Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fun Continues: Smokies


As the season begins to change, my desire to head for the Smokies grows by leaps and bounds.  The call of wild trout in a beautiful mountain setting is too much to ignore.  The second of my five days of fishing was dedicated to going to the Smokies.  I made a quick phone call to see if my buddy Joe was fishing.  He said he was and told me approximately where to look for him when I arrived. 

The drive up was intense.  A slow moving cold front was working its way through the area, producing very heavy showers and thunderstorms well in advance.  I drove through some of the most intense rain I've had to drive in yet and was becoming hopeful that Little River would be up a little and possibly stained.  Summer rainstorms after extended periods of low water can produce phenomenal fishing. 

I found Joe in a pool known to hold big browns which is no surprise for anyone that knows him.  He has a knack for finding and landing big fish like few people I know.  On this day, he had not landed any monsters, but had seen a couple of nice fish.  After I rigged up, we both fished up a short section of stream that has produced well on occasion.  A few small rainbows and a couple of suckers later, I moved out of the first pool and into the pocket water above. 


There were three good seams to try.  The closest one proved the hardest to put a fly in.  As soon as I did, though, an explosion rocked the end of my line and a nice brown started plowing around through the run.  Unfortunately, after a few tense seconds, the brown unhooked itself, and I was left shaking my head. 

After I quit pondering the missed opportunity, we decided to head upriver and try another section.  This one was better as far as the overall quality of the fish was concerned.  I managed several chunky rainbows but unfortunately no browns.  The water started to take on more and more color.  Finally we headed back to the bank nearest the cars and it turned out to be none too soon.  The water rose some more and became more like chocolate milk in a matter of just a few minutes. 


For the rest of the afternoon, I spent some time ripping streamers and some time taking pictures.  The second activity was much more successful than the first although its always fun to fish big flies.  I'm hoping to head back to the Park in the near future so stay tuned for more updates...



Saturday, September 18, 2010

First of Many: Caney


Last week, I had a streak of 5 days in a row with at least a little fishing.  That is better than I have had in quite awhile, and as we continue to move into fall I expect my opportunities to get out to continue improving.  While still only a shadow of its former self, the Caney Fork continues to produce good fishing for mostly stocker rainbows.  There are larger holdover fish to be had, but I've been having trouble keeping them on when hooked. 

The trip last week was interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, there were no releases from the dam that particular day so I was able to get a good look at the river during low flows.  Anytime you can see a river at its lowest point, take advantage of the situation.  Even if the fishing is not perfect, you will learn some valuable information about the stream bottom.  The second interesting thing about the trip was the apparently very recent stocking.  I found freshly stocked fish, some in huge pods, all over the river. 

If these fish can escape the stringers and grow awhile, we'll have some excellent fishing over the next couple of years.  They have not learned much about what they are supposed to eat yet.  In fact, a fly with a bit of drag seemed an incentive to strike instead of a deterrent.  I finished my day ripping a very small streamer with a trailing softhackle through a small hole and watching as these stockers fought over the opportunity to slam the flies. 

In between pestering the little rainbows, I managed to find a willing brown that posed long enough for a picture.  I'm always glad to catch the browns so this fish made the trip that much better...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Monster Bass

Large fish don't come around every day.  When I catch one it makes my trip but when I catch multiple large fish in an outing, it can well be the trip of the year.  This past weekend I made another trip for smallies, redeye, and anything else that would hit a fly.  Each time I explore a little further but this time it was somewhat in vain.  The fish would eat, but the water was so low that stealth was paramount.

As I moved further into unexplored territory, the fishing improved but the large fish seemed to be lacking.  However, the high point was still to come.  Finally, on a remote pool teeming with fish, I found two quality fish feeding.  Realizing that my years of searching for that trophy smallmouth might be coming to a close, I purposefully slowed everything down so I wouldn't make any last minute mistakes.  I even remembered to check my line for nicks and made sure the fly was sufficiently sharp. 

Assured that everything was in order, I crept closer and made a cast.  Everything came together perfectly, and I made the right cast the first time.  The hookset was good and I found myself attached to a hefty smallmouth.  Mere seconds later, I was shocked to be holding the nice fish after such a short fight.  After a couple of pictures, I released the monster back to its home. 

I peered back into the pool and found the other large fish still out feeding.  After another careful cast, I hooked up again.  Luck was on my side for once!  After the same routine, I moved down one more pool to finish out the day.  One more big fish came out to play bringing the total number of big bass to 3 for the day. 

In addition to the monsters, I also caught a few average fish for the stream, but after the excitement provided by the large fish, I didn't even bother to take any pictures.  Now I can't wait to go back to find what further secrets have yet to be revealed on this beautiful stream...

Here are the three nice fish I managed to land...:D




Friday, September 03, 2010

Low Flows and Hungry Fish


Every local trip I make for bass and panfish, I end up wondering why I don't stay close to home more often.  This past weekend was no exception.  Some friends wanted to go swimming, and of course I was interested in the fishing possibilities.  We arrived at one of my favorite streams and while they all started preparing to swim, I started stringing up a four weight fly rod.

Once everyone was ready, we started down the stream in search of a good swimming hole.  I tried to move on ahead so I was fishing unspoiled water.  The fish seemed to be particularly uneducated on this day.  I threw a Simi Seal Leech and never changed flies.  The only requirement seemed to be getting the fly in the water.  The highlight of the day was finding two "large" smallies in the 16 inch range.  For this stream those are good fish, and I will be back to catch them at some point.




All too soon the trip was over, but I'll be back as soon as I can, maybe even this weekend.  In the meantime, I might finally get a trout trip in this afternoon so check back to see if anything exciting happens...



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fishing in the Mud


Late summer in Tennessee generally means low clear water in the mountains and a mix of high and low water on the tailwaters.  TVA begins to draw down reservoirs to winter pool about this time of year if necessary, but otherwise the tailwaters are low and clear.  Last week brought a departure from the norm on the Caney.  Recent generation has consisted of a two hour pulse at some point in the morning, but heavy rains that brought flooding to parts of the state affected the lower end of the Caney Fork. 

Water levels in Center Hill Lake have come up some, but mostly the lake was spared from the worst of the onslaught.  The tailwater is a different story.  Last Thursday, it was obvious that large quantities of mud had entered the river somewhere upstream of Happy Hollow.  I fished at Happy for probably a couple of hours and caught a decent number of fish despite the water conditions. 

When I first pulled into the parking lot, I almost didn't even bother to get out of my car.  Upon closer inspection though I noticed dark patches indicating the weedbeds under the surface.  Realizing that the water was just very off color and not chocolate milk, I proceeded to rig up a four weight and headed down the ramp.  The clarity of the water made simply searching the water much less productive than it normally can be.  I've seen fish move up to 7 or 8 feet to take a Zebra Midge on the Caney, but this time the fly would have to be within a foot or two of the fish for them to even see it.

 

Careful observation is key to success in life, and fishing is no exception.  After standing on the bank for 10 minutes, I located several risers and slowly started to wade in their direction.  Once within range, it was a simple matter of waiting for the fish to give away its location by rising and then casting to it.  Most fish would hit within the first few casts although a few took upwards of 10 or 15 casts before eating.  Still, I can't complain about those numbers. 



I don't know whether it was due to the reduced visibility or what, but probably half of the fish rose to my indicator dry whereas normally I would only catch a couple on the #14 parachute.  The fish were a nice mix of 13-16 inch rainbows with a couple of browns thrown in for good measure.  All fish seemed really healthy with beautiful full fins and fought very well.  I'm hoping to head back soon to sample the river again under slightly more "normal" water conditions to see how things really are...



Thursday, August 19, 2010

On the Other Side

My Smokies excursions tend to be limited to the Tennessee side of the ridge. Obviously that is a result of proximity but also of familiarity. The comfort of fishing my home water keeps me coming back time and again. Over time I have learned the river almost like the back of my hand. At this point, the main challenge has become chasing the larger browns in the river. Ironically, every trip to the other side of the Park tends to produce a memorable moment. On Little River it is easy to fall into the trap of routine, but I retain some of the suspenseful excitement of fishing new water on North Carolina streams.

This past weekend I headed up to fish the Park with the plan to meet my buddy Joe Mcgroom. After a late start, I finally was rolling up Little River a little after noon and found Joe's truck near a favorite stretch of water. After some consultation, we checked out a couple of spots on Little River before deciding to head over the ridge.

The trip up and over Newfound Gap was faster than you can normally make it during peak vacation months. There was a noticeable absence of lost tourists stopping in the road which was a nice change from the norm on Park roads. Rain was developing over the higher elevations, a warning of things to come. We developed a game plan while en route and finally stopped along the Oconaluftee River.

Joe had a definite goal in mind and our first stop put us at a nice pool that can produce some better than average browns on occasion. I was not ready to fish yet and told Joe to fish the pool while I rigged up. We both started with the usual double nymph rig.

As I tied on some fresh tippet and selected flies, Joe worked methodically through the pool. Nothing happened until he hit the head where fish often feed in the low water of late summer. Finally a solid fish struck the fly and the excitement started. I watched as Joe fought the fish downstream into the slower portion of the pool and finally corralled it in the shallows. Interestingly, in addition to Joe's flies, the fish also had a short section of tippet and small nymph in its mouth, obviously the victor in another recent fight. After freeing the fish from its unwanted jewelry, we snapped a couple of pictures and then Joe spent a few moments reviving the nice 14 inch brown.



First pool success is often a sign of slow fishing for the rest of the day and this trip didn't deviate from that standard. More than anything, I think our own laziness set the pace for the rest of the day. We both caught several more fish but nothing out of the ordinary and the catching was definitely not as good as it could have been if we were more focused. Sometimes its nice to have slow days though. Really all I wanted out of this trip was the chance to get out on the stream, and any fish caught were just a bonus.

A little later in the day the rainfall from higher elevations finally caught up with us and the water turned muddy. Fish still fed just fine, but after fishing in the higher water for a little while, we decided to call it a day and head back over the ridge.


Over the next few weeks, I plan to get out more than I have been. The intense heat and humidity of the summer should slowly yield to the changing seasons as we approach my favorite time of year. I'll be heading back to the Smokies soon as well as making some tailwater trips. Expect another report in a couple of days...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Word of Caution

As we head into the late summer months, I feel a word of caution is needed for anglers everywhere, myself included.  When a large trout (or any other species) graces the end of your line, the urge to take plenty of pictures is strong.  I would like to recommend being as careful as possible when doing so.

This issue is a problem and one that has been painfully obvious on my last two trips to the Caney Fork River.  Both times I have found large brown trout dead on the river bottom.  Each fish was obviously healthy and probably in the prime of its life.  I know that after a certain point the fish die of old age, but these fish were not to that point in my opinion (although I clearly cannot say that positively). 

I have a couple of theories on how those fish died.  One is that someone caught them and simply played the fish too long and then kept it out of the water for too long during the picture session.  Another possibility is that someone put the fish on a stringer before thinking better of the idea.  The new regulations allow the harvest of only one brown trout over 24 inches.  The first fish I found dead was around 18" and the fish yesterday taped out at 22".  Both were under the minimum size limit and someone may have got nervous and slipped the fish off the stringer as they approached a major access point.

 
However, the fact remains that some fish we catch probably won't make it.  To greatly increase the odds of the fish surviving, please remember to always wet your hands before touching any fish.  Also keep the fish in the water as much as possible between photographs.  There is no need to have the fish out of the water for very long.  Don't place the fish on dry surfaces for those "beside the rod" shots.  Finally, when in doubt, get the fish back in the water and skip the pictures instead of killing the fish.  I've done this with some large fish, and never regret the decision. 

On the Caney, low dissolved oxygen levels have been reported lately.  The river is currently only a shadow of its former self.  If you should be fortunate enough to hook and land one of the rare large fish that are left, please treat it respectfully and get it back in the water as quickly as possible. Spend as much time as necessary reviving the fish.  This is particularly important with the oxygen problems.  Get the fish out in the main current away from the warmer water near the banks. 

While my motivation for bringing up this issue was two experiences on the Caney, this is something that everyone should be careful of as we continue through the hottest months of the year.  Fisherman everywhere should consider their impact on the resource and fish responsibly at all times.  I've stayed away from the lower reaches of large Smoky Mountain streams this summer because of the warm water.  The long term health of the fishery is much more important to me than possibly catching and killing a large brown. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Too Many Alligators!!

I first saw this video over on CNN. Apparently this guy was starting out on a fishing trip. I'm wondering if this would be a good solution to the crowds on some of our tailwaters...maybe just stock a couple of 'gators... Other than the water being too cold for them, this could be a brilliant solution to an overcrowding problem...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No fishing...

...but on the bright side the sunset was really nice this evening!!! An isolated shower was moving slowly along to the southwest making for some nice photo opportunities. The colors playing through the clouds during the sunset were as nice as any I've seen yet this year...








Monday, July 19, 2010

Really???

Yesterday I tried out one of my striper spots with a couple of buddies. The fishing was slow to say the least. With nothing better to do I stuck with it until it was quite late. Finally, something hit like a freight train. After a relatively short fight, I had a small striper in for a couple of pictures. I'm still trying to figure out what I was thinking during the picture...probably something along the lines of, "Really??? I drove here for this little fish?" It must have been too late to be thinking clearly though because I always appreciate my time on the water regardless of the fish I catch...


Trevor Smart Photograph