Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Caney Outing and Vacation

The first of at least two summer trips for me has finally rolled around. Tomorrow I depart for Oklahoma and while I won't be sampling its trout waters this trip, I will be spending an inordinately large amount of time down at a small creek casting for whatever is out swimming.

Since it will be a while before I get close enough to a trout to be dangerous, a stop at the Caney Fork River seemed in order today. I was passing through on my way home from Nashville and stopped to fish for about 3 hours. Enough fish were fooled to keep things interesting but the severe headache I got kept me from doing too much damage. Word of advice for the day, stay hydrated if you want to catch lots of fish. If you don't, your reflexes will suffer... Several large fish were spotted throughout the afternoon and I got a few to eat but my feeble attempts at setting the hook (this was later in the day once the headache had developed) only worked on one of the better fish, and this was nowhere near the largest. Despite my troubles, I had a nice outing and then went home to sleep off the migraine.

Another recent stop at the river was good for this nice brown.

As you can see, the fish are healthy and quite colorful. As long as a catastrophe doesn't occur, this fall should bring excellent fishing with lots of good-sized fish. With this river it can be tough with the late summer and fall dissolved oxygen posing a problem. We can only hope...

I'll hopefully be bringing reports on my warmwater exploits in Oklahoma within a few days so stay tuned for details...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Road To Nowhere Put Down

Finally, after years of debate, it appears that the Road to Nowhere on the Southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains might finally get the axe for good. From the Tennessean we learn of this great news. Apparently,
After 64 years of debate, the National Park Service says the best option for what's been dubbed "the road to nowhere" in the Smokies is not to build it.
We are encouraged with the news that perhaps politicians are finally making a good decision for the environment. The environmental impact study from the park service determined that the preferred option in the case of the Road was to not build it. Swain County North Carolina will receive a monetary settlement in place of the road. Interestingly, the road WAS promised to the people of this area years ago when TVA built a dam and not everyone appreciates the idea of a settlement. In light of this revelation, is the decision the best one? I think so, but I am admittedly biased. At least I will be able to fish Forney, Hazel, Eagle, and all the other creeks without hundreds of tourists watching. The last thing we need in a wilderness area of a National Park is another road. Of course, as we all know, the issue isn't dead until it is dead so keep your fingers crossed...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Protection for Rio Grande Cutts?

A few years ago (2002), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection to the Rio Grande Cutthroat. This decision was apparently contrary to the language contained in the Endangered Species Act.
Under the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species is defined as any species that is at risk of extinction in "all or a significant portion of range."
From the Environmental News Network, we read that the Rio Grande Cutts may get another chance.
In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will again consider the Rio Grande cutthroat trout for protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
This is great news especially for trout fisherman. I've always dreamed of a trip to southern Colorado or northern New Mexico to catch this special fish. Unfortunately, it seems that politics have stood in the way of recovery for this unique Cutthroat trout. One of the more interesting statistics?
To date, the Bush administration has protected just 57 species - the fewest for any six-year period since the inception of the Endangered Species Act. There were 512 species protected under President Clinton and 234 protected during George H. W. Bush's presidency. During the last six years of the Clinton administration, just 13 percent of decisions denied protection to species, compared to 52 percent during the six years of the current Bush administration.
Okay, so that was more than one statistic but disturbing nonetheless... Maybe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make the right decision and preserve this fish for generations to come.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

St. Croix Comes Through

My St. Croix Legend Ultras have long been my go-to rods. The stories of their great customer service gave me some peace of mind in case I ever broke one. Of course, it wasn't so much a case of if as of when. Anyone that has owned many rods has eventually had one break. Mine broke right at the very tip. Thankfully, I was stopping by Little River Outfitters the next day and they sent my rod in to St. Croix for me and the waiting game began. I was looking for the rod to probably be back in two weeks or so. Instead, it was only a week and a half!!! St. Croix makes a very nice product and their customer service is second to none in my experience. Did I mention I love the Legend Ultras...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Epic Day

This week started just as most weeks do during the summer with me going to work on Monday to make some $$$ to pay for school next fall. However, I had two days off, Thursday and Friday. I planned to make the most of my time by making another trip to the Smokies. Most likely I won't be able to go again for awhile so I wanted to do something slightly out of the ordinary. A backpacking trip fit that bill well but I got lazy and decided to just car camp at Elkmont instead.

Thursday found me at Elkmont campground setting up camp in the afternoon and then off for the evening hatch. Despite casting over numerous risers and hooking up several times, I only managed a couple of fish. During a stop at a nice hole that I hit for large fish, I lost my last large Tellico to a big rainbow that snapped the 6x like a twig as the fly hit the water. It would have probably gone an easy 16 inches and perhaps 18. "At least it can't get much worse in the catching department" I muttered to myself. Surely the next day would yield different results, it just had to.

A great nights rest in the woods found me completely refreshed the next morning. I woke up and finally crawled out of my sleeping bag, then put together a quick fire to ward off the morning chill and sat enjoying the cool mountain air. Easy enjoyment when you have a nice hot fire. As I sat there, something clicked. Today was going to be like no other. Each year I have some good days and some great days. This would be one for the ages. I tied a few Tellicos in case I would need them but I was hoping the fish would hit dries.

After a quick breakfast and packing up the camp, I wandered over to the Little River Trailhead and started hiking. Just a short distance into my hike, something else clicked. I would see a bear for the first time while out hiking and fishing. I've seen plenty from the car but none while out fishing and hiking before. This was a strange revelation because there was really nothing to make me think this, yet the thought persisted and was so strong that I really just had no other option than to believe. With this in mind I kept hustling up the trail at my usual fast pace. I passed many fisherman on my way and was doubly thankful that my plans involved a good hike.

After hiking for about an hour and 15 minutes, I finally was in the vicinity of where I wanted to fish. I slowed down and watched for a good place to get in the stream. An opening in the solid thicket between me and the creek finally showed itself and I quickly scrambled down to the stream. I sat down on a rock to look around and make my first fly selection. A yellow stonefly buzzed by about that time so I pulled out an imitation. As I was tying it on, I eyed the little pool just below me. There it was, the obvious rise of a fish taking something on or very near the surface. I slowly moved down and made the short cast with only a couple feet of line out. The very first cast rewarded me with a chunky little rainbow. Slight nervousness set in as I snapped a picture of the first fish of the day. A fish on the first cast is NEVER a good sign. But then I remembered. I KNEW I was going to have a good day. I made another four casts before the next fish hit, just on the other side of the little pool beneath the other main current tongue. Relaxing, I allowed myself to take in the moment and just enjoy the day.

I kept working up the stream and surprisingly caught a brook trout before any browns. "Just one more fish for the slam" I thought. Then it was rainbows again for awhile, constantly falling to the dry with reckless abandon. Finally, at fish number twenty I saw the buttery brown flash I had been watching for. After a quick picture for documentation, the fish slid back into the current and was gone.

Moving quickly, I covered a lot of water before I decided to take a break for snacks. It was great to take off the small hydration pack and relax beside the stream for a few minutes. The brilliant green hues of spring merged with the foaming white water above the small plunge pool to paint a perfect picture. A few minutes were spent trying to recreate the scene with my digital camera but in the end, I knew you just can't reproduce a picture like that. While I was eating, I noticed some bugs starting to hatch a bit more consistently.

If the fish had been looking up before then, they were doing so even more now. Once again I started moving quickly up the stream. A couple of casts here and three there and it was time to move on again. I didn't want to miss out on this golden opportunity of perfectly stupid trout. And the number of fish just kept rising, 30, 40, 50. Somewhere in the forties I surpassed my best fishing day in the Smokies and with my 56th fish it was officially my best day ever personally. I don't know why but for some reason I kept fishing. I've had other days where the pace of catching was just as good but I quit fishing after catching 40+ fish or moved elsewhere to seek a greater challenge. Today, I just enjoyed the moment. At one point I jokingly wondered to myself if I was going to get to 70. When fish number 60 came to hand it became a legitimate possibility. Finally, as I was approaching the point where I would get out and hike back, number 70 hit and came to hand.

I couldn't believe it. My best day of catching (notice I didn't say fishing, its not all about the catching always...) was finally done, or so I thought. In the end, the fishing part was done and in the excitement, I forgot that I was going to see a bear. Or maybe I was just hoping it was a silly thought. Regardless, when I rounded a bend shortly into the hike back, I was still surprised to actually see the large bear wandering around in the trail. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL... "What now" I wondered. I had to get back to my car and I was exhausted. Seventy fish in 6 hours is hard work on anybody and I still had to make the two hour drive home. I thought for a couple of minutes and remembered that you should make noise so the bears know you are around. He was still around 200 feet off so I started whistling and then slowly waved my arms so he could see me. Bears have poor eyesight so I bent down to pick up a couple of rocks to toss in his direction. When I stooped over, he realized how big I was and took off up the hill. Glancing nervously at the spot where he had evaporated into thin air, I hurried on past and back towards my car. As the last bit of daylight was leaving, I made it back to my car.

I still can't believe everything that happened yesterday. Some of it is just too crazy. Even the 70 fish and especially the bear, the part where I knew I was going to see one. That's the way the mountains are though. They always provide great moments. You can just count on it. That is probably why I keep going back. The fishing is a great excuse though and next time I get a chance, you'll find me hustling up a trail away from the crowds to find the pristine wilderness experience I left up there somewhere.

Friday, May 11, 2007

California Loves Their Frogs

The fight for frogs and other native species continues in California. According to this NBC story,
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette said the state's trout stocking program fails to meet environmental laws designed to protect threatened and endangered species, although he declined to temporarily shut it down.

Trout fisherman will be unhappy with the ruling I'm sure and it does raise numerous issues. For example, poaching is generally a problem with just about any fishery including trout and normally, the stocked trout are an easy target. For that matter, what about all the people out fishing for their supper legally? This is all very theoretical, but what happens when there aren't as many trout to go around in the first place? Do native fisheries become a new or more focused target of the catch and keep crowd?

I agree strongly with protecting native species. However, I believe that some very well meaning people are trying to simplify the whole picture. Do trout eat frogs? Possibly, probably likely on occasion at least but is that the only reason for the decline? What about air quality issues which would ultimately affect water quality? Might this not be a culprit?

Not being a fisheries biologist, I cannot offer any support for any of these ideas or questions. That point remains however that the trout seem to be a convenient scapegoat for other problems.

According to the ruling, the California Department of Fish and Game must complete an environmental assessment. Great, once again it is a good idea and well-meant I'm sure. For that matter I'm all for it but if I go to California to fish, I would MUCH rather for my license fees to go towards improving the fisheries and enforcing the regulations instead of funding a study to see if trout eat an occasional frog.

One thing against the California Department of Fish and Game, they used a lousy excuse for their stocking. From the article:
The department had argued fish stocking was exempt from environmental review because the program, which the department took over in 1945, was in place long before environmental laws protecting sensitive species were enacted in 1970.

I give up, they deserved to lose the decision...

Not necessarily the right perspective but thats my two cents...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Another "W" For Politics

It looks like politics might triumph over common sense fisheries management once again. Through the Fly Fishing in Yellowstone blog comes this story on the future of Arctic Grayling in Montana. It all sounds too familiar with the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks reasoning that because there are plenty of the Grayling in Alaska and other points north of Montana, then we really don't need to worry about the fish in Montana. This sounds a lot like other arguments that have been used under the current Bush Administration. For example, hatchery versus wild salmon....enough said...

More Work, Less Fishing

Now that summer is here, it is time to start working hard to make some $$$. Unfortunately, in the short term my trout fishing time will probably suffer because of this. However, it will all balance out as I have my Yellowstone trip to look forward to in August. I will also spend a lot of time tying flies for this trip and making other preparations. A few local streams that contain smallies in addition to some other fish also beg for exploration so I will still be getting out at least some.

So I don't get too bored anytime soon, I recently got some new fly fishing entertainment. Two DVDs on fly fishing and a great book should provide plenty of time to dream about fishing. So far I have really enjoyed the DVD entitled "Small Stream Brook Trout." I recognized some favorite water in the Smokies and it also whet my appetite for some western trout fishing this summer with the great footage from Montana. Check out the Fly Fishing DVDs website for more information on this and other DVDs.

I also recently picked up a copy of So Many Fish, So Little Time by Mark D. Williams. So far it has been nearly impossible to put down. The author does a great job of providing the facts while mixing in interesting fishing stories. I have already found some new places to fish someday. For example, want to know where to go to find brook trout that average between 3 and 4 pounds in a river no less? And did I mention this is in the United States, not Labrador?
Expect a complete review of this book within a few days. I already can tell that even when I've read it all, I will still sit down and spend time day dreaming and planning future fishing trips by looking through its pages.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Annual "End of School" Trip

The last week has been very busy for me. Semester finals and the end of school meant it was time to go fishing for a few days. Each year I do a trip, sometimes brief, sometimes long. This year I had planned a long weekend in the Smokies. The weather forecast was for a 60% change of rain for Friday night and Saturday. Usually this means you will have some showers or storms but they will not last too long. Throw in a variable in the form of the Trout Underground's Tom Chandler visiting on his yearly Tennessee trip and you should expect a significant rain event. Significant rain is usually not good for the streams. Little River still looked like this on Monday.

I had forgotten the strange effect he has on Tennessee weather so I went ahead with the camping trip. Thankfully, we had changed from a backpacking trip to just car camping at the last minute and this made things much better.

I met my cousin and his girlfriend at Little River Outfitters in Townsend before driving up to Elkmont to camp. This gave me the opportunity to drop off my St. Croix Legend Ultra that had broke just days before to be sent back to St. Croix for repair. After getting fixed up at LRO, we went and set up camp.

Friday evening included the traditional drive around Cades Cove to gawk at the everpresent wildlife. After seeing plenty of deer and turkeys, I managed to get a few minutes of fishing in on Abrams Creek. This nice trout took a #16 sulphur parachute pattern.

A few other fish came to hand on nymphs and then it was back to camp for a hot meal. We sat around the fire sipping hot cocoa and roasting marshmellows, enjoying the warmth in the cool mountian air. Then it was off to bed, presumably to wake up to a nice day. Instead, it started raining at some point during the night and didn't let up until well into Saturday afternoon. I can't complain though because my Big Agnes tent kept me dry the whole time and the streams never really got blown out.
Saturday morning, we finally got up in the light rain and cooked a huge breakfast that included the staples of eggs and hashbrowns. Once again, I was glad I wasn't backpacking. We then all piled into my car to drive over the the North Carolina side to drive a small park road up Straight Fork and then back down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Straight Fork turned out to be a beautiful little stream and I got in some more fishing time. Only a few minutes were necessary to catch several rainbows and one brown, all on a Tellico nymph.

I also saw this nice March Brown flying around. We continued on up the road only to find a "Road Closed" sign blocking our way. So we drove back down and then headed back over the hill. As we came over the ridge, we saw just why mountains are named "Smoky." Shortly after this, I got a few minutes on a brookie stream and caught this beautiful fish while wet wading in the chilly 51 degree water.

The rain had finally quit so we went back to camp and started putting a fire together to cook supper. After a bit of effort splitting wood to get dry kindling, we had a great fire going and supper was soon cooking. We were tired and so we just ate and went to bed.

The next day I had made plans to fish Deep Creek with a buddy. He showed up promptly at 10:00 and we drove over the hill. I had fished upper Deep Creek before but this was my first trip to the lower end. It proved to be a beautiful stream full of healthy rainbows and browns. The fish seemed to all be sitting down on the bottom and despite what turned out to be a gorgeous day, would not take our dries. Tellico Nymphs accounted for plenty of fish however. Later, we drove back to the Tennessee side to hit the evening hatch at Metcalf Bottoms. The fishing here was excellent. I caught rainbows and browns and broke off on a couple nice fish. The hatch was incredible as well with Yellow Sallies and Sulphurs (two types) coming off in large numbers plus lots of other random bugs. Most of my fish here came in the heavier pockets and runs but I managed a few on dries as well.

Monday was my last day in the mountains and I decided to just fish Little River. I packed up my stuff and tied a few Tellico nymphs before heading out to fish. The fish were cooperative again but they were still on the bottom. Tellicos and George Nymphs accounted for most of my fish. I got a nice brown to eat a midge in one of the large pools on Little River but didn't get the hook set. Later I broke off on a good fish in heavy pocket water. The nicer fish were obviously feeding but catching them was a different story.

There were more snakes around then I care to ever see while fishing...

Overall, this was a great trip!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Smokies and Crowds

As finals are wrapping up today and tomorrow, I can start looking forward to my upcoming weekend in the mountains. Each year when school gets out, I make at least a weekend trip to fish, camp, relax and recuperate from the demands of the academic world. One year it was the Black Hills, the next it was Yellowstone AND the Black Hills. Last year it was the Smokies and it this year I will be returning to where I learned the intricacies of the sport. The Smokies are my home waters and probably my favorite place to be (please remind me I said this when I start bragging about the great fishing out west later this summer). They provide the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy myself.

The main concern about the upcoming weekend is the crowds. Tom Chandler of the Trout Underground is supposed to be in the area and we can only assume that there will be hundreds of fans out hoping to catch a glimpse of him fishing dries to rising trout. The potential exists for the traffic snarls to eclipse the famed bear jams of Cades Cove. Thankfully, I really prefer the backcountry and won't think twice about hiking the extra mile (or 7 or 8) to avoid the crowds. My idea of a good day trip is in the 10-15 mile round trip range which will put me beyond all but the most dedicated day trippers. The weather should be nearly perfect with highs in the mountains forecast to be in the 70's. The Yellow Sallies are rumored to be hatching already so look for me flinging a yellow stimulator somewhere on the Tennessee side of the park this weekend. Unfortunately, coming just after a full moon, the fishing may be on the slow side but that is unimportant. Just get me away from the books for a few days and I'll be satisfied. Catching fish will just be a bonus...