Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 7/9/2017

Fishing is good to excellent across the area. Recent rains have kept flows up in the Smokies, although it has also dumped too much water into the Caney Fork system.

Terrestrials are really coming on strong now. Ants and inchworms continue to get it done, and beetle fishing is very good now. Backcountry trips are excellent now and probably are the best way to enjoy a day of fishing during the hot months. Brook, rainbow, and brown trout are all available to those willing to walk.

The Caney Fork River continues to fish anywhere from average to good on high water streamer floats. Anyone who wants to target trout with streamers will find this to be exciting fishing. Stripers are now a distinct possibility as well. High water will stick around for at least a couple of weeks it appears due to the recent rains.

Cumberland Plateau smallmouth streams are rounding into fine shape now. Rain will bump flows up again, but in between the fish are hungry and willing to hammer a fly! See the recent blog post for more on that!

The calendar is full until the last week of July. If you want to get in on a guided trip, contact me soon as I've had to turn away a lot of trips from people who waited too long to book.


Photo of the Month: Pig Brown on the Caney

Photo of the Month: Pig Brown on the Caney

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Hiwassee River: A Return To An Old Favorite

Travelling northeast from Chattanooga, I was headed for the Hiwassee River. Back in college it had been my go to trout stream, partly because it was so close of course, but also, well, the mighty Hiwassee just grows on you.

Wide for a trout river anywhere, the Hiwassee is a tailwater, but a rather unusual one. Below Apalachia Dam (yes, that is spelled correctly), the streambed barely contains a trickle unless the dam is spilling as the majority of water is piped 8.3 miles downstream and released at the powerhouse where the best trout fishing on the river begins.

On low water, the Hiwassee River shows her teeth, but when the generators kick on, it becomes a rafters’ paradise with several companies running commercial trips on the river. The shoals still lurk just under the surface, which means that only the most experienced drift boat oarsmen should attempt rowing the river. I have seen it all including people floating down the river on blowup mattresses from Wally World. Thankfully, all of that nonsense takes place in warmer weather. In the winter, anglers pretty much have the river to themselves.

Driving east from Cleveland I noticed something that I had never seen before. The mountains appeared to have been frosted. Even more impressive was how distinct the apparent freezing line had been the night before. Big Frog Mountain to the east-southeast was so beautiful that I almost changed my plans for the day to go hike the mountain instead. At minimum, I was inspired to go do some winter hiking in the Smokies before things warm up. Much closer, Chilhowee Mountain just above Benton had just a little of the white stuff on its highest reaches. 


Continuing on north towards the Hiwassee River, I was counting on the fact that it was a weekday to have the river mostly to myself, but surprisingly there were almost as many fishermen out as I would normally expect on a winter’s weekend.

Driving slowly upriver with the requisite craning of the neck to look at the water, I came around a bend to find an interesting sight: the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) trout stocking truck. As they were just finishing up one stocking location, I asked if it would be all right if I followed them up and took some pictures of the stocking in action. They graciously agreed.


While we’re on the subject, for the record, I am not in the habit of following stocking trucks around. I remember reading an article once about trout warriors who follow stocking trucks around so they can do battle with trout as soon as the fish are released. Something about that strikes me as not quite sporting so I try to avoid even the appearance of evil being a trout warrior chasing rubber stockers.


I know this sounds like a lot of excuses for a couple of pictures, but you will have to trust me on this one. As soon as I got my photographs I headed upriver as far away from the stocking truck as I could get. I felt marginally better after catching a few healthy fish that looked like they had been in the river a while.

By the time I reached the turnaround, fishermen had begun to descend on the river. I passed several anglers on my way up who were working the accessible bankside water as they waited for the flow from the turbines to be shut off. My own preparations became more and more hurried as that moment loomed closer. Everyone’s goal was to be in position to fish their favorite spot before the water went off so they could fish as it fell out. After all, there is usually a flurry of feeding as the water drops.

My original hope had been to fish some shad patterns on high water. The stop to watch the stocking truck consumed enough time that I had no chance, so I rigged up for nymph fishing. A couple of standard flies under an indicator completed my setup, and I was soon slogging across a narrow side channel in the still heavy current. Right on cue the generators went off, and I started casting.

Trout were already rolling all across the river. Not seeing any winter stoneflies, I was left to assume that it must be midges. A short time later I finally saw some of the little bugs and had my suspicions confirmed. As the water level dropped, I was able to access more and more streambed. Wading aggressively, I was soon casting to feeding trout in deeper water. Strangely, the usual suspects were not appealing to the fish on this day.

Something of an “Ah ha!” moment took place, and I tied on a small white streamer that is always very effective for me during shad kills. Only a few casts later I had a solid hit and the first rainbow of the day came to hand. Apparently the trout have been seeing some shad.

After perhaps 3 trout on the white streamer, I changed over to a dry fly with a dropper. My normal winter setup on this river is a Parachute Adams. This fly does a passable job of imitating the winter stoneflies at least vaguely in shape and size, never mind the giant white wing sticking up on top. That part is to help me see the thing 60 feet away. Underneath I would normally drop a small midge, but instead I used a little bead head caddis pupa that you would recognize if you have fished with me before. The fly is the embodiment of simplicity so I do not mind losing one every now and again. In other words, a perfect guide fly.

Carefully slipping and sliding around the river bottom, I managed to scare up another trout or two before wondering how the water downstream was fishing. While I have fished a large portion of the river from well above the powerhouse downstream to Reliance and beyond, those excursions away from the upper river are the anomalies. I prefer the water from Big Bend upstream for a simple reason: that section has the highest concentration of trout in the Hiwassee River.

Accordingly, I was soon making the short drive downriver to fish a favorite area at Fox’s Cabin. This stretch of river produced some of the most epic match the hatch fishing I’ve experienced anywhere. Of course, the whole river was good on those days, I just happened to be fishing there. Still, a little nostalgia always creeps in when I fish there and remember the good old days. You know, my college years before the real world kicked in and started kicking my butt.

Anyway, so I stopped just downstream where I had seen the stocking truck earlier. There is a shoal that extends across the river there that I enjoy fishing when the winter stoneflies are out. By that time in the day I was seeing a few fluttering around and also some explosive rises.

As I waded in, I could not help but notice a large school of trout podded up near the bank. Apparently the stockers from earlier in the morning had survived their rough entry into the river. I did my part to help them disperse so an unethical angler wouldn’t come along and full up a couple of 5 gallon buckets with fresh stockers. To any onlookers, I probably looked a bit like a Labrador retriever who had not seen the water in a few months as I bounded through the water in pursuit of the terrified fish. My mission was soon accomplished though as the school scattered for safer habitat. The area duck hunters quit yelling at me to “Fetch!” and things quickly returned to normal.

Wading out across the shoal, I worked quickly towards the middle of the river to get away from those poor fresh stockers. They were still confused enough that I could have scooped them up in my net if I wanted.

I was catching brown trout, more than normal I might add, although it has been so long since I fished the Hiwassee I might just be remembering incorrectly. Lots of the fish were barely larger than fingerlings and a few could have convinced me that they were hatched in the river if I didn’t know that TWRA stocks a lot of fingerling browns in the fall. Hopefully those will grow up to be large predatory browns in the next few years.


The complete tour of the shoal was finished about the time the water came up from the afternoon pulse of generation. Heading a short distance upstream to the large pool at Fox’s Cabin, I fished a streamer rod in the heavier current for a while. My one reward was a chunky rainbow around 13 inches in length. Soon the pulse abated, and I worked my way back out on the water with the 5 weight again in hand.

Some of the prettier fish I caught on this day came after that afternoon pulse. Some of the rainbows were so pretty that it seemed a shame that they most likely would not get the chance to grow much larger. The delayed harvest season is on a bit longer, but when it ends there will be carnage on the streams that fall under this designation. This has more than a little to do with the fact that most Tennessee tailwaters do not produce as many large fish as they are capable of, but that is a topic for another time.

The pulse seemed to hang around longer than expect, but that was likely a product of the fact that I was not fishing immediately below the powerhouse this time. Water drains out fairly quickly on this river, but it still takes time for it to go somewhere. Slowly I worked my way out towards some deeper runs in the middle of the streambed, catching the odd rainbow trout or two along the way.


This set of runs has produced some fantastic fish for me over the years. On a day when I was just happy to be out, the magic struck again. A big boisterous rise got my attention across the pool I was fishing. I had just caught a rainbow from the near current. It was a pretty fish and I paused a moment to appreciate its colors. You never know when a fish will be the last one of the day, and I needed something to daydream about over the cold days ahead.

That big rise was across some dead water that was just past the current closest to me. On the other side of the dead water was a current seam along the edge of the dominant current flowing through this particular pool. Based on the rise, I assumed the fish had noticed one of the few stray winter stoneflies still fluttering around.

I made a long reach cast across, reaching upstream so my line would not drag immediately in the secondary current just beyond my rod tip. The dry drifted about three feet before I blinked. When my eyes opened again the dry fly was nowhere to be seen. There was a split second where I questioned where it could have gone before I thought, “Maybe I should set the hook, you know, just in case.” This scenario seems to be a more common ailment among fly fishermen than is generally acknowledged, but most likely more research needs to be done.

Over the years, this problem has reared its ugly head in some rather humorous ways. One time I was fishing the Caney Fork River when a drift boat with three guys came through. I have to say I was rather enjoying the scenery until one of the gentlemen yelled at me to set. At least I obey quickly. I landed that fish while guys probably thought I was the least focused fisherman they had seen all day. Now that I’ve guided a while I realize it is a universal problem. As a guide, I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve had to yell set. Of course my friends do it to me all the time when we fish together out of the boat. If you’ve found the cure, then I’m all ears.

Anyway, so as I was saying, my flies had disappeared, and when I set the hook I could tell it was better than anything else I had caught all day. The flash of buttery brown immediately had me wishing that I had brought a net. For some reason or another, my net had been left at home. Want a surefire way to hook a nice trout? Leave your net or camera at home, preferably both of course.

The dropper that the fish had eaten was dangling off of that Parachute Adams on 6x tippet. With all of the ledges and sharp rocks around I was nervous. I really wanted to see that trout up close!


To spare you the boring details, I soon guided the fish up onto a nice soft barely submerged weed bed that cradled the brown almost as well as my net. A couple of pictures later I held the trout carefully in the water. When the fish was ready to go there was no holding it back.


By this time the late day sun had moved well below the nearest hill and there was a definitely chill in the air as evening approached. The far hillside was lit with a warm glow that you can only get in winter. Reflecting off of the water, it gave the illusion of liquid gold flowing downstream below me.



Before calling it quits for the day, I decided on making one last stop at Big Bend to fish the bottom of the big shoals there. Several more browns made an appearance although none were as nice as the handsome fish I had caught further upriver. The late day sun was sinking even lower, so after a few more quick pictures, I decided to finally call it a day and head back to civilization.





These other recent posts on the Trout Zone may interest you as well. 



11 comments:

  1. I have been wondering how the Wass has been fishing, glad you got out.

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    1. Travis, if you can hit it on a day where the water is off except for pulse every three hours, it should fish very well. Even better, get out on a sunny day with highs in the 50s and it will be awesome! Give me a holler if you want to hit it sometime.

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  2. Nice. I can't tell you how many times I have hooked fish just as I am picking up to make a cast. Not because they see the fly move and take but because I didn't notice and they didn't spit it out right away. There definitely is no cure.

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    1. Good to know that I'm not the only one with these problems. I catch more fish than I care to admit as I'm picking up for another cast.

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  3. David
    What a great post detailing a tailrace I have read about but never have fished. Does this tailrace fish anything like the Elk or the Caney? Just curious to know how large were the stocker trout? Thanks for sharing

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    1. Bill, this river is quite different from the Elk or Caney. The fish sizes are similar although I think the Caney has more large trout than the Hiwassee most likely. That is not to say that there are not large fish in the Hiwassee, but the average fish is probably 10-11 inches. The nice brown I caught was probably stocked last fall for the delayed harvest and was in the 16-17 inch range. The main difference between the HI and those other tailwaters you mentioned is that the Hiwassee is much like a mountain stream with large rocky shoals extending across the river. This makes wading a much trickier proposition compared to the Elk or Caney. A wading staff is highly recommended on the Hiwassee and even then be prepared to slip some.

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  4. That's some beautiful water David. I appreciate you taking some pictures of the stocking process and it helps make for a great post. Can you see if you can document some aerial stocking?

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    1. Thanks Howard. I would love to have a chance to photograph the aerial stocking. I suppose I'll have to add that to my list of reasons to come back to Colorado though as I don't think they do that around here. All of our stocked water is accessible by road unfortunately.

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  5. Nice job David! The parachute Adams is one of my "go to" dries for when the winter stones come off, peacock and starling wet is also a good one

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    1. Mark, I'm glad you mentioned the peacock and starling. I didn't even think to try one but I love the peacock and partridge soft hackle early in the season. Next time I'm down there maybe I can remember to tie one on.

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    2. Tie it behind the Adams and hold on !

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