Last week some friends, my sister, and I all headed for the Smokies for a couple of nights camping in Cades Cove. The main goal was some rest and relaxation from our hectic schedules, but of course I hoped for at least a little time on the water.
Light showers were scattered across the mountains and adjacent areas when I drove through Maryville. The light rain let up as we approached Cades Cove and we quickly chose a site and set up the tent in case it rained again later. That task accomplished, we headed out on our first of several trips around the Cove. In fact, we were in for a real treat.
Most of the time, I avoid Cades Cove like the plague. While it is probably my favorite place in the Park just to visit and relax, I can't stand the number of tourists that normally crowd the roads around the and throughout the Cove. The evening of our arrival was perfect. Since it was during the week, most weekend crowds had not arrived yet. The inclement weather kept most locals away as well. That's just fine by me because the wildlife was awesome!
The first evening featured good numbers of wild turkeys with many gobblers strutting around trying to impress the hens. Deer were out in profusion as well. The only thing that eluded us was a black bear. Rumors swirled that plenty of sightings had been taking place but apparently we just did not happen to drive through at the right moment. We even saw several Pileated Woodpeckers.
After a delicious pasta dinner we all went to sleep, excited about finding more wildlife the next day. Waking up the next morning, we took time to make pancakes before planning the day's activities. First on our list was to check out the Cove again in an effort to see a bear.
Upon entering the one-way road, we found turkeys again. The deer were a little more scarce though. Because of our lazy morning, it was approaching noon and most wildlife was probably catching a midday nap. In fact, we found several nice bucks (minus their antlers) bedded down not far from the road. In another location we found a group of bucks feeding in the shade of the woods along Abrams Creek.
On sudden inspiration, we decided to take Rich Mountain Road out to Townsend to pick up a couple of grocery items forgotten in our initial shopping. This one-way road winds steadily out of the cove and is a great drive in the fall when the colors are at their peak. Spring turned out to be a beautiful time to drive it as well although the trip was relatively uneventful.
After the stop in Townsend, we decided to head up the gravel road at Tremont to explore and photograph the Cascades on Lynn Camp Prong. The stream was beautiful although I found the cascades to be challenging to photograph with the sun casting contrasting shadows on the scene. The area immediately upstream provided some nice photo opportunities though.
The spring flowers were a highlight of the trip to Tremont. Another treat was seeing all the butterflies although it can be a little disturbing to see what they like to gather on.
After our adventure over on Middle Prong and Lynn Camp, we headed back to Cades Cove. Along the way, a bear was finally spotted shortly before we actually arrived in the cove. We took a few pictures but the lack of a tripod meant the pictures were all at least a little fuzzy.
A short rest at camp provided me the opportunity to sneak over to Anthony Creek and catch a couple of small rainbows. As the sun sank lower in the west, we headed out for yet another adventure around the Cove. This would be the best yet as we saw another 3 bears as well as more turkeys than ever and the usual deer. The afternoon light was filling the Cove and I had my camera out even more than normal trying to capture the changing moods of the mountains.
Our last day in the mountains started out with an epic breakfast that included one of my favorites, breakfast burritoes!!! After that we packed everything and decided to make one last drive around Cades Cove.
We experienced several treats that included iris blooming near an old home site, and a still quiet pond in the woods, but the trip took an interesting turn as we returned to our car from the pond.
As we climbed the gentle slope back to the car, a highway patrol SUV came into view. We stood there staring as car after car then rolled by, all TN highway patrol. Finally, what seemed like an eternity later, the last car was followed by an SUV and we got in our own car wondering what was going on. I'm still not really positive, but I think they just went on a big joy ride together. We drove out of the Cove immediately behind them and I was impressed with how fast they made the trip back to the Wye!
Leaving the Cove behind us, we headed towards Sugarlands and then the West Prong of the Little Pigeon. I wanted to see how the pocket water of that particular stream was fishing in the name of science and research of course. We drove up to the Chimneys Picnic area where I spent some time prospecting with a dry before finally biting the bullet and tying on a Tellico. A few rainbows quickly ate the tantalizing offering and I started seeing fish sitting very deep in the water column. A strong breeze was keeping the gorge quite cool. I did find some cool bugs flying around though!
Another stop lower on the West Prong produced no additional fish but did provide some good material for my camera.
The last treat of the day was photographing a flame azalea along Little River Road. It appeared to already be in decline with most flowers drooping. A few were still looking decent though and we appreciated the opportunity to take some pictures.
Until my next trip I'll be looking forward to the opportunity to return to the mountains. The high price of gas will keep me closer to home this summer. This has benefits as well as drawbacks. I'll be glad to learn more about my local streams but will miss the opportunity to fish for trout in the mountains and other great locations. In the meantime, I'll still make occasional trips to the Park and perhaps some tailwaters as well...
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.