Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 8/13/2017

Fishing is good to excellent across the area. Caney Fork floats are happening either early or late, and in the Smokies we are fishing the high elevations to beat the heat.

Terrestrials are now a strong producer no matter where you fish. Beetle fishing has been good this summer. There are still fish ready to slam a beetle or hopper. In the mountains I prefer a beetle or ant while on the tailwaters I lean towards a hopper or beetle although ants work well there also. Hike in fishing on the brook trout streams is still good right now although flows are low enough that you need to focus on stealth.

On the Caney Fork, the great sight fishing opportunities of summer are in full gear. Daily midge fishing to big trout is a possibility. Night times can produce some exciting fishing on streamers or even mouse patterns. Just be careful out there when its dark. The river is unforgiving even in the daylight.

Smallmouth bass fishing has been good to great. Fish are looking up as usual for this time of year. When they don't want to hit flies on top, crawdad or baitfish patterns will work.

Photo of the Month: Night Time Hog

Photo of the Month: Night Time Hog

Thursday, December 30, 2010

SoHo Sulphurs


Good numbers of sulphurs still hatching at the end of the year = unbelievable...

The drive to the South Holston is always a bit tedious, but so far it is always worth it.  This past Tuesday was definitely not the best day to be fishing a technical river, the sun was bright, the water low and clear, and the air temperature was COLD.  The majority of the day featured temperatures cold enough to ice up our guides, requiring dipping the rod in the river every few minutes.  Still, experiencing a good hatch at this time of year (of something OTHER than midges), is worth whatever minor suffering we experienced.


I got to fish with Travis again and this trip proved to be a little more successful from a catching standpoint.  We both got things started early with an assortment of soft hackles, midges, and even a couple on eggs.  As the day warmed, we started thinking about those sulphurs that the river is famous for.  Rumor had it that the bugs were still coming off in good numbers, and we were determined to get in on the hatch if at all possible.  Finally we found an good unoccupied stretch of water and slipped into the river.  Almost immediately, a few explosive rises alerted us to the possible hatch.  Sure enough, there in the slack water near the banks, a few duns were sitting bravely, trying to figure out what to do now that they were out in the cold air.  The fish were having a great time. 

Cold weather has always produced some phenomenal dry fly action for me.  Hatches are often sparse to non-existent, although any hatch that does happen is a perfect feeding opportunity for the fish.  The cold air makes it harder for the insects to fly away, so instead they sit on the water until something eats them.  This was definitely the case on the South Holston. 


All the sulphur feeding fish I caught came on a Split Case nymph.  I tied a bunch of these up months (maybe even a year or two) ago and proceeded to forget about them.  They came in handy on this day and produced the most consistent action I had all day.  The fly fished well under a generic yellow parachute that vaguely resembled the adults.  I had exactly three rises on the dry the whole time.  Each time I was so surprised that I blew the hookset.  Probably it would be more accurate to say that the cold had slowed my reflexes, and since that makes me look a lot better as a fisherman, I'll go with the second story.  Enough fish wanted the nymph to keep me happy.  For the first time in awhile I quit fishing well before it was too dark to see.  I'll go with the cold story again on that one...




I don't know when I'll get to experience another good hatch.  If all else fails, I'll be in the Smokies for the early hatches in February or March.  In the meantime, I have a big trip to the Grand Canyon at the end of February/first of March to prepare for (yes there will be some fishing involved), and I also need to continue restocking my depleted boxes for the upcoming season.  I'm working on getting out west again this next summer, somehow, someway, and that will require a lot of flies as well as some creativity in raising the funds...  Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana...........time to start tying.......

Snow


Pictures

Most of you have noticed the options below most of the photographs on the Trout Zone including options to buy or download a copy of the photograph.  Many of you probably haven't spent much time exploring the options, so I just want to mention that the eCard option is completely free!  If you enjoy the pictures you see here and want to share with someone else, it is quick and easy to turn it into an eCard. 

Also, please take a moment to check out the Trout Zone Photoblog where I highlight some of my personal favorites from time to time.  As always, thanks for stopping by the Trout Zone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cold and Snowy

So what better to do than tie flies and reorganize gear?  That is basically what I'm doing this evening...already tied several flies and thinking about reorganizing all my fly boxes.  Several boxes are starting to get really disorganized, not to mention I have a new box to move into the rotation.  I normally do this with my fly boxes about once a year, sometimes more if I have a really big trip.  For awhile I've been wanting to do a complete different set of boxes for the mountains and tailwaters.  Right now I'm still a box or two short of being able to make that happen, but I'm definitely getting close. 

As for that white Christmas I was wanting, we got it...barely.  On Christmas day we never had more than an inch on the ground at any given time, but overnight and today it snowed quite a bit more, at least by Tennessee standards.  Tomorrow I might take a few pictures before it all melts, but in the meantime here's a comparable one I found from last winter...



Friday, December 24, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas


The statistical rarity, in this instance also known as a white Christmas, looks to be coming to Tennessee this year!  The National Weather Service has issued a "Winter Weather Advisory" for our area highlighting possible snow and perhaps a bit of sleet, so it looks like our chances for at least a little of the white stuff is fairly good.  I have only seen 2-3 in my life so it is a nice addition to an already great holiday.
 
Merry Christmas to each of you and thank you for taking the time to read my blog!  Hope you have a great 2011 with lots of chances to get out on the water...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Yellowstone NP: Native Fish Conservation Plan


When it comes to favorite places to fish, Yellowstone National Park should be high on everyone's list and I know its definitely one of mine.  From small backcountry streams full of feisty trout that slam dry flies to big mature rivers where the fish can be measured in pounds instead of inches, not to mention the numerous stillwater options, Yellowstone offers something for everyone. 

Unfortunately, much of the Yellowstone ecosystem is in danger.  Back sometime in the 1980s, lake trout were introduced to Yellowstone Lake (how remains somewhat a mystery, at least according to the Park Service, although plenty of theories abound).  By the time they were noticed, a well-established spawning population was in place.  Since then, the numbers of lake trout have skyrocketed while the native Yellowstone Cutthroat have been decimated. 

I was reminded of all this the other day from James Marsh.  In his daily journal article, he mentioned that a new Fish Conservation Plan was on the table and open for discussion.  I checked out the plan, did a lot of reading, and came to a few conclusions.  First, I suggest you read the plan for yourself

Generally, I am all for native species restoration although sometimes it is difficult for me to get too excited.  Lynn Camp Prong here in the Smokies is a great example.  I'll be glad to fish for brookies on such a good-sized Park stream but am sad about all the years I'm missing out fishing while the water is closed for the restoration.  In Yellowstone, I feel that a lot of effort has been put into the Environmental Assessment resulting in generally sound conclusions.  Overall I agree whole-heartedly in the need to help the native fisheries, particular Yellowstone Lake.  The current work done to control lake trout is just not sufficient.  Clearly something needs to be done, and I applaud the Park Service for taking on the daunting project. 

My one concern with the plan is for the Gibbon River.  There are currently many options throughout the Park to fish for native cutthroat.  According to the Park's Fish Conservation Plan, the upper Gibbon was historically fishless.  David Starr Jordan did the first survey of Yellowstone fish in 1889 and published his findings in 1891. "He described 40% of the park as the 'Area Without Trout,' including the upper reaches of the Bechler, Fire Hole, Gibbon, and Gardner Rivers" (Fish Conservation Plan, p. 4). 

In the current plan under consideration, non-native brown, rainbow and brook trout would be removed from the upper Gibbon (that means from Gibbon Falls, upstream through all the beautiful meadow stretches).  In their place, the Park service would stock West Slope Cutthroat and Arctic Grayling until a self-sustaining population was in place.  While native trout restoration is admirable, and I generally support it, this project cannot be called a restoration.  According to dictionary.com, a restoration is a "return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition."  Based on the Park Service's own research, this plan for the Gibbon cannot be called a restoration as historically the upper Gibbon did NOT have trout. 

Throughout Yellowstone National Park one can fish for cutthroat trout.  Right now, the more immediate concern in my opinion would be to find a way to remove rainbows from Slough, Soda Butte, and even the Lamar as well as increase efforts to reduce lake trout numbers in Yellowstone Lake.  The Park has precious few quality brown trout fisheries and removing the Gibbon from the list would be heart breaking.  Craig Matthews, in the Yellowstone Fly-Fishing Guide, mentions that the meadow sections of the Gibbon contain large brown trout and offers opportunities to stalk wary brown trout that you won't get on many other Park streams. 


Clearly the Gibbon is a special fishery which I would hate to see disrupted.  Since the premise of a restoration is not applicable to this stream, I would recommend sending in comments to the Park Service to that effect. Here is what said in my comment:


I support the proposal with one exception: I believe that the Gibbon River should stay as it is, except possibly above Virginia Cascades.  The Gibbon is currently one of the best rivers in the Park for catching brown trout (including very large browns) and should be left as is. Removal of the brown trout fishery would have a detrimental effect on area businesses that cater to fly fisherman.  Additionally, within the Conservation Plan Assessment, it refers to a quote from David Starr Jordan from 1891 which indicates that the upper Gibbon was at that point fishless.  It seems fairly obvious (unless I'm missing something here) that the Gibbon project is not a restoration to the original conditions.  With that in mind, I prefer to come to Yellowstone to catch brown trout in the Gibbon and not cutthroat.  Remove the Gibbon from consideration for the project and I will support everything else whole-heartedly. 
Again, if you care about fishing in Yellowstone, I urge you to take the time to read the Native Fish Conservation Plan Environmental Assessment.  Come to your own conclusions and send in your comments

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Went Fishing, Got Cold, Caught a Few

Some people quit fishing through the cold months of the year, and that's just fine with me.  Getting out on the stream with little to no competition is a special experience, especially somewhere like the Smoky Mountains.  After the mad days of spring, summer, and fall, wandering up and down Little River and maybe seeing two other anglers is a refreshing change of pace. 

Yesterday, I headed for the mountains to meet my buddy Travis from the Fishing Fanatic.  We try to fish a few times a year, but often getting our schedules to match up can be a little tricky.  Despite the cold weather, we decided to fish no matter what.  Our original plan involved the South Holston but TVA's generation schedule has been a little strange to say the least.  Plan B was to head for the freestone streams of the Smokies.

After exploring our options, we finally settled on a good pool that always has a few willing fish.  A smattering of midges were hatching so I suggested to Travis that he start out with some type of nymph (preferably a stonefly) and a midge as a dropper.  From a good vantage point above the water, everything appeared to be completely dead at first glance.  However, our patience was rewarded and we soon saw fish moving around on the bottom.  The water was frigid but fish still have to eat, and they were moving around quite a bit.

Travis completed his setup with some split shot and moved into position while I stayed put so I could spot fish.  After a few casts, he was getting a perfect drift each time.  Eventually the inevitable happened and his indicator dove under.  Soon a beautiful wild rainbow was brought to hand, and I snapped a quick picture to prove we really did go fishing.  Some people have a hard time believing that I fish in such weather so pictures are always helpful.


We fished that pool awhile longer with Travis catching some more fish.  Finally we decided to head downstream to try another spot or two.  I picked up a nice rainbow at another favorite spot before we called it a day.  For as much time as we were out, neither of us actually fished a ton.  We both spent a good amount of time looking for nicer fish.  None of the better fish we saw were in a good spot to fish to so we left them without harassing them. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Cold Weather

Here on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, winter has arrived in a big way.  Recent high temperatures have not been above freezing and overnight lows are getting close to the single digits.  The first snowfall completed the appearance of winter with light snow showers stretching out over a couple of days.  Waterfalls near my house have been forming large areas of ice around the base and as well as icicles off the rocks nearby.  The Sandhill Cranes have mostly migrated south of the area but scattered flocks continue to fly over, hurrying towards the warmth and abundance of the southeastern U.S.  The large fields nearby now have wintering raptors hunting their broad expanses.  I have identified the majority as being Northern Harrier Hawks which usually appear around Thanksgiving and will be here until early spring.  

Since my car has been stuck, I've been getting my outdoor fix by hiking around near the house.  This has provided plenty of great opportunities for my camera.  On one recent hike, I even took the time to build a small fire to warm up while relaxing in the stillness of the woods.  The wind whispered through the trees, but my spot at the base of the rock was still and warm. 


A waterfall around the corner was the perfect spot to spend a few moments with my camera.  A large area of ice had formed at the base adding an interesting element to an otherwise common picture. 



Unfortunately my car is still not fixed so I haven't been doing any fishing.  Hopefully that will change this weekend.  I'm looking at trying to get out on the water on Sunday if at all possible.  I have been getting some good reports from the big fish hunters in the Smokies and have been dying to get back over there.  This is my favorite time of year to be out on the water.  The lack of company on the water more than makes up for the cold temperatures and physical discomfort, and of course catching a fish every now and then helps too... 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"There he is!"

Stalking and sight casting to trout is my favorite aspect of the sport of fly fishing.  Some days I would rather spend my time looking for fish instead of casting.  Once a fish has been sighted, the real fun starts as a plan must be developed.  That includes figuring out the best position to cast from, what cast to use, deciding what the fish is eating, what imitation will work, and finally putting everything together.  Sometimes it turns out much easier.

Recently, I was fishing a Smokies stream with my buddy Joe McGroom.  We were hunting brown trout which had finished spawning a couple of weeks prior to our trip.  This time of year they are hungry and willing to eat a properly presented fly.  I had a wooly bugger with a small dropper tied on ready to fish in the hope that the hungry fish would not be very picky. 

As we moved up the stream, the fish were noticeably absent from the places we expected them.  Usually this time of year, the fish have moved into the deeper holes and slower runs, but can often be sighted in their favorite feeding lies.  Despite our expectations, only a few fish had been found out feeding.  We had walked about a mile and a half of stream and only spotted 3-4 fish up to 17 inches.  Joe had only landed two small fish, and I had barely even cast but we were covering a lot of water and knew that eventually we would start finding fish. 

We were taking turns walking in the lead.  I had just moved up to take the lead and was stalking slowly up the edge of the stream when I caught a flash of brown.  A nice brown was in the middle of one of the better runs.  Immediately I froze.  Joe crowded up behind, peering into the stream as I exlaimed, "There he is!" 

"Where?" was his reply.  I was already stripping line from my reel.  "Right there" I said as I dropped the flies 12 inches upstream of fish.  Immediately it nailed the bugger, and I raised the rodtip.  Joe didn't have much trouble seeing the fish as it tore around the stream trying to throw the fly.  Soon I landed the fish and posed for a quick picture.  The fish taped out at 15 inches which definitely isn't a monster, but at the same time was one of the most memorable fish I've caught this year.
Joe McGroom Photograph 

 Joe McGroom Photograph

Later in the day I hooked another fish that would probably have gone an inch or two longer.  This fish nailed the same fly as the first and went ballistic once hooked.  Oddly though, after what felt like a good solid hookset, the fish simply threw the fly after about 3 seconds.  I was left staring at its rapidly vanishing shadow which moved into a column of bubbles and disappeared for good. 

I've had days on the stream where only one fish would have been really disappointing, but I felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of this day...its not just about how many you catch that counts...

Friday, November 26, 2010

November Sunset

This is one of many reasons why I love the cold months.  It seems the sunrises and sunsets are consistently better this time of year, and of course that could just be my imagination.  Regardless, I DO know that I particularly enjoyed the sunset this evening despite the coldest temperatures of the season yet and stiff breeze that tried in vain to deter my photography session.  The beauty in the heavens was too much for me to be distracted by something as insignificant as cold weather.  Here are a few of the pictures from the evening...








Stranded

On the way home from my last fishing trip, trouble caught up with my car, and now I'm immobile at least for a few days and perhaps longer.  My trusty troutmobile finally had some serious problems so it looks like I won't be fishing much for awhile.  I still have a report or two to post and hope to get some tying posts up as well.  During the cold months is the time to start tying and stocking up on flies for the new year.  I will be offering up some patterns for sale on a limited basis, so if you need a source for your 2011 patterns don't hesitate to contact me.  If you need recommendations for a particular destination just let me know, and I'll do my best to help or point you in the right direction...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Big Day on the River


Today was one of the better days I've had on the river in the last few months.  Fish were feeding heavily and once I found the right fly combination I was into fish pretty much the whole time.  I fished a fly that I haven't really thrown yet this fall but was reminded how it has been one of the better tailwater patterns I've fished over the years.  The hot fly was a midge larva pattern that I have fished out west on rivers like the Gunnison and Roaring Fork in Colorado as well as the tailwaters here in the east.  If anyone doesn't tie and needs this pattern, I'm offering a few patterns now so just shoot me an email, and I can give you the details and pricing. 

The Caney has not had the best schedule for wade fishing, but you can still fish the upper river late in the day for a few hours once the water starts falling out.  Right now the fishing is tough if you don't know the river well.  These are the conditions when a good guide can be particularly helpful to put you on the fish.  The water is still running quite cloudy which isn't helping those who prefer to sight fish.  Fish are concentrated anywhere the water is funneling food.  Shoals provide the best concentrations of fish right now, but fish are spread throughout the river as well.  Late day midge hatches are coming on strong and bringing a few trout to the surface.  Anglers that enjoy stalking trout with tiny dries and emergers can do well right now as long as they stay patient. 

Within the first 10 casts I caught 3 fish, a brookie, then a brown, and finally completed the slam with a rainbow.  Throughout the afternoon, I managed more rainbows than anything else but did catch 3 beautiful brook trout and 3 browns including one chunky fish that was close to 18 inches. 



I found a few fish that were willing to eat a zebra midge late in the day.  Over the next few weeks, the streamer bite should start to pick up.  The browns are coming off the spawn and should be hungry.  Overall, the river is in the best shape I've seen for awhile.  If we can avoid any major flood events and keep generation to a minimum this winter, then next year should be a great one for the Caney Fork...


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Caney Fork Outings

Despite my lack of trip reports, I actually have got a little time in on the stream.  Over the last month, I have been on the Caney Fork a couple of times including a float trip with David Perry this past weekend.  The river is fishing fairly well although the water is quite off color right now during generation.  I'm not sure if the lake is turning over or if it is just a result of the low lake levels.  Whatever the cause, the water clarity could definitely be better.

A few weeks ago, I went down for an afternoon on the river and had one of my best outings in a long time.  The days where expectations are low seem to turn out the best, and this was one of those days.  I fished here and there before finally settling onto a nice riffle that spills over into a deep run.  It seemed that every rainbow in the river had moved up into the shallows to feed.  The routine was so simple that it almost was ridiculous.  Throw in my nymphs, watch the indicator dive, raise the rod, and voila, a trout was hooked.

Caney at sunset

Caney rainbow

On this and subsequent trips, the hot fly was a Ray Charles which does a good job of imitating the scuds and sow bugs present in the river.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with this fly, I highly recommend giving it a shot.  At certain times of the year it is particularly effective.  If you don't tie and need a source for this fly, contact Trevor Smart at customtiedflies@gmail.com.  He charges $1.50 per fly and ties other patterns as well such as the South Holston staple, a Tungsten Bead Stripper Midge (#20-#22).

Trevor Smart Photograph 

 Trevor Smart Photograph

This past weekend's float was very similar.  Early on, I started out throwing streamers in the hopes of finding an aggressive monster brown.  All that wanted to play though were the rainbows.  Later, the nymph rod did the trick with the Ray Charles producing well most of the day and Copper Johns picking up the slack later on.  The fish all seemed to be quite healthy including one hot rainbow that came from a slot up against a log.  This fish shot out of the water in the first of several jumps as soon as it was hooked, truly one of the better aerial shows I've seen from a trout this whole year.

 David Perry working a nice run

I FINALLY saw a train on the tracks along the Caney on this particular trip.  Up until this float, I had NEVER seen a train anywhere around the Caney although I could only assume that the tracks weren't just there for nothing.  Best of all, we caught the train as it crossed the Smith Fork bridge, providing a photo opportunity that few get without either getting lucky or going to some effort.

Train over Smith Fork bridge 


Late in the day, we found three Bald Eagles that also gave me an opportunity to use my camera.  Someday I'll have a better zoom lens, but in the meantime I'm just glad to have seen these beautiful birds and documented the experience.  We also saw deer and even the river itself provided incredible opportunities for my camera.

Bald Eagles 

Fog makes the river almost eerie yet beautiful at the same time.

 Hopefully I'll be returning to fish the Caney in the next few days.  I also have a trip to the Smokies coming up in just over a week.  Check back for updates on those trips as well as some more reports from the last month or two...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Poll

We haven't had a poll in quite a while here at the Trout Zone, but I finally fixed that.  The poll is simply asking what water type you do most of your trout fishing on.  I'm curious what type of fishing most of the readers here do.  I spend more time on freestone streams personally but not by too much.  I make it out to the tailwaters often as well.  You can only choose one option on this poll, so if you have a close second then leave a comment explaining that...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trout Zone Photoblog

I am now working on offering hi-res versions of photographs for sale through a new blog.  The Trout Zone Photoblog will be highlighting what I consider my best photographs and offering them through a website called Fotomoto.  This site allows me to place a toolbar directly into my blog for people to order prints and digital downloads.  I will be including the toolbar here at the Trout Zone as well, just not emphasizing the photographs.  In the meantime, please check out the new Photoblog, and let me know what you think!

Tennessee Hiking: Burgess Falls

There is something mesmerizing about water in free fall.  Within an hour of home, I can be hiking to any number of waterfalls, some well known, others obscure and difficult to find.  In fact, there are several smaller ones (up to 30 feet high or so) within walking distance of my house.  When I want to get out in nature and just hike, I'll often make a waterfall my destination. 

About a month ago, we took some of the kids from where I'm teaching down to Burgess Falls State Park to take in the scenery and do a little hiking.  Everyone was enthusiastic to see what was new to most of them.  For me, I just wanted to do some photography since I had not photographed this particular falls before.  The following is a small sample of the falls we saw on our hike. 






Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elk, Baetis, and Big Trout

"Deep Creek" - - David Knapp Photograph

My yearly fall pilgrimage to the mountains was last weekend, and as always, it was very memorable.  The fall BWOs were pouring off late each afternoon in tremendous numbers on Deep Creek, and the October Caddis were getting the fish to look up anytime they made an appearance.  The elk in Cataloochee were mostly done with the rut, but a few bulls were still hanging out with their harems.

Several friends made the trip and my cousin and his wife came up for the weekend.  Camping is a lot more fun with a good group, although since I was the only fly fisherman my time on the stream suffered a bit.  It wasn't entirely a bad trade off though.  Sometimes the relaxation of camping is more needed than tons of time on the water.  After the first 8 weeks of school, I was more than ready for a break.  The opportunity to just sit around the campfire and stare into the coals was just as relaxing as spending lots of time chasing trout.  As much as I love the fishing, its not always just about catching trout.

David Knapp Photograph

Upon arriving at the Deep Creek Campground, we set up camp quickly and then headed up the trail to see Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.  Naturally, I rigged up a four weight with a pair of nymphs and took it along just in case.  For the dedicated fly fisherman, just in case always happens.  After we saw the two falls, I found myself flinging flies into a nice pool hoping for something, anything.  It had been too long since I was on the water and just about anything would make me happy.  First strike, a warpaint shiner...okay, maybe not anything...maybe just any trout.  The next strike was a lot more solid, and I was soon admiring one of Deep Creek's beautiful rainbow trout.  I always head over to Deep Creek to chase the browns, but there is an excellent population of rainbow trout that are always brilliantly marked.

Caitlin Cress Photograph
That night, we gathered branches and limbs from around the campground to make a big fire.  Supper was hobo stew so the fire had to be the perfect temperature...too hot and your food is burned, too small and it never cooks all the way.  We boiled water for hot chocolate as the evening was growing chilly.  The warmth of the fire kept us all close until we finally bolted for our tents and warm sleeping bags.  The next morning was cold so most of us slept in until the sun cleared the ridge.  Once up, we made pancakes for breakfast and then started preparing for our day.  Some of the group had to leave for the weekend while my cousin Nathan and his wife still had to arrive.  After making a phone call, we decided to wait for them to arrive and then head over to Cataloochee for the afternoon. 

As soon as they rolled into camp and got set up, we headed out and cruised through Bryson City, then Cherokee, and finally Maggie Valley before turning north towards I-40.  Just before the interstate, we found the small road that leads up and over the looming ridge and into the paradise that is Cataloochee.  Previously an out of the way little visited corner of the park, Cataloochee has become a major tourist destination within the Park because of the reintroduction of elk.

David Knapp Photograph 

Most people wouldn't bother making the drive without such motivation.  If you intend to drive to that area, just be aware that while it might only take you twenty minutes to drive the winding mountain roads between the valley and the interstate, the hordes of tourists can slow your trip down to a crawl.  We got into one such painfully slow caravan, but by and by, the valley opened up below us in a beautiful panorama of fall colors. 

Not long after reaching the valley floor, we came upon two large bull elk that always seem to hang out in the same area.  We stopped for pictures before moving on up the valley.  Driving slowly, we stopped at several places to enjoy the views, the colors, and the camaraderie.

David Knapp Photograph 

 David Knapp Photograph

As the sun moved lower in the sky, we started to remember that we were hungry.  While driving through Maggie Valley we had noticed a small Italian restaurant called Garlic Knots.  Everyone thought it sounded like the perfect end to a good day in the mountains so we headed back out for a great dinner.  I had the daily special, a garlic and spinach ravioli that came with salad and bread sticks.  Next time I'll probably try one of the house specialty brick oven pizzas.  There were so many items that sounded good, but one can only eat so much at a time. 

After supper, we headed back towards Bryson City for an evening of hanging out around the campfire.  In camp, the hot chocolate and smores came out again.  Friday evening was even colder than Thursday evening was so we were really glad for a warm fire.  The night sky was tremendous because the cold front a few days previously had ushered in much drier and cooler air.  The low humidity made the sky seem so much clearer. 

The next day, we headed over to the Road to Nowhere.  Previously I had never made the time to go that way so it was interesting to drive to the end and walk through the tunnel.  We also stopped to fish Noland Creek.  I always enjoy adding new streams to my list of "fished" streams so this was a great experience.  Over the next few months, I hope to add more of the North Carolina streams to my list of places fished.  I still need to fish Forney, Hazel and Eagle Creeks.  Next spring some backpacking might be in order. 

One highlight of the trip was fishing down at the mouth of a stream as it entered the lake below.  I spotted several fish rising so tried a dry/dropper rig.  This was not working well in the low clear water so I decided to go to the opposite extreme with a Clouser.  The first cast didn't produce but the next one brought a hard charging shape from the depths.  I watched as the trout behind moved quickly to close the gap.  In one fluid movement, it closed on the fly and inhaled it.  Streamer fishing can be as visual as dry fly fishing and perhaps even more so, and this case was no exception.  I battled a nice rainbow in for a quick picture before heading back up the stream to try for some of the resident fish.

Nathan Stanaway Photograph

That evening, I fished Deep Creek again.  The BWOs were out in force again.  In every pool and slick, I found plenty of rising trout.  One particularly perfect cast finally yielded a mighty brown that came up from the depths of a glassy pool to sip my tiny parachute pattern.  After an intense battle, I wrestled the nice fish into the shallows and subdued it long enough for a picture.  I returned it to the stream and hope that it will grow into an even more impressive fish in the years to come.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The final day of a camping trip is always bittersweet.  I never really want to leave the mountains so I enjoy my time to the fullest while it lasts.  The last day was mostly dedicated to fishing.  I tried a couple of favorite streams (still on the NC side) and had memorable moments on each.  The first stream is one I don't really fish often enough but always enjoy when I do.  I was specifically looking for big browns but doing a little "regular" fishing while I was at it.

After a few hours on this stream, I started to think ahead and decided it would be best to head in the general direction of home.  On the way, I was driving along when, like a bolt of lightning, I felt an irresistible urge to pull over and look for big fish in a spot that I normally wouldn't have stopped at.  Creeping through the trees to a high bank overlooking the stream, I cautiously looked slowly up and downstream.  Just as I was about to turn away and head on down the road, a dark form materialized in the middle of the run below.  My heart started to pound as I stared in awe at the nice fish below.  This was the fish I had been dreaming of and it was sitting out in the middle of the stream, shallow enough that I had a good chance of catching it. 

I ran back to the car and got my fly rod and slipped downstream.  Not wanting to make any mistakes, I purposefully slowed down and made sure everything went smoothly.  The double nymph rig landed about three behind and to the side of the trout on the first cast which was fine by me.  I always try to get my distance figured out and would rather cast short instead of too long.  A short cast won't usually spook the trout.  On the second cast, the flies dropped into the water just upstream of the fish.  The big fish turned and followed them downstream and when it turned, I gently set the hook.  I didn't want to spook the trout but needed to set in case it had eaten.  Three casts in a row produced the same result, but on the third cast, the big fish moved up slightly farther and settled closer to the bottom.  Convinced that I had put the fish down, I headed back up to the car to get more flies and to watch the fish again from the bank above. 

Back on the bank, I was shocked to see the fish rise and sip something off the surface and new immediately what fly I was tying on next.  Out came my special October Caddis pattern and back down to the water I went.  The first cast was again made purposefully short to judge the distance, but the second cast was right on the mark.  I watched as the fish seemed to ignore the fly, and then at the last second, the trout ghosted up and sipped the big orange caddis pattern slowly but deliberately.  The line came tight as I raised the rod tip and the fish immediately went crazy.  It ran up and down the beautiful run and almost made it to the faster water below before I finally corralled it for pictures.  As much as I enjoy catching big fish, I was honestly disappointed that this fish turned out to be a rainbow.  One of these days I'll get another big brown in the Park.  Still, I won't complain too much since catching a big fish is always fun regardless. This fish had clearly run up from hatchery supported water below and had the typical big head and snakey body from living in the less than fertile mountain stream for an extended period of time.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

My heart still beating rapidly, I headed back to the car to drive to another stream and hopefully more large trout.  One particular hole had been in the back of my mind for the whole weekend.  As I approached, I was surprised that there were no cars parked there but was not going to complain.  This particular pool can be super hard to fish with low flows because the water is so still.  Accurate drifts with nymphs can be close to impossible without spooking every trout in the pool.  Still it was worth a shot.  The first few fish were run-up stocker rainbows but then a flash of color indicated a wild fish on the line.  As I took a few pictures of the gorgeous rainbow, I was more than rewarded for stopping.  Surprisingly, there was still another surprise in store.

David Knapp Photograph 

David Knapp Photograph

As I worked towards the back of the pool, my indicator dove under.  With the first flash, I was almost convinced I had finally hooked a nice brown.  Two bulldogging runs later, I realized from the colors that it was a brookie.  In fact, it was the largest brookie I have hooked to date.  Again, this was clearly a run-up fish from hatchery supported water below but I was still thrilled to hook and land such a beautiful fish.

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Later that afternoon, I ran into Ian Rutter looking for large fish and heard about some of the nice fish they had hooked that day (mostly on dries).  Apparently the North Carolina side streams are all alive and well, producing good to excellent fishing for anglers that know how how to fish them.

The afternoon shadows were growing long and I still had a long drive.  The return trip over the ridge was much faster than the trip a few days previously.  Best of all, I was now fortified with many great memories of time spent with friends and plenty of time spent on the water.  In just a few short weeks, Thanksgiving break will be here, and I'll have another week of fishing time...this is my favorite time of year to be on the water.  The browns are now highly aggressive and should continue to produce phenomenal fishing throughout the cold months on streamers.  The fall hatches should continue strong for awhile before transitioning into the winter hatches so the rainbows and brookies will be feeding heavily as well.  This is a great time to get on the water...just don't be surprised if you spend more time enjoying the scenery than actually fishing...

Catherine McGrath Photograph

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