Guided Trips


Current fishing conditions in the mountains have been tough although rain overnight has bumped up the levels on Park streams, especially on the Tennessee side. Be careful as lots of leaves are going to be coming down now with brisk northwest winds behind the cold front. That can make fishing challenging. If you do fish, I would suggest fishing dry/dropper with a #14 Orange Stimulator or Orange Elk Hair Caddis up top and a bead head Green Weenie, Isonychia Nymph, or Blue-winged Olive Nymph (#18-#20 bead head Pheasant Tail will suffice here) underneath. Focus on stealth and accurate casts.

If you are flexible in where you fish, I recommend heading for your favorite tailwater to trout fish. Most tailwaters are offering good flows for wade fishermen right now and the fish are hungry. The Hiwassee River has been recently stocked for the delayed harvest and the Caney Fork continues to fish very well on our guide trips. The Watauga, South Holston, and Clinch Rivers should be great as well.

If musky are on your mind like they are for me, then be patient and hope for more rain. The musky streams and rivers are very low right now and we need some water before safely navigating those streams in the larger boats that are preferred.

This is the time of year that brown and brook trout as well as some strains of rainbow trout spawn. On rivers like the Caney Fork, many anglers choose to target these spawning trout. This is unfortunate, especially this year. There are plenty of pre- and post-spawn trout to target if you want to catch big fish. With low water the norm, the Caney Fork actually has a chance at producing some natural recruitment this year barring any unforeseen high water. The same thing applies in the Smokies. Spawning brown and brook trout are extra vulnerable because of the low water and should be allowed to do their thing in peace. The future of these fisheries depends upon conscientious anglers doing the right thing. If you must fish to spawning trout, please use very heavy tippets and quickly land and release all fish caught. If you want to learn how to be successful this time of year without chasing active spawners, please consider booking a guided trip, and I would be glad to teach you how to hunt these large fish.

Photo of the Month: The Colors of a Rainbow

Photo of the Month: The Colors of a Rainbow

Friday, October 21, 2016

Solo Mission

Despite having the boat for going on three years, I had never been on a solo journey until last week. For me, floating is as much a good time with friends as it is a fishing trip, so I had not dealt with the hassle of unloading and loading a boat by myself yet. Finally, with the river fishing so well, that moment arrived when I could not find any friends to float at the last minute, and I was faced with either floating solo or not going. Solo it was...

Everything was already rigged and ready to go from the previous day's guide trip which had been epic enough to motivate me to float on my own. I was about to continue a current trend I've been experiencing: banner days with clients and slow days on my own.

To be fair, I usually experiment at least half of the time when I'm fishing on my own. After all, that is how I dial in new patterns and continue the endless innovation required to keep putting people on big tailwater trout. There is no substitute for testing flies on real live trout. In other words, I have to go fishing so I can be successful at my job. I know, life is tough.

This trip began smoothly and before long I was cruising down the river, being tossed to and fro with the strong winds. That wasn't in the bargain. The weather reports lately have been terribly optimistic when it comes to wind. A standard forecast has been "partly cloudy with calm winds." When it claims  that winds will be light up to 5 miles per hour, I know I'll be fighting the wind all day long. Either forecast usually results in variable winds with gusts up to 20 miles per hour. Go figure. Variable meaning they vary in intensity and direction. The winds come from all points of the compass. So, fishing by myself was possible if the calm winds forecasted materialized. As it turned out, I had to anchor up to fish some parts of the river. There was simply no way to track straight without constantly working the oars which made it difficult to also work the fly rod.

Thankfully, in some sections the wind would magically die down for anywhere from 30 seconds to sometimes 15 or 20 minutes. Those were the easy times, were my drifts were perfect and long, and the indicator dipped just often enough to keep me interested.

One section gets hit by every boat coming down the river, so I realized I needed to fish it differently. That meant choosing a line that was not the same as other boats. This was one of the calm sections so I could managed to fish effectively without fighting the boat. A long drift was in the process of becoming longer when the indicator shot down. The fight literally took me all over the river, and I almost lost the fish due to some submerged structure, but eventually a beautiful holdover rainbow graced my net. I was all set up to take pictures quickly without stressing the fish and tried it out for the first time on this fish. Turned out well I think!

The float would continue about the same. Lots of wind, a few fish, lots of relaxation. Late in the day, I hit a shoal that has been fishing well and anchored up for some of the best action of the trip. Back to back to back to...well, you get the point. Several casts in a row produced fish, and although none were large, I was happy to enjoy these beautiful rainbow and brown trout. This was the first truly good consistent action of the day so I probably stayed out longer than I should have.

I never did find any of the big fish I was hoping to catch. That is the funny thing. I've had a lot of great days lately with clients still catching several big fish, but more often than not I'm only catching normal fish whatever that means. The big brown trout have eluded me since that bruiser back in August. I've been having a great time though regardless of whether I've been catching big trout. My clients have and that is the important part. I enjoy watching others catch big fish at least as much as I enjoy catching them myself. Want to see some of these big fish? Check out my Instagram and Facebook Accounts (search for Trout Zone Anglers).

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Don't Touch the Fly Rod

When I started guiding, I was under no illusion that my life would now consist of fishing all of the time. There is a common misconception that guides get paid to go fishing. While that is true in a sense, they are not the one holding the rod. Fishing through another person is an even greater challenge than just doing it yourself, but one thing seems to be consistent with fly fishing guides: they don't fish while with paying customers on a guided trip.

Some people are surprised when we begin a trip and I only rig up a rod for them. Of course the temptation to fish is strong, particularly when they announce that they "don't mind" if I fish, however I try to stay strong. The rare occasions I pick up a fly rod are to try and demonstrate something, or occasionally if we are on a lunch or water break.

Earlier this summer, I was reminded why I don't fish with clients during a water break high up Little River above Elkmont. We had been fishing hard and catching a few here and there, but not as many as I knew we should be. When we stopped for a quick break for water and a "trip to the woods," I grabbed the rod (my own rod we were using) and tossed it into a nearby pocket. I quickly hooked and landed the largest brown of the day at around 11 inches and was thoroughly reminded why I don't fish with customers along.

Fast forward to last week, and I am out on the boat with my friend Gary on a guide trip. Gary is a very good fisherman and is always a joy to have on the boat. He can cast efficiently and generally catches plenty of fish and also provides good conversation. We were having a good day already with a nice rainbow already landed in addition to the smaller usual fish.

Nearing lunch time, I was about ready to pull for the shade near shore but since we were drifting towards some good structure, decided to let things go a little longer. Sure enough, the indicator shot down and the battle was on. Gary did a great job fighting this big trout and before long, we were admiring a big brown trout in its finest fall colors that just happened to be Gary's largest brown ever. Feeling good about how the day was going, we moved into the shade and enjoyed lunch.

After lunch, we started drifting again and quickly picked up a couple of trout and that is how the day would continue. Drift a little to find good structure and moving water, toss out the flies, catch a few fish. By the time we approached the main point in time that this story is about, it was getting late and we only had an hour or so left.

I had pulled in close to shore and dropped anchor. Just below the boat and over a shoal some fish were rising steadily and at least one looked like a good fish. I watched Gary cast a while and realized that a good pile cast would allow the extra drift needed to get an eat by one of those fish. Offering to show him the cast, I grabbed the rod (again, my rod we were using) and made a couple of casts while talking about the benefits and technicalities of the cast. On the third cast, I pulled the line out of the water hard for one more cast towards the middle of the river to demonstrate one last point but ran into what felt like a concrete anchor on the bottom of the river. Somehow, even though I was not "fishing" or watching my flies, a fish had taken the midge and was determined to keep it.

Going through the whole fight routine, I just kept thinking to myself, why did I ever pick up the fly rod? This soon was followed by telling myself just don't touch the fly rod anymore on guided trips. Seriously, how do you catch a big trout without even trying? If it hadn't of been for leaving flies in the poor trout's mouth I probably would have just broken the fish off at that point. The rest of the trip down the river, Gary didn't forget to rib me about my catch, and I know it is definitely one I will not live down.

So, for those of you who have fished with guides, do you appreciate having a guide demonstrate (not truly fish, just demonstrate) techniques or prefer to leave that for non-fishing times? Perhaps I should carry a rod strung up without any flies or maybe a dry fly with the hook point cut off. I still need to figure this thing out because I believe there are times that a demonstration is the best way to teach, but I can't keep catching fish that should have been the customer's even if it is all accidental.

The rest of our trip was successful despite the much-deserved teasing I was getting from Gary. We found a brook trout to complete his first ever slam or Caney Fork Hat Trick as I like to call it. The day ended with an amazing sunset.

If you are interested in a guided trip, feel free to call/text me at (931) 261-1884 or check out my guide site, Trout Zone Anglers, for more information.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

A Perfect Day in Solitude

This summer has been a bit of an anomaly for me for several reasons. You may have noticed that I've been light on the blogging for several months now. The problem is one of inspiration or the lack thereof. As a fly fishing guide, I help a lot of people catch fish but have not been fishing as much for myself. When I started guiding, the one thing I wanted to avoid was to turn this into strictly a fishing report for my guide trips. Yes, a few trips have been featured on here, and to be quite honest, I've been excited about so many of them that a lot could make their way on here, but I'm not blogging to drum up business (as easy as that might be as well as the Caney Fork has been fishing). If you want to see my exploits on the guide front, check out my Trout Zone Anglers Instagram or Facebook accounts and you will find lots of pictures of happy anglers holding big trout.

All of this guiding has been good, but I've not spent as much time on the water for myself, and on the occasions that I do find myself out fishing, I just haven't taken many fish pictures save for a few occasional beasts that just begged for a photo. When I get to the bottom of the problem, it really just comes down to pure laziness on my part along with the shortage of suitable blog post stories and material. So, when I headed for the river this past Thursday afternoon for 2-3 hours of fishing, I was excited to be getting away on my own.

The conditions were unusual compared to what was normal over the summer. Cool and cloudy weather made spotting fish a little tough, but I was happy to not be roasting on the stream for a change. The clouds were even threatening a little rain but more on that later.

I was intent on fishing with a dry fly but considered that hanging a midge underneath would probably be a good idea. The 9' 4 weight Sage Accel seemed appropriate for the task, and I was soon rigged and ready. Days on the water are as much time for research and development as they are times for pure fishing fun. Such is the life of a guide and one I wouldn't want to trade with anyone. For this particular day, the midge of choice was a new color combination on an old classic, the Zebra Midge. The previous day had seen a 20" holdover rainbow fall to this new color scheme on a guided float trip, so I was looking to see if that had been a fluke or if I was on to something good.

Once I got in the water, I had to rub my eyes to see if I was dreaming: there were no other anglers and no boats passing by. In other words, I had the river to myself. That wouldn't last long, but the four boats that went by hardly constituted a crowd, and three were rowed by friends of mine. Seeing friends on the river is about as pleasant an interaction as one will find anywhere and thus these encounters enhanced an already good day. In between getting distracted, I was catching trout. Lots and lots of trout. There are times when I think that cloudy days are very difficult on the Caney Fork, but this was definitely not one of them. Fish after fish fell for my midge pattern. The true monsters eluded me on this trip, but every fish I caught was healthy and sporting some of the best colors you will find on a trout anywhere.

Brown trout caught on a midge on the Caney Fork River

I put a couple of the fish in the net so I could get some pictures without risking harm to the trout. The colors were so vivid that, with each successive fish, I thought that perhaps I had just caught the prettiest trout of the year. Eventually I realized the utter futility of comparing one fish with another. Each trout is a blessing to be treasured and enjoyed for a brief moment of connection before releasing them back to grow some more.

Closeup of a Caney Fork River rainbow trout

A couple of times I turned around and eventually noticed the clouds lowering and growing darker. Shortly after taking this picture, I thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to head back to the car and prepare for rain.

Rainstorm approaching on the Caney Fork River

On my way up, I looked around again and realized that I wasn't alone after all. I had a great blue heron for company on this day.

Caney Fork River blue heron

Back near the car, I raced the last few yards as the rain began in earnest. Thankfully my raincoat was easy to grab out of the trunk as I debated whether to continue my day or just call it now. The thought of fired up brown trout won out, and I grabbed a 5 weight and quickly rigged up for streamer fishing.

Heading back down to the river, I wondered whether I was crazy but never stopped moving long enough to get serious about it. On literally my first cast, a fish blew up on the streamer, so I knew the possibilities were there.

Working slowly downstream, I covered water carefully. Eventually I had gone about as far as I wanted to go and was ready to reel in and move back up when I had the thought to take one more cast. Sure enough, a fired up brown pounded the fly. Somehow this good day really was able to get better. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy fishing streamers and this really was the perfect end to a perfect day. By this point I had some renewed enthusiasm, so I carefully fished the streamer back upstream and caught one or two more fish before reaching my path out.

Some days just happen to work out perfectly, but those are rare indeed. My definition involves more solitude and fewer trout than most anglers, but then I've come to realize that catching is only a small part of the equation for me at this point. Finding solitude on such a popular and amazing river is rare indeed. Most likely the next time I find solitude will be in the dead of winter when I'm the only idiot crazy enough to be out fishing. And out fishing you will find me, looking for yet another perfect day in solitude.

The drive home included an unexpected surprise as the sun peaked through the only hole in the clouds. I swung to the side of the road just east of Center Hill Dam for one last picture to remember my day by...

Caney Fork River sunset

Monday, September 12, 2016

Smallmouth Bass and Tenkara Adventures

One of the crazier fishing trips I've taken this summer happened just a short week or so ago. Now, I know I've already taken some crazy trips this summer. The thing about this trip is that it was not intended as a fishing trip, but like a good angler, I decided to carry a rod. One of my Tenkara rods seemed like a good idea.

This trip came together quickly at the last minute when my brother-in-law was visiting. We wanted to visit a local river system that has large sections that go dry in late summer. The upper Caney Fork River is somewhere I've never been in the summer to see it dry but have seen it flowing full in the cooler months. This would be one of those rare once in a lifetime trips, but we didn't really know that going into the trip.

That Sunday morning, after a hearty breakfast that included breakfast burritos, we threw some food and water into our daypacks and hit the road for the drive to the trailhead. I was also carrying my good camera, a water filter, and some other odds and ends just in case of an emergency. The first mile or so of the trail led through a nice wooded section with a good clear trail. By the time we were getting to the two mile mark and beyond, the grass and weeds were taller than was ideal. Both of us started watching carefully for snakes while thinking nervously about ticks and chiggers.

Surprisingly, we didn't notice any of those critters until our first stop. I say surprisingly because it was such good habitat for all of those.

The first stop was at Screw Cliff Overlook of the river gorge that I had stopped to eat lunch when I last did this hike last winter. I was starting to think about food and definitely needed a water break after walking two and a half miles in the late summer heat. My pack slid to the ground and I quickly went to the edge of the overlook to check the rock overhang below for snakes.

Sure enough. My first thought was that they were copperheads, but I didn't linger long enough for a positive identification. Tim, my brother-in-law, came over and looked and decided quickly that they were something else. About the time he started thinking that they might be juvenile rattlesnakes, I noticed some previously unnoticed snakes laying in the grass a couple of feet from Tim's pack. Thankfully, we had already discussed how I would deal with bees and snakes respectively if we ran into problems, so when I told Tim "Don't move," he had a good inkling as to what was going on.

I moved back closer with my camera to get some pictures while Tim moved away from the snake den. The worrisome thing was that we didn't see mom. Apparently young timber rattlesnakes hang out with mom for a while so lurking somewhere nearby was a much larger snake. My guess is that the rock we were on was actually a snake den. It was obviously hollowed out underneath and there is no telling how many more were down there hiding.

Timber Rattlesnake Juveniles

By this time, we had both forgotten entirely about food. I did happen to take a few swallows of water, but then we were quickly on our way, hoping none of the small snakes had snuck into our packs when we weren't watching. Walking away, it occurred to me how the overlook got its name. Probably someone got bit by a snake here one time and announced to everyone, "I'm screwed," after which it was always called Screw Cliff. Of course, there are other possible explanations as well...

Moving on out, we were soon tromping through grass on the trail where it followed the tree line at the back of several large fields. A time or two, we could hear deer blowing and snorting a warning as the invaders passed, but otherwise there was nothing too exciting. The one exception was a butterfly that paused on top of a thistle flower just long enough for me to slip the phone out and take a picture.

Thankfully, we were back in the woods before long. The temperature seemed to drop several degrees just getting out of the sun. Our next goal was where a tributary called Clifty Creek hit the main river. Here I hoped to find some of the last water for several miles as you head downstream. We finally broke out of the woods and into the streambed. Sure enough, a trickle of water cascading over the rocks fell into a large pool that obviously harbored a good fish population. Casting about for snakes, we soon settled on a good lunch spot on top of a large flat rock where we could watch for danger approaching before it got too close. Those rattlesnakes were still on our minds but other troubles were brewing.

Pool on the Caney Fork at the Clifty Creek Junction

I had just sat down and started digging out food. Tim also sat down but was intently looking at his legs and ankles. I took a quick glance at mine before starting to eat. Finally, I turned to Tim and asked what he was up to. "Oh, I have a lot of ticks," was the reply. When I told him I didn't have any, he told me how small they were and showed me an example. That was when I got nervous. Sure enough, I had quite a few, but nothing compared to the well over 100 that Tim pulled off of his pants and ankles. They were everywhere, including walking up our arms. I hated to think about the chiggers that had also probably found me. After battling the ticks for a while, I was ready for some food.

I finished my meal about the time Tim was starting his and quickly threw together the Tenkara rod and added a hopper. The smallmouth bass were waiting practically at our feet, obviously hungry, and I knew it wouldn't take much. Sure enough, I quickly picked up a small fish. The exciting part was the larger fish trying to eat the little guy I had hooked!

Smallmouth Bass on the upper Caney Fork River

Letting the little guy go, I moved slowly down the pool. Soon another fish hit and this time some much larger fish tried to eat it! The pool was too low and calm, however, for this commotion to not bring about some caution in the rest of the smallmouth bass population. I tried some other flies, but the shadows were already growing and we had several miles to go.

Caney Fork River smallmouth bass on the fly

We packed everything, picked off a few more ticks, and hit the trail again. Somewhere along the way, we lost it and had to bushwhack along the side of the hill overlooking the river bottom. It was a dry and rocky streambed we saw. Further down, we finally made our way down to look at what will probably be a raging torrent in a couple of months. These Cumberland Plateau streams and rivers are waterways of extremes. From nothing to perhaps 10,000 cubic feet per second or more in the wet winter months, these streams feature hardy fish populations that are primarily smallmouth bass but sometimes even muskie show up on these streams. They do for sure in the lower reaches off of the Plateau...

The rest of our hike was more or less non-eventful other than the brutal climb back out of the gorge. I was glad to get a hike in though as the cooler months are hiking season for me. Before long I'll be prowling the trails of the Cumberland Plateau and Great Smoky Mountains again, enjoying both the hike and maybe even some fishing...

Monday, September 05, 2016

Introducing Mr. and Mrs. Alexander

One of the most epic days I've had the privilege of enjoying on the water happened earlier this summer when my buddy Jayson was about to get married. Another friend and fellow groomsman, Pat  Tully, along with myself and Jayson took a day to float the Caney Fork River to celebrate his upcoming wedding. The day turned out better than I could have imagined with the groom-to-be catching two 20"+ fish, and Pat and I caught some great fish as well.

Fast forward a little and you will find me looking forward to hosting Jayson and his bride Hailey on the drifter again for another trip down the Caney Fork River. When discussing the trip, Jayson made it clear that he wanted Hailey to catch a big fish. True to his word, upon arriving at the river to start our float, he quickly jumped in the back of the boat and Hailey was in the front casting brace ready to hunt some large trout.

The water cut off right on schedule which was a pleasant change. Lately the Corps has been inconsistent with the water shutoff time. That can make for some frustrated waiting at the beginning of a float trip. Thankfully we weren't waiting at all on this day. Both rods were already rigged and ready so after parking the truck, I was back down to the water and settled in at the rower's bench in no time at all. I handed Hailey and Jayson their respective rods and we pushed off into the current. Before long, we were bringing some nice trout to the net including an early double. We had to take a picture of the double for the newlyweds. I think they were having fun!

Moving on down the river, both Jayson and Hailey were casting right where I told them and getting some great drifts. The wind was up a little which meant that both anglers and the guy rowing had to work a little harder, but the fish didn't seem to mind. If anything, I think they were feeding even better than normal.

Moving on down the river, we were approaching a spot where I had recently spotted a large brown trout. Directing both of them to get their drifts started early, I moved the oars at the right time and the boat was perfectly positioned as it came over the shoal. Suddenly, Hailey's strike indicator shot under and the battle was joined. I was already going crazy with the possibility that we had found the big brown trout. The big flash when the fished rocketed towards the surface told us that, instead of the big brown, she had found one of the great rainbow trout that are in the river right now.

The fish was hot and for a while it was touch and go if we would land it on the #20 fly and 6x tippet. Hailey did everything perfectly though and before long got her picture taken with the big trout she had come to the Caney Fork River to catch.

We made another pass over the shoal but then kept on moving down the river. As we were drifting, we started to notice a roaring sound down the river. Lately the river has been inundated with various power boats and this jet boat was no exception. A lot of these guys are polite, but several have been roaring by with no thought for the large waves they throw as well as the discord in an otherwise quiet day. Thankfully, these will not be on the river for ever. A certain element within our sport seems to show up only shortly prior to and during the spawn. I would rather catch my big fish under normal conditions but a few people seem to only show up when fish are at their most vulnerable. If you are interested in catching these fish under fair conditions, consider a float in my drift boat as I know where these fish are as well as what they are feeding on year round. If you must fish for spawners, please respect the fish and keep them in the water. Above all, do not keep any trout caught during the spawning season.

With the shoal we had been going to catch our next big fish on shot by the jet boat that took a couple of passes over it, we had to adjust our plans a little. It was getting late so I decided to do lunch and give the water a little time to rest. Loud motors have a way of spooking the better fish in the river.

We enjoyed our lunch of sandwiches, chips, and my famous Greek pasta salad. Jayson was extra excited about the chocolate chip cookies to chase everything down with, and I discovered that it was his favorite sweet. I was glad that he was happy and content because Hailey was well on her way to owning the day from a fishing perspective. Jayson was still catching fish, but Hailey was finding all of the quality fish.

After lunch, we pulled back out in the current and started drifting again. Almost immediately Hailey tied into a really great fish. I chased the fish up and down the river and she did everything correctly. Before long, we had a really nice brown trout in the net. Meanwhile, Jayson was in the back of the boat still working on catching the little guys.

We continued to enjoy our float, with the jet boat passing us at least twice, throwing a big wake and not slowing appreciably either time. Both times we continued catching fish but not the big guys. Those fish were well under cover by this time.

Late in the float, I offered Jayson the chance to enjoy a treat. The dry/dropper fishing with midges has been phenomenal in one particular stretch and I handed him the four weight ready to do business with those trout. Late in the day without the pressure of wanting Hailey to catch large trout since she had already cleaned up from the front of the boat, Jayson put on a clinic. He caught several really nice fish until it was determined that the hour was late and we needed to leave.

Thanks again for an enjoyable day Jayson and Hailey, and I hope it is the first of many fun times for you in the drifter together!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Sometimes you lose on one fish but ultimately win for the day. Those days are a roller coaster, especially when friends are around to witness your defeats. Some of those defeats sting more than others. Last Tuesday I had one that really stung.

I was floating with some friends, not guiding, just fishing together. Everyone had caught some nice trout including one really nice rainbow that was a personal best for the angler. I had spent a lot of time on the oars, more interested in watching my friends catch fish than fishing for the most part. For one section, though, I was willing to give up the oars for a short 200 yard stretch. A large brown had shown itself repeatedly on previous trips, and I was determined to catch him.

Sure enough, as we were drifting peacefully along, I suddenly saw a submarine large brown trout materialize under my indicator and saw his mouth open. Things are a bit fuzzy from that point on, but I'm fairly certain that I set the hook before the indicator even moved. The fish was definitely on, but when the large trout came to that realization, he remembered a very important appointment he had somewhere upriver. The only surprise here is that he didn't break me off and simply spit the fly after a long run which saw my real screaming and my buddy Pat, who was on the oars, asking, "What should I do? What should I do?"

In the end, there was nothing anyone could do because it was over before I even had much chance to think. Both the rower and myself had done everything right (or at least had not done anything obviously wrong) but the fly simply popped out.

The next day on the river, I was floating with my buddy Tim and his friend Andy. They scored what may well be the Double of the Year. That was the highlight of the day at the time, but something else would prove to be even more important a couple of days later. We were floating through an area that always holds a lot of trout. Several quality brown trout were spooked by the boat but that is not unusual. What captivated my interest was one large fish in particular. I made a mental note of where the big fish was hanging out and vowed to return...soon.

On Friday I was finally free. Fishing time for myself always gets me excited, and I took full advantage of the lull in my schedule. Getting to the river right as the water was dropping allowed me to get in and start fishing before the crowds got too bad. I worked my way down to where I had spotted the nice fish. Another angler was nearby so I didn't head right in to fish for the hog.

My original plan was to fish with a dry fly and midge dropper but the higher flows made that difficult. Soon I switched over to an indicator rig which allowed my flies to get down to the level of the trout. That brought some results, but still not the big trout I was hoping for. Finally, after one particularly long drift, my indicator shot down and when I set the hook a big fish immediately started cartwheeling. The pink stripe told me that I had a big rainbow trout on the end of my line. In between the jumps, I was able to turn the fish and assumed I had a good shot at landing it. Then, suddenly, it started to take off, and I could no longer turn it.

About that time, a drift boat edged in behind me and dropped anchor. I turned to see my good friend David Perry jumping out with a net. Suddenly, my hopes revived. I might have a chance with a little help.

As I slowly fought the fish, I realized my problem. On one of the jumps, the top fly had snagged the fish near the tail. In the ensuing commotion, the little midge that had originally hooked the fish had popped free. A 20" tail hooked rainbow is one tough customer. Eventually, I worked the fish in close. Close enough that I was starting to think this might actually happen. Then, the fly simply popped free. There was nothing much to say. David P. jumped back in his boat to continue the float with his two clients. I was left with a memory of a big trout jumping across the river and a screaming reel.

By this time, I was resigned to probably not finding a large trout. Luck seemed to be against me on this week. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and things were definitely not looking promising. About this time, the angler below me worked up a little closer and made some comment about a huge fish cruising around where he was fishing. I knew it was probably the trout I had come looking for but bided my time.

Eventually, obligations pulled him away from the river and I was left to check on the big trout for myself. I waited a little longer as another drift boat was moving down behind me. They moved through the run without noticing the shark lurking under the surface. The fish was still mine. Noticing some risers nearby, I changed back to my dry fly and midge dropper rig to work the nearby fish. Resting the big fish a little more, I finally couldn't stand it any longer and made my way down.

Almost immediately I spotted it. The fish looked even larger than I remembered. Long enough, for sure, but extremely thick. I wanted to catch that trout in the worst way. My position was good for a clean drift. I was up and across from the fish which made a down and across slack line presentation the best option.

I made the cast, tossed a couple of mends and some more slack in the line, and the flies were on their way. The big fish saw my midge and moved confidently over. I saw the mouth open and set the hook...and the fish spooked. Somehow the fly didn't, catch but the fish definitely realized something was wrong. He bolted for cover and disappeared quickly.

Spotting some other trout, I cast to them for a while, hoping for a consolation prize. At this point, I would have been glad to see any fish just to take the sting away from missing such a great fish. In all the excitement I had not really noticed, but now that I wasn't focused on the big brown trout I noticed that my toes were numb. This helped me to remember why I never wet wade on the Caney, even in the heat of summer. I considered heading for dry ground to let me feet recover some warmth and then glanced back to where the large fish liked to feed.

This sounds unbelievable, especially if you know anything about large trout, but the big brown had returned and was again chowing down on midges and blackfly larvae. Fate had intervened to give me another chance. Not willing to risk having someone come by and spook the fish, I quickly made an almost exact replica of the previous cast and drift. The fish moved over again and inhaled my flies, and this time the midge stuck firmly in his jaw.

I almost regretted fishing my 7'6" Orvis Superfine Glass rod at this point. The four weight was no match for the big brown as far as power was concerned, but in the end it was the soft tip of the glass rod that protected the 6x tippet long enough to give me a chance to land the trout. The fish quickly ran me almost into my backing while I stumbled along down the river behind, walking on numb feet and slipping on the algae covered gravel and small rocks. Throughout the fight, I had to remind myself to keep the rod tip up. My arm was getting tired!

Finally, after numerous last minute surges, each of which made my heart stop, the big brown trout slid into my spacious net. Even in the big net this fish looked big. It was also very heavy. I stumbled towards the bank, keeping the fish in the water as I went. Just then, a passing canoeist asked if I would like a picture. He didn't need to ask twice. This blessing enabled me to get a couple of excellent pictures of the big brown, something I probably couldn't have accomplished on my own while keeping the fish in the water well enough. When I measured the fish against the net, he stretched out to between 23 and 24 inches. That made the picture that much more meaningful: this was my personal best brown trout on the Caney Fork. Thanks again to Bob Mansolino for kindly stopping and taking a picture for me!

Photo Courtesy of Bob Mansolino

When I released the fish, he swam off strongly. I'm already planning on catching this fish again in the near future, or better still, helping one of my friends catch him. After losing all those fish last week, redemption was sweet. While I had been fighting this big brown trout, I promised myself that if I landed the fish I would call it quits for the day. After watching him swim off, I remembered my numb toes so keeping that promise was even easier. I walked away from the river while the sun was still well up in the sky, completely satisfied with my few hours on the water.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Birthday Rainbow Trout

Guide trips seem to always be in a state of flux right up until the moment I meet the angler(s) for the day. This past Friday things were no different. Deb had fished with me before, but the friend she was supposed to bring would be on the water with me for the first time. Unfortunately, at the last second, that friend had to cancel, but of course Deb was still all for a day on the water. Part way through the trip I would discover why.

We started off the trip in a steady rain. The radar did not look promising, but if I have learned anything while guiding, it is that I should not cancel a trip for weather reasons unless it is truly dangerous. Deb was a trooper and would not be deterred by the water falling from the sky.

The early portion of the float was unusually quiet. I commented on the fact that normally we would have had some quality fish earlier in the float and started through my fly changing routine. Eventually we settled in on some patterns and started drifting again. A few smaller browns were hooked. Some were landed, and some were lost.

Then, we reached an area where I was certain we would find some good fish. It was just a matter of what flies would be necessary to make that happen. Right as I was about to go through another fly pattern change, the indicator took a determined dive. Deb set the hook and the battle was begun. Quickly dropping everything required to rig up differently such as fly boxes and tippet spools, I grabbed the oars and started chasing what was quite obviously a large rainbow. The fish surged up and down the river and we stayed hot on its tail. The one thing that stood out to me during this fight was how calm an angler I had in the front of the boat. A lot of people will get tense and make a mistake when fighting a large trout but not Deb. She was enjoying the experience immensely though, that much was obvious.

Before long, I slid the boat into shallow water and jumped over the side with the net. This fish wasn't going to have any chances for escape. The rod lifted, the net dipped, and the big rainbow trout was safely where we could enjoy it briefly. Pictures were taken and then Deb commented, "That is my birthday fish!"

I'm really glad she waited to tell me until after catching such a great fish. If I had known that her birthday was last week the pressure would have just about killed me. Thankfully, the fish posed for a couple of pictures and was soon released to be caught again another day. After high fives and a moment to soak in the moment, we pushed back out into the river. I was about to row back upstream, and in the meantime Deb had cast out to get her line ready. Right as I pulled hard on the oars to head up for another pass, her indicator shot under again. No way, I thought.

Sure enough, we had as close to a repeat performance as is possible, except that this fish was a little longer than the 19.5" fish that we had just released and a whole lot heavier. Back to back quality trout and we still had a lot of the float to go.

By this time, the rain had eased and we were left to drift down the river under leaden skies. The calm was almost eery at times, but also beautiful and a real treat to experience the river this way. We picked up some fish here and there, but soon our time was drawing to a close. I really wanted to put her on one nice brown trout and knew just the place to do that. That was the easy part. The hard part was making a very long and pinpoint accurate cast and then getting a good drift.

Of course, Deb was up for the challenge. The fly lit softly on the water and started drifting. Suddenly the dry fly sucked under as the trout took the midge underneath. She set the hook like a pro and again we were rowing all over the river. This fish didn't take as long as the big rainbows, but was still an excellent trout to end the day on.

We were soon pushing on down to the takeout, another good day on the water behind us.

This week and next week both have some guide trip openings, so if you are wanting to experience this great fishing, contact me to learn more about a float trip with Trout Zone Anglers.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Double of the Year?

While I have a ton of cool experiences as a fly fishing guide, I rarely find the time to share them with the world unfortunately. However, yesterday was one of those days that was incredible enough that I just can't contain it anymore. One fish is in the running and currently the lead for guide trip fish of the year, but to have two great fish at once? Priceless. Let me tell you about it.

My buddy Tim Helton has, in one short year, become a true fishaholic, or maybe he is an aspiring trout bum. Regardless he spends as much time as possible on the water and many hours of his time has been on trips with me. Our first trip together was in the Great Smoky Mountains on Little River. We hiked up the trail a ways above Elkmont and covered the finer points of high sticking a Smoky Mountain stream for the beautiful wild trout found there. As I remember, we caught some nice rainbows and a couple of browns during our time together that day. Since then, Tim has fished all across east Tennessee, and I have had the privilege to share many of those moments on the water with him.

Like any good angler, Tim has become quite interested in catching some big fish. Over the last months, he has had a lot of big fish on the end of the line. Like most anglers, the story progressed from hooking big fish, to eventually hooking and landing big fish. Those two things don't always go together unfortunately. This year, we had already caught some great trout together. Those big fish did eventually come with a lot of perseverance and dues paid in time on the water.

Yesterday was the first time we shared a day on the boat together. This trip had been planned a time or two before, but finally everything came together and Tim along with his friend Andy arrived at the river ready to jump in the boat and catch some trout.

Early in the day, Andy had the hot hand going. This was his first time ever fly fishing, but he took to it in a big way landing more trout than even many experienced anglers would normally get to see in one day. By lunch, both guys had caught a lot of fish including a nice 16" brown for Tim. While we sat in the shade and enjoyed our food, Tim made a comment about wanting to catch a large brown trout with a big kype jaw. To that, I gave my standard answer which is, "If you put in your time on the water, good things will happen." Little did we know how soon...

After lunch, we shoved off into the lazy current and started drifting again. Both guys were hooked up again on some healthy rainbow trout before we started approaching the next run. We netted those fish and got on to more important things, the hunt for larger fish that is! I directed both guys to cast into the deep water to the right of the boat and they got their drifts going perfectly. Tim's indicator shot down a split second ahead of Andy's, but I immediately knew we were in trouble. Neither fish had any inclination to come up without a fight and we had two on at the same time.

Directing the battles from the rower's bench, I started gently easing on the oars to back the drifter into calmer water. The fish would surge, but both guys kept their rods up and the rod tips protected the 6x tippet. When I got a glimpse of the fish, I was in about as bad of shape as Tim and Andy were. They were impressive fish!

Tim's big brown trout (the one with the big jaw he wanted of course!) was the first to hit the net and Andy's big rainbow was close behind. I had the guys take a quick "Double" picture together to verify what would otherwise be a ridiculous and unbelievable story. I took the pictures and still have to check every few hours to make sure it wasn't a dream.

As is the case with many big fish stories, the rest of the day was anticlimactic. Both guys were thoroughly spoiled but a river that has been treating me great all summer. A hookset on a 12" fish would invariably bring a comment such as, "Oh its just a little one."

Tim had achieved his goal of a big brown trout and Andy was truly ruined in his first time every fly fishing. Me as the guide? I'm spoiled on a daily basis to be able to meet and interact with all of the great people who come to fish with me. However, from a purely memorable fishing moment perspective, I'm not sure if I'll ever have another double that produces a legitimate 40 inches (taped) of trout in two fish. For now, this is the double of the year...


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