Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Stealth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stealth. Show all posts

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ninja Fishing

Brook trout fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This time of year normally features low water and spooky fish regardless of whether you are on a Cumberland Plateau smallmouth bass stream or on a brook trout stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fly fishing under these conditions can still be good to even excellent but different from those nice high flows of spring. In short, low water requires that you channel your inner ninja and utilize every piece of cover along the stream to avoid being seen by the fish.

Recently I had the privilege of taking a young man on a fly fishing trip. This excursion was a gift to Jordan from his parents for his high school graduation. Talk about a great graduation present! As the trip approached, rain was often in the forecast including for the day we were supposed to fish. Finally, the day of the trip had arrived without any noticeable rainfall.

We started off on some larger pocket water to get Jordan dialed in to the techniques and tactics required for success in the Smokies.

Then, after a good but quick lunch, we headed up higher to hunt some brook trout. The southern Appalachian brook trout are gorgeous, especially now as we are heading towards the fall spawn. We were hoping to find a few of these jewels.

Noticing another guide parked where I originally intended to start, we simply went for plan B and headed further up the mountain. By the time we hit the stream, I had completed my "We have to be stealthy" speech and Jordan was ready to catch some specs.

One of the more enjoyable things about having a younger angler on the water is their willingness to crawl or do whatever else it takes to get close to the fish without spooking them. Jordan was no exception, and as a hunter and all around sportsman, he was used to being out in the woods. We snuck down into the streambed and started slowly making our way upstream. Normally under these conditions, I'll take the lead on these small streams to spot trout. Once a fish or likely spot has been located, I'll ease off to the side and the angler will move into position after a whispered discussion on approach. This trip was about the same as usual. Soon we found a willing fish and Jordan caught his first brook trout! Several others soon followed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park brook trout


Great Smoky Mountains National Park brook trout

After this first trout, we continued to move slowly up the stream and Jordan would at least get an eat out of most likely spots. Enough of these fish were getting hooked to keep us focused and enjoying ourselves. Finally, a larger pool was just above us. I hung back to avoid spooking anything and explained to Jordan how to crawl up to the stream and cast.


After a few well-placed casts, a very nice brook trout for the water attacked his fly and the fight was on. We soon corralled the beautiful fish and obtained the documentation to help him remember this trip.

A lucky angler with a Great Smoky Mountains National Park brook trout

And so our afternoon went. Moving slowly upstream, crawling, scrambling, kneeling, the fish were no match for these stealth skills Jordan was displaying. A few nice rainbow trout graced the end of his line in addition to the brook trout we had come to catch. Most of these fish were caught on beetle patterns. This is one of the most enjoyable ways to fish this time of year on the small brook trout streams.

Small stream rainbow trout from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beetle fishing for brook trout

Rainbow trout like beetles also

As we started to run low on time, we just happened to stumble onto the best catch of the day. Notice I did not say largest although it was a nice sized brook trout for the small water we were fishing. Sometimes the best fish is one of the smaller ones, it just depends on how you define best. This fish in particular was rather unusual both in where it was caught and how much prettier it was compared to the rest we were catching. The colors were amazing and more like something we'll see in late September. The best part about this fish was that neither of us actually saw it eat the fly at least not exactly. I just knew approximately where the fly was and saw the brilliant colors as the trout rolled on the surface. I yelled "Set!" and Jordan had good enough reflexes to get the hook set solidly on the fish. We had a good chuckle about that one.

Brilliantly colored brook trout from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Before we knew it the day was over, but not before Jordan gained a large arsenal of skills that will help him have success on just about any small stream he may encounter.

If you would like to book a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or on the Caney Fork River, please contact me (David Knapp) via call/text at (931) 261-1884 or email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Smokies Tips and Strategies: Part 2

If you read my last Tips and Strategies article, then you remember that I focused on the issue of stealth but not from the usual perspective.  My emphasis was on becoming a better caster and I argued that the ability to cast further would generally help you catch more fish.  Additionally, I also mentioned the idea of line control as being essential to success.

For this article, I want to focus a little more on line control.  As mentioned in the previous article, stealth has several components.  Being sneaky includes things like wearing colors that blend in (I wear camo most of the time), hiding behind rocks, sneaking up on trout from directly downstream, and in general doing your best to not be seen.  Of course, casting further means that you are able to deliver the flies to the fish before it sees you, but on many of our small streams, there are enough currents that casting further can just as easily become a nightmare.  That brings us to line control.

Line control is partly a casting issue but also even more important once the line lands on the water.  Let's address a couple of different situations.  First, scenarios where you have been able to sneak up on the fish and are fishing in close, and then later I'll discuss those times that you are able to cast further to avoid spooking the trout.

Sneaking up on fish is always an ideal scenario.  If you can get close without spooking the trout, do it before trying to cast further.  However, many anglers get close but then fail to seal the deal because of poor line control.  For example, let's say you made a 15 foot cast up and across stream.  As soon as your dry fly hits, you get about one second of good drift but then are affected by drag and the fly goes skittering downstream or worse yet it gets pulled under as it motorboats its way across the water.

Solution? Lift that rod tip.  Our standard style of Smokies fishing is called "high sticking" for a good reason.  Many people wonder why that fly rod needs to be held so high in the air.  It is to keep all the excess line off of the water.  I understand that your arm will get tired.  Allow that arm to drop just a little and you'll probably quit catching trout.  In addition to keeping that rod arm up high, a lot of anglers also forget to strip in excess line as the fly drifts downstream.  Remember to do everything in your power to keep as much line off the water as possible.  In fact, when I'm fishing in close with the "high stick" style, I'll often have maybe an inch or two of tippet in the water before the fly.  That's it.  Anymore and the conflicting currents will adversely affect your drift.

Finally, when high sticking, keep the rod tip downstream of the fly/indicator.  This last one is crucial. In this method, you are almost leading the flies downstream, yet without actually moving them any faster than the water.  Your rod tip should track the flies downstream.  If you don't keep that rod moving with the water you will end up with drag, even if it is almost unnoticeable.  Remember, when you set your hook, always sweep downstream and low to the water with the rod tip.  That will keep you from ending up tangled in the overhanging trees.  If your rod is already tracking downstream, this setting motion is easy because it is just a sped up extension of what you are already doing.

Now, what if you are casting a bit further?  Obviously you can't hold 30 feet of fly line up off the water to avoid drag.  Line control again becomes a function of both casting as well as what to do once it hits the water.  In your cast, consider learning some specialty casts like the reach cast (helps to lay out line up or downstream as necessary to extend your drifts) and the tuck cast (helps your flies hit the water before the line) to buy some drift time.

Once the flies are on/in the water, your ability to mend line is what will keep you catching fish.  In the Smokies, fish will often hit just as soon as the flies hit the water, but on the larger pools and runs, a long drift can sometimes get you onto fish that you would otherwise miss.  Mending line is as much a part of line control as anything.  If you are unfamiliar with mending, I highly suggest checking out some of the good online videos on the subject.  The concept is pretty basic and once you see it I think it will make a lot of sense.  Remember that mending does not always happen upstream.  Use mending as a tool to keep your flies drifting naturally and thus you may end up mending up or downstream depending on the current you are trying to deal with.

Finally, get creative.  For example, when you have the ability to cast a bit further, don't be afraid to lay some of your line on the rocks.  That helps keep it off of the water where drag may be introduced to your flies.  When you can't see around a rock to watch your fly, look at your leader or fly line for an indication that a fish has taken your fly.  There have been many times I have tossed a dry fly behind a rock and then watched for the telltale twitch in my leader.  Sure enough, most of the time there is a nice trout on the other end.

Next up on Tips and Strategies, I'll address some fly selection issues.  Until then, get out on the water and work on line control.