Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Monday, February 12, 2007

Slow Days and the Magic Touch

Yesterday I finally got out on the water again. I ran up to the Hiwassee for an afternoon of fishing, hoping that it would be as good as it was last time I fished a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't. While I did catch fish, it was slow except for when the generation pulse came through. The push of water came through right about the time that the hatch of little black stoneflies peaked. The fish went on a surface feeding binge and for the next 1/2 hour the fishing was good. The fish lost their timidity and were rising well. The best fly during this time was a parachute adams that just happened to very nearly match the stoneflies that were on the water in size and color.

An amusing incident took place later in the day that highlighted an otherwise routine fishing trip. I was fishing with my buddy Kevin and since he is thinking about getting another rod for tailwaters, I offered to let him try out my St. Croix Legend Ultra. I waded over to him while my line flyline trailed downstream and handed him the rod. He simply lifted the rod tip and had a fish on the end without having cast the rod yet (picture at right). Talk about the magic touch. Some days when the fish are feeding well I wouldn't have been as surprised but the conditions were tough yesterday. It gave us a good laugh as I threatened to take back my rod if he caught another fish...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fishing The Zebra Midge


Hands down the best tailwater fly here in Tennessee for me over the last year and a half, the Zebra Midge is one of the easiest flies to tie and also one of the easiest to fish. I fish it quite often and mention it many of my fishing reports both here and over on the LRO board. People often ask me exactly how I fish it so I decided it was time to address this question. I'm sure different people have different preferences and many different methods will work with this fly so don't just stick to the method I'm about to share.

First, it is important to understand exactly what the Zebra Midge represents. The last section of an excellent article, "Midge Tactics for Tailwater Trout", gives an good explanation on the life cycle of midges. The Zebra Midge is designed primarily to imitate a midge pupa ascending to surface to emerge. Thus, it is most effective to use when you see fish feeding up high in the water column. You will often see rises which are actually trout taking the pupa just under the surface as the bugs drift upwards. Occasionally, fish will break the surface as they pursue the tiny insects.

Whenever you see the fish feeding like this, it is time to try the Zebra Midge. Some type of strike indicator is generally very helpful with this type of fishing. I personally use a dry fly such as a parachute Adams because I feel it gives the fish another option and I'm always surprised at how often nice fish will take the dry. After you tie on the dry, use anywhere from 6-24 inches of 6x or 7x tippet and tie it to the bend of the dry fly. The height should be determined by how near to the surface the majority of the fish seem to be feeding. It also important to remember two other things about the length of the dropper. First, fish will move upwards to take the fly so when in doubt, go shorter. Also, the longer the dropper, the more takes you will miss. I generally start with my dropper at around 12-16 inches.

Now that you are rigged up and ready to fish, you need to find some fish. This rig will work to fish the water blind but you will be a lot more successful casting to specific fish or specific holding lies whenever possible. I like to locate a fish before casting. When you cast to the fish, you want the dropper to land up current of the dry or indicator to make it easy to detect the strike. Sometimes the take will be subtle. In fact, fish will often take the dropper without moving the indicator. This brings up my favorite method. When you find a specific fish working, cast above the fish and watch the fish closely as the indicator/dry nears the vicinity of the fish. Any side to side movement or quick darting to the side will mean that the fish likely took your fly. Often, fish will see the fly as it is passing and dart downstream. WAIT TO SET THE HOOK until the fish makes a sudden turn to face back into the current or to the side. The turn will indicate that the fish has taken the fly. This nice brown moved a couple of feet to the side to take the Zebra Midge...


Finally, once you have hooked the fish, be very gentle. When using light tippets, it is easy to break off the fish if you use too much pressure. However, don't overplay the fish. With practice, 6x tippet will take a lot more abuse than most people think, allowing you to land the fish without exhausting it.

Fishing this fly can be a lot of fun. You will quite possibly catch more and better fish, particularly on waters where midges are a predominant food source. You might even be surprised at some of the fish that will eat this fly, I know I was when this nice bass ate mine...
This is a very simple fly to tie, but if you need help on tying the Zebra Midge, check out this video that I shared on YouTube. I also go over some specifics on fishing this pattern in the video. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Things Like This...

...............make me UPSET!!! From Tom Chandler over at the Trout Underground comes THIS frightening story. Enough said...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Big Flies = Big Fish???

We have all heard this advice on catching big fish. Most have also heard people arguing for the other extreme, and with all the pictures (just one example of many) of hogs caught on tailwaters using small flies, I've been persuaded to spend quite a bit of time exploring this method. I even caught my own 20+ inch brown on the Taylor River in Colorado on a #18 CDC BWO this past summer and hooked some even larger on other tiny patterns. However, I recently was able to spot some fish in an area rumored to benefit from a shad kill. The fish looked fat and healthy from my vantage point, but I decided it would probably be good to do a more thorough investigation. In planning for my future assault on these HOGS, I realized that my streamer selection was woefully inadequate. So, this past weekend, I spent a bit of time at the vise trying to figure out how to tie a Zonker. The results were encouraging.


Now I just wonder of the fish will like them... Of course, there is only one way to find out so as soon as possible, the Trout Zone will be making a trip in pursuit of these magnificent fish. I'll let you know how it goes...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fishing in the Cold or Wind?

It seems that El Nino is causing problems not only here in the states but also overseas. As meteorologists are trying to determine a connection between tornadoes in Florida during El Nino, the winds are blowing fiercely in the fly fishing Mecca known as New Zealand. According to this interesting story from the New Zealand Herald, the country is

"cursed by El Nino and its accompanying winds, which until this week had delayed the good summer fishing by two months in the popular Rotorua and Taupo fisheries."

I am trying to find it in my heart to feel sorry for those that are basking in the warmth of summer. However, the continual blasts of arctic air make this extremely difficult for me. This of course brings us to the question of whether it is better to fish in the cold or in the wind? How bad is the wind you ask? Well, if someone will send me a plane ticket to New Zealand I will be glad to find out.

I have to say, I have fished in some nasty wind before but have never been stopped from fishing. This doesn't mean that the fish were biting but I was going through the motions. I recall a time when was fishing a lake in the White Mountains of Arizona where the technique of the day was basically to execute a roll cast good enough to get the line off of the water. The wind would do the rest. If you could manage to actually make a full cast, the line MIGHT end up 10 feet behind you on the backcast and this translated to a good 60 foot cast, all assuming of course that you didn't invent a new windknot. Oh yeah, I caught a nice fat 17 inch Cutthroat that day.

Of course, I've enjoyed some excellent days fishing in the cold as well. Last year I got to fish in the snow for the first time. Being from Tennessee, this was actually a novelty. I guess I can feel a bit of sympathy for the folks in New Zealand. Two months is a LONG time to go without wetting a line. At least I can fish when its cold...and it must be REALLY windy to prevent fishing... Seriously, anyone want to send me a plane ticket to New Zealand? Patagonia? Somewhere warm???

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Fly Fishing End of The Road..... Mongolia

For those that haven't wasted hours of their time on YouTube watching other people catch fish, this one's for you. This time of year, people's thoughts begin to drift to exotic destinations, often with a warmer climate. This video is of a trip that a group of Wyoming guides took to Mongolia...not the first place that most people think of when they start thinking "exotic locations." Anyway, these guys are after the great Taimen. For those who have not heard much about this fish, check out this video. It is a bit lengthy but a great movie. Here at the Trout Zone we are already trying to figure out a way to make the journey around the globe to Mongolia...hey, it is okay to dream!!!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Big News!!!

Well, it looks like it is final. The National Park Service is planning to eradicate the rainbow trout population in Lynn Camp Prong in the Great Smoky Mountains and will return the stream to native brook trout water. Anglers are having mixed reactions to the news. The largest concern seems to be that most people hate to see the stream closed for the length of time it is going to take for a brook trout population to stabilize. An excellent debate has been taking place on the subject on the Little River Outfitters message board which can be found here.


Around the country, it seems that the return of native fish species is becoming a major focus for fisheries biologists. Last year, anglers were saddened to learn that Bright Angel Creek in the Grand Canyon was being targeted for the removal of non-native brown trout. Being a trout-loving fly fisher, I have recieved news such as this with mixed feelings. I feel it is unfortunate to be losing some great fisheries around the country but at the same time, I support the return of native trout species. Obviously it would be a bit inconsistent to support the return of native trout but not other native fish species. Fortunately in the case of Lynn Camp, the fish species that will be returning is none other than the southern strain brook trout. Despite some of the concerns I have with this project, I believe that the return of the native brook trout will ultimately be worth any short-term inconveniences. I look forward to another great place to catch this special fish!!!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More Fish On Dries In Winter!!!

Time for a brief report. Thankfully, I was able to fish a bit this weekend and drove up to the Hiwassee for a nice afternoon on the water. I arrived up near the powerhouse just as the generation pulse was starting so I took my time getting into my waders, and rigging up. Finally the turbines were shut off so I quickly worked my way out to a favorite run. A Copper John was good for three fish but I was really looking for some action on top. After seeing a few rises in the flat water upstream, I tied on a parachute Adams that was close in size and color to the little stoneflies I had been seeing. Under this I tied on my trusty Zebra Midge dropper and was ready to catch fish. This combination proved deadly all afternoon as fish after fish succombed to either the dry or the midge. Once again, it was awesome to be catching fish on dries in the middle of winter!!!
As I was leaving to go a bit further downriver, I saw something interesting in the river. Apparently, the sun was at just the right angle to hit the sign (warning of the dangerous water below the powerhouse) across the river to create this (at right) interesting phenomena.

Late in the day, after I had moved down the river, I was treated to an aerial display put on by a rather large Osprey. I had been really hoping to see one of these today so that was a great way to finish off the day. Of course, catching fish after fish, often on consecutive casts helped also....did I mention that it is supposed to be winter? Anyway, the misconception that winter is a time to stay inside and tie flies is being proved wrong time and again here in Tennessee lately. Check back soon as I might have to make another run up to the Hiwassee in the next few days...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Heat Wave

The weather has been strange the last several weeks to say the least. Temperatures have been almost balmy quite often and across East Tennessee, people have been wondering what happened to the good old days when we actually had winter. Despite many people's frustrations with the weather, I have not complained at all because the fishing has stayed much better than normal for this time of year. The most recent heat wave brought up the water temps in the mountains to the upper 40's to low 50's. Of course, I can never pass up such a good opportunity for an excellent day of fishing. So, yesterday I made the drive up to Townsend to get in some time on the water. Remembering his success last October, my cousin decided it was time to join me again for another day honing his developing fly fishing skills.

We arrived in Townsend shortly after Little River Outfitters opened and while my cousin got a license, I went searching through the bargain bin and picked up several packages of hooks. Once finished at the shop, we made our way to a small stream just a few miles inside the park and started hiking up the trail. My cousin was happily wearing my waders which I loaned him after he discovered I intended to wet wade. The look of joy on his face upon discovering he wouldn't have to wade wet himself was truly priceless. Yes, I really did wet wade today!

Arriving where we would begin fishing, I set my cousin up with the same nymph and strike indicator set-up I had him using last time and with ease of an old pro, he soon had fish numero uno. I picked up a fish rather quickly as well and things were looking up. As we moved up the creek, I began to notice lots of small bugs and then wonder of wonders, a few larger ones. The fish were noticing also. As the surface activity neared the boiling point, I quickly cut off my nymph and tied on a #16 Thunderhead which was the closest thing I had in color to the little winter stoneflies that were swarming all over. The only thing I hadn't counted on was being a little bit rusty... The fish were so joyful over this development that they continued rising, seemingly oblivious to each missed hook set, even after I started stinging a few. Finally, a fish managed to impale itself on my hook and after that it was easy. My cousin got bit by the dry fly bug after watching me yank a couple out of one run in all of three minutes so I handed him my three weight and went to work changing the nymph rig on his to a dry.
I decided to try something else just to see if the fish really cared about the fly. It turns out they didn't...a yellow Elk Hair Caddis did just as well and was a bit easier to see. Meanwhile, my cousin was rapidly become furious over all the fish that were hitting his dry without finding the hook. I casually mentioned that it takes a bit of skill and a lot of quickness. Unfortunately for the fish, this didn't seem to help matters and he began setting the hook hard enough to rip through the lips of a whale. The next fish that was dumb enough to hit his fly soon enjoyed a flying experience free of charge. It sailed gracefully 20 feet down the creek and landed at the feet of my now smiling cousin who quickly grabbed it for a quick picture. I promise, there really is a fish in this picture. Perhaps if you get out a magnifying glass and examine his left hand you will see it. Or maybe this closeup is better... Despite its small stature, this fish had the distinction of being my cousin's first trout on a dry.


Not to be outdone, as soon as I had the picture taken, I walked 20 feet up the creek with the newly tied on EHC and tossed it in a small pocket and caught another of my own. Notice it is larger than his...which isn't necessarily saying much but bragging rights are important sometimes.

After catching several more fish, we decided it is lunch time (it was actually a couple of hours past but hey, we were having fun) and walked back down the trail to the car. While the stream side lunch was cooking, I decided to catch a few more.



Fish on dries in January, it just doesn't get any better than this!!! Unless of course it is lots of fish on dries in January!!!




Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pure Laziness

As Christmas break approached, I had good intentions to tie flies, lots and lots of them. I also intended to fish a lot. This goal went much better than the first as I tried two tailwaters in East Tennessee that are new to me. Unfortunately, I didn't tie up my summer supply of flies like I wanted to, probably because I'm lazy. I did manage to tie up a few dozen Zebra Midges and just last night started in on parachute Adams. These two flies are my staple for Tennessee tailwaters, the dry serving as an indicator but fish take it often enough to convince me to keep it in place of a "regular" strike indicator. Now I have to hurriedly tie as many as possible before the second semester of this school year begins. Copper Johns are high on my list as Colorado trout appear to view them as candy. Sparkle duns in various sizes and color combinations to match important western hatches need to be tied as well. With a possible trip to Yellowstone in the works, I need dry flies more than ever and lots of them at that. Stillwater flies are higher on my priority list this winter as well. My next foray into the American west will hopefully be made with a new float tube along and I intend to make the most of the opportunity. There is a lake in Arizona that is very special to me where I hope to chase its big browns. A few lakes in Colorado caught my eye last summer as well and I will hopefully be returning to these to probe the depths for trophy trout. Perhaps I'll even end up casting Callibaetis immitations to cruising fish in Montana's Hebgen lake or even Yellowstone lake. Of course, I'll have to hit some smaller backcountry stillwaters as well. Anyway, enough typing...it seems that I have a lot of ambition for my summer fishing, so I'm off to the vise...