Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 8/13/2017

Fishing is good to excellent across the area. Caney Fork floats are happening either early or late, and in the Smokies we are fishing the high elevations to beat the heat.

Terrestrials are now a strong producer no matter where you fish. Beetle fishing has been good this summer. There are still fish ready to slam a beetle or hopper. In the mountains I prefer a beetle or ant while on the tailwaters I lean towards a hopper or beetle although ants work well there also. Hike in fishing on the brook trout streams is still good right now although flows are low enough that you need to focus on stealth.

On the Caney Fork, the great sight fishing opportunities of summer are in full gear. Daily midge fishing to big trout is a possibility. Night times can produce some exciting fishing on streamers or even mouse patterns. Just be careful out there when its dark. The river is unforgiving even in the daylight.

Smallmouth bass fishing has been good to great. Fish are looking up as usual for this time of year. When they don't want to hit flies on top, crawdad or baitfish patterns will work.

Photo of the Month: Night Time Hog

Photo of the Month: Night Time Hog

Friday, July 28, 2017

Under Cover of Darkness: Hunting Big Nocturnal Brown Trout

For years, I have dabbled occasionally in fishing at night. Many of my largest fish have been caught at night, although that is a bit misleading since a lot of those were stripers. Long nights spent stripping streamers also resulted in a big brown trout here and there. One thing eluded me though: catching a big brown trout on a mouse pattern.

For the last couple of years, I have been inspired by my buddy Bryan Allison. Recently, his monster 30" brown trout on a night time mouse trip got me thinking about mousing again. Fast forward to a few weeks back when my friend Brandon Bailes checked in about the possibility of fishing the Caney Fork River. We have been trying to get our schedules together for a while, but this was the first time it looked like we could finally make it happen.

Yesterday, I started the day off early with a morning guide trip on the Caney Fork. After a quick lunch break midday, I headed back to the river to meet Brandon and get ready for our evening float. Imagine my surprise when he handed me a handful of his own creations. For anyone that doesn't know Brandon, he is an extremely talented fly tier who sometimes does orders for people who need some good custom tied flies. If you are interested in getting flies from him, then contact me, and I'll put you in touch with him.

Mouse Pattern from Brandon Bailes
"The Winning Mouse Pattern" Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes

I couldn't bring myself to fish such beautiful flies, but I did grab a mouse pattern from the bunch and added it to my box...just in case. After dumping the boat and running the shuttle, we started floating around 4:00 PM. Brandon started off on streamers and stuck with those faithfully until near dusk. I wanted to see how the nymph fishing was for future guide trips, so I drowned some flies under an indicator.

Early in the float, Brandon started having some really nice flashes on the streamer. We were both stoked for the evening and what it had to offer. Soon, my indicator dove, and I had a nice fish on. A battle scarred rainbow hit the bottom of the net moments later, and I got a quick picture. Just downstream, Brandon nailed a couple of beautiful brown trout on his streamer.

"First Fish" Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes

Caney Fork River brown trout caught on an ant
"On the Ant" ©2017 David Knapp Photography

We continued into the gathering darkness. By the time we were halfway through the float, we stopped for a brief dry fly session. Brandon nailed some nice browns on a flying ant of his. The fish were sipping in gentle currents as they are prone to do in the last light of day. The hits indicated that the fish were not altogether unfamiliar with terrestrials which is good news for the fly angler.

Light was failing fast now and before we continued through the second half of our float, we took the time to exchange sinking lines and streamers for floating lines and mouse patterns. Yes, you read that correctly...big nasty rodent imitations. Did I mention that Brandon ties some amazing flies? I dug out the fly that he had just gifted me with and tied it on to some stout 12 lb. fluorocarbon tippet. If a fish happened to hit, the last thing I wanted to do was worry if my line would hold.

Caney Fork River evening in the ClackaCraft Drift Boat
"Evening Reflections" ©2017 David Knapp Photography

The anchor was pulled back up and the boat continued into the mysterious darkness of night. We had no idea if trout would come out to play or not, but there is only one way to find out. This float is not for anyone unfamiliar with the river. Even on low water you could get yourself into some problems if you don't know where you are going. Thankfully, having rowed this river countless times, I could nearly do it with my eyes closed. All of those daylight floats really pay off when you fish at night. Sometimes you are thankful just to see a silhouette of trees against the stars for navigation. Other times, the river is wide and lazy and there are few opportunities for danger. Some sections are just too tight for safe casting and those we rowed quickly through.

Along the way, we discussed everything either of us had read on large predatory brown trout. Feeding habits and patterns were recalled and we began trying to really target specific water types where we expected these fish might happen to be at. At the end of one long pool, Brandon had an explosive strike but the fish refused to hit again. The same thing happened another 200 yards downstream, except this time the fish hit a second time and was briefly hooked. Then there was a lot of futile casting. Those two hits had us excited, but the next couple of hours just demonstrated how important it is to put in your time on these big fish.

We were drifting into a flat area that I always like to fish on low or high water. The fish just always seem to be there. I directed Brandon towards the left side of the boat where I expected the fish to be, and I aimlessly slung some casts to the right just in case. About the time I was thinking about pulling my fly out of the water for the final time and just working the oars it happened. Despite being in a section that I thought was wide open, my fly suddenly seemed very heavy. As I kept stripping, the heavy feeling began to throb, and I realized I was feeling the head shakes of a big fish as the "log" I thought I had hooked came alive.

The fish was clearly large, but how large we wouldn't know for several minutes. For a few seconds I questioned whether I had somehow nailed a smaller striper, but quickly discarded that for the lack of a scorching run. Even so, I briefly saw my backing before quickly getting the line back on the reel. The 7 weight rod was doubled under the weight of the monster. Brandon grabbed the net and a headlamp as I kept working the rod and the fish. It surfaced briefly just on the edge of the feeble glow from our light, and I knew it was only another moment before my big brown trout was in the net.

Finally, Brandon slipped the big boat net under the fish. I was glad for the large version of the Fishpond Nomad Boat Net. Anything smaller for a net and I would have been a nervous wreck. As it was, I was shaking and not from the cool night air. This fish was a monster with a big kype jaw. In other words, I had just landed my dream big brown trout on the Caney Fork River. For the second summer in a row, I found a new personal best fish on this special river.

Caney Fork River Monster Brown Trout on a Mouse Fly
"Rodent Eater" Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes

The next few moments were a scramble to keep the big fish in the water, set up some lighting, dig out the camera, and get ready for a couple of quick pictures. That accomplished, I then held the fish facing upstream in the gentle current. I probably spent longer than necessary holding on to this fish. I didn't want to let it go until I was absolutely certain that it was healthy and ready to swim another day. Fish like this are a treat to be enjoyed by other anglers again and again. Let them go so they can grow!

The Caney Fork River is amazing in its ability to produce big trout. The river can support a surprising number of very large fish given the opportunity. Good catch and release practices go a long ways towards insuring the opportunity for others to enjoy this fishery. If you enjoy catching big fish like the one above, release your catch. If I was ever going to put a fish on the wall, this one was probably the fish. It was perfect in every way, from the big kype jaw, to the rich coloration, and of course it was a big fish. Instead, I prefer to see them swim away to be caught another day.

Thanks to Brandon Bailes for coming to fish with me and kindly taking these great pictures. Also thanks for the winning mouse pattern! Check out his work if you need some effective, big fish catching flies!




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Beetle Fishing

With the hottest days of summer also comes some of the best terrestrial fishing of the year. Ants, bees, hornets, grasshoppers, inch worms, and beetles are abundant and often end up in the water. Never mind how they get there, the important thing is that these bugs fall in the water and the fish eat them. Of all the options, ants probably provide the most consistent fishing while hoppers and beetles provide the most exciting fishing. Let me explain.

Ants fall into the water throughout the warmer months. In fact, fish can be caught on ants in the Smokies almost year round and certainly from April through October. This includes some of the larger brown trout a few select Park streams are known for. Subsurface offerings are usually the most consistent both in the mountains and on area tailwaters, although you will occasionally catch some really nice fish on top as well.

Hoppers and beetles, on the other hand, provide visually exciting sight fishing to wary trout, often in shallow water. Fish will usually eat a beetle given the opportunity. Hoppers are not far behind, but knowing your local water is important here. For whatever reason, there just isn't much hopper fishing in the Smokies. Not that you can't find a few fish willing to crush one, but that is definitely the exception rather than the rule. Beetles seem to be rather widespread however. I had this reinforced just a couple of weeks ago.

After a half day day morning guide trip, I decided to hit the water for a couple of hours to see how the fishing was on Little River. My goal was to either fish streamers or terrestrials with a strong preference for the terrestrials. Streamers are better in the winter, or at least that is when I prefer to fish them. Beetle fishing is best during the heat of summer once the Japanese beetles make their annual appearance. I made my way up to the river after a stop at Little River Outfitters and was soon looking down at a nice pool.

Sure enough, a quality brown trout was resting in a favorite lie in the back of the pool. This is a prime spot because it is accessible and easily approached without spooking the fish. I rigged up with my favorite black beetle pattern and dropped into the stream well downstream of the fish. Working slowly up the bank, I snuck into position behind a boulder just downstream of the trout.

Pulling enough line off the reel, I made a quick false cast and dropped the fly into the water just to the right of the fish and....nothing. Another cast looked perfect but the fish didn't even seem to know the fly was there. The third cast, well, the third time is a charm. The cast was about two feet upstream of the fish, and it rose confidently and ate without any hesitation. The hook set was clean, and while there were some tense moments during the fight, I soon had the fish in my net and ready for a quick picture.

Brown Trout Caught on a beetle in the Great Smoky Mountains on Little River

My day was made at this point. Sight fishing is my favorite thing to do in fly fishing so I was content. Thankfully, I didn't stop at that point.

My next stop was a pool that had several quality brown trout in it, at least it did as of a few months ago. I already knew where the fish should be but couldn't spot anything from my vantage point. Regardless, I wanted to throw a few casts so I scrambled down another bank and worked my way across the riffles downstream to get into position. Moving up, the first cast was right where it needed to be. Sure enough, a nice brown was waiting for me. This fight was less stressful than the last, but it was still satisfying to slide the net under another healthy fish.

While the day had been made twice already, I decided to try one more spot. Working up a rough section of water, the fish I had gone looking for didn't seem to be home. Not far upstream, I was ready to call it a day. There was a good rock wall where I could climb out, and I started up. Just as I hit the top, I glanced upstream and notice a shadow near the bank. Sure enough, another nice brown trout was sitting out just waiting for me.

A few casts later, I had my third quality brown trout in the net. Not bad for an hour or two of fishing with minimal expectations. I decided to call it a day before I pushed my luck too far. The stream had been more than generous, and I was satisfied.

 Last beetle caught brown trout on Little River for the day in the Smokies

The key to summertime beetle fishing is presenting the fly to the correct water. This seems obvious, and yet two of the three fish I caught were in water that most anglers would have overlooked. These mid-summer terrestrial eating fish are usually in shallow or shaded water (or both), often in "dead" water that most people don't even expect to see a fish in. Success is much higher if more time is spent looking than casting. Yet, for those who are patient, this pinnacle of fly fishing sport is a lot to offer. Rainbow and brook trout will also eat beetles well this time of year.

One word of caution is needed here. Water temperatures in the lower elevation brown trout streams are often getting higher during the day than an ethical angler should fish in. Please carry a thermometer and curtail your fishing activities if the water temperature is 68 degrees fahrenheit or above. My personal cutoff is 66 degrees and above. If you do find warm water, simply look higher in elevation for your fishing experience. Good fishing can still be had through the hottest part of the summer for those willing to explore.

If you are interested in learning more about beetle fishing in the mountains or on the tailwaters, I offer guided wade and float fishing opportunities across middle and east Tennessee. Please visit my guide site for more information on guided fly fishing trips. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Summer Smallmouth Explorations

Last minute cancelations are rare these days which means I'm not doing much fishing. To be clear, I'm participating in fishing a lot these days, just not as the actual fisherman. That is okay, I suppose, because it means business is going well. On the other hand, it means my time to explore has been severely limited as of late. Summer smallmouth exploration trips are probably one of my favorite downtime activities. This is likely at least partly because of how rare they have become.

As a short aside here, if you want to get on my calendar this summer, plan ahead. I'm booked solid until the last week of July although things are not quite as busy in August. That said, August is probably the best month of the year to fish the Caney Fork (in my humble opinion) if you want to find and stalk large brown trout on midges, but enough of that. Back to my smallmouth fly fishing exploration trips.

The first smallmouth trip was on limited time and was a return to an old favorite. That day went well as I caught several healthy fish on topwater foam hoppers on light tackle. This is probably my favorite way of fishing for smallmouth.

When another cancelation happened just a few short days later, I decided to go a bit further afield in search of some new scenery and hopefully good fishing. My dad happened to be off of work as well, and I checked to see if he was interested in a hike. He was, so we quickly made our plans and hit the road for the new destination.

The hike in turned out to be shorter and relatively easier than I expected which was great. The fishing also turned out to be amazing. Fishing topwater flies is probably my favorite way to stalk these feisty bass, so I tied on a black Stealth Bomber. My usual selection is either that fly or a Chernobyl style hopper. Add a rod in the 4-6 weight range (usually a 4 or 5 for me) and you have an afternoon of fun ahead of you. Smallmouth on these creeks can get big, so a rod up to a 7 or even 8 weight isn't the worst idea, but I think more fish eat the fly because of the gentle presentation of the lighter rods.

Once I rigged up and got on my wading boots, I quickly waded into the stream and started casting. A few casts later, and I had my first bass! That fish was soon followed by a second and the day was looking good!



About this time the distant sound of an ATV had grown louder and I stopped fishing long enough to chat with a guy and his son who lived nearby and proved to be a wealth of information about the area. Armed with this additional knowledge, I started working my way upstream while my dad relaxed in the shade on a large rock overlooking the stream. A few more fish came to hand on the Stealth Bomber before I decided it was time to turn around and work back downstream on my way out. Since all of the fish had already seen the top water fly, I decided to go sub-surface with a favorite smallmouth bass streamer.

On my way up, a large fish had spooked out of the tailout of a big pool. This fished wasn't really interested on the Stealth Bomber but I thought it might go for the subsurface offering. Sure enough, as I approached the spot, I could see the fish cruising. My cast landed the fly 5-6 feet upstream of the fish and it immediately charged. After a quick pause to stare at the fly, it inhaled the streamer and I gave a tremendous bass set.

Somehow the 5 weight provided enough power and the fish was soon charging around the pool. I was thankful for a good large arbor reel with its ability to quickly pick up a lot of line. The fish grew tired, and soon I lipped it and snapped a quick picture. This may be my new favorite place to fish for smallmouth!


Knowing that time was short, I worked quickly downstream and back to where I had left my dad. He agreed that the day was warm and humid so we were both ready to leave. I stopped to fish a little off of the rock he had been relaxing on and quickly nailed two more nice bass on the streamer. My dad kindly snapped a couple of pictures with my phone and then we were ready to go!



This is definitely one of my top three favorite smallmouth locations now. The access is not terrible although I'm always nervous leaving a vehicle parked in the middle of nowhere on the Cumberland Plateau. So far I've been fortunate thankfully. The fish are willing and clearly not too pressured. The only difficulty with fishing for smallmouth is the skill required. Short sloppy casts won't work on these fish, and once you get one to eat you better be ready to set the hook hard. That said, the rewards are well worth it. Exploring these remote smallmouth creeks is reward enough, but finding fish like these make it even better!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Best Fishing Trip

Some fishing trips are about catching fish, some are about scenery, but all fishing trips are good. My favorite trips are the ones that I get to enjoy with friends or family. Recently, I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Leah, a wonderful young lady who enjoys many of the same outdoor passions as I do (there might even be a correlation here about my lack of blog posts... :) ). The only thing we hadn't done yet was to go fishing. The good news is that she wasn't anti-fishing and in fact was a little bit excited about trying it out.

Fast forward to last week. Leah had some vacation time that she needed to use or lose. We decided to take my parents up to see Roan Mountain State Park. My mom has always wanted to go see the flame azalea and rhododendron blooming up there and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. After talking with Leah, I also packed some fishing equipment.

The flowers were just about perfect or even a little past their prime but still beautiful. We enjoyed a picnic and some hiking before my parents had to head back home a little earlier than we did.

View on Roan Mountain

Roan Mountain rhododendron`


The stream in Roan Mountain State Park was calling so we headed back down the hill. The Doe is a beautiful stream that is legendary for big brown trout. Those big fish are rumored to hang out in the Doe River Gorge for the most part. The section in the state park is smaller water where larger browns are certainly possible but not likely. Smaller brown trout as well as rainbow and brook trout call this water home.

We waited out a thunderstorm before suiting up and getting in the stream to fish. Leah picked up the casting required rather quickly. She also mastered the hook set. With these two keys to success in place, we were ready to catch fish!

The first fish of the day didn't take long. It was a mighty chub, not the hoped for trout. Still, it was the first fish on the fly rod for Leah so we took some pictures! Doesn't she look great in waders?

Leah's first fly rod catch

A bit further up the stream was a tricky section with overhanging trees requiring a longer cast so I took a few casts myself. A pretty brown trout nailed the dry fly and we took more pictures. By this time, thunder was starting to get close again so we decided to move to another spot where we could fish close to the car.

Nice brown trout on the Doe River

After moving upstream, I found a spot where we could get to the water easily. The weather was still decent although it appeared we were on borrowed time. A small plunge with an undercut boulder seemed like a good spot to try. Leah made a good cast and we saw a large shadow swirl. I got excited but the fish refused to come back out. A fly change seemed appropriate and with the rain that just happened, a green weenie seemed right.

After tying on the fly, I told Leah to try that same spot again. That big shadow of a fish was probably a hungry brown trout, and I hoped that we could hook it.

Sure enough, the dry fly dove and Leah set hard into a feisty brown trout. The fish surged hard downstream before changing directions and heading upstream in an attempt to burrow under the boulder. I quickly waded out with my net ready and pushed the tippet off of the rock so she could get a good angle again with the rod tip. Soon the fish came to the surface and I dipped the net under a hefty brown trout. Unbelievably, Leah's first trout on a fly rod was a big brown trout, my favorite! The next best part of the day was when she was interested in going fishing again the next day for day two of her vacation, but I'll save that for another post... Needless to say, I think I found a good one!

Roan Mountain State Park Doe River brown trout

Leah's first trout on the fly rod is a beautiful brown trout

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guides Guiding Guides

There are guide trips, and then there are guides guiding guides. Of course, it is possible for there to be some crossover between the two. Let me be clear from the start by saying that there was no money exchanging hands on this particular trip, just three friends getting together to have a good time.

The day began the week before when David Perry contacted me about getting out to fish streamers together on Sunday. When I told him that my calendar was clear, it was time to find a third person to join us. We talked about some possibilities and soon settled on another great Caney Fork River guide, Susan Thrasher. Amazingly, her calendar was also open and things were quickly finalized to meet Sunday morning. With the time change happening that Saturday night, we didn't start too early and targeted 9:00 AM as a good time to meet up.

Morning came too early with the time change, and I was glad we hadn't started any earlier. David Perry had brought his boat. It didn't take long to throw the necessary items into his truck and ride up to the dam. I stayed with the boat to get everything ready while he and Susan ran the shuttle. Before long they were back. Comfortably settled in at the rower's bench, I told them to jump in, and we were off for a few laps around the dam pool.

Fish started to come with some regularity and soon it was time to trade off on the rowing job. We ended up each taking a lap around the dam pool before starting off down the river. Both strikes and fish were coming with enough frequency that you had to stay on your toes. This was going to be one of those good days.

I had some experiments to try out. I've been working on deep water nymphing techniques for one and two generators. On several previous trips I had the one generator routine dialed in, but wanted to try some things for two generators. The ribbing from my guide friends started in earnest when I pulled out a pack of balloons. In the end, the amount of weight I was trying to float ended up being more of a hassle than it was worth, and I quickly ditched the balloon idea. Unfortunately, I didn't quit before Susan snapped a picture to preserve the evidence. To be fair, before my experiments came to an end, everyone wanted to try the lucky flies so it wasn't a complete failure. They just didn't want to fish them under a balloon!

Photo Courtesy of Susan Thrasher ©2017

Early in the float, David P. had the hot hand with plenty of fish coming to the net. Susan started to catch up and then we got into a pod of fish that was producing almost every cast. By the time we started down the river, everyone was on the board. The hunt continued and we tried some different techniques out. The key to any of the techniques was depth (isn't it always?), and when the depth and speed was correct the fish would respond.

White was a clear favorite as far as fly colors go. The fish are responding to shad imitations such as my PB&J even when there aren't any obvious signs of a shad kill which leads me to believe they have been coming through at times. A few weeks back, on a guided float, we saw some come down the river and the fish were going nuts for them. All of this bodes well for the fishing this upcoming year! Fish are healthy and growing well this winter and early spring.

The highlight of the day came shortly after I nailed a nice rainbow trout. We were having a conversation about how nice it was to fish with other guides. As much as we all love guiding, it is also nice to occasionally spend time on the water without being responsible for putting someone else on fish. Sharing ideas together allows each of us to become better anglers and guides.

Photo Courtesy of Susan Thrasher ©2017

About that time, David P. was back on the rower's bench and I was in the front of the boat. As we came into a nice bend in the river, I stuck a good brown off the right side and was followed shortly after with Susan putting a deep bend in her rod. David P. was left to ask which of us wanted our fish netted first. Both fish came to the net about the same time so we pulled over for the always enjoyable "Double" picture. Susan's was a gorgeous rainbow trout while mine was a buttery brown trout. David P. did the honors taking pictures for us and soon both fish were released to swim and be caught again another day.

Photo by David Perry ©2017 and provided courtesy of Susan Thrasher

There were more fish to be caught and still some distance left to float. As the shadows started to lengthen, we got the crazy idea to do it all again. Well, sort of. Things slowed down and we started thinking about the dam pool again. There were and are plenty of fish up there and we decided to run up there and make a few more laps. Accordingly, we hustled down to the takeout, loaded the boat, and were soon back up at the dam.

The final fish were caught and we were all starting to think about work the next day. All good things must come to an end or so it seems most of the time. This was no different. We loaded the boat and put up gear. Soon we were saying our goodbyes and promising to do another trip like this one as soon as possible. Thanks again David P. and Susan!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Finding Motivation


For someone who loves to fish, finding motivation is not normally a difficult task. This has been anything but a normal spring, though. In fact, while the weather outside says it is spring, we are still waiting for the calendar to catch up. I have been busy with some graduate coursework in Outdoor Education which means that my fishing time has suffered. Last week was busy with guide trips and so I intended to use a free day or two this week to catch up on school work.

My plans began to change on Monday. The predicted rain was no longer predicted, or at least not in the intensity and volume of earlier predictions. My morning responsibilities were cancelled, and then my buddy Pat Tully sent a text Monday afternoon that provided the last jolt of motivation. The message simply read, "Hey are you fishing the Park tomorrow I'm getting off work at 1030."

After yet another weather forecast consultation that went a little deeper than the usual glance at the reports, I made the decision to go for it. My excitement was quickly growing. The way things are shaping up, I may not have too many opportunities to fish a hatch this spring. I was hoping that everything would work out for bugs and rising trout.

The next morning, I woke up naturally at a ridiculously early hour and was immediately wide awake. Funny how hard it is to get up normally except when fishing is involved. Thankfully that extends to guiding which means that I've found the one career I can actually get up early to go to work for. I grabbed my gear, threw together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and was soon on the road. Just enough time was available to stop at Little River Outfitters and pick up some streamer hooks.

My next stop was the famed Wye. Thankfully the swimmers and sunbathers were not out yet. Give it another month or two if you want to catch that hatch. I rigged up a streamer rod and wandered up and down the river searching for a big brown. Before long, Pat showed up and I decided to get more serious about things. Rigging a nymph rod and a dry fly rod, I was prepared for any eventuality.

We talked things over and agreed that mayflies and rising trout were at the top of the agenda for the day. With a plan in place, we headed up river to find the bugs and hopefully risers. We didn't have to look very hard.


The very first pool I wanted to look at had rising trout. Upon closer inspection we saw that the trout were rising to a bounty of Blue Quills that were drifting down before flying off. Despite my initial confidence, the trout were smarter than either of us. I missed one fish and between the two of us, the rest of the fish spooked or otherwise disappeared. Neither of us was too concerned since we had a lot of good pools still to explore.

Pat chose the next spot and it proved a good one with more bugs and rising trout. I had the first shot in our first pool so it was Pat's turn to take the first cast at the second stop. He snuck into position and started figuring out what turned out to be a tricky drift. Lots of mending and several casts later, he got the fly in front of a fish and had the first trout of the day hooked.


The excitement put down the rest of the trout. We wanted to check some other spots still, so instead of waiting for the fish to come back up, the decision was made to move on again. The next spot turned out to be the jackpot.

As we drove slowly by, Pat announced that trout were definitely rising. I quickly eased the car into a nearby pulloff and we grabbed our gear. Soon I was sneaking into position and started casting. With so many risers, I wanted to cast everywhere at once. Knowing better, I tried to cast at specific fish and soon that strategy paid off. My first trout was of the brown variety, and I was a happy angler.

We took turns for the next hour, catching trout after trout. The fish weren't really picky as long as you were throwing a small dark mayfly that roughly imitated the Blue Quills that were hatching steadily. The trout didn't seem as locked in on the occasional Quill Gordon for whatever reason, but we didn't care. Rising trout are only frustrating when you cannot figure out what to feed them. Happy to have rising trout feeding with abandon, I was having as much fun as you can have with a fly rod.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully 





Eventually, the weather turned nasty. We fished in the rain for a while and caught some nice fish. Hunger won when the hatch started to peter out and the fish were mostly done rising.

After an extended lunch break, we hit it again as the rain started to become more spotty. I started carrying both the dry fly rod and the streamer rod. A few more fish would fall for the dry fly, but the last highlight of the day belonged to the streamer rod.

I recently purchased an Orvis Recon 9' 6 weight with a sink tip line for streamer fishing. You can never have too many streamer rods. Anyway, I wanted to catch a fish on this new rod for myself Clients had already caught a few, so clearly the rod had some good mojo, but I wanted to catch one as well. Tied to the end of a short stout leader was an olive sculpin pattern that I like.

We were about done with the day when I decided to throw into one last pool. I had to climb down the large rock wall that lined the stream, and my back casts went over the road above. When Pat warned me of an approaching car, I quickly quit casting and my fly fell 15 feet in front of me. As I hurried to gain control by stripping line in, a hungry brown rocketed off the bottom and hammered the fly as it swam past. Laughing as I netted the fish, I knew when to accept a gift trout. The day was done. I was happy with one last fish and glad I had allowed myself to take a day off to fish.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully

Saturday, February 11, 2017

On a Roll

One of my favorite things about winter is time off from work. Not that I mind guiding, of course, but it is nice to get a little fishing in for myself on occasion. Lately I've been privileged to spend more time on the water than I deserve including trips on tailwaters like the Caney Fork and South Holston as well as fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The best thing about this streak of fishing trips is that they have all been successful. Now, success can be a difficult thing to understand. Defining success becomes even harder when multiple anglers all have their input, so let me explain my idea of success when I'm the one holding the fly rod. Success is, first and foremost, spending time out in nature. Catching a fish would be nice as well. After all, I'm out fishing for more than just the scenery. That said, I don't need huge numbers these days. I don't really even need big fish although those are always nice. Secretly, most anglers hope for big fish so they can wow their friends with stories of their fishing prowess. I don't know about wowing others, but I will say once again that big fish are nice to see.

The thing about big fish, though, is that they get kind of stressful. When you have a big fish on the end of the line, all of your nerves and muscles bunch up. In the end, it can take days to unwind from a particularly hefty specimen. Needless to say, catching too many wall hangers could take its toll.

The absolute best fish to catch are those that are larger than normal, but not so large as to cause you to completely lose your mind. Larger than normal because, let's admit, they look good in the picture if you are into that sort of thing. I take pictures to help me remember the fish later. I'm starting to realize that my good memory may not last forever, but hopefully those pictures will help jog my memories if it comes to that.

Over the last two or three weeks, I've been blessed to catch four of those memorable fish. On each fishing trip, only a handful of fish were caught. On at least one, I know for sure that the memorable fish was the only fish. Somehow that helps those memories become a little clearer. The hazy memories usually come from the days where I quit counting how many 18+ inch fish I caught oddly enough.

Anyway, so as I was saying, I've been on a bit of a roll lately, and I'll gladly take it. Any serious angler knows that luck can turn suddenly, so it is usually wise to ride a winning streak hard. The first good fish came from up in the Smokies, the next two from a couple of tailwaters, and the last one was back in the Smokies again. Let me tell you about that last one.

It happened this past Thursday. A weather system had moved through Wednesday night into Thursday morning dropping snow in the higher elevations. The morning after the storm was cloudy, and I hoped it would stay that way. Fishing for brown trout is always tough, but clouds do give an angler an edge even if it is a flimsy one at best. My usual early morning responsibilities evaporated and I was suddenly free to head for the mountains earlier than I anticipated.

I was not too far down Interstate 40 when I noticed the breaks in the clouds to my east; definitely not a good sign for chasing brown trout. The openings in the clouds became more defined as I got closer to Knoxville, but mercifully started to fill back in by the time I was passing the Knoxville airport.

My intended short stop at Little River Outfitters stretched longer than I wanted but that was my own fault. They have set up a tying table to tie flies for worthy causes. When Daniel told me I could tie the first fly, it was an opportunity I could not pass up. I quickly cranked out a bead head Pheasant Tail nymph, something I'll probably do each time I visit now. This is definitely a fun idea so check it out when you are in the shop next time!

Finally, after grabbing some white tying thread (there is a hint there about my streamers, but of course not about where that color is being fished), I finally said my good byes and headed into the Park. It was a cold blustery day. The white on the hills above town told me that snow had fallen in the higher elevations and probably still was in places. The clouds were just thick enough to give me some motivation, but the cold day was giving me second thoughts. Just getting out to see the mountains was enjoyable enough. Of course, I wouldn't be writing this story if I just drove around looking at the water. By now it should be obvious that I did indeed go fishing.

My streamer rod was still rigged up from my last tailwater float. While that combo probably would have worked, I decided to change flies. At the last second, inspiration struck and I tied on a sculpin pattern to the short leader at the end of my full sinking line. That is always a good idea if brown trout are around as long as the water you are fishing also contains sculpins. The second run I fished produced two really good hard tugs, but neither fish found the hook apparently. The first hit was particularly gratifying as I watched the fish come flying out of calm water to chase the streamer.

Moving slowly down the river, I fished another couple of runs without any hits. One of those was a particularly good spot where I had caught my first fish of 2017. When it didn't produce, I decided to go looking elsewhere. Still more or less uninspired as to where I wanted to fish, I decided to just explore. That is almost always a recipe for success in my experience.

Early in my exploration I found quite a few fish. In fact, I had more brown trout chasing streamers than I can recall on just about any other fishing trip. Still, the fish either wouldn't commit or couldn't find the hook. Both problems left me searching for that one fish. There is probably a good metaphor there as well, but I don't feel like unpacking it tonight.

Finally, I remembered where I caught the nice fish that had started this whole string of good luck a couple of weeks back. The beauty of catch and release is the chance to go and see if old friends are home so that is what I did.

Remember exactly where the last fish had come from helped a lot. I worked my way into the run very cautiously, knowing that it is far too easy to blow a nice fish. A couple of drive by flashes from smaller fish got me excited. When I finally threw to that one spot, I strongly suspected I would be seeing that nice golden flash again. Sure enough, the brown charged, swirled once, then twice before knocking the streamer silly. It was all I could do to not pull the fly out with a massive hook set. Instead, I started twitching the fly like I imagined a disoriented sculpin would be doing. Miraculously, it worked. Seriously.

When it all comes together, and I should point out that this is not the norm, I'm left wondering: why can't I get myself together and do everything right all the other times? When a nice fish is in the net however, I leave the wondering until after taking pictures and generally admiring the fish. They deserve my respect which looks like a very fast picture and quick release. The fish posed beautifully and then I was left to wonder about why everything worked this time. Somehow I couldn't quite make sense of everything, but was left to realize that I'm definitely on a roll and better enjoy it while it lasts. A streak like this won't last forever. In fact, the clouds broke just after catching this fish and the streamer bite went dead in a hurry. For now, I'll be watching the forecast waiting for another cloudy day.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fly Tying Demo at Little River Outfitters

If you are in the area this weekend, I will be tying at Little River Outfitters on this Sunday (January 29, 2017) from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. If you have time, stop by and say hello. I'm planning on tying tailwater midge patterns and also some nymphs that should be good both on tailwaters and in the mountains. If there is time, I may do a few terrestrials as well. I'll be discussing fishing on the tailwaters and sharing some of my tips and stories for success. If anyone wants to talk fishing in the mountains, I may do that as well. If you have any particular patterns you would like to see, please let me know by responding here or emailing me with your request.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Win a Guided Float Trip

If you have been wanting to take a guided float trip with me, here is the perfect opportunity. Trout Zone Anglers has partnered with Guide Turbo to offer a float trip on the Caney Fork River. Guide Turbo is running the contest through their Facebook page so you have to go there to learn the rules and enter. Just click the link above and scroll down until you see the "Win a Guide Trip" giveaway post!

Friday, January 06, 2017

New Year, New Fish

My goal for 2017 from a fishing perspective is to get out on the water a lot more. With 180 days on the water for 2016, that is a lofty goal. That is especially true because, as much as I love fishing, there are other things I truly enjoy that call for dedicated time as well. Things like hiking, climbing, and photography all compete to take up my time. So, with big goals for 2017, I knew I had to get an early jump. After fishing for the first four days of the new year, I would say I'm off to a good start.

The highlight of the young year happened no more than five minutes into my fishing for the year. I'm not sure whether that is a good sign or a bad one. Occurrences like that have been known to throw one's luck either way, so only time will tell if it is a good omen. The story of my first fish of 2017 actually goes back a ways.

There is a New Years Day gathering that I had been hoping to attend for a while. It is not an official group putting on the event, but that is probably part of the charm. Bigsur had been doing this for the last four years and the plan was bigger and better than ever for year five. While my plan involved a lot of fishing and less socializing, I still wanted to drop in on what is really a terrific event.

I made it up to the meeting place at Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area right about the time that all the preparations were completed. Food was ready and the crowd was ready for fun and fellowship. I saw a lot of friends that I've made over the years. Still, the plan was to fish, and by the time my buddy Jayson showed up, I was throwing on waders and rigging rods.

One thing I had noticed while prowling around the gathering was a fancy award plaque made by the famous Duckypaddler. Imagining how it would look above my tying desk, I started dreaming of big brown trout on the end of my line.

As I was rigging up, I put together a normal nymphing setup on my five weight Orvis Helios rod and was debating what to do with the seven weight. I noticed some random tin boxes and decided to see what goodies they were holding. My smallmouth bass flies of course! A Tequeely jumped right out and asserted itself so I tied it on the streamer rod and was ready to go.

Down on the stream, I intended to fish one particular hole before driving further up river to search for more fish. I made a cast or two in the back of the hole before hurrying up to the head. My goal was a serious of textbook perfect ambush points on the far bank. In other words, I was hitting prime brown trout water. I wish I could say I was a genius who knew that these trout love Tequeely flies, or that I knew that this brown trout was sitting right behind the bedrock ledge, but in all honesty, I just got lucky. I waded in, slapped a few casts across the river, bounced the fly around a little, and a big brown blur hammered the fly.

On the seven weight rod with 2x fluorocarbon tippet, the fight wasn't much, but I was just as glad to get that fish in the net in a hurry. Nice brown trout don't come along every day in the Smokies, and I'm not sure my nerves would have been happy fighting the fish for an extended amount of time.



I quickly setup my cellphone for a self timer picture by leaning it against the base of a tree on the bank. The fish calmly finned in my big Brodin Coho Ghost Net in between the two shots I took to make certain of a good picture. Then I took one or two in my hand in the water and it was already time to say good bye. A new year and a new fish had only taken five or ten minutes. Either I used up a TON of dumb luck way too early in the year, or I was simply meant to wear the famous Herb's Welding Shop Hat. That link includes pictures of this famous trophy by the way among other things...

I got even more suspicious about the implications for my luck after I only caught one other fish the entire rest of the day, but perhaps I'm too suspicious. The good news is that I fished again in the Smokies on Tuesday and caught some trout, so clearly there is still some good luck left. In fact, if one can believe Bigsur, winning this award guarantees all kinds of good luck in the new year. I hope he is right because a fisherman can always use a little more good luck!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

2016 Guide Trip Highlights

As I am trying to keep this blog mainly about my own personal fishing excursions, please check out Trout Zone Anglers and the blog there for the Year in Review posts on guided fly fishing trips. Specifically, here is the Smoky Mountain guide trips in review. The tailwaters were fishing very well this past year. The Caney Fork was about as good as it gets last year, or at least it was if you were a regular on the river and knew the tricks. Here are the 2016 tailwater trips in review featuring more big trout than anyone deserves to see in one year. It was a glorious year indeed!


Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I hope each of you has a great 2017 that includes plenty of time on the water. I'm excited to see what the year has in store. Thank you to everyone who has supported my fly fishing endeavors by reading this blog, taking a guide trip with me, or otherwise encouraging me along the way. I hope to meet many more of you in this new year!

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