Fishing trips, while always anticipated, tend to fall into a predictable routine with predictable results. In general, I know what to expect when I fish Little River. Fish will be caught, including some nice for the Smokies fish of 10", 11", maybe even 12-14" and at least some of those will be browns although never as many as I would like. When I am fortunate fish will be caught on dry flies consistently although I tend to gravitate towards nymphs.
Some trips, however, seem to take on a life of their own, complete with surprises that lurk around every bend in the stream and in each large bend pool. This past weekend I experience such a trip.
Originally scheduled as a backpacking trip to #24, we bailed at the last minute because of the forecast which suggested that backpacking might be a little miserable. Intent on still visiting my beloved mountains, I decided that a car camping trip to Elkmont was in order. I headed up with minimal gear, still in a backpacking frame of mind, and prepared to fish wherever the wind blew me.
When I was ready to fish, the wind was calm, but my instincts guided me up the Little River trail. This is probably my favorite place to fish in the Park. The likelihood of solitude and willing trout is always a great combination for an enjoyable day on the water. Wandering up the trail with the intent to put miles behind you is a torturous experience. There are so many great spots that beg for a fly. If you want that solitude and stupid fish though, it is normally best to not give in to the temptation to stop too soon.
A brief stop in two nice pools to look for big browns afforded the opportunity to have a breather and even eat a bite. When I finally started fishing seriously, I was fairly certain that I didn't have another angler in front of me, at least not close to worry about fishing used water for the day.
Moving slowly up the river, I quickly noticed that the fishing was not "normal." In other words, the fish weren't gobbling up nymphs like I am used to under standard conditions. After some experimenting as well as observing the insect activity, I settled on a dry/dropper rig with a parachute Adams and a bead head dropper. The action picked up substantially after that switch. Every once in awhile a fish would rise to the dry but most fish were eating the dropper.
Several nice rainbows came to hand but mostly I didn't bother with the camera. Standard rainbow trout pictures did not interest me, but then something happened to change my mind. I was fishing a small flat adjacent to a much deeper run when a small fish ate the dropper. As it came closer I was shocked to see a brookie. This fish was easily 3 miles below where I would expect to find it. The scars on its back seemed like it may have had an encounter with a large brown trout recently. Regardless, I decided that it was time to take out the camera.
With the motivation to finish the Smokies slam, I was soon taking pictures of other trout, first a couple of nice rainbows and then a brown.
Before long though I had another interesting event. While I have experienced catching two fish at once before, specifically with white bass as well as with bluegills, I have never done it in the Smokies on trout before. When I hooked two rainbows, one on the dry and one on the dropper, I decided it was time for pictures again.
Continuing up the stream, I took some time from fishing to take pictures of the beauty surrounding me. The banks of the stream were just beginning to wake from the winter slumber. High on the slopes above, the first leaves of the spring were making an appearance. Wild flowers bloomed along the trails. The banks of the stream were swept clean by the high waters of winter. The moss on the banks and rocks seemed to be an even more vivid green than normal.
Despite the fun I was having taking pictures, the stream kept drawing me back. So I continued, up amongst and over the rocks, past steep rapids and deep runs, and the stream continued to yield its trout. Quill Gordons, Blue Quills, and even a March Brown or two started to hatch. Quill Gordon spinners also made an appearance. Brown Stoneflies as well as a few Little Yellow Stoneflies were popping out of the water as well.
By the time I came to the deep pool, its surface was covered with bugs and trout were rising with abandon. The first few casts yielded three fine trout, two rainbows and a brown. Everything was proceeding as is generally expected. Bugs were hatching, fish were eating, it was a fly fisherman's paradise.
Things started to get weird when I noticed a rise far out in the middle of the pool. "A small rainbow," I thought. The cast landed perfectly two feet upstream of the fish and it ate very predictably.
Things really got strange as I was fighting the rainbow. It began to act like it was not just running from me when a golden blur behind explained the poor rainbow's actions. A big brown was closing for the kill and I realized I had the perfect opportunity to catch two fish on one fly. As the line became very heavy, my excitement level naturally increased dramatically. Something did not seem right though. The brown had too much leverage. When I caught another glimpse, the rainbow seemed to be gone and the brown was acting funny.
Apparently, as the big brown closed for the kill, the trailing dropper snagged it right in the rear. I was now fighting a much larger fish, but was attached to the wrong end. A few short moments later, I got everything under control and decided that I might as well take a picture. I can appreciate big trout even if I don't count it as a caught fish.
Not long after, I hiked out for the day. Stopping at a pool I had fished earlier, I finally tricked a nice rainbow that had eluded me the first time through. The fish slammed the parachute Adams.
Back at camp, a heavy thunderstorm soon rolled in over the hills and I retreated to the relative safety of my tent to wait out the rain. Much later, I got up and prepared a quick supper before going to bed. I was tired and wanted to be ready for another fun day up the trail.
Day two proceeded much the same as the first day with one important exception: the fish showed a definite preference for the dry. In fact, after fishing an hour or so, I finally just took off the dropper because I did not want to deal with the hassle of the extra tangles. Some sections of stream proved easier to fish than others. The water was still on the high side although definitely very fishable.
Again, several pools had nice hatches coming off. Quill Gordons are still making an appearance in the mid elevation streams. Little Yellow Stoneflies are beginning to hatch as well. Wild flowers are blooming in the mountains and the dogwoods are just starting to make an appearance. This is a magical time of year in the mountains and should continue to produce excellent fishing for the next couple of months.
FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 10/21/2016
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.
A NOTE ON SPAWNING TROUT
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.