Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Friday, January 30, 2009

Caney Fork 2009

Finally! Today I put the first Caney Fork trip of 2009 in the books. I taught my morning classes and finally got away around noon. Shortly after the generators were turned off at 1:00 pm, I arrived at the parking area below Center Hill Dam. My reel had the spool of line I use when ripping streamers so I put the other spare spool with my "standard" line in my pocket and tied on a streamer to see what would happen. I've been hoping for a shad kill soon and decided on a white Simi Seal Streamer.

After wandering down the river for awhile, I finally got in and started chucking my streamer. It can't exactly be called casting but it was still effective. On about the 5th cast, a fish nailed it and after a brief fight, I landed my first Caney Fork fish of 2009, a chunky rainbow. "Great!" I thought, "The fish are killing streamers." Excited at the prospect of getting into some decent fish, I kept ripping my streamer but with no further action for about 20 minutes. Eventually I got one more but it wasn't quite as fast paced as I was hoping.

By this time I was really cold and waded over to shore to pull out the other spool and rig up with a deep nymph setup. With numb fingers, the normally quick operation took closer to 15 minutes but upon reentering the river, I had on the deadly combo of a copper john and a zebra midge.

Within a few short casts I had a fish on, and this turned out to be one of the prettier rainbows of the trip. Then it happened, the mother of all wind knots. Funny how these happen only on the coldest, nastiest trips of the year when your fingers don't want to work. I decided to take off the flies and see if this would speed up the process at all. Almost immediately, the knot worked out except for the tippet which I had to retie. After this annoying task was over, I was back into the fish. This continued for the rest of the day, ending the last 45 minutes before the evening generation with me stalking midging fish with a dry/dropper just below the dam.

Overall, I think it was a pretty decent day. I stuck one really good fish but lost it and cast over another that would have been around 18 inches. This spring should be another great one on the Caney. Soon we should see some shad coming through the dam as well. There may have been some already although I didn't seen any today. My guess is that we have to wait a bit longer. Normally February and March are the prime months. When it does, I'll be back hoping for some good action on streamers...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finally Went Fishing

January will likely be the month with the fewest days on the water in a long time. This whole "becoming responsible and getting a real job" thing is really hard on the fishing time. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy what I'm doing but not fishing is tough. Next month should be better though as most weekends will allow an opportunity to fish and I also have a few days off one week early in the month. Today was the first time I got out on the water, at least to fish, since January 3. Those of you that read this blog or know me at all realize that this is a long time without a fishing trip.

In many ways, my fishing trip today was one of the best in awhile. The small things that I often overlook really made the day. Each rainbow trout that graced the end of my line for a few moments fought hard, putting a nice bend in the 3 weight rod I was fishing. Watching the line form nice tight loops was a lot more enjoyable than I normally give it credit for and reminded me how the artistic aspect of the sport is really what got me into fly fishing in the first place.

When the short trip of around 30 minutes was complete, I had caught 4 little rainbows. All fish hammered a #16 black Simi Seal leech with a beadhead that I fished very slowly stripped in the current of the stream. The water was icy cold and my hands felt like they were being pricked by needles every time I dipped them in prior to handling a fish.

I goofed around a little and got some ridiculous "hero" shots with the small fish including the classic but rather cheesy "rod in mouth" picture. Overall it was a fun trip. By next weekend the Caney might be fishable and if so, I'll be there seeing how the fish have handled all the high water lately.

Also, later this week, I may have to head to Chattanooga one day and if so, I might check out my old haunts along the Tennessee river. Shad should be coming through Chickamauga and Watts Bar dams creating a feeding frenzy for the resident fish below. As always, stay tuned for more as it develops...

Friday, January 23, 2009

2008 Was a Good Year

Our most recent poll has closed and most people voted that 2008 was a good or great year. A few of you apparently not so lucky readers didn't have a particularly good year but overall the results were positive. One of my favorite responses to that poll came from my buddy Trey who said it was his best year because he learned to fly fish in 2008. Now that's a great year in anybodies book if you ask me.

To me, 2008 was great for several reasons. First, I expanded my horizons and explored some more. I caught several new species on the fly rod and chased the mythical lake run fish on the south side of the Smokies, finally finding a few good fish. One of the major highlights of the year was the opportunity to work at Little River Outfitters which was a dream come true. Talking with customers and helping them have a great time while visiting the Smokies was a lot of fun. It was always gratifying when someone would stop back by to say thank you for the information that led to some nice fish.

The year was also great because the Caney Fork River continues to improve despite enormous fishing pressure. This river has become one of the top rivers in the southeast but unfortunately this has created some serious crowding problems. While it will still fish well this next year, it will probably not be the river of choice for many people, myself included because of the bad crowds. Still, I'll get my fair share of time on that river which will always be my favorite Tennessee tailwater.

If anyone else has anything to share as to why 2008 was a good year (or not), please let me know. In the meantime, I'll be putting up a new poll soon so be sure and cast your vote...you can choose more than one option on the new poll by the way...

2008 Year in Review: Just Gets Better

Currently I'm setting at 20 days without wetting a line and I'm really starting to have some withdrawals. Last weekend wasn't too bad since I did get to spend Sunday tying at Little River Outfitters which is probably the next best thing to going fishing. However, the lack of fishing is really starting to hurt so I felt like it was a good time to continue my 2008 Year in Review posts. As the early months gave way to the warmer weather of spring, the fishing just kept improving.

Early on, I focused largely on the Tennessee River, especially just below Chickamauga dam where the fishing was often exceptional for white bass and hybrids. As the weather warmed, the skipjack started running and provided a lot of fun on the fly rod. These fish are called Tennessee Tarpon for a reason and absolutely go crazy when hooked.

The other big moment below Chickamauga came when I caught my first ever double on the fly. Hopefully I'll do it with trout this year but until then, its hard to beat these two nice fish.

I also took several trips to the Smokies including a great one on April Fool's. It turned out that the fish were the foolish ones and I managed several beautiful wild rainbows.

In May, things went from good to great when I received a phone call from Little River Outfitters in Townsend inquiring whether I would be interested in working for them over the summer. I would have been crazy to say no and before I knew it I was busy at an awesome summer job (as long as I overlook Wapsi Hell that is). The best thing about this was that I could fish every evening in the Smokies if I wanted which I generally did.

Another big first occurred when I caught my first Caney Fork slam of a rainbow, brown, and brook trout. TWRA began stocking brookies on the Caney this past year and so far the results are promising. I'm willing to bet that we start seeing some 16-18" brook trout this next year. The Caney Fork has a lot of food available for the trout and the fish in that river grow very quickly. By fall of 2008 a few brookies were already pushing 13-14" so 2009 should be epic.

The big story in the Smokies that became apparent by early summer was that the ongoing drought had not given up yet. The streams were frighteningly low by June although we did see a few rounds of thunderstorms over the summer which helped a bit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Solid Water

I've finally got around to posting the promised pictures from this past weekend. The cold weather we've had lately froze a lot of the flowing water here in Tennessee. On Saturday afternoon, I went hiking near Chattanooga in search of some frozen waterfalls and found some spectacular ice formations. Despite the frigid conditions, I managed to have a good time and stay relatively warm. On Sunday, before the tying demo at Little River Outfitters, I drove up to Tremont and took a few pictures. Most of the rocks in the Middle Prong had varying amounts of ice on them... Below are a few pictures. The first two were taken in a canyon near Chattanooga, Tennessee and the rest were taken on the Middle Prong of Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Weekend

Yet another great weekend is in the books but still no fishing. Lately the Caney is showing signs of slowing generation which is a good thing. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint), the extended forecast includes several chances of precipitation. Thankfully as of now, none of these are looking like the significant events we experienced over the last several weeks. With any luck I'll be fishing on the Caney in another couple of weeks.

Despite the lack of fishing, I still had fun this weekend. Saturday I got in some hiking and the chance to get outside with friends and take a few pictures was great! Today (Sunday) I spent several hours at Little River Outfitters doing a fly tying demo. As always, it was a lot of fun to just hang around a good fly shop and talk fishing. Tying flies wasn't bad either. I shared a few favorite Smokies patterns including one of my "secret" soft hackles that the browns just love.

One highlight of the day was the drive I took up Middle Prong to check out the water. There was a lot of ice on the river which made for some interesting pictures. Tomorrow or Tuesday I'll get those uploaded for you to see...and one day this week I might try to get in a bit of fishing...wish me luck on that because I'll need it to make it happen...

Friday, January 16, 2009

2008 Year in Review: The Early Months

For the sake of this post, I'm considering the early months of 2008 to be January through March. The year held many interesting firsts for me and the early months had several big ones. I got the year started in January and enjoyed one of my best days on the Caney of 2008 on what turned out to be the coldest day that I spent fishing for the year.

The temperature never got out of the low 20s meaning that I fought ice in my guides and reel all day. Despite the cold, the day was memorable because the fish were feeding heavily on the midges that were having a hard time flying off. It was so cold that as soon as they emerged onto the surface, they couldn't fly away. The fishing was leisurely and enjoyable and I even managed to stay warm.

In February I chased lake-run fish for the first time and also started targeting some warm water species such as white and yellow bass. The lake-run experiment was spotty but I did find some nice fish.

The fishing below Chickamauga dam was an absolute blast and for the first time in awhile I found myself enjoying fishing for something other than trout. The white bass and hybrids really fight well, often bulldogging with strong head shakes. The shad kill in the Chickamauga tailwater was good and the fish would happily take just about anything white. On one of my excursions I hooked and landed my first freshwater drum. It was very heavy in the strong current but didn't fight particularly well for its size.

As March rolled around, the trips to Chickamauga continued along with an increase in the frequency of my trips to the Hiwassee River. The fish were generally feeding well and the spring of 2008 was a good one on this amazing tailwater.

Below I'm putting a couple more pictures from the early months of 2008. Hopefully I'll get around to spring and early summer of the year soon. Until then, remember to stop by Little River Outfitters on Sunday afternoon if you're in the area. Hope to see you there...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sunday Tying Demo

For those that live in or near East Tennessee and don't have plans for Sunday afternoon, I'll be tying at Little River Outfitters in Townsend from 12:30-4:30. So far I'm planning on sharing some of my favorite Smokies patterns including some variations on standard patterns that provide just enough difference from the original to interest some picky fish. Also I'm planning on sharing some favorite tailwater patterns including how I like to fish them. Hope to see some of you there! If anyone plans to attend and has a request for a pattern you would like to see, respond here or shoot me an email and I'll see what I can do...

Also, please remember to vote in the poll at right if you have not done so yet. Let me know how 2008 was as a fishing year for you...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tiny Flies

When most people think about fly fishing, they envision a cool mountain stream or a large western river with someone artistically working a fly rod for rising trout. Many fly fishers consider the dry fly as the purest approach one could take to the sport. Casting a dry over a rising trout and watching the take is indeed one of the most exhilarating moments you can experience on the water. However, if you want to be successful as a fisherman, you must be able to adapt to whatever conditions are occurring when you arrive streamside.
Anyone that has fly fished for any length of time has heard the saying that 10% of fisherman catch 90% of the fish and most likely everyone has also heard that trout feed below the surface 90% of the time. Becoming proficient with subsurface flies is critical to success as a fly fisher. While we often focus on the more exciting mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, there are other insects that are important to trout. Midges are often one of the dominant food sources for trout and carrying a broad selection of patterns to cover these insects will contribute to many successful outings if one knows how to fish them properly.
Some of the easiest flies to tie will often catch the most fish in a trout stream. The only downside to tying midge patterns is their normally small size in relation to other fly patterns. I regularly tie and fish patterns from a #18 down to a #22 but will fish down to a size #28 or even #30 as the conditions dictate. Those that regularly read this blog or fish with me know that I like fishing with multiple flies to increase the odds. Better yet, it helps in determining what the fish are feeding on. I can try one fly at a time or I can try 2-3 flies at a time. Obviously I can try many more patterns in an hour if I tie on twice as many each time I change.
When fishing midges, I like to also fish something larger to serve as an attractor and then drop my small midge pattern behind the larger fly. It is important to either match the larger fly to food that is commonly available in the water you are fishing or to an attractor pattern that normally does well in that particular river. When fishing a tailwater, I will often use a scud or sowbug pattern as the first fly. Other good patterns are Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Copper Johns, and various softhackles. On tailwaters where there is a good population of a specific mayfly, caddis, or stonefly, I'll often fish a nymph or larval immitation of the prevalent insect. Always use the heaviest tippet you can get away with for the first fly in a multiple fly rig. Tying on several flies can take a few minutes if you aren't very quick with knots, and it is always frustrating to lose the whole rig. In most situations 4x tippet is fine and if at all possible, don't go below 5x. People are often shocked at how heavy of a tippet you can get away with even on pressured fish. Using fluorocarbon will allow you to use heavier tippet.
Once you have chosen the first fly, it is time to figure out what type of midge pattern to fish. You want to use a fly that matches the larva or pupa that are most common in the water you are fishing. Before choosing a fly, take a moment to observe the water and see if you can figure out what the trout want. Are they staying right on the bottom, betraying themselves only by the occasional flashing side? Or are they up in the water column moving around as they intercept midge pupa in the drift? For fish that are up in the water column, a pupa will be the best immitation while for those right on the bottom, a larva will often catch more fish.
Whichever pattern you decide upon, once again use the heaviest tippet that the fish will accept. I generally fish 6x fluoro with my midges and often even use 5x. If you are fishing faster water or water that is very deep, you will want a couple #6 split shot to help get it down. Generally it is also best to use an indicator for this type of fishing. You want to find out the zone that the fish are feeding in and then keep your flies there. A strike indicator is a great way to do this. I like to use Thingamabobbers but also use yarn indicators with rubber o-rings. The general rule of thumb is to place your indicator one and a half to two times the depth of the water but in actual practice you'll discover that this is actually very flexible. Don't tie yourself to one exact depth. Let the fish tell you what they want and be willing to change constantly. I'm generally very lazy and often just set the indicator between 6 and 8 feet deep if I'm fishing a larger tailwater. However, laziness will eventually start costing you fish...
When it comes to midges, one mistake that many people make is to fish patterns that are too fat. Traditional wisdom says that midge larva are long and slender while the pupa are short and stout. This is true but short and stout is definitely relative. Most midge patterns that are supposed to be pupa are much too fat compared to the naturals. Often the fish won't seem to care much but at other times, fishing a less bulky pattern will bring a marked increase in the number of hookups. I have several patterns that I like to fish. The zebra midge in various color combinations is a reliable fly that can catch at least a few fish under most circumstances. I tie mine with a slimmer profile compared to those that many people fish. Other favorites include the RS2, WD-40, various thread midges, and patterns made from micro and midge tubing.
Midge larva or pupa tied using midge and micro tubing are easily some of the most realistic small flies I've ever fished. This point was driven home one day while fishing the Roaring Fork River in Colorado. This Gold Medal stream is known for its fine brown trout but the section we were fishing was some of the better rainbow water on the river. In one particular hole, I sight fished to a large rainbow using a tiny gray midge larva dropped behind a Green Drake nymph. After several drifts, the large rainbow ate and upon feeling the sting of the hook, immediately raced to the middle of the river before jumping. When I saw the size of the fish I was immediately worried about everything, the tippet, the tiny fly that connected me to the fish, and the fast water just below the pool. Sadly the fish raced downstream and 10 minutes later the nice rainbow won the battle when the small fly popped free.
I now knew that the fish really did like my midge pattern but I was fully convinced after fishing another pool. After covering all the likely water, I pulled my flies in to make sure everything was intact. When I saw the midge, I was shocked to see a small gray midge larva the exact same color and size as the fly I was fishing. In fact, it looked so identical that my fly could have been a natural threaded onto the hook. It was now obvious why the large rainbow had been so easily fooled in this highly pressured water.
The first time I learned of this fly was from east Tennessee guide Hugh Hartsell. He shared the pattern with me as a good match for blackfly larva. While fishing out West in the nutrient rich tailwaters, I discovered the need for a really good larva pattern and remembered my blackfly patterns. While fishing the Gunnison River I pulled one out and after a small of modification was soon catching lots of large and now stupid trout. The next day my buddy and I headed down to the nearest fly shop to pick up some more micro tubing. Back in camp, I tied around 20 or so of the flies in different colors and headed back to the river. This fly became a staple on the Gunnison and proved itself on several other waters as well.
The pattern is very easy to tie and can be varied to match just about any color that you need to. Midge and micro tubing comes in many colors but will partially take on the color of the thread that you use underneath it. This pattern can also be tied with a small metal or glass beadhead which makes it suitable for matching midge pupa. See my video on tying the bead head version of the micro tubing midge on YouTube HERE. If you want to tie some for yourself you will need the following:
Hook: TMC 2487 (or favorite midge hook) #16-#28
Thread: 8/0 UNI-Thread, color to match
Body: Midge or Micro Tubing (distributed by Hareline Dubbin, Inc.)
Select the appropriate size of tubing based on the size of fly you are tying. I tie most of mine with Micro Tubing but for larger sizes midge tubing is great as well. Midge tubing will work down to a #22 or #24 but the Micro Tubing will cover all situations.
To tie the pattern, tie in your thread about halfway back on the hook shank (#24 TMC 2487 shown with gray thread).
Wind the thread back towards the bend of the hook and tie in the midge or micro tubing on top of the shank (shown with gray micro tubing). After securing the tubing, wind the thread evenly to just behind the hook eye.
Wind the tubing forward keeping the wraps tight up against each other. If you leave the first few wraps a bit loose, it will simulate the slightly thicker half that most larva have. Start putting more pressure on the tubing and it will stretch, creating a nice thin and perfectly segmented body. Once you wrap the tubing to just behind the eye, tie it off with a couple wraps of thread. Give two more wraps of thread and finish the fly in whichever way you prefer. I normally just use 3-4 half hitches and a bit of glue.
While this fly isn't much to look at, the fish will definitely approve of it. Tie up a few and give them a shot the next time you find midging fish...I think you'll be pleasantly surprised...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Recent Rain and What's Next

The last of the precipitation departed yesterday morning as a few lingering snow showers moved through east Tennessee. The snow was in no way significant with this last weather system but the rain was. Center Hill Lake, below which is the Caney Fork tailwater, rose a few feet as a result of all the rain we got. It looks like the generation will continue heavily there for awhile anyway. In the Smokies, Little River rose higher than it has been in a long time. I have not been able to get over to the Smokies recently so I don't have any pictures of the high water. However Ian Rutter from R and R Fly Fishing posted some excellent pictures taken during the high water episode. One of the most impressive was of Little River at the Sinks. The water was extremely high and dangerous. While it has been bad for fishing in the short term, all this rain is pulling us out of the drought that we have been in for the past 2 years so most of us are glad to see it.

Partly because of all the rain and partly because I've been busy, I haven't been fishing as much lately. My new teaching job started this past week and is keeping my doing things other than fishing but I should be able to start fishing on the weekends again soon. So you don't get too bored until I fish again, I'll be posting another article on midges in the next day or two...maybe even later this afternoon.

In early December I posted a video on midges from Ralph and Lisa Cutter. In the past I have posted on how to fish the Zebra Midge most effectively so I won't be dwelling much on these techniques either. The main focus of the upcoming article will be on fishing midges in deeper water in tandem with other flies and will include some of my favorite flies for this task. I'll cover how to rig up, tips on casting, and even a recipe or two for some of the easiest midges you will ever tie. If you have any questions that you would like for me to address, please post them here under the Comments section or shoot me an email and I'll do my best to include them in the article... I also still owe you the 2008 Year in Review so look for that in the near future as well!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Just Keeps on Raining

Here in Crossville, it has been raining intermittently since yesterday afternoon. Area creeks are on their way up and the ground is thoroughly saturated. Over in the Smokies, Little River has started to spike up and will likely be unfishable for at least a day or two. Sometimes when it rains this much I like to get out and do a little photography. With all the rain right now, there should be some good opportunities for pictures in the next few days. If you have a camera and can't go fishing, consider spending some time on the water hunting pictures instead of fish.

A couple of weeks ago I was able to get out with my cousin to hike North Chickamauga Creek canyon down near Chattanooga. We weren't out to fish but it was interesting to see the area streams at normal levels since I've only fished them during the worst part of the drought. Despite the lack of fishing, we still had a good time out and found a couple of really nice photo ops. Here are some favorites from the day...

Creek bubbling over richly colored sandstone...

Looking out the entrance to an old coal mine...

Rainbow formed by a small waterfall and the afternoon sun...

Monday, January 05, 2009

More Drought Bustin' Rain

Just when the Caney has had a few very short windows without generation, it looks like we will be getting a lot more rain. If the current forecast holds true (does it ever though?), the Caney could be generating until February. Of course I can't be complaining because all the rain does have a silver lining. First, the fish in the river will be relatively untouched as long as the generation remains heavy. In other words, when they finally quit generating for awhile, head for the river as soon as possible. Second, it looks like we are just about out of the drought conditions so bring on the rain!

Below are two versions of the U.S. Drought Monitor. The first is the one issued on September 2, 2008 and the second is the last one for 2008 from December 30. Compare the area affected by drought in the southeast and the severity of the drought in the two pictures. Clearly things are looking better...just don't get too excited about fishing tailwaters anytime soon...

Currently the National Weather Service in Nashville has issued a Flood Watch for a large portion of middle Tennessee. The portion of the Watch that caught my eye said the following:


Yep, they called out the Caney by name so I'm guessing that there isn't much hope to fish it any time soon... This might be the winter of Smoky Mountain trout fishing...