Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 3/23/2017
The fishing has been great lately! This spring has been phenomenal in the Smokies. Long hatches have produced dry fly fishing lasting for hours every day. The Caney Fork has been producing some great fish on high water.

In the Great Smoky Mountains, the spring fishing has started early this year. Quill Gordon (#12-#14) and Blue Quill (#16-#18) mayflies are starting to transition into Hendricksons (#12-#14). On foul weather days, the Blue-winged Olives (#18-#22) have literally poured off of the river. The recent cooler weather actually enhanced the dry fly fishing. The bugs have been having a harder time getting off of the water, so despite the cool water temperature, fish have been rising lazily through an extended afternoon hatch. Little Black Caddis (#18-#20) have been hatching well along with some Early Brown Stoneflies (#12).

On the tailwaters, the fishing has been decent to good. The Clinch is fishing well along with the Holston. The Caney Fork continues to be my river of choice, however. Streamer trips continue to produce and we are doing some high water nymphing as well. This is as good a time as any to have a shot at large rainbow and brown trout on this tailwater!

I still have some open dates for guided trips in April and May, but the calendar is filling fast. I've been turning away trips because people wait too long to book. Don't make that mistake!

Photo of the Month: Spring Is For Dry Flies

Photo of the Month: Spring Is For Dry Flies

Monday, April 28, 2014

Scouting

As we move closer to summer, our warm water streams here on the Cumberland Plateau are beginning to wake up.  On Sunday afternoon, I headed out with a friend to check a new spot off the list.  Most of these streams on the Plateau are remote and often much more rugged than anything I've ever encountered in the Smokies.  The hike in can often be brutal, but if you put in your time and do your homework, there are places with better access that can be found.  In fact, we never fished more than 1/3 of a mile from the car.

The best water is usually much tougher to get to though so I'm planning a return trip that will involve a bit more hiking.  While these streams are full of small bass and sunfish, some nicer fish can be found as well as evidenced by this nice smallmouth I found.

Photograph by Seth Arnold

Fishing was still a bit slow and will heat up over the next 3 weeks as waters warm and flows drop.  By June, things should be moving right along and will continue to be good through September most likely.  By late in the season, the fish in these streams are spooky as flows drop to a fraction of what they are now.  Long clear pools interspersed with gentle riffles and pockets make long casts a necessity as well as smaller flies.

But now, for the next few weeks at least, I'll be out there tossing larger flies like my PB&J streamer.  Bright colors worked best and the PB&J in Firetiger got the most looks.  Soon they'll be taking bugs on top as well.  The smaller fish were working the hatching Hendricksons pretty well, but soon we'll be tossing Stealth Bombers, Wiggle Minnows, and hopper patterns at the bass and panfish.  If you live in the area, Plateau streams and creeks are a worthy target in lieu of driving somewhere further to trout fish.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Drifting with Friends

One of the best things about the sport of fly fishing is all of the great people you meet.  From fly shops across the country, to stream side chats, I've met some of the nicest and most generous people.  Meeting for a float is about as fun as it gets so when my friend Breck checked in about a possible Caney Fork float, I was all in.

He was wanting to see the Caney since he hadn't fished it yet and was bringing his boat.  The generation schedule called for high water so it would be a day of throwing streamers the whole way.  I tied up a few more flies the night before and got up early for a start at daybreak.

Once he arrived, we dropped my car for the shuttle later and headed on up the river.  Breck is a streamer fanatic and with good reason I might add.  He has caught some huge browns on rivers like the Clinch while drifting and knows what it takes to have a good day on the water.  His boat boxes were full of monstrosities designed to turn the largest fish in the river.

It didn't take long to get the first fish of the day as well as some drive by action that resulted in the usual exclamation of "Did you see that?!?!?"  The skipjack are up in the river right now but not in the size that I'm accustomed to from the Chickamauga tailwater in Chattanooga where 18 and 20 inch skipjack are normal.  Once we started drifting, the early cold started to wear off as the sun rose higher.  Fish started to flash with some regularity and Breck came up with the first rainbow and brown of the day.




I love rowing and stayed with it for a while even after Breck offered to take a turn, but eventually the pull of throwing big flies was too strong, and I finally agreed to take a turn with the fly rod.  We covered a lot of water, pounding the banks as well as trying to work over deep water in the middle near shoals and structure.  Fish came from a lot of different places with most of mine coming off of banks and Breck's coming from out in the middle.

It wasn't until we were near or past the halfway point that Breck got excited.  I looked and saw a dark shape swirling before hammering the streamer.  Unfortunately luck was not on our side as the hook pulled from the big brown's mouth and we were both left plotting how to return again for another try some day.  Finally, as we came into the homestretch, Breck offered to switch again, and I was back on the fly rod.  Flashes and swipes became more common and soon I had my own fish as well.

When I offered to row again so Breck could fish, he told me to keep fishing.  See what I mean about generous?  I didn't argue too long and kept at it strong until the takeout.  We had a great trip even if we didn't get that big fish.  Thanks again Breck for a great day out on the water!

You can see Breck's report on our trip on the Little River Outfitters message board here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fishing to Refocus???

While perusing the World Wide Web this morning, I came across this news story about the Indiana Pacers' Paul George.  Apparently he has offended many people because he went fishing after a big loss in Game One of the 1st round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.  Sports columnists and commentators are ripping him for not being focused and suggesting that the Pacers are going to lose the series to Atlanta the way things are going.

I'll offer a different perspective.  For many years, fishing has been my way to escape and relax.  I usually return from fishing trips feeling refocused and energized.  While the majority of the non-fishing populace doesn't understand this, mostly because they've never given fishing a fair shake, those of us who do fish totally get what Paul George is up to.  In fact, I'll go out on a limb and predict a big game from him in Game 2.

Anyone else think he was just relaxing and collecting his thoughts so he could refocus or am I way off here?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday News

I don't have a whole lot to share today but for those of you on Twitter, you can now find me there.  In a few minutes I'm heading out to chase some crappie and perhaps some bass and bluegill so there should be a warm water report in soon.  This week will feature some time on the tailwaters and I'm starting to plan some backpacking excursions in the Smokies.

Currently, I have some open days as well for guided trips late this month and through May.  The Smokies are settling into a routine and will be awesome for the next few weeks.  If you are willing to hike there are always the possibilities of big days for numbers.  I can set up a trip for whatever you are looking for.

The tailwaters are starting to show some windows as well.  Last week was phenomenal on the Caney.  Bring your A-game and there is always opportunity for big browns.  I hooked and promptly lost a large fish last week but it didn't matter as I had already wore out my arm on the buffalo that were all over the river.  The trout fishing this year is going to be incredible as long as we can find some sections without too many people.

Head over to Trout Zone Anglers to learn more about trip options and pricing or send me an email to set up your trip!

Happy Easter

I just want to wish everyone a Happy Easter today as we celebrate the Resurrection!!!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Quick Report: Guide's Day Off


So I'm running low on time today so I'll keep this as brief as possible.  The last two days, the Caney Fork had a couple of windows with no generation for all of us wade fisherman.  That didn't last long as today they are running water all day again, but it was nice to get out while I could.

With no trips scheduled on Wednesday and of course wanting to see how the river is fishing, I took off and timed it so I would arrive just as the water was falling out enough to get in the river and fish.  It didn't take long for me to see some MASSIVE fish busting on the surface or at least so it appeared. My first thought was, "Oh no, the stripers are already here. Too bad for the trout!"  After getting a glimpse of fins and tails breaking the surface, I soon concluded that it wasn't stripers and started to wonder what in the world was going on.

Eventually I discovered the commotion was made by spawning Bigmouth Buffalo.  I'm not entirely convinced that there weren't some carp in the mix as well but let's just say I was in awe.  I've always heard about these fish but never run into them in large numbers on the upper river and by the time I see them on the lower river later in the year, they are very tightlipped.

Running my nymph/midge rig through the deeper water eventually resulted in a hookup.  Wow! These things can pull!!!  My arm is still sore.  After catching a couple on the midge, yeah, that's right, I said a MIDGE on 6x no less, I was worn out and decided to go looking for trout.


That's a size 22 gray midge

The net opening is 16" x 22" for reference and this was not the largest I caught...

In some deeper water downstream I started catching some rainbows with regularity and had a large trout, probably a brown, break me off with just a couple of good headshakes.  The trout were showing a preference for the nymphs which was interesting.  I never did get around to fishing a dry/dropper rig  but they probably would have eaten the Zebra Midge fished that way.  Late in the day I even found a skipjack for a rather unusual slam of rainbow and brown trout, buffalo, and skipjack.  Fun trip for sure!

Fresh hatchery 'bow

Deeper water was the ticket...

The good news is that the midge hatches are getting stronger and the fish are responding.  The Buffalo are in the river as well and can definitely provide some entertainment if you've never hooked one.

This brown fought twice his size and had me convinced a big fish was on for a while.

Yep, spring is definitely here when the dogwoods start blooming!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Road Trip

This afternoon I'm hitting the road to head for Hendersonville, TN to speak to the Hendersonville Fly Fishers.  If you are a member and able to come tonight I'm looking forward to meeting you!

Yesterday was a much needed guide's day off and I found some good water on the Caney with willing trout.  There were a few surprises as well which I'll report on late tonight or tomorrow morning!  Let's just say the river is fishing well and if you need a guide to show you the ropes, please let me know!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BRRRRR

The frost this morning appeared as promised, but thankfully it doesn't seem to have hurt anything too badly.  We don't have too much green around here yet.  The trout streams are probably having a much tougher time of it.  Take a look at this temperature graph from Little River just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Talk about falling water temperatures...that is a continuous drop of close to 15 degrees, and a drop from the highest recent temperature of more than 15 degrees.  I would be willing to bet that the fish might be lethargic to start things off today simply because of the drastic change.  Fish don't like huge fluctuations in temperature or water levels very much and will normally take a bit of time to adjust.  The good news is that the general direction of the water temperature is most important.  We should see temperatures begin to increase shortly as the stream receives full sun exposure throughout the day.  Once that temperature starts to rise, then the fish will be happier for sure.

In other news, it looks like I might get out on the water.  The Caney Fork is showing a 5 hour window without generation so someone clearly needs to go investigate to see how things are on the river.  Hopefully I'll have good news!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dogwood Winter

Right on cue, as the dogwood in our front yard started to bloom, an epic cool down arrived.  After temperatures in the 70s for several days, waking up to snow flying outside my window was a rather abrupt reminder that spring temperatures are never particularly reliable.  Indeed, even now, the snow is nearly gone after covering everything this morning with a fresh coat of white.  Temperatures should warm into the 40s before tonights hard freeze.  Some of the plants are already looking tired and cold while others are still trying to act as if spring didn't hit the pause button.

When I got up, I grabbed a camera and headed straight outside.  Around here you never know how long the snow will hang around.  Now I'm glad I was in such a hurry.  Here are a few of the pictures I took.

The woods received a fresh coat of white.

The maples are wishing they had waited a few more days to leaf out. 

The daffodils are already feeling pretty cold. 

Forsythia brings some bright cheer to an otherwise drab day. 

Ground with lots of sun exposure was still warm enough to melt most of the snowfall. 

Redbuds are just starting to bloom.  The ones who haven't are probably much better off now.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Pledge Drive

Okay, so I'm not going to ask for money, and quite honestly those pledge drive things on the radio drive me crazy.  However, I am hoping that everyone will head over to the Trout Zone's Facebook page and especially the page for Trout Zone Anglers and hit the "Like" button.  If you are one of the many who seem to be jumping the Facebook ship, but you do use Google+, then head over to the Trout Zone Anglers page there and check it out.  I've just started working on it and it is definitely still a work in progress.  That's all and thank you  all for your support!

Midge Fishing

Rescheduling a trip is always frustrating, mostly because you are looking forward to hitting the water and then something goes wrong.  In the case of the trip Chad scheduled, the Caney Fork was rising quickly when we originally planned to do our trip.  We rescheduled and then waited.  As Sunday approached it was painfully obvious that we would either have to reschedule again or change the game plan.  Thankfully Chad was flexible, and since his main goals were to learn to fish midges more effectively and possibly some other good tailwater techniques, we decided that the Clinch would work just as well.

When we arrived at the river, things were just reaching a good fishable level after the morning generation and we started up high. Finding open water was easier than I would normally expect on a pretty Sunday in April.  The Clinch is known as a "bring your own rock" type of river but on this day we were able to find water without too much trouble.  The bright sun and quickly falling water meant that we would be looking for deeper runs and holes with current moving through them.

Working across one good area resulted in spotting a few fish and one missed strike, but other than that things were looking slow.  We changed flies early and often and kept moving, looking for willing fish.  Finally we got into a spot I like that has a nice riffle dropping away into a nice run.  Trout were moving around on the bottom feeding as evidenced by the occasional flash we could see as the fish turned to eat the meal of the day.

With the greater depth, we changed to an indicator rig with a tiny #24 midge pupa on the bottom.  Chad was soon working the hole like an expert, polishing his mending skills to get perfect drag free drifts.  It didn't take too many drifts until the indicator dove and the fight was on!  He soon had the first fish in the net for a quick picture and then it was back to work the hole some more.


I had spotted a much nicer rainbow feeding on the far side of the hole but it required a fairly difficult presentation.  The flies and indicator had to be thrown over the strong current of the riffle and into the softer water on the other side.  Next, the angler would need to throw a huge mend to get a clean drift down to the fish with more small mends throughout the drift.  Chad was up to the challenge and after a few good casts, the indicator dove again.  This was a much nicer trout and soon Chad was admiring his new personal best trout on the fly rod!



Both trout showed a preference for the tiny midge pupa.  It won't be too long before they start taking Sulfur nymphs with regularity and they are probably already starting to key on them on the lower river.

We finished with another hour of covering some more techniques and working on distance casting when we found some large rainbows rising in a nice flat further down the river.  Chad was a pleasure to guide and I'm sure he will be putting his new skills to work to catch some more tailwater trout in the near future!

If I can help you with a guided trip, please contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.  

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Seriously?

Warning: I'm not going to apologize for the following rant, so if you don't want to hear me complaining, then stop reading now.  

Seriously people?  Fly fishermen have long had a reputation for looking down on "lower" forms of fishing.  Exactly where the reputation came from I have no idea, but I'm guessing there is probably some good reasons for people's opinions of our sport.  Fly fisherman are known as sticklers for the rules, often telling other people when they are in error.  Of all fisherman I've met stream side, I have run into far fewer fly fishermen who were trying to get ahead by cheating then any other.

In my opinion, chucking bait is not any better or any worse than any other type of fishing.  In fact, I'm guessing that's where most of us got our start, and let's admit, it's fun to watch that little bobber with a worm dangling under it.  However, I'm guessing that a lot of the bait chucker crowd tend to have less of a clue about the rules for a very simple reason: they don't know much else about fishing and probably just bought the gear they are using.  It might even be there first time ever trying out fishing.  "We have to have a license to do this?"  It's just ignorance.  In my opinion, ignorance is a problem, but is forgivable considering it's definitely not as bad as willfully breaking the rules.

On the other hand, if someone has progressed to the point of being a fly fisherman, there is a pretty good chance they at least know a little about what they are doing.  Same thing goes for someone who is an expert with a bait caster and haul in the bass one after the other.  They've been around the block a few times and know exactly what they are doing.  My favorites are the ones who do a little bit of everything and fish bait when they want to take a few home.  Those are probably some of the best fishermen out there and they always know the rules too.

That's why I hold some anglers to a higher standard than others.  Fly fishermen should know better than to break the rules and should always try to play by the rules.  All of this is leading up to why I was so ticked off yesterday.

While chucking streamers in the Smokies in what proved to be a futile effort, I came across a HUGE articulated fly beside a pool that has been known to produce some big fish.  I won't say how big, because someone would doubt without pictures, and I'm not at liberty to share pictures that friends have sent me.  Let's just say there are some monsters in the Park and leave it at that.

Anyway, as I get out of my car, I see what looks like a dead bird stuck to the side of a tree.  Walking over to investigate, I find a huge articulated fly stuck there.  How someone snagged the tree, broke off the fly, and completely did not see it is beyond me.  This is larger than a lot of flies I throw for musky.  I love throwing articulated flies in the Park, but am very careful to cut off all but one of the hooks.

This fly had two hooks.  Big ones too, I might add.  If you are fly fishing, you know better.  Park rules clearly state that the use of a dropper fly is permitted but the second fly must be a minimum of 12 inches from the first fly.  An articulated fly is no better than throwing bait on treble hooks.


The big browns of the Park are susceptible to unscrupulous fishermen and it doesn't take a whole lot of skill to put a serious dent in the Park's population of large browns.  Fly fishermen should know better. Play by the rules people!!!

Rant over.

1st Trout on a Fly

In addition to learning to catch crappie on the fly rod, Tyler had been hoping to learn to catch trout on the fly rod as well.  Knowing that the trout from the winter stocking program are now hungry and looking for a meal, I told him that we could head to the local state park and find some willing fish.  He was excited but I don't think he was convinced that the fishing would be easy.

To keep things simple, we used the same flies as we were for the crappie.  Trout that aren't picky are a pleasant change of pace.  The best trout fishing from a fly rod perspective isn't exactly where most people would expect which makes it all the more enjoyable.

We finally found my favorite warmup hole and started casting.  After some basic instructions, I let Tyler go and stood back to watch, camera in hand and expecting good things.  Sure enough, a few casts later I saw the flash of a trout as it hit his fly.  "Set!!!" I yelled.  Tyler is a great one for not asking questions and following directions and immediately lifted the rod tip.  Sure enough, there was a beautiful rainbow dancing on the end of his line.



I'm sure he will remember this fish for a long time.  We found a few more willing fish and Tyler is just about ready for a trip to the Smokies now!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Be Careful!

The warm weather is bringing all kinds of critters out.  I've already seen ticks and mosquitos, and just this last week I found the first snake of the year sunning on our sidewalk out front.  The very next day I saw not one, not two, but three garter snakes on a fishing trip to the local state park.  

Once the garter snakes start showing up, you can bet that the less desirables like the copperheads and rattlers are not far behind.  Be careful in places like the Smokies when you sneak up over those rocky banks.  I've seen rattlers sunning along Little River in April before so just pay attention to your surroundings and where you are walking...


Friday, April 04, 2014

Finally, Spring Crappie


Crappie fishing is one of the great simple pleasures in the life of a fisherman.  This time of year they can be found in shallow water hanging out close to brush piles and generally eating just about anything.  Usually they really turn on by the middle of March, but this year everything is running a little behind schedule.  When Tyler called the other day to ask about fishing for some crappie I figured it was time to go take a look.

When we got to the lake, the fish were noticeably absent from some of the better spots.  The water was low and clear, the previous night had been cold, and the sun was high and bright in the sky.  In situations like that, it can be best to just cover water until you find what you are looking for and that is what we chose to do.

Back in a shaded cove that has held fish in past years, we finally found what we had been looking for.   The fish were tight in to structure which made getting flies to them a bit tricky.  We finally figured out the right combination of fly and presentation though and were soon catching fish.  Tyler had a big grin on his face every time he pulled one out.


The warm water fishing will only get better over the next few weeks as things continue to warm.  With plenty of rain the past couple of days and more on the way for early next week, I'm starting to think that tailwaters may be off the to-do list for a while.  Local lakes and ponds will provide some fun action filled trips until I can get back on the Caney Fork or over to the Smokies!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Where Are the Fish?

A few weeks ago, I was contacted about doing a half day guide trip in the Smokies.  Roger had been to the Smokies on vacation other times and fly fished some, but had never caught any trout while he was at it.  He had fished in some other places including the White River in Arkansas and had done very well, but the Smokies were a completely different story and he hoped to learn how to approach fishing in the Park.

We had decided to meet at Little River Outfitters so Roger could pick up a fishing license before hitting the stream since he had just arrived the previous evening.  After meeting up and taking care of the fishing license, I asked him what he wanted out of the trip.  His reply was music to a guide's ears. "Catching fish would be nice, of course, but what I really want is to learn where the fish are and how to approach the water when fishing in the Smokies."

"We can do that for sure, and we'll catch some fish while we're at it," I promised.  As a guide, I really enjoy clients who are wanting to learn.  In fact, in my opinion, that should be the main goal of any guided trip.  Catching fish are clearly part of the equation, but if you don't somehow become a better angler then why bother?

We headed for a stream with lots of willing fish that I like to hit when the water is on the higher side.  There is a nice mix of pocket water and pools that keeps the fishing interesting.  After rigging up, we headed down to a good starter pool.  The backcast isn't too cluttered here and there are normally several fish feeding in its depths.  Since the goal was to learn, we started out with nymphs under an indicator.  Before we started fishing, I pointed out the best spots in the pool for trout and explained why the fish liked each one.  Roger immediately got the idea and pointed to another spot and asked "What about there?"  I nodded and grinned.  He learned very quickly!

After several drifts and a quick tip on mending, he was fishing the pool like a pro.  At the end of one drift the fly started to swing to the surface when a hungry fish hit it hard.  It quickly went airborne not just once but twice.  Soon he was grinning with his first Smokies trout on the fly!



A quick picture later and the beautiful fish was on its way back for the next angler.  We began slowly working our way upstream and fishing the best pockets and pools.  The next method that I showed him was one he had tried before but got frustrated because of the tangles it produced.  It was the dry/dropper.  I told him not to worry about tangles, that was my job to fix.  Glad that he didn't have to fix them, he relaxed and started fishing.

The pool he was in was shallower in the middle with two distinct currents on either side.  I pointed to the foam line along the seam of the farther current and mentioned that fish like to sit in water like that and leisurely feed on whatever comes along.  He placed the next cast with the precision of someone who has been doing this for a while and after drifting a couple of feet, a nice rainbow came up and sipped the dry fly.  He had already missed a couple of rises, but this time was ready.  Gaining quick control of the situation, he soon landed the rainbow and we snapped another quick picture.  This fish was memorable because of the deliberate take off the surface as well as its spirited efforts to throw the hook.



We kept working upstream and picked up another couple of fish on the dropper, but then noticed another angler about to get started and decided to find a new stretch of water.  The next section was mostly pocket water, and so we switched back to nymphs after a little while.  The fish were mostly staying deep in the bright sunshine and heavier than normal currents.  Eventually I decided it was time to show him one last thing, nymphing without the indicator.


Again he picked it up like a pro and was soon drifting the weighed nymph through likely pockets and runs.  Our time was quickly running out and before we knew it the time had come to head back down to the shop.  We had caught some fish, and more importantly he had learned the answer to the question of "Where are the fish?"  Back at the shop, he wanted to pick up a few flies and some split shot and indicators so he could nymph fish effectively.

I enjoyed teaching Roger and wish him the best as he enjoys a few more days of vacation. Hopefully he will enjoy catching some more Smoky Mountain trout while he is there!

If I can help you learn about fly fishing in the Smokies, please head over to Trout Zone Anglers and check out the guided trip options or contact me.

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