Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 12/4/2018

After a brief warmup and another borderline high water event, the streams of the Smokies are once again receding and getting cold. The spawn is winding down for the year so please avoid walking in/around gravel areas in the tailouts of pools and riffles. Those eggs need to survive for another generation to be born. When temperatures rise a few degrees, trout will become active and eat nymphs and streamers well. On cold days, don't expect too much although you might find a large post spawn brown trout.

The tailwaters are all flowing high and keeping us mostly limited to streamers. The Clinch might offer some high water nymphing, especially once they start to dial back the flows. Unfortunately it will be at least another couple of weeks before that happens it seems. The Caney Fork is fishing ok on high water but nothing to write home about. I floated last week and we did not do particularly well. We did find a bunch of crappie which seemed unusual at best. The good news? Water temperatures here are coming down and Center Hill Lake surface temperatures are falling rapidly as well. Shad kills should be in our future for sometime this month and of course January and February and perhaps later into the spring. This fishing is very inconsistent day to day, but when you hit it right you might have the best fishing of your life.

Musky streams are up and down with the rains. We hope to get in a few musky floats soon. As always, check back here for updates as conditions change.

Photo of the Month: Fall on the Tellico

Photo of the Month: Fall on the Tellico

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone on a Cold Rainy Day

If I had to pick one river that draws me back to Yellowstone National Park time and again it would be the Gibbon. Primarily featuring gorgeous meadow water, the Gibbon River also has some canyon sections, water falls, lake run fish, and huge resident brown trout. The Gibbon River is also a stream facing significant challenges and unfortunately may not long be a stream worth fishing. Despite those challenges, fly fishing the Gibbon River still provides some of my favorite fly fishing in Yellowstone. In my most recent Yellowstone trip, I had a chance to spend a little time on this wonderful stream. Before that story, here is a bit about fly fishing the Gibbon River as well as challenges facing this incredibly unique fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Lower Meadows

The Gibbon River can be split into several distinct sections. The lowest and probably most famous water is from Madison Junction upstream to Gibbon Falls. This section hosts tremendous numbers of large rainbow and brown trout from Hebgen Lake from fall through early spring of each year. The brown trout head upstream from the lake through the Madison River on a spawning journey that eventually finds them in either the Firehole River or the Gibbon River. Rainbow trout move into the system as well for the same reasons. While many anglers make the journey to Yellowstone in October to fish for these incredible trout, I prefer fishing areas upstream from this section simply for the challenge that they present.

Fly fishing the Gibbon River Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls - ©2018 David Knapp Photography

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Canyon and Gibbon Meadows

The next section of the Gibbon River is the canyon from Gibbon Falls upstream to Gibbon Meadows. This canyon section provides some great fishing both early and late in the season. Fish are not very large on average although a few larger fish are present. In Gibbon Meadows, the river slows down and meanders slowly across a wide landscape. A few large trout may be found here, but few anglers are up to the challenge of stalking them.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Elk Park to Grebe Lake

Upstream from Gibbon Meadows is another short canyon stretch which ends near Norris in another meadow section. Elk Park provides more meandering meadow water and is also some of my favorite water on the river. Meandering behind the Norris Geyser Basin, the Gibbon leaves the road for a couple of miles before returning and providing easy access near Norris Campground. If you want to fly fish the Gibbon River in its upper reaches, stay at this campground. Above Norris, the Gibbon enters another canyon leading upstream to Virginia Cascades. Above this scenic waterfall is another beautiful little meadow known as Virginia Meadows. This water previously had some fantastic fishing for wild brook trout although I've also caught cuttbows here with more rainbow heritage than cutthroat. Those fish are no longer there, however.

Above Virginia Meadows, the river and its tributaries flow through heavy brush as it descends from Grebe Wolf, and Ice Lakes. This entire section was recently treated by the National Park Service. While well intentioned, the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department is following shaky science at best with their efforts on the Gibbon River.

Gibbon River Restoration Efforts

Restoring native species is an admirable endeavor under most scenarios. Unfortunately, the National Park Service is following a rather broad definition of "restoration" for restoring the upper Gibbon River. According to their own environmental assessment in the planning stages, the upper Gibbon River never contained west slope cutthroat trout nor did it contain grayling. Unfortunately, the National Park Service has decided to prioritize one invasive over another. Long term, the plan calls for the total elimination of "non-native" species all the way downstream to Gibbon Falls. That means that my favorite stream will no longer be worthy of a visit. 

Why? I travel to Yellowstone to fish for the wild brown trout of the Gibbon upstream of Gibbon Falls. In particular, the water around Norris Geyser Basin is specially suited to these beautiful fish. Once they are eliminated and replaced with cutthroat, this stream will be full of an inferior fish and one that is not even native. If it was a true native species restoration, I would have nothing to say even if I did not like losing the wild browns. Since it is not a true restoration, I have no problem saying that I think this is a worthless project that will ruin an amazing fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River for Large Resident Brown Trout

While everyone else is thinking about fishing the lower Gibbon River for lake run fish, I like hunting the giant brown trout that inhabit the upper watershed from Gibbon Falls upstream to Virginia Cascades. These fish are finicky, spooky, and everything else that you would want from large challenging trout. On my most recent trip to Yellowstone, I was able to spend a bit of time on this, my favorite river in Yellowstone.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River on a Cold Rainy Day

Nasty weather always seems to bring out the aggression in brown trout. This is often the case on the Gibbon River. Under normal sunny weather, fish will tuck up under overhanging undercut banks and in any other piece of shade they can find. These brown trout did not get large by being stupid. However, under cloudy skies and rain or snow, these fish come out to hunt. Truth be told, my favorite time for fly fishing the Gibbon River is mid summer on a bright sunny day. Knowing that the fish are tucked up under those undercuts helps immensely in locating them. However, you just cannot beat a good stormy day to get the fish on the feed. 

On our trip to Yellowstone National Park, the weather took a turn for the worse within our first couple of days. Unseasonably cool weather prevailed, eventually producing the first good snowfall of the season at higher elevations. More on that in a future blog post. Somehow, my wife kindly agreed to let me fly fish the Gibbon River in this nasty weather. The rain wasn't falling when we started, but soon a cold fine rain began to soak our rain jackets. I knew I was on borrowed time since I did not want to make my wife miserable. Thus, I focused on some of the best and also most accessible water near Norris. 

Fishing through this section, things started out rather slow. In time I found out why. The National Park Service restoration efforts had been ongoing and many of the stream's trout appeared to be missing. In their place were pasty pellet head west-slope cutthroat straight from a hatchery somewhere. The brook trout were lacking compared with other visits to this stream. I'm still unclear on whether fish are being mechanically removed (via electroshocking) or what is going on through this section. 

Eventually, the YNP fisheries hopes to completely remove non-natives from this section according to my last information. I'm seriously hoping that they instead allow the brown, rainbow, and brook trout to coexist with the cutthroat. This is a contrived fishery after all and the Park Service should not be favoring one invasive over another. 

With the slow start, I knew I had two choices: either move faster to cover more water in my search for brown trout or slow down and really pick apart the water. When fishing this type of water, the worst thing you can typically do is to move too fast. Thus, I found myself slowing down. Often, this is a part of the process for me. As a Great Smoky Mountains angler and fly fishing guide, I'm accustomed to moving fast. Therefore, I always need to change my mindset and approach when fishing other water. This normally takes me an hour or so. 

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Success!!!

Finally, as I was working into some of the best water I would fish on this trip, it happened. I had cast up above a deep bend pool and allowed my fly to nearly dead drift deep into the slot at the head of the undercut. A couple of twitches kept it from snagging the bottom. Suddenly, my line simply stopped. When I set the hook, I fully expected to be stuck to a large pile of weeds on the bottom of the stream. That first head shake told me otherwise. My amazing wife grabbed the net and went for the fish. Because of the heavy tippets I use for this fishing, it didn't take long before I maneuvered the fish to the bank and she slipped the net under my largest brown trout of the trip. While not as large as some I have caught on this stream, it was still an amazing fish.

Large brown trout caught while fly fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park
Gibbon River Brown Trout - ©2018 Leah Knapp

I fished a bit longer, catching a few more solid brown trout. However, it was getting colder and the rain heavier. My lovely wife was no longer having fun and that meant it was time to stop. 

Observations on the Gibbon River From My Trip

As I mentioned above, the Gibbon River was simply not the same stream as before. Fish numbers and size were down significantly. I do not know if the National Park Service has modified their approach on this stream. Perhaps they are attempting to mechanically remove the majority of fish in an effort to avoid using poison on such a large stream. Perhaps the change in regulations is hurting this stream. Unfortunately, in conjunction with their new management strategy, the National Park Service removed all limits on "non-native" fish in this section. That does not extend to the non-native cutthroat, clearly demonstrating the hypocrisy of the Yellowstone National Park administration in managing this formerly incredible trout stream. 

If this bothers you as well, I encourage you to contact both the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department as well as the overall Park administration. The Gibbon River will probably not be a good reason to visit Yellowstone National Park in the future unless things change. Before the removal efforts, myself and many others would travel there just to fish this stream. Now, I'm planning vacations to other destinations. There are still amazing places in Yellowstone, and I will be highlighting some of these from my trip this summer in future blog posts.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

The Falls of the Yellowstone

There isn't much to say for these pictures as they speak for themselves. These are the next pictures in order from my Yellowstone trip. Part of the reason for that is because we woke up that morning on the chilly side. Heading over to Canyon for breakfast seemed like a good idea so that is what we did. While there, I decided it was time for Leah to see the incredible Lower Falls of the Yellowstone at the head of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We saw the Upper Falls as well, but most of our time was spent enjoying the Lower Falls. In fact, we enjoyed seeing it so much that we came back at least two other times. For good measure, there are also a few random shots from scenery on a smaller scale taken near the falls. Finally, there is a quick shot of Gibbon Falls as we drove by later in the day...

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone







Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

How things have changed since the last fishing report. First of all, Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for stopping by! Today I am thankful for another great year of guiding and feel tremendously blessed to be able to get paid to be out on the water every day. Thank you for helping to make that possible.

Since the last report, the Smokies have seen unusually high water for this time of year. In fact, the water got high enough that it messed up this year's brown and brook trout spawn. Hopefully we don't get any more big rain events for the next two to three months as at least a few fish still have to spawn. The water was high enough to potentially destroy nests that were made prior to the high water event.

Overall fishing in the Smokies is okay but not great. This time of year is always tough with fish moving into winter mode. The fall blue-winged olives hatched well earlier this month and while a few of them are still trickling off, the best of this hatch seems to be over. A few caddis are also still around, but in general food will be sparse for the trout in the mountains for the next few months. That means its time to start thinking about the early spring hatches

Late February usually kicks things off with blue quills. These are followed quickly by quill gordons and little black caddis in early March. From there, things build towards the annual crescendo which can be anywhere from late April to mid May in most years. This is the time when the most variety and quantity of bugs overlaps for fantastic fishing throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. As an aside, guided trip dates book early for this time of year so make sure and get on the guide calendar early if you want to do a trip during the hatches. 

The next few months will be a much need break from constantly running for me. I love my job but a breather is always good. I'll even be squeezing in a few extra fishing trips for me during the next few months as I love winter fishing in the mountains and on our tailwaters and musky streams. Stay tuned for more here on the blog as I have a lot of Yellowstone adventures to still get caught up on posting as well. Thanks again for reading!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Yellowstone Scenic Day

While fishing was certainly an important part of my Yellowstone trip, it was not the main purpose of the trip. My lovely wife Leah had never been to Yellowstone so a thorough tour of the Park was in order. After getting camp set up and catching a few cutthroat trout, we decided to check out some of the geothermal scenery that Yellowstone is famous for.

Our chosen campground for the duration of our stay in Yellowstone was at Norris. This campground is located in a good place to fish in several directions while not spending as much as some of the large campgrounds that offer reservations. These larger campgrounds are now charging $35 a night or more which is ridiculous for a tent pad and picnic table. Norris Campground offers camping for $20 a night and still also features nice bathrooms with running water, dishwashing stations and other basic amenities. Not far from the campground is Norris Geyser Basin. With plenty of daylight left after catching some trout, we decided to check out the hot springs, geysers, and other geothermal features of Norris.

The following are a few pictures from our boardwalk tour.










Thursday, October 04, 2018

Onward To the Fishing: Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

As you may have noticed, our Yellowstone trip was a bit slow developing on the fly fishing front. While I had stared wistfully at trout streams in the Black Hills of South Dakota and through the Big Horns and beyond in Wyoming, the fishing was on hold until we arrived in Yellowstone. The first day in the Park was busy and so I did not get a fishing license until our second day there.

The second day was busy as well. Our first night had been spent at the campground at Canyon for which I had obtained reservations (a must if you want a guaranteed site!). The plan was to wake up early on Sunday morning, take down our tent, and drive the short distance west to Norris. Here I hoped to snag a site at my favorite campground in Yellowstone. It just so happens that this campground is one of only two in the Park that are first come first served and have running water and flush toilets. We were trying to avoid pit toilets for the next two weeks as much as possible.

Upon arriving at Norris around 8:00 am, we already had to wait in line while others signed up for their campsite first. When it was my turn, I was informed that the section I had hoped to get into did not have anything available...yet. If we wanted, we could hang around and see if someone would leave. There was one other party waiting ahead of us. When I asked what was available for tent camping, the ranger said she really only had one site available at the moment. When she said it was a large site and had a tent pad, I accepted without really thinking twice. She assured me that if we didn't like it, we could come back the next day and change sites. That seemed more than reasonable so we registered, paid for 10 nights, and were soon driving through the campground to find out if we liked our campsite.

Turns out, we liked the campsite even better than expected. We were up against the woods at the back of the campground with neighbors on only one side and not too close at that. This gave the possibility of wildlife viewing right from our site! More on that to come a few posts down the road.

We quickly pitched our tent, added our sleeping pad and bags, and headed back out for the day's adventure. That adventure needed fuel so we headed back to Canyon for breakfast. In much too great a hurry to pause for food, we had got the campsite we needed and could now focus on things like sustenance. The grill at Canyon in the gift shop and general store is a favorite of mine for breakfast. Nothing here is fancy, but they do the basics like pancakes, eggs, and hash browns well. We loaded up on fuel for the day and purchased fishing licenses. Then we pointed our car towards the Lamar Valley.

On the drive over, I was already dreaming of Yellowstonecutthroat trout rising to dry flies. However, if there is one thing I should know about fishing out west, it is that nature will probably have the last laugh. When we arrived in the Lamar Valley, the wind was howling. Now, I know what you are thinking: it always blows hard out west. That is true, but the wind was unusually strong on this day. I asked Leah what she thought about fishing and while she didn't feel like casting in the wind, she said it would be just fine if I wanted to fish. "Just for a little while," I promised.

I put together my 9' 6 weight Orvis Recon. With the wind blowing hard, I needed a little more rod than I would normally fish. While most people default to a 6 weight out west, I normally still fish my favorite 5 weight or even lighter. On this day, the extra backbone of my 6 weight seemed necessary.

With the wind blowing so hard, I figured that surely some hoppers must be ending up in the water. I remembered some of the great hopper fishing I had enjoyed on my last visit here. Amazingly, only a couple of half-hearted glances resulted from fishing that hopper and none were hookups. I needed to change strategies quickly or my fast fishing expedition would result in a skunk.

I moved up to the head of the pool where some faster water was coming in. Maybe they need a faster presentation and less time to examine my imitations. As it turns out, those fish didn't want a hopper either. What was going on? Here and there, I was seeing fish rising. My observation skills needed to be a bit sharper so I paid better attention. Then I noticed some gray mayflies drifting lazily on the current. Not a lot of bugs, mind you, but the ones I saw were getting slurped greedily. The bugs were out in the middle, but looked like about a size #14. When I opened my box, I grabbed a size 14 Parachute Adams and knotted on some lighter tippet. Attaching the fly, I was ready to fish again!

On just the third or fourth cast I finally hooked up. It was a feisty little fish. While beautiful and a native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, I was here for larger specimens. I started fishing again and soon saw a larger shadow ghost up from the depths to inhale my fly. This time I got excited. My Yellowstone fishing was underway! Leah was kind enough to not only help take pictures but also to net this fish. With the wind blowing hard, we were careful to keep the fish in the water until the last possible moment for a picture. Things dry out quickly in this environment and the fish definitely didn't need that kind of treatment.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the Lamar River
Photo Courtesy of Leah Knapp ©2018

A few fish later, I was nearly satisfied. Just as I was about ready to leave, I noticed a rise on the far side of the current. Too far and windy to high stick, I was going to have to come up with an epic reach cast. With the wind blowing up the valley at 30-40 mph, I didn't think I would be able to pull it off. Then, just like that, everything fell into place, the fly landed and the line laid well upstream. I got just enough drift to see the fly sucked down greedily by another nice fat Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

By this time, while I had only fished for 30 minutes or an hour, a shower was threatening, and Leah didn't want to stay out and get soaked. I suggested that we go looking for wildlife and we were soon back on the road towards the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone. I always like stopping at a roadside pullout with a good view of Barronnette Peak to look for mountain goats. Wanting Leah to see some, this is where we headed.

Sure enough, the goats were there. While looking at mountain goats through our binoculars, we kept noticing cars stopping back down the road towards the Lamar Valley. Wondering what they were seeing, I started scanning the meadow and trees in that direction. Suddenly I noticed something large moving...a moose and her calf!!! The moose magnet legend grows further still. This was the first time that I have seen moose in Yellowstone which made it particularly satisfying.

By this time, the showers had seemingly passed and we headed back down the valley for one more quick stop along the Lamar. Stopping at a favorite roadside pool, I walked the high bank along the road and spotted several cutthroat. Next I scrambled down the bank to get into position to fish my way back up over each of those fish. A few fish later, I was satisfied. The wind was still gusting hard and I wanted to get back to camp before it was too late. We needed some down time after the long day of moving camp that we had.

Another Lamar River Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Photo Courtesy of Leah Knapp ©2018

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just a Taste

We left the Bighorn Mountains and Medicine Wheel behind and pointed the car west into the Bighorn Basin. This huge basin requires an extremely steep descent on highway 14A so we took things slow. The runaway truck ramps suggested that not everyone made it happily down this mountain. Even while using low gear, I still had to brake a lot, and so we pulled over from time to time to enjoy the smoky views and let the car have a rest. As we approached the bottom, sunflowers were growing in profusion along the roadway. My final stop before the bottom was to get a quick picture of these.

annual sunflowers along highway 14A in the Bighorn Basin

Bighorn Basin to Cody

Once we got to the bottom, the next hour or two found us meandering across the bottom of the basin towards Cody. A true western tourist town, Cody has a rodeo every night during peak season. We were not there for those types of tourist activities and quickly continued on towards Yellowstone. Our final destination of the trip was within reach, and we were both excited to get there and tired of sitting for so long on the drive out. Little did I know about the gem we would find before ever making it into Yellowstone.

North Fork of the Shoshone River

As you leave Cody heading towards Yellowstone, a narrow canyon seemingly blocks all progress. As you drive west, the road finds a way threading along the side of the North Fork of the Shoshone River. The short canyon is dammed at the head by Buffalo Bill Dam. From here upstream, the river runs through a beautiful high valley ascending towards the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The east entrance to Yellowstone was the only entrance that I had never visited, until this trip. That means I also never drove up the North Fork of the Shoshone River. I can promise that I will now return just to fish this river! The river has an amazing mix of water types, but overall is perfect for fly fishing and promises large trout. I would love to mountain goat my way around the canyon below the reservoir as well someday. Sometimes it requires just a taste to get someone hooked, and that is what the North Fork did to me.

Devil's Elbow on the North Fork Shoshone River Wyoming
Devil's Elbow on the North Fork Shoshone River

Bear Stories

While stopped at a roadside picnic area for lunch, we spoke with a local angler who had quite the tail to tell. Apparently he had been fishing right behind the picnic area one day when an extremely large grizzly strolled down from the hills to the north of the river. The bear came down, walked east along the bank and then crossed just below him in about 3 strides. Mind you, we are talking about a good sized western river, but then these are some seriously big bears as well. He had his artillery out along with bear spray while retreating quickly to his truck. Thankfully the bear had other ideas and kept hustling on south, across the highway, and up into the hills.

After lunch we walked down the the famed gravel bar and imagined the grizzly charging across the river. Note to self, never go ANYWHERE without bear spray in grizzly country. Thankfully we always remembered it while hiking in Yellowstone, but the lesson from that story was always in the back of our minds.

Enter Yellowstone

The heavy smoke was still laying thick over the area as we finally entered the Park and made our way up Sylvan Pass. From this highpoint, we should have been able to see Yellowstone Lake, but instead a see of smoke lay before us. Wildflowers made up for the lack of big views.

As we descended, we noticed a handful of animals in the woods, but mostly we were just focused on getting to our campsite at Canyon for the night. We did stop along the shores of Yellowstone Lake briefly. I hoped that the air would clear in short order so Leah could enjoy the wide views that are usual in Yellowstone National Park.

Smoke enshrouds Yellowstone Lake

First Trip to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

After setting up camp, we went for a short drive to look for animals. Leah got her first views of the huge bison herds of the Lamar Valley along with some closeups of pronghorn. The moon was coming up as we returned to camp and was quite spectacular through the haze of smoke enveloping the Park.

Lamar Valley Yellowstone Pronghorn

Lamar Valley Bison walks along Yellowstone's northeast entrance road

Yellowstone National Park Bison cross the Lamar River

Yellowstone National Park and Soda Butte Creek

Yellowstone National Park full moon

Yellowstone full moon moonrise

That night, we got to bed early after a quick supper so we would be prepared for our big first full day in Yellowstone. 

-To Be Continued...

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Journey West

For many people like me who happen to be avid trout anglers in the eastern United States, the holy grail of our sport is a pilgrimage west. For some, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cast flies in streams where trout are large and plentiful and the bugs hatch like clockwork. For others, this is an annual or semi-annual tradition. While I have been blessed to travel and even live in the west more than I deserve, every trip still excites me as if it is my first and perhaps only trip.

Preparing for the Trip

As my good friend Byron Begley of Little River Outfitters once said, "preparation is a form of anticipation." While this quote comes from the excellent daily fishing report from his shop, it is actually referencing his own preparations for a big fly fishing trip. So much goes into getting ready for each and every trip. There are may flies to be tied of course. This is true even if one's fly boxes are already crammed full to overflowing. Most fly anglers take the Boy Scouts Motto to the extreme. Being prepared is good and all, but when you decide to take your wife's Toyota Corolla on the long awaited road trip to Yellowstone for the good gas mileage, space is at a premium and extra fly boxes start to look an awfully lot like clutter.

I slowly pulled together an increasingly mountainous pile of gear. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I ordered a new two person sleeping pad. When it didn't fit in my two man tent, I also had to buy a new tent. Such is life when you are getting ready for a big trip. Unforeseen dilemmas appear and must be dealt with, but the preparation marches steadily towards the climax when suddenly you find yourself loading the car carefully, fitting each piece in like a jigsaw puzzle. The thought is always tickling your brain that it might not be possible to get everything back in the car for the return trip, but you move forward and hope for the best.

Departing for the West

On the day of our departure, my wife Leah had to work before we actually left. The plan was for me to pack the car and do all of the last minute chores around the house. When she got home, we planned to head west for an all-night drive. We had reservations in the Black Hills of South Dakota for the next evening so it was essential to make good time that night. We hit I-40 west from Crossville Tennessee at around 6:00 pm Central time. The sun was sinking low in the sky as we approached Nashville. By the time we were in Kentucky, the reality of a long night ahead was setting in.

Other than quick stops for gas, we kept on moving through the night. Paducah and St. Louis came and went. Finally, as I approached Kansas City at 2:00 am, I was getting sleepy. Knowing that a bit of rest was crucial for the hard push west that day, we found a rest area and stopped for a quick snooze. Four hours later, Leah woke up and felt ready to drive. I felt like I had taken NyQuil and just could not bring myself out of the fog. I guess I'm getting too old for these late nights and long drives.

Enter South Dakota

As the sun came up, we were soon in Iowa and then South Dakota. Excited to finally be out on the plains, I was awake and took over driving duties for the rest of the day. Of course, it would be a long day. The plan was to stop briefly in the Badlands on our way to the Black Hills. We arrived there late in the day and made the quick drive through the Park. Wildlife abounded and we saw several interesting birds and animals including mule deer, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, a lone bison, and a burrowing owl.







The sun was setting as we merged back onto I-90 headed west towards Rapid City. There we would leave the interstate and head southwest into the heart of the Black Hills. It was well after dark as we pulled into Hill City and found our accommodations for the night. Both of us were extremely tired and fell asleep shortly after hitting the bed. The next morning I felt like a new person. A good night's rest and nice breakfast had me ready for another big day.

Big Day Two

The agenda for that day was optimistic: stop by Mt. Rushmore, drive through the scenic Spearfish Canyon, see Devils Tower in Wyoming, get groceries for the weekend ahead, and finally snag a campsite in the Bighorn Mountains near the Medicine Wheel for the night. Amazingly, we kept moving and made it all happen. As the sun sank low in the sky, we had our tent setup at the Bald Mountain Campground near the Medicine wheel just off of highway 14A high in the Bighorn Mountains. Nearby, cattle kept things interesting for motorists by wandering along the highway throughout the night. The occasionally honking reminded us that, while it might seem that we were in the middle of nowhere, civilization was still just a car ride away.




The Moose Magnet Legend Grows 

This day was a continual list of highlights. The prairie dogs highly entertained us at Devils Tower while a moose spotting added to a growing legend. My car, the Moose Magnet, was not with us on this trip. Leah's car gets better gas mileage and we decided that would be more important than marginally better comfort. The sun was getting low as we ascended the Bighorn Mountains. Driving up a high mountain valley complete with a meandering meadow lined with seemingly endless willows, I mentioned to Leah that she should keep her eye out for moose as it was excellent moose habitat. As I drove around a curve a quarter mile later, I saw it and added, "Like that moose over there..." Sure enough, a large bull moose was feeding below us in the waning light. Just up the road, we would spot a second moose, this time a cow. By the time our trip was over, more moose would be spotted prompting my wife to suggest that perhaps I was the moose magnet and not my car. I countered with the suggestion that maybe my awesome car had just rubbed off on her car. Regardless, in the meantime the legend continues to grow.



Medicine Wheel Wildlife

Waking up the next morning as the sun was rising, we decided to head over to the Medicine Wheel and let the sun warm things up before taking down our dew laden tent. I'm always in awe at the Medicine Wheel. The large stone "wheel" lying on the shoulder of a mountain in the northwest Bighorn Mountains is around tree line which makes for some incredible views. While we were there, heavy smoke from fires across the west made visibilities restricted. The Bighorn Basin was completely obscured. Views to the east across the Bighorns were marginally better but still not great. The marmots and pikas proved to be a highlight of our visit to the Medicine Wheel. Already some of my favorite creatures, Leah also fell in love with them, particularly the pikas.



Western Cattle Roundup

Upon returning to camp, we noticed several cowboys and cowgirls heading out. As it turns it, we were fortunate to witness a roundup. The free range cattle that had been startling drivers on the road the night before were pointed down the valley. Snow was not far away at this late point in the summer and the ranchers were apparently moving them towards lower elevations. This was perhaps one of Leah's favorite parts of the trip in no small part because of watching the herd dogs helping out. The dogs looked like they were having the time of their lives and so were we watching them work.

Repacking for Yellowstone

The sun finally dried things out. I am always amazed at how fast this process can happen in the dry climate of the American west. Taking down a tent and putting it back up is much better if that tent is dry. We were soon back on the road and making the harrowing descent into the Bighorn Basin. This was the day we would make it into Yellowstone and we were both excited!!!

-To be continued...

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Summer Brown Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read just a few of my blog posts and you will quickly ascertain that brown trout are one of my absolute favorite species to target on the fly rod. Given the opportunity, I would just about rather fish for brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than any other species anywhere else. That said, you won't find me being picky either. I get a lot of joy out of the little seven inch rainbow trout that are a lot more common in the Smokies and catching native southern Appalachian brook trout might be my next favorite thing to catching big browns. On some days I would probably even say the brook trout are my favorite thing.

Fishing in the summer for big brown trout in the Smokies is probably about the best time to catch one, at least in the course of simply going out and fishing and lucking into one. Fall through spring is a better time to specifically and intentionally target these fish as they are easier to spot during those months, but in the summer they are just as likely if not more so to eat a fly.

This summer has been one of the better ones for fishing the Great Smoky Mountains in recent memory. Normal to often below normal temperatures combined with a wet summer has made the current conditions good to excellent. The effects of the drought of 2016 are finally showing in larger fish sizes now in 2018 as well. Overall, this has been and will continue to be an incredible year for fishing in the Smokies.

I have long said that the most important part of catching big trout, especially in the Smokies, is time put in on the water. The people who catch the most fish and especially the largest fish are the ones who spend the most time out on the water. When it comes to stalking large brown trout in the Smokies, there is no substitute for experience. This year, one of my regular customers and good friend Greg Hall has made it a point to spend a significant amount of time in the Smokies. We have been fishing a day in the Park nearly every month this year except for January and it is really showing with the fish he is catching. The last two trips in particular have been amazing.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how hard we worked for these fish, but in all honesty both of them were relatively easy to catch. Both came in the course of simply covering water which is probably the best strategy this time of year.

summer big brown trout Great Smoky Mountains National Park

big brown trout in summer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The last trip in particular was special because I was able to get in on the action as well. I asked Greg if he had anywhere to be or if he wanted to fish late. I was thinking about fishing for an hour or so for myself and told him we would just extend our trip time and I would start fishing at the conclusion of the usual "guide" portion of the trip. He readily agreed to more time on the water which set the stage for me to get in on the good brown trout fishing in the Smokies this summer.

When he landed his brute, it was already late in the day. I guided him for a bit longer, but soon it was time for both of us to fish. Leap frogging up the river, we started nailing fish through the fast pocket water. By the time we reached the top of the first section of fast pocket water, I was already to double digits for numbers and was hoping the nice pools at the top would produce a good fish for me.

The first good pool was surprisingly slow. The second and third proved much better. I took the top pool and left the bottom one for Greg who started pulling out nice big wild rainbow trout one after another. I got one rainbow and then had an extended drought. Knowing how good the water was, I continued to slowly dissect the pool, fishing every inch thoroughly. Finally, right at the very top in some faster current, it happened. The indicator shot down and I was hooked up with what felt like a freight train on the 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon, perhaps one of the finest rods for fishing in the Smokies I might add. Up and down the pool we went before the fish finally allowed me to guide it into the shallows and my waiting net.


This was probably the only time this summer that I'll really be able to target big brown trout in the Smokies. The next time I can get away and fish will be in the fall. Winter will allow a lot more time on the water for me hopefully.

As far as techniques and tactics for chasing these big brown trout in the Smokies, I high stick with nymphs and sunken terrestrials more than anything in the warm months. In the water, I just drop the terrestrials and maybe add some streamers as well. Learning the subtle nuances of high sticking (Euro nymphing for you modern anglers) is an art form with over 100 years of history here in the Southern Appalachians. There is simply no substitute for time on the water in gaining these skills and a fly fishing guide will shorten the learning curve immensely. That said, get out and practice if you want to catch these beauties and most of all, have fun!!!

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