Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold
Showing posts with label Bumgardner Ridge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bumgardner Ridge. Show all posts

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fly Fishing The Bend Around Bumgardner Ridge on Deep Creek

The Bend. Bumgardner Ridge. The stuff of legend. This is remote Smoky Mountain fishing at its finest. Inaccessible water that rarely gets fished, this is just what everyone is looking for. It also happens to be some of the toughest water I have ever fished, and it is about as remote as you can get. Our day started a bit earlier than the previous day. We would need to walk about three miles back down the trail before reaching our entry point for the day's fishing. Breakfast was quickly cooked and eaten, lunches were stowed in our day packs, and we hit the trail.

On the hike down, I kept getting distracted by the wildflowers. The day was about as perfect as can be for an early spring hike. Many wildflowers were spotted on this trip, but as the focus was on fishing, I eventually pulled myself away and kept moving down the trail. I took quite a few pictures of the flowers, but most don't do them justice. These two will probably make you think that everything blooming was purple which isn't true. They just happened to be two of the better shots I got. By the way, explain to me why those violets are called "Blue" if you can. They look purple to me and my eye doctor assures me that I am not color blind.

Great Smoky Mountain Dwarf Crested Iris along Deep Creek
"Dwarf Crested Iris" ©2019 David Knapp Photography

Great Smoky Mountain Common Blue Violets along Deep Creek
"Common Blue Violets" ©2019 David Knapp Photoraphy

When we reached campsite #60, we also reached the access point for our fishing marathon. The bend around Bumgardner Ridge features a lot of high gradient water and this starts immediately above this backcountry campsite. In fact, we were almost tempted to bail on this fishing trip before we made it more than a hundred yards. The water was still on the high side from lots of recent rainfall. This made moving back and forth across the stream challenging at best.

We weren't catching fish at a lightning pace either. Because this water is close to a backcountry campsite, the first few hundred yards assumedly receives a fair amount of fishing pressure. As we moved higher up the drainage, we began to feel like we were truly on remote waters. The trail here loops far back from the stream as it crosses Bumgardner Ridge. Thus, once we entered this section, we were committed to make it through or have to wade all the way back down to our starting point.

Fish started to show up, although not in huge numbers. We caught one here and one there, but never several in one spot. More than anything, this was a product of heavy water that was borderline for fishing in many spots. Some of the better pocket water was simply too fast and turbulent. Here, my buddy John fishes one pocket next to a rapid. Once the water drops a bit more, what was then heavy water will turn into the best fishing water in this section. Overall, I think this section would fish better in the summer or even fall.

Smokies fly fishing on Deep Creek

Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing on Deep Creek

Moving on up the river, we came to several gorgeous pools. There were probably 4 or 5 excellent pools in this whole stretch. In other words, a LOT of wading and a LOT of work for a few prime fishing spots. We persevered, however, and were rewarded with some beautiful wild rainbow and brown trout. This is the Great Smoky Mountains backcountry, and the real reward here is a pristine and remote environment where you won't see another angler all day. This seems to be increasingly hard to find these days. For this reason, the fishing was great even while the catching was a little slow.

Deep Creek brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

By mid day, the fish were looking up and we kept switching between nymph rigs and dry/dropper rigs depending on the water type. As much as possible we stuck with the dry fly setups. A seriously good hatch never really materialized on this trip, but there were enough bugs around to get the attention of the trout. John got several dry fly eats in this hole, for example.

In the Great Smoky Mountains on Deep Creek, we find the Orvis 10' 3 weight rod in its natural habitat



An angler on Deep Creek in the Smokies hooks a nice trout and gets the rod bent

John was fishing an Orvis Superfine rod which was perfect for dry flies on this type of water. I had brought an Orvis 10' 3 weight Recon which not only fishes dry flies very well, but is also perfect for high sticking nymphs as anglers have done in the Smokies for a 100 years. Back in the day it was done with a long cane pole, and today we use modern graphite fly rods, but otherwise the techniques are still nearly identical. The long rod is used to run heavily weighted nymphs through deep dark runs where trout like to hide and the result is truly amazing.

There are many fish in these creeks and an angler who is effective at high sticking will find lots of those trout. While similar to the newer techniques known collectively as "euro nymphing," high sticking still has its own distinct flavor. For example, on this trip I left the sighter or indicator tippet at home. Split shot is used in addition to weighted flies. There are other subtle differences, but in reality euro nymphing is a new spin on an old method we have been using for a long time here in east Tennessee.



Even in the high water, stealth was important. We were able to get closer than usual, but still made sure to stay low and sneak up on the trout. The fish in the Smokies are some of the spookiest I've ever fished for. If I could share one piece of knowledge with visiting anglers, it would be to focus on stealth. Dress to blend in with your surroundings, stay low, and think like a predator. Stalk the trout you are after.

By late afternoon, we were both getting tired. This had turned into one of the longest and hardest days of fishing I've ever had in the Smokies, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. This was a long time goal of mine, and I'm thrilled to have finally made it to fly fish around the bend below Bumgardner Ridge. We had taken some very specific observations early that morning on the hike in and now we got out of the creek a bit short of the accepted exit point for this stretch which is directly across from Bridge Creek. We climbed out before that and were glad that we did. Both of us were tired and that is when accidents usually start to happen. Better to quit and fish another day than to push on and get injured.

Back in camp that evening, we discussed the next day. Our original itinerary involved moving upstream to a couple more camps over the next two nights, finally exiting to Newfound Gap Road on Monday. The last weather report we got called for rain and storms on Sunday as well as a good chance of rain on Saturday. We knew the fishing would get tough if we stayed and decided that hiking out the following morning would be the best plan. Neither of us was dying to stay holed up in a tent while it rained or, even worse, stormed all day. This proved to be an excellent decision but we wouldn't know how good until the next day.

Deep Creek is one of my favorite fly fishing destinations in the Smokies. While I don't always catch as many trout as on other streams of the Smokies, something good always happens. On this trip, it was beginning to look like the "something good" for this trip was fulfilling my longtime goal of fishing around Bumgardner Ridge, but we still had the hike out.

To be continued...


Friday, April 19, 2019

First Full Day of Fly Fishing on Deep Creek

The original plan for this camping trip was to start on lower Deep Creek and work our way to the headwaters over the course of several days. With that goal in mind, we wanted to fish the big bend around Bumgardner Ridge above campsite #60 on our first day. When we arrived Wednesday evening, the stream seemed fairly high after rain a few days prior to our trip. Since neither of us had ever fished the bend, we didn't want to get in there with water conditions being a little high. So, after some discussion, we decided to fish water immediately downstream and upstream of camp for our first day. This proved to be an excellent decision.

As with much of the fishing this time of year, things started out rather cool on Thursday morning. With the cool start, the fish were a bit slow getting going. We caught a handful of fish here and there, but it wasn't until the sun had been on the water a couple of hours that things really got going. We walked back downstream to campsite #59 with the goal of fishing back to our camp (#58). Deep nymphing proved to be the magic formula early. I was fishing a double nymph rig while John was working a dry/dropper. Throughout the shady stretches, I caught a few fish deep but it wasn't until he through into the first little patch of sunlight reaching the creek that John got a rise to the dry fly.

By the time we were approaching campsite #58, sunlight had reached nearly the entire creek valley and the fish were starting to really turn on. Lots of small brown trout were in the flats immediately downstream of camp and were more than willing to smash the dry fly or run with the little Pheasant Tail dropper. When the bear cables at our campsite came into view, we were both getting hungry and lunch in the comfort of camp seemed like a good idea. Here are a couple of pictures from the morning session.

Big red spots on a Deep Creek brown trout

Deep Creek fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Deep Creek in the Smokies and a perfect bend pool for fly fishing

After lunch, we hustled upstream to check out the water between campsite #57, #56, and #55. This is probably my favorite backcountry water on Deep Creek when it comes to fishing for brown trout. I've caught some really big brown trout (for the water) in this stretch in past years and was hoping for more of the same.

Because of the elevated water levels, getting around was a bit tougher in this stretch than I am used to. Fish were out and hungry though and the fishing was good. I kept switching back and forth between a double nymph rig and a dry/dropper rig. Fish were coming up to dry flies just often enough to want one tied on, but more were eating the nymphs. As usual, my simple caddis pupa was accounting for a lot of fish. Deep Creek and other North Carolina streams have an insane amount of caddis. We only noticed sporadic mayfly activity which seems odd this time of year. However, the bright sunny day definitely wasn't helping us when it came to good hatches of mayflies.

While no single fish really stands out from that day, we did catch plenty of very healthy and fat rainbow and brown trout. Each fish was carefully released to grow some more and hopefully be there the next time I return to Deep Creek. Here are a couple of fish from our day.




By mid afternoon, a stout breeze had kicked up. In fact, things got a bit dicey for a while. The wind was really rolling through the Deep Creek valley and every once in a while, large branches would fall out of the trees. We also heard some huge crashes back in the woods. There are many dead hemlock trees along the banks of Deep Creek and this made for a more exciting than usual day. It got bad enough at one point that we actually discussed whether we would need to get our stuff and hike out. Thankfully, just about the time it was really getting unbearable, the wind started to ease off. The rest of our trip wouldn't be that windy.

By late in the afternoon, we had reached a trail junction. Just upstream was a nice pool that I always like to fish. We decided to make that our last stop of the day. I quickly waded upstream and started working the deep water, hoping for a big brown trout. It wasn't meant to be on this day, although I did stick another fine rainbow trout. As we hiked back to camp, we decided that the stream levels had fallen enough to justify the excursion through the bend around Bumgardner Ridge the next day. We hoped for good weather and hungry trout plus a good night's rest...




Read Part One of our Deep Creek Trip HERE.

For information on guided fly fishing trips in the Smokies, please visit our guide site, Trout Zone Anglers.