Guided Trips

FISHING REPORT AND SYNOPSIS: 02/25/2018

Things have changed a lot since the last report. Unseasonably warm weather has kicked off the first hatches of the year in the Great Smoky Mountains while an extremely wet February means all of the tailwaters are blown out across middle and east Tennessee.

If you want to fish in the Smokies, nymphs and streamers will be your best bet unless you encounter a hatch. In that case, Blue Quills and Quill Gordons should be in your arsenal as well as Blue-winged Olives.

For now, just forget about the tailwaters in the short term. continued rain means it will be at least another month before the tailwaters are fishable again. With luck, we can start thinking about some streamer float trips on the Caney Fork in mid to late March, although that may be optimistic. In the meantime, head for the mountains and enjoy chasing the wild trout there.

Photo of the Month: Breaking Cabin Fever

Photo of the Month: Breaking Cabin Fever

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Shad Time

If you are interested in streamer fishing for big trout, the time is now. Find out more in the February update from Trout Zone Anglers.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Warm Winter Reprieve

Cold. That has been the theme for this winter. For one stretch back in early January, streams were mostly too frozen over to fish, with the exception of tailwaters of course. At one point it was bad enough that a day above freezing was a warm day. Not that I mind cold days, but they do tend to put a damper on fishing activities. On top of that, I was busy the last half of January with two weeks of classes towards my outdoor education masters. The second of two weeks at the intensive was spent staying at a gorgeous lodge on the Watauga. Sadly, fishing was not the goal, so I mostly had to stare longingly from a distance. The intensive ended on Friday just before noon, and I didn't need to be home until evening.

With a couple of hours to spare, I hit the drive thru at Taco Bell for a couple of burritos and then headed up the Watauga to look for a good place to fish. Meandering up the river, I made it all the way up to Wilbur Lake. With no itinerary other than enjoying a few hours off, I wanted to see the scenery while I was there. As I headed back down the river, a plan started to crystalize in my mind. My car just naturally took me to one of my favorite access points on the river for wading and soon I was gearing up.

The day was warmer than any we had experienced for a while. I debated whether to wear my jacket or not. Realizing I would be too warm if I wore it, I just wore the long sleeve shirt and that was all I needed. The sun was toasty on my back and bright in my face every time I turned to fish towards it. Accordingly, I tried to fish with the sun at my back as much as possible.

A nymph rig seemed appropriate, although I saw just enough Blue-winged Olives and the occasional rise to convince me that fish could also have been caught on a dry fly. I also carried a streamer rod. Over the course of my two hours on the water, I caught all my fish on the nymphs, but moved some really good fish on the streamers. Unfortunately none of the streamer chasers connected with the hook, but next time I'll know where to look.

In the two hours I fished, I quickly lost track of how many I had caught. That isn't as impressive as it sounds, however. First, I normally lose track somewhere between fish number three and fish number five or six. Second, it appears that TWRA had done a thorough stocking job recently and dumped a bunch of fingerlings in the river. I didn't mind though. It was good to catch a few trout and there were just enough nicer fish mixed in to keep things interesting.

The day was close to winding down when I noticed that I had missed a call from a long-time client. I paused from my fishing long enough to call Tim back and he inquired how my day was going. He fishes the Watauga a lot and knew I was planning on fishing it a little. When I told him where I was fishing at, he gave some pretty specific directions. Wade to this spot, throw towards this log, let it drift down as far as you can, and repeat. Figuring I had nothing better to do and with time slipping away, I waded carefully into the described spot and started fishing.

As I fished through the spot, a strange thing happened. I was standing in the middle of the river when a drift boat bore down on me from above. Looking behind and realizing there was plenty of room for them to go around, I stayed put. The strange part was that they never even attempted to avoid my section of the river. With even depth all the way across, they opted to float past about 10 feet in front of me and right through the water I was fishing. Apparently some of the upper east Tennessee guides aren't as polite as the ones from Knoxville and points westward. Oh well, the day was too beautiful to let something like that ruin things for me so I shrugged a little and kept fishing.

With only minutes to spare, I noticed a large fish rise to inspect my indicator before hunkering down again. Big mistake on the part of the fish. I cast repeated to the spot until the fish realized how delicious my Pheasant Tail nymph looked and ate. The fight was a bit nerve wracking. Some fast rapids just downstream were exactly the sort of place you don't want to fight a hefty trout. With some solid pressure from my 9' six weight Orvis Recon, the fish turned and finally slid into the net. The big male rainbow had a perfect kype jaw. If this fish lasts another year or two in the river he will be a genuine monster.


That trout was the perfect consolation after having some less than polite people float through my spot. I had already pushed my self-imposed quitting time. With one last glance at the place I had caught the big trout, I turned and made my way out towards the car with another satisfying outing under my belt.


Tuesday, January 09, 2018

2017 Year in Review

Every year has its special moments, and 2017 will always be one of my favorite years. There were some great moments both fishing and guiding, and of course I found an amazing girl who actually goes fishing with me. That last one is what makes this past year so special to me, but some other moments stood out as well.

A quality brown trout started 2017 off on the right note. I had traveled to the Smokies for the famous "Bigsur's New Year's Day Karma Tradition" to see friends and hopefully wet a line. After saying hello to everyone, I snuck off to the stream and was lucky to be first through a good hole right near the picnic area. Sure enough, a nice brown trout slammed the streamer I was working against the far bank and my year was off to a great start!

Fishing stayed hot through the winter months and into early spring. We never had any extremely cold weather so the fishing in the Smokies stayed feasible right on through the winter. The highlight for me of this winter season was catching another beautiful brown on a favorite sculpin pattern while streamer fishing.


This fish was not a monster by Smokies standards, but the colors were great. And did I mention it slammed a streamer?

The spring hatch season started in a big way and just got better from there. The Blue Quills came off starting around February 20 or thereabouts. Fish rose every day. The problem was finding the hatch and the rising trout. On any given day, I rarely found more than 2-3 pools that were worth fishing. The hatch progressed upriver in an orderly fashion. If you found the bugs, then you also found the fish.

Two early season highlights stand out for me. The first was the slightly overcast day in late February that I fished with my buddy Pat Tully. We found great numbers of Blue Quills in several pools as well as an occasional Quill Gordon or Blue-winged Olive. The sight casting possibilities were endless. Because of the overcast, the hatch lasted much longer than it normally does on sunny days. We fished dry flies for hours. When the hatch petered out, we prospected with streamers and found another fish or two. I can't think of a better day on the water.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully ©2017





The second early season highlight was an early March guide trip that produced a large Smoky Mountain brown trout on a dry fly. Spencer had booked a day to polish some of his mountain techniques. We worked hard on nymphing throughout the day, but wanted to get in some dry fly fishing. I had a pretty good idea on where there might be some bugs. When we arrived at the pool, we found a few risers but not as many as I had hoped. The bright day probably had fewer fish rising than if it had been cloudy. Thankfully, we got lucky with one big brown at the head of the pool that liked his Parachute Adams.


After the early season hatches, things went into high gear and I was too busy to fish much. However, each exception to that produced some memorable highlights. One of my favorites was when I fished with David Perry and Susan Thrasher. We had a day to remember as time spent with friends is always hard to beat. The highlight was when I doubled up with Susan on a nice rainbow and brown trout. David Perry graciously snapped a picture for us to remember the day by! Guides guiding guides was certainly one of the highlights of 2017!

Photo Courtesy of David Perry ©2017

Early season guiding on the Caney was mostly limited to high water streamer and shad floats. These trips consistently produced some huge trout as should happen again this year. The one low water float of the early spring produced the largest guide trip fish of the year. The story surrounding this big trout was particularly amazing as an old curse was defeated. Check out the link above for more on that.


One of my absolute favorite trips of 2017 was in June. I actually had a few favorites in June and July, but the trip to Roan Mountain State Park to see the rhododendron and azalea was certainly one of the best. The rhododendron was as amazing as advertised, but the real highlight of this trip was the moment I realized what a special catch I had made. Leah and I had been dating for close to a couple of months at this point, but we had yet to go fishing. Leah was a good sport and agreed to fish a little on this trip up to northeast Tennessee.

We hit the Doe River in Roan Mountain State Park and found a few fish before the afternoon thunderstorms drove us off the water. Right before the rain started in earnest, Leah took big fish honors by starting off her fly fishing career with a big brown trout considering the small stream we were fishing. I couldn't have been happier. I'm still not sure if she knows how big of a deal it was to catch this fish on her first ever fly fishing trip, but I'm pretty sure she has some idea based on how excited I was.



The heat of summer often produces some of the best fishing of the year if you know where to go. This past year was no different. Guide trips produced some big trout on the Caney Fork and gorgeous brook trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. Smallmouth fishing had hit a consistent stride and night time trout trips on the tailwaters were heating up.


My favorite fishing in June, July, and August is usually the beetle fishing in the Smokies and on the Caney Fork River. This year was no different. My most memorable Smokies fishing of the summer involved an afternoon off after a morning 1/2 day guide trip. After dropping off my clients, I headed back to the Park to get in a couple of hours of fishing. In that time, I caught three trout. Two of them were sight fished with the beetle while the third also ate the beetle as I blind fished it in likely places.


The pinnacle of the whole year in terms of my own fishing and catching happened in late July. My buddy and fly tier extraordinaire Brandon Bailes and I had discussed a nighttime mousing trip on the Caney Fork. We finally got our schedules together and set off for an evening of fun and hopefully large trout.

We launched with some daylight left and spent our time alternating between nymphs/midges, streamers, and some dry flies when we found late evening sippers in slack water. We were almost halfway through the float when it got dark enough to begin the main event. Heavy rods, stout leaders, and meaty rodent imitations were tied on and we kept floating into the growing darkness.

Throughout the next couple of hours, we had two big blowups but failed to connect. Each heart stopping moment served as motivation to keep slinging the meat. Finally, we were approaching the takeout ramp and it looked like the mousing portion of the evening would be just enough to wet our appetites and not much more.

I was throwing to the shallow side of the boat and had made up my mind that this was the last cast when it finally happened. Something slurped quietly out there in the dark and my line came tight. I just kept stripping into things came tight. Momentarily I thought maybe I had snagged a log. When the log started swimming upstream I knew that I was in trouble. This was one strong fish! Thankfully, everything went smoothly and Brandon made a great net job on this big fish. My new personal best Caney Fork brown trout and on a mouse no less. Much thanks to Brandon for both the picture and the winning mouse fly! Let's make sure we do it again this year and get your monster brown in the boat Brandon...

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes ©2017

There were lots more guide trip highlights throughout the second half of 2017. However, my fishing began to slow down somewhat. The exception to this also produced the last two highlights of the year for me. The first was in late August. I had been discussing a smallmouth bass excursion for a while with Daniel Drake of Little River Outfitters and Mark Brown of Chota. We finally nailed down a day that would work for all of us.

The day came and went much to fast, but I was left with some great memories of time spent on the water with friends. The interesting part of this fishing trip is that we didn't get any monster smallmouth. Most of the time, these Cumberland Plateau streams are good for at least one big smallie per day, but it was not meant to be on this particularly trip. Nevertheless, we found plenty of willing fish and had a great day of exploring with friends.


The last highlight of the year for me happened on a day of fishing with friends. I began the year with a nice brown trout in the Smokies, and I ended the year with a nice brown trout in the Smokies. Talk about the perfect way to begin and end the year!

Photo Courtesy of Leah Shulley ©2017

Now, while not fishing related, the best and most exciting highlight of the year happened on November 25, 2017. On that day, I asked my best friend to marry me and she said yes!!! Leah Shulley is an amazing young lady who loves the outdoors almost as much as I do. She is beautiful, smart, kind, thoughtful, loves adventure, and most importantly loves God. I'm super excited about sharing life with her!








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