Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 11/1/2018

Fishing is good in the Smokies and other mountain streams if you can catch it on a day where the wind is minimal. Otherwise, expect lots of leaves in the water for the next few days. Delayed harvest streams are also being stocked and fishing well in east Tennessee and western North Carolina.

In the Smokies, fall bugs are in full swing. We have been seeing blue-winged olives almost daily although they will hatch best on foul weather days. They are small, typically running anywhere from #20-#24 although a few larger ones have also shown up. A few October Caddis are still around as well. Terrestrials are close to being done for the year although we are still seeing a few bees and hornets near the stream. Isonychia nymphs, caddis pupa, and BWO nymphs will get it done for your subsurface fishing. Have some October Caddis (#12) and parachute BWO patterns (#18-#22) for dry flies and you should be set. Not interested in matching the hatch? Then fish a Pheasant Tail nymph under a #14 Parachute Adams. That rig can catch fish year round in the Smokies.

Brook and brown trout are now moving into the open to spawn. During this time of year, please be extremely cautious about wading through gravel riffles and the tailouts of pools. If you step on the redd (nest), you will crush the eggs that comprise the next generation of fish. Please avoid fishing to actively spawning fish and let them do their thing in peace.

Our tailwaters are still cranking although the Caney is finally starting to come down. I'm still hoping to get a firsthand report on the Caney Fork soon although it might be sometime next week or the week after before that happens at the earliest. Stay tuned for more on that. Fishing will still be slow overall with limited numbers of fish in that particular river unfortunately.

The Clinch is featuring high water as they try to catch up on the fall draw down. All of the recent rainfall set them back in this process but flows are now going up to try and make up some of the time lost. It is still fishing reasonably well on high water although we prefer the low water of late fall and early winter as it is one of our favorite times to be on the river.

Smallmouth are about done for the year with the cooler weather we are now experiencing. I caught a few yesterday on the Tennessee River while fishing with guide Rob Fightmaster, but overall the best bite is all but over. Our thoughts will be turning to musky soon, however. Once we are done with guide trips for the year, we'll be spending more time chasing these monsters.

In the meantime, we still have a few open dates in November. Feel free to get in touch with me if you are interested in a guided trip. Thanks!

Photo of the Month: Fishing in Paradise

Photo of the Month: Fishing in Paradise

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Is a Shad Kill?

Since I keep talking about the shad kill, many of you have been wondering what I am referring to. Here is a little more information on the phenomena and why it should get you excited as a fly fisherman!


Many years ago, when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) started building dams throughout the Tennessee valley and its tributary streams, numerous warm water reservoirs were formed. Each of these lakes boasts incredible diversity when it comes to fishing and a few even offer trout fishing.

The unintended by-product of these lakes was the cold water fisheries that prevailed below each dam. Within just a few years, many of the rivers were being stocked with trout. Not all of the TVA lakes have a trout fishery downstream because some are too shallow, but in the lakes that are deep enough for stratification to occur, cold water settles to the bottom of the lake. During the summer months, the bottom draw reservoirs are dumping cold water through the generators in their respective dams and create fantastic tailwater fisheries downstream. Rivers like my local tailwater, the Caney Fork River, as well as the Clinch, South Holston, Watauga, Holston, and Hiwassee are all known as great fishing destinations.

What most anglers do not realize is that these tailwaters fish great through the winter. Most anglers prefer to come fish during spring through fall when it is warmer outside. However, the winter can produce phenomenal midge hatches, and on a few rivers, blue-winged olives and winter stoneflies. The big event each year happens in late winter, if it is going to happen.

Each summer, in the reservoirs, the various species of shad (especially threadfin) proliferate in the nutrient rich waters. The shad in turn provide a great forage base for various fish including smallmouth and largemouth bass, stripers, white bass, and many other species. However, the shad need relatively warm water to thrive. In the winter, when the surface temperature on area reservoirs drops into the low 40s, shad start dying en masse. When this occurs, the current from the generators in the dams slowly draws the dead and dying fish. Eventually they get sucked through and come out below the dams into the tailwater fisheries.


That is when the real fun begins. When shad are coming through a given dam, the fish in the river below go on a feeding binge. In fact, this phenomena is one of the secrets of the fishing I do for large stripers. Generally, you can expect the best shad kills to happen in late winter during the months of February and March. It is during these times that the lake surface temperatures normally reach their lowest points of the whole year.

Even better for us fishermen, when a shad kill is on, fish will often hit just about anything white as they eat as much as they can and then some in an effort to pack on the pounds. Fish grow fat ridiculously fast on this high protein diet.


This year, I'm forecasting a good shad kill on the Caney Fork River. If it happens, it will be in the next 1-3 weeks. We have already seen some limited numbers of shad coming through the dam at Center Hill but so far the fish have not keyed in on the shad in a big way. If you are flexible with your schedule and want to experience some incredible fishing, call me as soon as I announce the shad kill has started to book a float trip to throw streamers. You may catch the fish of a lifetime...

There is a good chance that we will also see good shad kills on the Clinch and Holston Rivers. Additionally, even though it is a warm water fishery, I have had good luck fishing the shad kill on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga below Chickamauga Dam. The white bass and hybrids seem to like the shad as well as freshwater drum and of course the stripers when they are around. If you are interested in learning how to approach this fishery as a wade angler, please contact me for more information or to book a guided trip.


Over the years, I have developed 3 flies specifically for the shad kill. Two of them are ones you have seen or heard about before, the PB&J and my recent floating shad creation. The PB&J is best when you need to dead drift your patterns.


In addition to these patterns, white Wooly Buggers work as well as just about any other white streamer. I'm partial to Kelly Galloup's Stacked Blonde in all white.

Regardless of what flies you fish, make sure that you are using a strong rod and heavy tippet. I fish the shad kill with a 7 weight rod or heavier and fish no lighter than 10 lb. tippet but preferably 12 lb. The fish can be large at this time and the worst thing you could do is to hook the fish of a lifetime on too light of a tippet.

Stay tuned here for more on the shad kill. Once it is on it may last for days or it may be over within 48 hours. In rare years it may drag on for a few weeks but don't hold your breath for that one. However, as long as it stays unseasonably cold here in Tennessee, we have a pretty good chance of an awesome shad kill!

If you have any other questions about the shad kill or want to book a guided trip, please reply here and let me know or contact me

14 comments:

  1. Great post and very infotmative. I have tried to plan trips around shad kills in the past but always arrive too early or late.

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    1. Atlas, unfortunately luck plays a big role in hitting the shad kill right. The most important part about hitting it is flexibility to travel to the river on a moments notice. Easy for someone like me who lives close by, but not so easy for someone needing to travel much farther.

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  2. Hi Dave. That was a great explanation. We have Threadfin Shad in a lot of our lakes out here, but no one has ever talked about a Shad kill. Now I wonder if such a thing occurs. I have some research to do. Thanks for the info.

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    1. Mark, I can tell you that it takes an extended period of very cold temperatures. Around here, that would mean temperatures in the single digits or teens for at least several days...

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  3. I've only fished for white bass and stripers once in a large lake here in Colorado during a feeding frenzy. It was an unbelievable experience. I can only imagine what it's like under the circumstances you describe.

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    1. Howard, that is something I haven't been able to do as much of. This summer I am planning on fishing some lakes a bit more for bass, etc., though and hope to get on some good surface boils.

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    2. Hey Mark,

      Our reservoirs out west are deeper with one exception being Clear Lake. Our lakes will stratify and creat a thermocline. This allows the shad to find a comfort zone and prevent major die offs. Like I said, Clear lake and also the Cal Delta being shallow natural bodies of will have a boon and bust cycle but the larger reservoirs have pretty stable populations.

      We do have a couple of power generation tail waters with similar fishing but the forage is small Japanese smelt. We also very similar floating smelt patterns as David does. It is all hinged on them generating power though. Turbines shut down and so does the fishing and usually a summer and fall gig when the smelt bunch to spawn and get sucked in being week swimmers.

      Hope that helps

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    3. David, thanks for jumping in on that. I've wondered how many other parts of the country have this phenomena. The deep part of the lakes intrigues me as some of ours are very deep as well but not sure what deep is compared to yours. Ours have the stratification in the summer so I'm curious now about what other factors may affect this shad kill. Thanks again for chiming in to help us out on the California waters!

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    4. Our larger west slope Sierra reservoirs that Mark and I fish are built on the major river canyons and have 300-500' at full pool. Generally the thermocline here hovers at 35-60" year round though thread fin tend hang to above it depending on the plankton zone being filter feeders. A contributor to die off here can also be on low nutrient lakes coupled with the stress of colder water and just naturally bite the bullet as part of the cycle. A big lake here is 20k surface acres. Small compared to the Midwest and south east reservoirs though deeper on average because of the topography. I've been reading your reports since your move back there and would like to plan a trip to that part of the country for some fishing and to check off GSM Nat Park off my bucket list. I may be contacting you soon to start making some plans.

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    5. Very interesting and yes those are deeper than most of ours. I would enjoy showing you around anytime you can make it. Give me a holler when you are ready for a trip!

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  4. Wow is that a fat bow! The thing looks like it's fixen to explode!

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    1. Most of the fish I caught that day were coughing up LOTS of half digested shad. This one had already caught a bunch up and still had a ton in its stomach.

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  5. Hey, David, thanks for putting together an informative post here that most of us should enjoy and learn from. I have experienced the rush in the reservoir when bass are feeding on schooling shad in shallow water. However, not in the river section. I have lots to learn.................................

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    1. Mel, I've wondered if there are any rivers in Colorado that see this phenomena. I never noticed any on the Arkansas tailwater in Pueblo which seems like the most logical candidate but I'm not even sure if there are shad in the lake down there.

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