Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Feels Like Spring

Every year I try to kick off spring with a camping trip to the Smokies. This year was no exception and last weekend turned out to be the perfect time to accomplish my goal. The forecast called for high temperatures in the low 70's while lows were generally supposed to be in the 40's and 50's. After teaching on Friday I hurried home, threw a bunch of camping gear in my car along with some food, and then headed east on I-40 at a rapid pace.

Stopping in at Little River Outfitters allowed me to pick up a few items I needed and then I was off again. Unfortunately, Elkmont Campground does not open until this next weekend so I had to stay at Cades Cove. Don't get me wrong, I love Cades Cove, but for fishing purposes Elkmont is more centrally located. Regardless, it was shaping up like a nice weekend and after setting up the tent in record time I headed over to Middle Prong to kick off the fishing trip.

Upon arriving at the stream, I was surprised at the lack of people already fishing. Nice weather generally brings people out in droves from places like Knoxville and even Chattanooga but the stream was relatively devoid of people...not a bad way to start the trip! I rigged up with a black Simi Seal Leech (#16) and dropped a Tellico variant (#14) off the back. A few casts later I had the first fish of the trip, an enthusiastic rainbow of around 6 inches. Working my way upstream, I had the opportunity to thoroughly appreciate the normal water levels that have finally returned to a region plagued by drought for the last two years. Negotiating the stream bed was much more difficult than I remembered. This was mainly due to the large volume of water coming down from the mountains above. Several fish and around an hour later, the increasing shadows told me that it was time to head back to camp and have some supper.

The next day was dedicated to looking for hatching bugs on Little River. I was on the stream early enough that I beat the crowds and found a section of water that I had not fished before. Slowly but surely I am fishing all of Little River from the park boundary up. It isn't happening in any orderly fashion and the lower river is definitely getting less attention than the stretch above the Sinks but eventually I'll fish the whole thing. The first section I fished was one that I've had my eye on for awhile now. It is a fishy looking stretch that does not have quite the number of pullouts as other sections. Always looking for an edge, I figured that this might be enough to at least put me onto some slightly less educated fish.

In the first pool I came up empty. The pocket water between it and the next pool was likewise seemingly barren (although I did not really give it much attention). Things were still a bit slow at the next pool when an interesting thought occurred to me. While I prefer to fish mountain streams without an indicator, this particular pool just screamed at me to put one on. The calmer back eddy beyond the main current tongue would be fished much more efficiently with a standard indicator rig so I put on a white yarn indicator.

After getting a few good drifts the indicator twitched just a little and when I set the hook things got interesting. The fish felt better than the little rainbow I was expecting and I was suddenly glad that I had brought a net on this outing. The wild trout in the Smokies are so full of vigor and fight that despite their size, it is often beneficial to use a net on the fish that are 10 or 11 inches or better. Once I got a decent glance at the fish, I started worrying about losing it. While not a monster by any stretch of the imagination, the nice 12 inch brown was definitely a candidate for fish of the trip and so it turned out to be. After snapping a few pictures, I prepared to cradle the fish awhile in the soft current, but it rocketed out of my hands and back to its deep pool.

Working up the stream, I managed a few more before one of my fishing buddies showed up. After talking a little while we moved to another stretch of water downstream but with disappointing results. After fishing awhile, he left to try another river and I moved over to a favorite stretch on Middle Prong. Another pleasant day concluded with several nice rainbows and then back to camp for a meal and a campfire.

The last day of my trip was supposed to be another good one if such things can be measured by good weather. For fishing I prefer overcast skies, but in the early spring it seems to be the sunlight that triggers the bugs to hatch. Another fishing buddy, Joe Mcgroom from Little River Outfitters, was supposed to be somewhere on Little River and I found him on some of the better dry fly water on the river. I moved up to the faster run above to try my luck while he worked some risers in the slow water. After fishing awhile, neither of us had hooked up and I was wanting a change of scenery. He graciously assented to try upper Little River above Elkmont and we took off. Heading up the trail, we decided to just focus on the best water available and look for nice fish.

The first pool we stopped at produced a couple of fish for me on nymphs but nothing rose to his dry fly. The next couple of pools didn't produce any better on the dry and he decided to switch to nymphs as well. The next stop was one of my favorite pools but one that is somewhat difficult to fish because of the current. After slowly scanning the whole pool, we both pointed and said in unison, "There's one." The "one" we were talking about was a nice brown of 13-14 inches sitting on the bottom in the pool. Since he needed to change flies, he gave me the first shot at this fish. I walked well downstream and crossed several pockets below the pool. Working up the far bank, I finally got into position and started casting. After watching for a few minutes, Joe mentioned that the flies were passing over the fish too high in the water column. An extra split shot was the perfect remedy and my next few drifts were much nearer the fish but it seemed frozen to the bottom and moved very little. Finally, after the perfect cast, my line twitched ever so slightly when the flies appeared to be near the fish. I gave a solid hook set only to find that instead of the nice fish, I was firmly attached to a sunk branch. The fish completely panicked and was gone in a flash. Admitting defeat, I worked on through the pool, hooking a very small rainbow as consolation and a slightly better one in the pool above.

We got back on the trail and decided to head on up aways. We finally got on one of my favorite stretches of water in the park. The fish were still a bit lethargic but we each caught a few nice ones so it was a good day at that point. On the way back down, we hit another good pool but only managed small rainbows out of it. During the day we saw lots of stoneflies but only a few of the big mayflies that excite so many local anglers.

Finally we stopped again at the pool where we had spotted the brown. After slowly searching out every corner of the pool, Joe finally pointed. Immediately I saw the fish again. It was near its old spot but in slightly deeper water and nearer the main current. Catching it would be harder than ever. Having been defeated the first time, I told Joe that it was his turn and he commenced throwing everything he could think of at this fish. He changed flies several times and even tried the indicator but with no luck. The fish was not spooking though so there was still a chance. Finally, just when he was about to give up, I wondered aloud what a streamer would do. Joe immediately set to work tying one of his secret streamer patterns on and got back to work. No sooner had he started casting to this fish when he yelled, "Got him!" The fish had moved up in the water column to attack the large meal drifting past. Several tense minutes later in which the fish tried all its tricks, Joe finally brought the beautiful brown trout to hand for a quick picture and then released it back to grow some more. That fish really made the trip since we put so much effort into trying to catch it.

We kept heading down the trail after that and were almost back when I decided I just had to throw in my favorite spot one last time. A couple of casts later I got my nicest rainbow of the trip which was probably in the 10-11 inch range. It hammered one of my big stonefly nymphs like it hadn't eaten in some time. Finally, the fishing was over. This was one of the best trips I've had in awhile. The numbers weren't what they always are, but I had a great time and caught some nice sized trout. Soon I'll be heading back for a backpacking trip weather permitting and will be catching some more good fish hopefully. In the meantime, I'll be tying like crazy so I'm sufficiently prepared...

My nice rainbow - - Joe Mcgroom Photograph

Nice little brown from high up Little River - - Joe Mcgroom photograph


  1. Anonymous10:00 PM

    Sounds like a great trip. Love the beautiful mountain trout pictures.


  2. What a great trip! That brown trout you guys worked so hard for is awesome, and all the scenery looks amazing.

    that first brown trout looks like an eel.


    --brian j.

  3. Brian, that first brown was long and skinny...it definitely could use a couple of big meals I think...

  4. Anonymous7:25 PM


    Dude great post and nice pics. Winter's almost over and can feel the "Brownliner" in me getting excited.

  5. great report. very nice brown. keep it up, enjoy your blog.