Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Friday, March 04, 2016

Using the Extra Day


Starting a new personal challenge can be difficult, especially if you virtually quit before starting. Back in January, I announced my goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Then I proceeded to quit fishing for several weeks or at least something close to that.

My trip to California probably had something to do with that, but also there were extenuating circumstances. Here on the Cumberland Plateau, high water dominated through February. In the Smokies, frequent bouts of cold weather gave the trout a severe case of lock jaw. Not that I'm opposed to fishing in tough conditions, mind you, but I had gotten a little soft. Beyond that, I spent much more time hiking here close to home than I normally do. Hiking and exploring just for the joy of getting outside is a great way to stay in shape for the upcoming fishing season. Unfortunately it doesn't help me catch fish.

And so I woke up one morning and noticed the calendar barreling towards March at an alarming rate. My brook trout challenge was about to die, almost before starting. Thankfully, Fate had already intervened ahead of time by designating this as a leap year. When I saw that extra day on the calendar for February, I knew it meant I had to get out and catch a brook trout. That is how I found myself headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past Monday. The goal was to catch brook trout on Monday and then look for spring hatches on Tuesday.

Responsibilities closer to home kept my in Crossville until 11:00 a.m. or so, but then I was heading towards the mountains. A new 2016 fishing license was in hand (yes, it is that time again). My usual quick stop by Little River Outfitters was nearly skipped because of the late hour and the fact that my brook trout challenge was facing failure. In the end, I decided to stop by to say hello to the guys working there. This quick stop helped me to relax a bit and not take the brook trout challenge too seriously, important stuff when you only have a handful of hours left to keep the streak alive. Fishing relaxed will always turn out better than fishing stressed.

Driving up the mountain, I intended to fish road side. Smokemont was the destination for the night's camping, and I knew where a few brookies were on my way there. Normally I'll head up high before starting, but on this day I didn't go quite as far as normal. Last December, on a guide trip, I had an angler miss what I was certain was a colorful brook trout from a plunge pool with a big back eddy. That fish was the one I was hoping for.

Before I knew it I had my waders on and looked at the rods I had brought with me. Which one to use? The tube containing my Orvis Superfine Glass rod (7'6" 4 weight) jumped out at me so I put it together and attached a Hydros reel loaded with 4 weight line. To this I added a black Elk Hair Caddis on the end of a 5x leader in size #16 and dropped a small bead head nymph off the bend of the dry fly hook using 6x tippet. With my fishing pack in tow along with a camera, I finally had everything together and headed to my spot. The sun was still on the water. This time of year that is generally a good thing.


I warmed up by fishing a couple of pools below the place I had pinned my hopes on. By the time I slid into position just across from the back eddy, my casts were going approximately where they should, and I felt as confident as one could when fishing against the clock. Two drifts around the back eddy resulted in absolutely nothing, but then the fish helped me by betraying its presence. Rising to some minuscule hatch just behind the large boulder that created the safe haven, it didn't eat fast enough to avoid detection. A glimpse of bright orange fins told me this was indeed the fish I was looking for. My next cast was perfect, about 10 inches above the fish. It turned and followed. I saw its mouth open and close and knew it had taken the dropper. All that was left was to not screw up and lose this pretty brook trout. Mission accomplished.


After enjoying the elation of keeping my streak intact, I went looking for a few more trout before heading over the ridge to camp. Over the next hour, I was surprised by another six or seven trout, about 50/50 rainbow to brook trout. My surprise was not because of the beautiful and unseasonably warm day, but because the water was frigid like snow melt. Turns out it was snow melt, but the fish were still ready to eat after a cold winter. Some of them even ate dry flies!





Most of the fish involved some form of spotting before catching and most were spotted because I saw them rise first. Spring is definitely coming, but as the afternoon wore on it was hard to remember that. The temperature started dropping as cold air came down from the snowpack just above, and I decided to head on to camp with enough daylight to fish some in the lower elevations.

Using the extra day helped keep my short brook trout streak alive. Going into the warm months should help extend the streak now. I have two of the toughest months out of the way and improving conditions ahead.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Watching Bobbers

Bobbers. One of the more polarizing words in the sport of fly fishing. I actually saw a Craigslist ad for a drift boat one time where the guy mentioned that he wanted the boat to find a home with someone who wouldn't "bobber fish" out of it. Bobbers, strike indicators, all the same in most minds, but if you ask me they are also a useful tool.

A lot of us started our fishing journey with bobbers for that matter. I can still remember going fishing for the first time, probably around the age of 5. Staring for what seemed like an eternity at the bobber that my dad had rigged above a nice fat night crawler. The amount of patience it takes to stare at a bobber is probably a good indicator of whether someone will make it as an angler. Even at a young age I had it, or at least that is what my memory says. Probably as a result of the pleasant outings to the local state park as a kid, I still enjoy bobber fishing. In the Smokies I rarely use one although I did this past Sunday. High water made high sticking on the other side of the stream tough, but a strike indicator helped to suspend my nymphs in just the right spot to catch some trout. Drifting down the Caney in the drift boat while watching indicators is enjoyable as well. You just never know what will be on the other end of the line when that indicator goes down. I used a bobber today also, sort of.

The weather has felt like early spring now for the last week or more. Lots of birds have been heading north. The robins have arrived in large flocks, the daffodils are coming up, and in the Smokies, blue quills have started hatching. It was inevitable, then, that I eventually started thinking about fishing ponds and small lakes for panfish. It is probably a little early for good crappie fishing, but the only way to find out for sure is to go check.

On this particular water, I rarely ever feel the need to fish with anything other than a small bead head Simi Seal Leech. This little pattern catchings both the bluegill and crappie and even an occasional bass although I don't specifically target them with this fly. Today, I arrived rigged with the same four weight I had been fishing in the Smokies on Sunday afternoon, a nine foot four weight Sage Accel. Almost immediately I noticed fish spooking out of the shallows, and I had not even thrown a cast yet.

The water was still quite clear from the recent cold weather, but the fish were obviously on the prowl and hungry with pods of fish cruising just under the surface and even rising occasionally. I stripped the little leech pattern for a while trying various speeds. One or two half-hearted follows was the best I could do. I did get one unusually strong tug but assume it was just a lethargic but heavy crappie. I'll never know because the hook didn't stay in the fish's mouth. Otherwise, that was it. My magic fly wasn't working so well.

Rises occasionally could still be seen, mostly on the other side of the pond. The fish near me would congregate near the surface and then leave large ripples when I moved and they spooked. Then I noticed the bugs. A small midge hatch was in progress. Confident in what the fish were eating or at least hoping to eat, I dug out the small fly cup I had tossed some extra leeches into before shoving it in my pocket. Dry flies, beetles, a few nymphs, and one fly that might serve as a midge.

A knockoff of the Zebra Midge that I tie, similar to Higa's SOS nymph, was the only fly even remotely close in size and appearance. I figured that it would fish the best if I could suspend it under the surface. My cast tended to spook fish so I wanted to leave it in one spot for a while and give the fish a chance to move back in. Digging around in the fly cup again, I pulled out one of my Smoky Mountain Beetles. In the absence of any strike indicators, it would have to work as my bobber.

Thankfully I had tossed a couple of spools of tippet in my pocket as well. In no time I had rigged a dry/dropper rig. The beetle was my indicator and the small nymph would hopefully be close enough to a midge. Turns out that it was.

Fishing for bluegill near Crossville TN

In another 15 minutes of fishing, I finally caught three nice bluegill. Two of them hit soon after the fly hit the water, probably while the nymph was still falling. The third hit after the indicator had sat there for a while, just like I had originally intended, and I was satisfied with having solved the puzzle. Three fish seemed like enough for a quick outing just a couple of miles from home. Come to think about it, I caught exactly three fish my first time watching bobbers also.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Turning the Corner

Cumberland Plateau snow


Just when I was starting to get at least a little tired of winter, it looks like we might be turning a corner. This weekend should feature highs in the 60's perhaps and definitely well into the 50's. Next week, we naturally should expect a cool down again, but the important thing is the trend in temperature is headed in the right direction. I wouldn't hold my breath, but it looks like we may be in store for an on time arrival with the spring hatches and at most a week or so late.

This rationale was nowhere close to being formed when I woke up this morning. It was still dark outside, or nearly so, but I listened intently. Suddenly, the sound came again, loud and arguably musical depending on your listening preferences. Sandhill cranes were flying over, quite low I should add, and their loud cries had roused me from my sleep. A glance at the alarm clock showed me I still had a few precious minutes of sleep available, but it was no use. Excitement had set in.

The cranes are usually the harbingers of spring, and of winter too for that matter. The huge flocks pour south in huge numbers just prior to and sometimes after the first strong cold fronts in late fall. Their preference for warmer weather is not particularly strong though as they are some of the first birds heading back north in the spring. I expect large flocks of robins will probably arrive this weekend with the warm weather. They'll stay too, assuming that the ground isn't buried under any more snow that is. If it snows, they'll retreat 50 or 100 miles south or to the nearest place that has clear ground available for worm hunting and other important activities.

With the robins I expect bugs. Not food for the robins but for the trout. Blue quills, quill gordons, little black caddis, not to mention the little black and early brown stoneflies. The fish of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will respond, first with caution as if they don't completely remember what food even is after a lean and cold winter. Then, when the hatches get heavier, they'll feed with abandon, and with a little luck, I'll be standing there with my fly rod ready to cast when their noses start poking out of the water.

As a guide, I might not be that lucky, to catch the fish myself that is. There is a decent chance that some lucky angler will be standing with me there on the stream, asking what kind of bugs those are. I'll smile and dig out my dry fly box, and soon the angler will be smiling too as the trout succumb to our trickery. Yes, I'm glad that spring is nearly here.

Smoky Mountain brown trout caught on a Parachute Adams

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip, feel free to visit my guide site at www.troutzoneanglers.com or call/text (931) 261-1884. I still have some availability during the prime early season hatch times in March as well as the peak times in April and May and would be glad to help you with a day on the water that you will enjoy.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Water for California

Things have been awful quiet around here. No, I haven't given up on blogging although I understand how that could appear to be the case. Instead, things have been busy and not on the fishing front either. I've been blessed to have some good family time lately. A trip to California to see family allowed me some time to enjoy spring like we will have here in a few more weeks.

Fruit trees were loaded down with oranges, tangerines, lemons, kiwis and grapefruits that I enjoyed immensely at meal times. Just run outside, grab whatever fruit sounded good straight off the tree, and go back in to eat!

Tangerines on the tree in California

I also looked over some local water and stopped in at a local fly shop, Fly Fishing Specialities. This was a nice shop with a superb fly tying department. Stop in and check it out if you are in the area. It is well worth your time. I didn't take any fishing gear with me on this trip but fully intend to return on a longer trip some time in the future to fish a little.

One thing I did confirm was that the snowpack up in the Sierra Nevada mountains is at an acceptable level, something that is a rarity as of the last few years. In fact, this should at least be a normal year in terms of runoff. Both the trout and people of California should be glad for that.

Sierra Nevada Mountains snowbank in California

Lake Tahoe snow

Finally, I always have my camera with me and this trip was no different. Here are a few shots I got while out in California.

Abandoned rock quarry water reflection

California coastal redwood

Sunset in California

Yolo Bypass Great Egret

Yolo Bypass white faced ibis

Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Project Ongoing

Things have been a little slow around here, but that is because I've been working on another project. This is a new site that will cover all things fly fishing here in Tennessee and feature my guiding as well. The current URL is a practice run, so it may change somewhat. Right now it is nowhere close to complete although I'm making progress. In the meantime, I would appreciate any and all feedback. You can visit the current site at www.davidrknapp.com. I know there are lots of blank pages, but I'm working on getting them filled in. Right now I want them up so you get the general idea of how the layout of the site will work. So, what do you think? Is it easy to navigate? Does it look like it will contain useful information once I get the pages completed and more added? I intend to cover all major watersheds in the Smokies including tributaries, fishing techniques for the Park, Tennessee tailwaters, and warm water streams and techniques for those as well. I'm still debating whether or not to merge this site with Trout Zone Anglers and/or this site (the Trout Zone) although I kind of hate the idea of changing platforms for this blog after all of the years of hard work I have gone through.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January Brook Trout


As the calendar turned from 2015 to 2016, I began to think about fishing goals for the new year. I'm not a resolution kind of a guy because why wait until the calendar changes to get things on track? However, from a fishing perspective, it is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same thing each time I get out on the water. With that in mind, I've set a goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Originally I even contemplated doing it using dry flies only or maybe Tenkara, but for now those ideas are on hold.

Still, when I decided to head up to the mountains this past Sunday, I knew the early morning hours would be spent chasing brown trout. After having such a good day the previous Sunday, I figured it was too good an opportunity to ignore. I still had that monster to track down and land. For some reason that fish was nowhere to be seen. After doing a lot of scouting and a little bit of casting, all I had to show for it was 3-4 half hearted chases and one fired up fish that couldn't find the hook. The time had come to move on to plan B.

Before heading to one of my favorite brook trout streams, I rolled into Townsend to warm up and chat with the guys at Little River Outfitters. A short stop turned into a longer one as the nice warm shop was hard to leave. I knew that I might not get back to the mountains much again in January though so I eventually forced myself back out into the cold to go find those brook trout.

When I lived in Colorado, winter time streamer fishing on Boulder Creek right in the middle of the town of Boulder was one of my favorite things to do. I could get out for an hour or two, walk the ice along the banks, and maybe even catch a trout or two. Often I would be surprised by nice brook trout that hammered the streamer so I knew that they loved streamers. If you know me this is probably shocking information, but I actually have not fished streamers for brook trout in the Smokies, until this past Sunday that is.

As it turns out, the native brook trout of the Smokies like streamers as well although water temperatures in 30s meant that the hits were few and far between. I did get this beautiful fish on just the second or third cast which meant I could relax the rest of the time and not worry as much about catching trout.


Able to enjoy myself, I spent more time looking around than fishing after catching that trout. My camera provided another avenue of enjoyment. Here are a few of the stream shots. Notice the dusting of snow on this cold January day.




Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Quality Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

My first fly fishing experience of 2016 got things started off right, but wasn't to my favorite place, the Great Smoky Mountains. Needing to correct that situation, I headed out early on Sunday morning to get in a full day. Water temperatures had been rising for the last two days, peaking at around 48 degrees which is very good for this time of year. With more surges of arctic air in the forecast, I knew that I had better get out while the opportunity was there.

Not wanting to waste any time, and surprisingly not in need of anything for the day's fishing, I skipped my usual stop at Little River Outfitters and headed straight into the Park. The high and low point of the day happened quickly and all with the same fish.

I had already stopped to prospect a couple of pools before I found what I was looking for: a large brown trout sitting out feeding in a very good spot to cast to. In fact, this was almost a gimme trout. Somewhere between 22 and 26 inches in length and sitting in a place where the approach was very simple, the fish was moving back and forth as it obviously fed on something small under the surface.

Wading across the rapids downstream put me into the perfect position to fish for the brown trout. My first cast was too far to the side and short, but the next cast was perfect and the fish turned to follow my flies. For what happened next I can only blame myself. The fish had already followed the flies a couple of feet, and something in my brain made me think that it had ate. Running the replay in my head (as I've done many times already) fails to help me remember exactly what made me think that fish ate, but regardless, my failed hook set caused the fish to drift off into the depths of the run nearby. The trout was not so much scared silly as just concerned about food that levitated out of the stream in an unnatural manner. Just like that, my best shot of the day at catch a big brown vanished.

If anglers were to give up in the face of adversity along the lines of what I had just experienced, fishing trips would generally be short. With the whole day still to go, I stuck with the game plan. Instead of spotting fish, I decided that I would probably be better off just covering a lot of water, so that is what I did.

Brown trout from Little River in the Smokies

The final tally does not sound very impressive when I say I caught three fish, but I should probably add that all were between 12 and 16 inches, and I lost one between 18 and 20. In other words, it was a very good day for fishing in the winter. I got my first brown trout of 2016 and then a couple more for good measure. Sometime soon I'll go back to look for that big fish that I messed up, maybe even in the next few days...


Monday, January 11, 2016

First Tenkara Trout for 2016

As the calendar rolled over from December into January, a host of things prevented me from getting out on the water much other than one guide trip in the Smokies last week. The guide trip went well. Despite cold water, we found a few trout willing to eat our flies. As a guide, I often enjoy putting people on fish nearly as much (maybe more?!?) as catching them for myself, so that trip was great for many reasons. However, it was time to catch some for myself.

My buddy Tyler was free to fish for a short time and the air temperature was low enough that I didn't want to be out long. We met up at Cumberland Mountain State Park for a quick trip to get that first trout for 2016. I had the Tenkara rods along and Tyler was intrigued enough to want to fish with them as well. We strung a couple of them up with the usual offering we give to these stocked trout and it was not too long before Tyler struck first.

Rainbow trout caught with Tenkara

Shortly after, I found some willing fish for myself. This beautiful rainbow gave the Tenkara rod a good workout. The colors were very good for a recently stocked fish. The fins were all in good shape as well. The fish used in the winter stocking program are generally in excellent condition so someone is doing a top notch job at the hatchery.

First rainbow trout of 2016 caught on a Tenkara USA Amago rod

The best part of the trip was when Tyler caught a yellow perch. That was a first for him. I've only caught a handful in my life. His was quite possibly the prettiest I've seen with vibrant colors. Great way to start the new year!

Yellow perch at Cumberland Mountain State Park


Monday, January 04, 2016

When in Yellowstone, Fish...the Yellowstone: Yellowstone Day 5

Yellowstone River above Tower Falls

How many times can you squeeze "Yellowstone" into a post title? Apparently at least three times. Never limit yourself when greatness awaits. If you can't tell, my creative side is getting close to being shot it seems. Nothing that reliving a trip to Yellowstone can't fix (or maybe worsen, I'm not sure which). Either way, looking back over the pictures from day five refreshed my memory fabulously and I'm excited all over again for what transpired on that day of fishing the Yellowstone River.

The discussion on where to fish had began a day earlier, well after dark when we got back to camp from a long but good day in the Lamar Valley fishing Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar Rivers. My buddy Kevin only had two full days available to fish before heading on to fly fishing guide school and we had already used one. That meant the pressure was on to select a winner for the day's fishing.

Having fished the Yellowstone River on my last several trips out there, I knew what it was capable of. In fact, one of the most memorable days I've been a part of fly fishing wise in Yellowstone happened on that river. Anyway, it always has the potential to produce a quality day of fishing, and in fact, I can't say I've ever had a bad day of fishing on the Yellowstone. Since it was Kevin's first trip, he ultimately deferred to me in the decisions on where to fish so there was a bit of pressure to say the least.

For this day, I knew my stream-side breakfast tradition was in jeopardy. There are few places where you can drive to the Yellowstone in the canyon reaches we hoped to fish. Somehow, eating breakfast in a dry parking lot with a flood of tourists surging past didn't appeal, but something was tickling my memory. That great big breakfast from my first full day in the Park had been delicious, and as we were already driving right past Canyon, why not stop in for round two? Convincing Kevin was not too hard at all and we left in time to be there right as they opened. With a good breakfast behind us, we were ready to hit the water of the mighty Yellowstone River.

Hiking down from the shortest access at Tower Falls, I carried two rods. One was rigged with the hopper/dropper rig that had done so well on the Lamar Valley waters while the other was my 7 weight complete with full sinking line. In other words, I was ready to fish streamers. Tied on the end was my favorite, the PB&J.

At the bottom of the trail is a huge boulder in the edge of the Yellowstone's flow. I just had to fish there as I do most trips down into the canyon. While normally I'm smart enough to make the long and slightly dangerous hike upstream, trudging up and down slopes along trails belonging as much to the deer, elk, bison, and bears as to humans, this time we had people fishing ahead of us and had no idea how far they had hiked. Might as well enjoy the water close at hand since no one was on it.

Yellowstone cutthroat that hit a PB&J streamer

I had a solid swipe on the first cast and shortly thereafter teased the nice cutthroat back out from under the rock and onto my fly. A quick picture and I tossed the fish back to catch again another year on another trip. We moved upstream to a long deep run just upstream and started working streamers hard. Flashes, taps, and the occasional tug kept us going for longer than I normally would fish one spot. In fact, in all honesty, I believe we could have stayed in that one spot the rest of the day, but the urge to roam was strong and we kept pushing upstream.

Only once did we need to leapfrog around other anglers. The main group of competition apparently had booked on up the river to where I normally fish, leaving us the easier to access water down low. Turns out that wasn't a bad thing. We found more fat cutthroat than is fair for two anglers to catch in one day.

Yellowstone Cutthroat trout

We soon arrived upstream at a large pool that I remembered well from past trips. The one thing lacking from my recollections were any particularly great stories about fishing there. That would change on this trip. I had been working up through some pockets and told Kevin to head on up and fish that hole. When I moved up, I found him absolutely certain that a large cutthroat had taken at least a couple of swipes at his flies. A high bank loomed over the hole and provided the perfect spot for me to spot from. When I got up there, I started to get a little giddy, because sure enough, there were large cutthroat chasing his fly on most casts.

I've been fishing long enough to know many of my shortcomings as a fishermen, and one of those is that I tend to start seeing things by the end of a long day on the water, but these shadows were too well defined to be imagination. Deep bright red along the flanks suggested that at least some of the fish could have rainbow ancestry mixed in, but I've also caught enough large cutthroat to know they can be brilliant red as well so who knows.

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

Yes, who knows, because while some true giants that I'm convinced were in the 25 inch range showed, the best landed was in the 18-19 inch range. That said, both of us were ecstatic at the fish that were caught. I do my best to not complain about the catching. Complaints can affect your fishing mojo negatively.

What I can say is that I'm sure both of us will fish that same pool again the next time either one of us is out in Yellowstone. Best of all, we both know what fly they seemed to really appreciate. Notice I'm not telling here, but for the record, it is a fairly common streamer pattern you should find at just about any normal fly shop.

The rest of that day was anticlimactic. There were plenty more fish to be caught after this epic pool including some nice ones on the hopper setup. A few hit the hopper, while a good number hit the nymph that was trailing underneath. Eventually I set the hopper rod down and went back to streamers because the hopper rod was almost too easy. We didn't fish as late as sometimes, probably because we were both beyond satisfied.

The memories of those big fish though kept us pondering and both of us were ready to get up early and head back to the Yellowstone if it wasn't for Kevin's need to depart the next morning. I had some vague plans to sight see and enjoy the scenery the next day. Even though the sun set early at that time of year, both of us were tired enough to enjoy a good supper and a bit of conversation before turning in to our respective tents for the night.

Just before dark, the sunset lit up the meadow that was my usual early or late day fishing spot whenever I was in camp. The rich glow painted the perfect end of day picture as the moon rose to the east until, moments later, the sunset itself was worth a shot.

Junction of the Gibbon River and Solfatara Creek at Norris Campground

Sunset along Solfatara Creek at Norris


Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year's Day!!!

Happy new year's day from the Trout Zone! I hope that your 2016 is memorable and that you are able to make memories with friends and family, hopefully at least some of the time out on the water. My fishing is going to be cut back a little here in January and February. That is not to say that I won't be fishing. On the contrary, I will be guiding up in the Smokies this next week and hopefully fishing here and there as well. However, I'm looking forward to bigger and better things this year and things like travel and new boats all require money. That means I have to conserve somewhere.