Bobbers. One of the more polarizing words in the sport of fly fishing. I actually saw a Craigslist ad for a drift boat one time where the guy mentioned that he wanted the boat to find a home with someone who wouldn't "bobber fish" out of it. Bobbers, strike indicators, all the same in most minds, but if you ask me they are also a useful tool.
A lot of us started our fishing journey with bobbers for that matter. I can still remember going fishing for the first time, probably around the age of 5. Staring for what seemed like an eternity at the bobber that my dad had rigged above a nice fat night crawler. The amount of patience it takes to stare at a bobber is probably a good indicator of whether someone will make it as an angler. Even at a young age I had it, or at least that is what my memory says. Probably as a result of the pleasant outings to the local state park as a kid, I still enjoy bobber fishing. In the Smokies I rarely use one although I did this past Sunday. High water made high sticking on the other side of the stream tough, but a strike indicator helped to suspend my nymphs in just the right spot to catch some trout. Drifting down the Caney in the drift boat while watching indicators is enjoyable as well. You just never know what will be on the other end of the line when that indicator goes down. I used a bobber today also, sort of.
The weather has felt like early spring now for the last week or more. Lots of birds have been heading north. The robins have arrived in large flocks, the daffodils are coming up, and in the Smokies, blue quills have started hatching. It was inevitable, then, that I eventually started thinking about fishing ponds and small lakes for panfish. It is probably a little early for good crappie fishing, but the only way to find out for sure is to go check.
On this particular water, I rarely ever feel the need to fish with anything other than a small bead head Simi Seal Leech. This little pattern catchings both the bluegill and crappie and even an occasional bass although I don't specifically target them with this fly. Today, I arrived rigged with the same four weight I had been fishing in the Smokies on Sunday afternoon, a nine foot four weight Sage Accel. Almost immediately I noticed fish spooking out of the shallows, and I had not even thrown a cast yet.
The water was still quite clear from the recent cold weather, but the fish were obviously on the prowl and hungry with pods of fish cruising just under the surface and even rising occasionally. I stripped the little leech pattern for a while trying various speeds. One or two half-hearted follows was the best I could do. I did get one unusually strong tug but assume it was just a lethargic but heavy crappie. I'll never know because the hook didn't stay in the fish's mouth. Otherwise, that was it. My magic fly wasn't working so well.
Rises occasionally could still be seen, mostly on the other side of the pond. The fish near me would congregate near the surface and then leave large ripples when I moved and they spooked. Then I noticed the bugs. A small midge hatch was in progress. Confident in what the fish were eating or at least hoping to eat, I dug out the small fly cup I had tossed some extra leeches into before shoving it in my pocket. Dry flies, beetles, a few nymphs, and one fly that might serve as a midge.
A knockoff of the Zebra Midge that I tie, similar to Higa's SOS nymph, was the only fly even remotely close in size and appearance. I figured that it would fish the best if I could suspend it under the surface. My cast tended to spook fish so I wanted to leave it in one spot for a while and give the fish a chance to move back in. Digging around in the fly cup again, I pulled out one of my Smoky Mountain Beetles. In the absence of any strike indicators, it would have to work as my bobber.
Thankfully I had tossed a couple of spools of tippet in my pocket as well. In no time I had rigged a dry/dropper rig. The beetle was my indicator and the small nymph would hopefully be close enough to a midge. Turns out that it was.
In another 15 minutes of fishing, I finally caught three nice bluegill. Two of them hit soon after the fly hit the water, probably while the nymph was still falling. The third hit after the indicator had sat there for a while, just like I had originally intended, and I was satisfied with having solved the puzzle. Three fish seemed like enough for a quick outing just a couple of miles from home. Come to think about it, I caught exactly three fish my first time watching bobbers also.
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.