This past Friday, I had made tentative plans to fish on the Hiwassee. By Thursday evening, I was having second thoughts. The Clinch River was my second choice so plans were changed. The forecast high temperature was 41 degrees which is not bad by winter fishing standards.
When I got up on Friday morning, I was excited to get going. My last trip to the Clinch had been very memorable, and I was hoping for a good encore. The drive over set the stage for what would turn out as a very cold day. The sky had a solid gray mass of clouds from one horizon to the other. The sunny skies that were forecast never materialized which kept our temperatures from reaching the forecasted highs. When I got to the river, it was 28 degrees. Not the coldest I've fished in, mind you, but cold when you aren't mentally prepared for the occasion.
The water was still running from the generators when I arrived at the Clinch River, so I took a brisk walk up and down the river. My scouting trip upstream was successful, and I headed back to the car to rig up. Big fish, including some nice brown trout, had been located and there was no time to lose!
At the car, I looked at a couple of options and settled on my 9' 5 weight Orvis Helios fly rod. A dry fly with a tungsten bead head midge dropper seemed appropriate. The fish I had noticed were eating and the likely food of choice was midge larva or pupa. This is probably my favorite sight fishing rig for large trout on tailwaters. The dry fly makes a perfect subtle strike indicator, while the midge is a food organism that is prevalent on all tailwaters and most freestone streams as well for that matter (hint hint).
Walking up to where I had found the fish, I arrived as the water started dropping out from the generation. Fish were moving back and forth, enjoying the bounty of the river while there was still enough flow to keep them active. It took three casts before a nice rainbow trout took the midge. The fight was over quickly. Even though I was fishing 6x tippet, the Rio Fluoroflex Plus held just fine. I took a quick picture and short video clip of the release, and then it was time to fish again.
Despite persistence, I eventually gave up on finding more willing fish. Besides, the wind had started blowing which left a chop on the surface of the water that was nearly impossible to see through. I headed downstream to a section where, although I had not spotted fish there earlier, I was confident that the fish were there.
Sure enough, when I started walking slowly through the section, I saw nice brown trout holding in deeper pockets and runs throughout the section. In all honesty, a deeper dropper would probably have been more effective, but it was still below freezing and my fingers were doing good just to cast the fly rod. Every few casts, I would have to chip ice out of the line guides or dip the rod tip in the water to thaw them out. In other words, classic winter fishing. Here in Tennessee, we only get to enjoy this type of fishing a handful of times each winter. The great thing about living here is that there are plenty of warmer days throughout the winter which are comfortable enough to fish without a jacket.
Despite my early confidence, the fish didn't find my midges irresistible. I did miss one or two large brown trout due to operator error. In other words, I didn't set the hook effectively. I'll blame the cold weather.
By this time, other sections of the river were starting to call me, so I started the trek back to the car. Along the way, I fished a few choice runs. I was about to reel it in and just walk back when I saw a nice fish in a shallow riffle feeding heavily. Then I noticed another. Both fish were tucked into slightly deeper pockets and were moving quickly back and forth as they fed on midges. I cast at each one in turn and ended up spooking both. Right as I made my last cast, the indicator (I had switched rigs at this point) twitched and I set the hook...on a monster.
The little three inch trout darted this way and that. I was about to simply lift the fish out of the water too unhook it when a shadow came up behind with jaws open. The little fish ran this way and that trying to avoid its fate. Without even thinking, I dropped the rod tip so the fish had room to finish their uneven duel. It didn't take long. The large fish crowded the little rainbow up into the shallowest part of the riffle before eating it.
I waited enough time for the brown trout to secure its prize before giving tension to the line again. The fish simply sat down on the bottom of the riffle and would not budge. I've had this happen before. Usually it turns into a tug of war where the larger fish eventually spits out the smaller one or gets snagged on a trailing fly. On this particular fishing trip, I was in for a curveball.
Slowly I worked the fish up to the surface and started sneaking closer with the net out. I was hoping to net both fish at the same time. Suddenly, as I snuck closer, something slipped and I saw the little trout escape the large brown trout's mouth. The surprise was that the line was still heavy. When I gave a little pressure, the big fish took off. My midge was securely stuck in the corner of his mouth. That was a new one for me.
I worked my way downstream, following the heavy brown trout until I was within range with my net and quickly scooped. My accidental and brief foray into bait fishing on the Clinch River was quite successful if I do say so myself!
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!