Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 11/16/2017

Fishing is good on the Clinch River right now and that is where I'm doing most of my guiding and fishing. The Smokies have been good as well.

In the Smokies, the brown trout are wrapping up the spawn. Over the next few weeks, the opportunity to catch larger than average brown trout is definitely elevated. I like to throw nymphs or streamers right now and through the winter. Next spring should be good with hatches starting by the first of March and peaking by late April or early May. This is one of the best times to fish in the Smokies so start planning that trip now!

The Caney Fork is about a week away from seeing some more reasonable water levels. If the flows drop, expect some very good fishing as we move into the winter.

Photo of the Month: Evening in the North Woods

Photo of the Month: Evening in the North Woods

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!

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