Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Off To Yellowstone

Once again I am heading out of state, this time to Yellowstone National Park. I'll be gone for a little over a week and hope to return with lots of pictures and exciting stories. There is still plenty to share from Colorado as well and I'll continue with those stories when I get back... Until then, I hope you all are able to get some time on the water for yourself. All of the Tennessee tailwaters are fishing well right now and it is prime time for small stream fishing in the Smokies!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The One That Got Away

Fish stories seem to revolve around the "one that got away" and yesterday I lived that story to the fullest. Being close and accessible, I've been fishing the Caney quite a bit lately. I would prefer to fish in the Smokies or perhaps some of the other east Tennessee tailwaters, but the convenience factor has overruled those desires for the most part in the last couple of weeks. The river is in a state of flux right now and is fishing differently than it has in the past. The numbers of brown trout seem to be up while the rainbows seem to be down.

I've been enjoying the experience of trying to figure out what the fish want which often turns out to be a dry fly! Yep...you read that correctly, a dry fly... Before you take off for the river immediately, I need to make myself clear. The fish can be taken on a dry right now and most days have produced some good hatches of midges and blackflies. However, actually catching them on dries seems to be difficult at best and requires very light tippets and tiny dry flies. The dedicated dry fly fisherman will find some success but probably just using standard Caney techniques will help you catch more fish.

My standard dry/dropper rig has changed to a much smaller dry, but that is not always the answer. Yesterday I was working a favorite stretch of water where I caught a good fish last week. Moving slowly up the river, I watched for tell-tale signs of feeding trout. A very slight boil on the surface alerted me to the presence of a trout holding in a big hole in the weedbeds. I carefully stripped enough line off the reel to make the cast and started false casting, working out the line as I developed a nice rhythm with my casting. Shooting the last 15 feet of line, the tiny dry and midge dropper gently dropped to the surface 5 feet above the feeding trout. As the flies drifted over where I last saw the fish, I waited expectantly but nothing happened. Then, just as I was about to pull the flies out to cast again, the dry slowly sucked under. "Probably snagged the weeds" I thought to myself but dutifully set the hook anyway just in case.

I have never hooked a freight train but if I did, I think it would probably feel about like that fish. "I've got a big one!" I hollered to my buddy. Upstream, across the river, downstream, back towards me, there was not a single direction that the fish did not run in the course of the next 10 minutes. My three weight fly rod was getting the workout of its life and I think I might have as well. I chased this fish up and down the river unlike any fish I've ever hooked. Eventually the fish started a determined run towards the far bank. Throwing all caution to the wind, I charged across the river after the beast. At this point I was going crazy shouting again that I "have a beast on." My buddy had long since reeled all his line in and was watching me from shore.

Finally the fish seemed to slow down but my concern started to rise as I saw the huge weedbed it appeared to have vanished into. Slowly, I stuck the fish again and again trying to encourage it to come out. The fish materialized out of the weeds right before my eyes and I realized how big it really was. Just as I thought it might be tired enough to come to the net, the fish took off again into a deep hole just below the weeds. I figured it would be just fine if the fish wanted to run around in there for a little while but what I didn't figure on was the next big weedbed that was closer than I realized. Again I felt the dead weight that signals the fish has immersed itself in the weeds. I went through the routine of sticking the fish in an effort to get it out of the weeds but this time nothing would budge. A dark cloud of doubt loomed on the horizon as I tiptoed through the deep water. The cool river was lapping at the top of my waders before I felt the bottom coming up to meet me again with another close call under my wading belt. Pulling straight up with the rod, I still could not see any sign of the fish so I grabbed the net and scooped it through the weeds were my leader and tippet disappeared. Nothing...sadly I pulled my flies out for inspection and both were just fine. The fish had outsmarted me...

As many fish as I have lost over the years, I probably should be used to it by now, but that is not the case. Still, I know where the fish lives and can always try again. Honestly I would not trade the experience for anything. Some of my most memorable fish are the ones that got away. If I hooked and landed every single fish I try for, the sport of fly fishing would get boring soon. This fish will join a parade of other fish stored safely in my memory from past years including the monster brown on the Frying Pan, the huge rainbow on the Gunnison, and an unbelievably large Caney Fork brown, all of which outsmarted me and left me wondering what had just happened. Some break me off and even more threw the flies. In the end, the ever changing face of the river along with the puzzle of discovering the "flavor of the day" is what keeps me coming back. Each fish lost is knowledge gained. One of these days the stars will align and I'll catch that fish....

Friday, July 10, 2009

First Time On The Green

Ever since I got into this sport, I've heard rumors of the amazing fishing on Utah's Green River. People who have fished it tend to get a dreamy look on their face when I ask about it. "Lots of big fish and all on big terrestrials" is what I'd been told. Apparently the early spring baetis are epic as well and I can only imagine spending a day fishing to big rainbows and browns with tiny BWO imitations.

On the drive up to the Green from Montrose, we enjoyed seeing some new scenery but seriously wondered what was going on with the roads in Utah. Driving along seemingly any road in the northeast part of the state is like riding a roller coaster. Up and down we went with plenty of big bumps to keep us entertained. They would normally sneak up on me as the driver and my car would bounce hard leaving us both wincing. Every time it happened I was amazed that the car did not just rattle apart. My theory on the roads is that the composition of the underlying soil causes the highways to buckle. There is not a good solid bedrock anywhere near the surface, only the soft soils of the high desert.

Finally we made it to Vernal where we were going to stock up on groceries and hopefully buy our fishing licenses. Because we still had a bit of a drive to get to the Green, we weren't real hopeful about finding a fly shop in town. Our luck held though and we discovered the Big Foot Fly Shop. I can't say enough good things about this little shop. The people running it are very friendly and full of advice. If you are in the area you should definitely check it out. They were having a huge store-wide sale on just about everything and we were able to get some killer deals. We finally got out but not before spending way too much money...it is hard to pass up a good deal!

After renewing our supply of food, we hit the road again heading up highway 191 towards Flaming Gorge Dam. This highway is the same that runs through West Yellowstone and I started dreaming a bit about the possibilities on the way north. When we finally got near the reservoir, we went through our normal routine of looking for a campsite. Several campgrounds later we finally had one we liked with hot showers just down the road. We set up camp and then went straight to the showers. What an experience! I'll tell you more about them later but they were definitely worth it...

The next day we finally got on the Green for the first time ever. Neither my buddy Trevor or me had ever been there and we were as excited as can be. The night before we decided on fishing at Little Hole down into what is known as the "B" Section. Supposedly there might be some bigger fish available. I had tied up some hoppers and cicadas just for this river and was looking forward to using them. A hopper/dropper combo seemed like a good idea and I tied on one of my Ultra Wire softhackles below the hopper.

We walked downstream a little ways but finally could not wait any longer and got in the river. We slowly started fishing downstream towards a good looking riffle that glided into a deeper pool. Normally I'll ignore the really shallow riffle water and start fishing it where it looks deep enough to protect the fish. This is NOT necessarily a good idea so I made a token cast to the top of the riffle in some really skinny water. Something big blew up on my fly and I stopped and started carefully probing the water. Whatever it was would not bite again so I resumed my slow movement downstream into the heart of the riffle. Again I saw something come up but this time the fish refused. I decided that this fish would eat if I gave it a good presentation so I started working the fish. Many drifts later it finally came up and ate the hopper without any hesitation.

The fight was a bit tense because I didn't want to lose that first Green River trout. Finally I brought to hand a beautiful brown trout. Definitely not a big monster but a nice solid fish. The next few days were definitely looking good...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Changing River


This past winter, minor rumblings erupted into widespread complaint about the Caney Fork River here in Tennessee. Unethical anglers had simply taken too many large fish out of the river during the spawn. After fishing throughout the winter and spring and not finding the same numbers of large fish, many people concluded that the river was toast. Fortunately, a changing attitude about the resource now prevails and many fisherman are moving towards catch and release as a way to keep good fish in the river. So far this summer, I have not seen as many fish leaving the river on stringers as in the past. This is in no way to say that people are not keeping fish anymore because they are but I believe that an attitude shift is taking place.

Current regulations allow fisherman to keep 2 brown trout with a minimum length of 18". The problem with the current regulations is that it is producing a river full of fish up to 17" but not nearly as many over that as the river is capable of supporting. Based on the number of complaints and suggestions this spring to TWRA, we will probably see some new regulation proposals this fall for the river. It would be nice to have a slot limit of 16"-22". I really do not mind people taking fish as it is their legal right but it would be nice if the fish were allowed to grow just a little longer before harvesting. Brown trout in the 18"-22" range are really the perfect size. There will still be larger fish, but the river could support a large number of fish in this range and the fishing opportunities would be exceptional.

The floods we experienced this past spring also severely damaged the river and raised the water temperature of Center Hill Lake. As a result, current water temperatures on the tailwater are running a little warmer compared to other years. The flushing the river received during the high water episode actually does not appear to have damaged the actual river. The huge weedbeds are still intact and the river has not changed too much. The fish populations on the other hand took a significant hit. Prior to the high water, you were guaranteed to hook several hard fighting rainbows in the 16"-18" range in a fishing trip if you knew where to look for them. Now it seems that the overall number of rainbows is quite low. I don't want to make any generalizations based on just a couple of fishing trips but I would have to say that the number of quality rainbows has definitely decreased. On a positive note, the brown trout population seems to be doing very well. There are good numbers of fish in the river from 5"-6" all the way up through 17"-18". Larger fish are there, but it often takes a change in tactics to find them.

The shift in the fish population is definitely significant. Fisherman will probably fish the river and think it is much worse off than it was and in some ways they would be correct. However a change in your tactics will allow you to continue to catch fish. Numbers of brown trout are definitely up but these fish will still eat similar flies. Sight fishing opportunities abound if you know where to look and are proficient at spotting fish. The bug life on the river seems to be doing well also. Midge hatches are still the main fare for the resident trout but scud and sow bug populations are also doing fine.

Overall I would say that the Caney still has a lot of potential. I really do not expect much from it for the rest of the year but with the slowly changing attitude of the people who fish it and regulation changes from TWRA, I believe it can still be a quality trout stream to rival any river in the southeast.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Week Upcoming

Fishing, tying, and getting ready for Yellowstone are all on my to-do list this week in addition to "teacher" stuff like lesson plans. I still have a lot to share about my trip to Colorado and Utah and the next thing I want to share is about the Green River in Utah. Since Yellowstone is less than two weeks away, I'll be tying like crazy and starting to figure out how to pack most efficiently for the trip out. I've also had a request for an article on the subject of what gear I carry and why. Several of you have asked about things like my lanyard so I'm hoping to photograph some of my equipment and explain why I carry each piece. Maybe in the process I'll realize I don't need some of it and will be able to downsize...I can only hope...

I just found out about another regional fly fishing festival here in the southeast that is happening soon and want to pass that on to everyone. It will be happening just after I leave for Yellowstone but looks like an event that you should not miss if possible. The South Holston Fly Fishing Fest will take place on Saturday July 18th and runs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at River's Way. There will be a lot going on with leading regional experts in the industry scheduled to present on various topics and also do some tying demonstrations. I'll look forward to hearing about it when I get back from Yellowstone. Hopefully some of you can make it!

Robbery on Moving Day


Our journey to the Green River from the Montrose vicinity got a late start. I had to get a couple more hours of fishing in on the Gunnison. It is difficult to leave a place where the average fish is a solid 17 inches, but based on what we had heard, the Green did not sound too bad either. In fact, a campground with shower facilities sounded downright appealing. Before the trip, I had done some research and discovered that we would have access to hot showers while staying near the Green and we were both looking forward to this immensely. You don't realize how much the comforts that we normally take for granted really mean until you are on a camping trip complete with pit toilets and no showers.


Despite our excitement at seeing new scenery, packing everything up was a slow process. We ate a leisurely breakfast and finally got around to the process of taking everything down. There was a lot going on at once with tents coming down, sleeping bags being crammed into stuff sacks, and loads of equipment being carried to the car. I had the utensils from breakfast sitting out on the picnic table along with an empty bagel bag full of trash. Coming back down the stairs from the car, I was shocked to see a thief at the table debating what to take. My camp stove was sitting out along with the frying pan and several other random items. I froze in shock unsure of what to do while the thief took a deliberate turn for the trash bag. Apparently the smell of banana peel was just too alluring to resist. I chuckled because the important items were obviously safe from this little guy.


A few pictures later it was time for the chipmunk to move on. Feeding the creature's habit was definitely not the responsible thing to do so I chased it off and cleaned all the goodies up off the table. The local wildlife population provided many other enjoyable moments throughout the trip and later I'll share a few more...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Gunnison and Something New


Our first full day in the Black Canyon was somewhat lazy. We decided to spend a lot of it just fishing at East Portal for the big wild rainbows and browns that reside there. Over the course of the morning, several nice fish were caught, but the bite slowed down as the sun rose higher over the canyon.


The beauty of fishing at East Portal is that you can do a fair amount of sight fishing. My favorite aspect of fly fishing is targeting visible fish that are out feeding. Blind fishing with a deep nymph rig will produce plenty of fish on a river like the Gunnison, but very nice fish will move into the shallows to feed. Here on my home tailwaters it is normally easy to sight fish and cast to them because the water is so clear. However on the Gunnison, the off color water means you have to find fish near the banks and in the shallows. The brilliantly colored rainbows stand out if they are anywhere near the surface and even the browns can be spotted if you look for them.


Our favorite spots to target these fish are the shallow riffles and the tailouts of the deeper runs. You can spot the fish holding near any type of structure such as weed beds and even small rocks that offer just enough of a break in the current for the trout to rest. Interestingly, we caught more rainbows than browns which is a change from the past few years. For awhile, the river was devastated by whirling disease and the rainbows suffered a huge setback. Stocking of disease resistant strains of rainbows have boosted the population of rainbows and seems to be helping the river return to its former glory when the huge 'bows were measured in pounds instead of inches. There are not a ton of huge fish yet, but there were good numbers of fish in the 16-22 inch range.

After we got tired of fishing East Portal, we drove into town for some food. After finishing everything that we needed to do, we decided to try something different. Neither of us had ever fished the Uncompahgre so we drove up to Ridgway State Park to fish the tailwater just below the reservoir. The special regulations on this section gave us the hope that there might be some big fish. We got down to the water and immediately realized that the flows were way up from a good level for fishing. However it was not impossible to fish and we set about making the best of the situation.


The first couple of spots we tried produced absolutely nothing. However I finally waded across a side channel and into a good bend pool. My first few casts produced absolutely nothing but then I let one of my drifts swing in the current. Almost immediately I felt a hard strike and it was game on! Several cutthroat soon followed the first. The fish would hardly touch a dead drift, but as soon as we allowed it to swing, they would go absolutely crazy for just about anything we had tied on. There were not too many good pools with a flow that was conducive for swinging nymphs and soft hackles so after exploring a bit further upstream, we decided to check out the stocked ponds by the river. As expected they were full of catch and keep type fisherman and freshly stocked trout but we had a good time casting to the fish cruising for midges. After a couple of fish each in the pond, we decided that it was time to head back.

On the drive back to where we were camping, we started talking about the next day's fishing. Both of us were itching to try something else because the word around town was that it would be at least a week before the salmonflies were in full swing. Since that was the biggest reason we were there, we both agreed that it might not hurt to head for the Green River for a few days and then come back later. Back in camp we went straight to bed in anticipation of the long day ahead...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Onward to the Gunnison


Colorado 2009 was really about catching big fish on big bugs. My buddy Trevor and I were hoping to hit the Salmonfly hatch on the Gunnison River and also fish the Cicada hatch on the Green. The weather conspired against us to cause some trouble in reaching our goals but not entirely. We got tired of the cold and wet weather that seemed to be the norm on the Taylor and decided to head west in search of clearer skies.

Last year was a banner year on the Gunnison with lots of good fish caught and some monsters hooked and lost. We were hoping for a repeat performance as we rolled into the Black Canyon at East Portal. There is a pleasant campground there that we really like staying at. The main problem with the campground are the hordes of mice that will find their way just about anywhere, including into your car, in search of food. Despite the mice, we were excited to get started so as soon as we arrived, the fly rods came out and we headed down to the river.

The biggest difference between this year and last was the water level. Last year the river was at around 1000 cfs and quite easy to fish. This year, an unusually wet June had the Bureau of Reclamation constantly altering releases from the dams across the Rocky Mountain states, and the Gunnison was no exception. When we arrived, Crystal Dam was releasing over 3000 cfs and the difference was definitely obvious. The water was much cooler so the fish were not as active. We fished for a good 20 or 30 minutes before I finally hooked up on a red midge larva. A nice chunky brown finally came to the net, and my buddy Trevor took a picture of the first Gunnison River trout of the trip. We moved slowly down the river and got into a few more fish. The fishing was not on fire, but it was not terrible either. All of the fish were in great shape and athletic, ripping line at will.


After catching several fish each we finally decided to call it an evening. Our hopes were high for the next day and we went to bed thinking about swarms of bird-sized insects and fish crashing the surface for the huge morsels...


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back On My Home Waters


Three weeks in Colorado might seem like a lot of time to fish, but I am not burned out on fishing yet. Today I headed over to one of the area tailwaters to see how the fish are doing this year. I got there around 7:30 and started fishing while I waited on the pulse to come through. For the first 15 minutes the fish were feeding heavily and I caught three fish in short order. Unfortunately the rising water hit and put the fish down for awhile. I moved upriver to get above the leading edge of rising water.

At the second spot I found a pod of fish keying on midges that were all good solid 16"-18" fish. Working those fish was definitely a test of my patience and while I did get a couple of good fish to eat, I never was able to get a solid hookup. Several other fish were nice enough to eat though so I did not get too bored. After awhile though I decided to head back downriver and see what was happening.

When I got there, I found one of the members from the Little River Outfitters message board that I knew was supposed to be there. We found some really good fish feeding and spent some time sight fishing with small midge patterns. We both hooked up a few times and even landed some of the nice fish...nothing huge but good solid 15"-16" fish. After much longer than I intended, I finally headed back up to the car as I was supposed to be back in Crossville. It was a great time on the river and I hope to head back again soon!

Steve Baker Photograph