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While I would love to take full credit for the way this picture turned out, sometimes the beauty produced by the camera is largely luck and this image definitely falls into that category. Either way, I'll enjoy remembering the smile on the angler's face during our guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies as he landed this beautiful wild rainbow trout.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Hiwassee Is On Fire



February through early May is my favorite time to fish the Hiwassee. The sweet spot though is late March into early April when the Hendricksons and Blue-Olives are hatching as well as various caddis and stoneflies. The last time I hit it right was back during my college days. In other words, it has been a few years too long. That is mostly my fault though and one I full intended to rectify this past Sunday.

Easter turned out a little different than originally planned and with my schedule suddenly open, I decided to take advantage of the free time. By the middle of the day I was headed southeast. The hope of mayflies and rising trout had me excited like a kid on Christmas morning.

My original plan involved hiking in somewhere in the Big Bend area but when I got to the river, the crowds were more than manageable so I just fished close to the car. The bugs were there and the fish were seemingly starving. I'll spare all of the details and try to resist bragging but will say this: the fishing was phenomenal and I probably caught more fish in those five or six hours than I've ever caught on the Hiwassee, and I've had some great days. Here are a few sights and trout from my day.

Redbuds

Hiwassee Brown Trout

Hiwassee average rainbow trout

Rainbow trout on the Hiwassee with great colors

Nice rainbow trout from the Hiwassee

Monday, March 21, 2016

Welcome Spring!

Just like that, the calendar says that spring is here. The early spring wild flowers are getting going now and in fact some of the very earliest have already peaked in a few locations. The garden has been tilled a couple of times now and plants are sprouting here in the kitchen, just waiting until I can put them in the ground in another month or so. Despite all of this, apparently Mother Nature does not read the calendar.

Yesterday, on my way home from a weekend of camping, hiking, and enjoying time with friends, I drove through a near whiteout. That is rare here in Tennessee, but to be fair, snow in the spring is to be expected. Spring usually happens in fits and starts, with the cold short days of winter only grudgingly giving in to longer warm days. The junction of the seasons can be both maddening and stunningly beautiful. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Forsythia after a spring snow storm in Tennessee
"Snowy Forsythia"


Friday, March 04, 2016

Using the Extra Day


Starting a new personal challenge can be difficult, especially if you virtually quit before starting. Back in January, I announced my goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Then I proceeded to quit fishing for several weeks or at least something close to that.

My trip to California probably had something to do with that, but also there were extenuating circumstances. Here on the Cumberland Plateau, high water dominated through February. In the Smokies, frequent bouts of cold weather gave the trout a severe case of lock jaw. Not that I'm opposed to fishing in tough conditions, mind you, but I had gotten a little soft. Beyond that, I spent much more time hiking here close to home than I normally do. Hiking and exploring just for the joy of getting outside is a great way to stay in shape for the upcoming fishing season. Unfortunately it doesn't help me catch fish.

And so I woke up one morning and noticed the calendar barreling towards March at an alarming rate. My brook trout challenge was about to die, almost before starting. Thankfully, Fate had already intervened ahead of time by designating this as a leap year. When I saw that extra day on the calendar for February, I knew it meant I had to get out and catch a brook trout. That is how I found myself headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past Monday. The goal was to catch brook trout on Monday and then look for spring hatches on Tuesday.

Responsibilities closer to home kept my in Crossville until 11:00 a.m. or so, but then I was heading towards the mountains. A new 2016 fishing license was in hand (yes, it is that time again). My usual quick stop by Little River Outfitters was nearly skipped because of the late hour and the fact that my brook trout challenge was facing failure. In the end, I decided to stop by to say hello to the guys working there. This quick stop helped me to relax a bit and not take the brook trout challenge too seriously, important stuff when you only have a handful of hours left to keep the streak alive. Fishing relaxed will always turn out better than fishing stressed.

Driving up the mountain, I intended to fish road side. Smokemont was the destination for the night's camping, and I knew where a few brookies were on my way there. Normally I'll head up high before starting, but on this day I didn't go quite as far as normal. Last December, on a guide trip, I had an angler miss what I was certain was a colorful brook trout from a plunge pool with a big back eddy. That fish was the one I was hoping for.

Before I knew it I had my waders on and looked at the rods I had brought with me. Which one to use? The tube containing my Orvis Superfine Glass rod (7'6" 4 weight) jumped out at me so I put it together and attached a Hydros reel loaded with 4 weight line. To this I added a black Elk Hair Caddis on the end of a 5x leader in size #16 and dropped a small bead head nymph off the bend of the dry fly hook using 6x tippet. With my fishing pack in tow along with a camera, I finally had everything together and headed to my spot. The sun was still on the water. This time of year that is generally a good thing.


I warmed up by fishing a couple of pools below the place I had pinned my hopes on. By the time I slid into position just across from the back eddy, my casts were going approximately where they should, and I felt as confident as one could when fishing against the clock. Two drifts around the back eddy resulted in absolutely nothing, but then the fish helped me by betraying its presence. Rising to some minuscule hatch just behind the large boulder that created the safe haven, it didn't eat fast enough to avoid detection. A glimpse of bright orange fins told me this was indeed the fish I was looking for. My next cast was perfect, about 10 inches above the fish. It turned and followed. I saw its mouth open and close and knew it had taken the dropper. All that was left was to not screw up and lose this pretty brook trout. Mission accomplished.


After enjoying the elation of keeping my streak intact, I went looking for a few more trout before heading over the ridge to camp. Over the next hour, I was surprised by another six or seven trout, about 50/50 rainbow to brook trout. My surprise was not because of the beautiful and unseasonably warm day, but because the water was frigid like snow melt. Turns out it was snow melt, but the fish were still ready to eat after a cold winter. Some of them even ate dry flies!





Most of the fish involved some form of spotting before catching and most were spotted because I saw them rise first. Spring is definitely coming, but as the afternoon wore on it was hard to remember that. The temperature started dropping as cold air came down from the snowpack just above, and I decided to head on to camp with enough daylight to fish some in the lower elevations.

Using the extra day helped keep my short brook trout streak alive. Going into the warm months should help extend the streak now. I have two of the toughest months out of the way and improving conditions ahead.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Watching Bobbers

Bobbers. One of the more polarizing words in the sport of fly fishing. I actually saw a Craigslist ad for a drift boat one time where the guy mentioned that he wanted the boat to find a home with someone who wouldn't "bobber fish" out of it. Bobbers, strike indicators, all the same in most minds, but if you ask me they are also a useful tool.

A lot of us started our fishing journey with bobbers for that matter. I can still remember going fishing for the first time, probably around the age of 5. Staring for what seemed like an eternity at the bobber that my dad had rigged above a nice fat night crawler. The amount of patience it takes to stare at a bobber is probably a good indicator of whether someone will make it as an angler. Even at a young age I had it, or at least that is what my memory says. Probably as a result of the pleasant outings to the local state park as a kid, I still enjoy bobber fishing. In the Smokies I rarely use one although I did this past Sunday. High water made high sticking on the other side of the stream tough, but a strike indicator helped to suspend my nymphs in just the right spot to catch some trout. Drifting down the Caney in the drift boat while watching indicators is enjoyable as well. You just never know what will be on the other end of the line when that indicator goes down. I used a bobber today also, sort of.

The weather has felt like early spring now for the last week or more. Lots of birds have been heading north. The robins have arrived in large flocks, the daffodils are coming up, and in the Smokies, blue quills have started hatching. It was inevitable, then, that I eventually started thinking about fishing ponds and small lakes for panfish. It is probably a little early for good crappie fishing, but the only way to find out for sure is to go check.

On this particular water, I rarely ever feel the need to fish with anything other than a small bead head Simi Seal Leech. This little pattern catchings both the bluegill and crappie and even an occasional bass although I don't specifically target them with this fly. Today, I arrived rigged with the same four weight I had been fishing in the Smokies on Sunday afternoon, a nine foot four weight Sage Accel. Almost immediately I noticed fish spooking out of the shallows, and I had not even thrown a cast yet.

The water was still quite clear from the recent cold weather, but the fish were obviously on the prowl and hungry with pods of fish cruising just under the surface and even rising occasionally. I stripped the little leech pattern for a while trying various speeds. One or two half-hearted follows was the best I could do. I did get one unusually strong tug but assume it was just a lethargic but heavy crappie. I'll never know because the hook didn't stay in the fish's mouth. Otherwise, that was it. My magic fly wasn't working so well.

Rises occasionally could still be seen, mostly on the other side of the pond. The fish near me would congregate near the surface and then leave large ripples when I moved and they spooked. Then I noticed the bugs. A small midge hatch was in progress. Confident in what the fish were eating or at least hoping to eat, I dug out the small fly cup I had tossed some extra leeches into before shoving it in my pocket. Dry flies, beetles, a few nymphs, and one fly that might serve as a midge.

A knockoff of the Zebra Midge that I tie, similar to Higa's SOS nymph, was the only fly even remotely close in size and appearance. I figured that it would fish the best if I could suspend it under the surface. My cast tended to spook fish so I wanted to leave it in one spot for a while and give the fish a chance to move back in. Digging around in the fly cup again, I pulled out one of my Smoky Mountain Beetles. In the absence of any strike indicators, it would have to work as my bobber.

Thankfully I had tossed a couple of spools of tippet in my pocket as well. In no time I had rigged a dry/dropper rig. The beetle was my indicator and the small nymph would hopefully be close enough to a midge. Turns out that it was.

Fishing for bluegill near Crossville TN

In another 15 minutes of fishing, I finally caught three nice bluegill. Two of them hit soon after the fly hit the water, probably while the nymph was still falling. The third hit after the indicator had sat there for a while, just like I had originally intended, and I was satisfied with having solved the puzzle. Three fish seemed like enough for a quick outing just a couple of miles from home. Come to think about it, I caught exactly three fish my first time watching bobbers also.

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