Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Trophy Water

Fishing stocked water for large fish is a lot of fun although the level of satisfaction from catching one is not as great compared to a wild or native fish of similar proportions. During my weekend in the Smokies, I was unsure what I wanted to do on Sunday but was excited about the prospect of fishing the trophy water on the Cherokee Reservation again. Still, I woke up Sunday morning without being positive of where I wanted to fish. There are so many fun streams on the North Carolina side of the Park that do not see nearly the fishing pressure as compared to the Tennessee side, and I always enjoy the opportunity to explore these various streams.

The call of big dumb stockers was strong though and I decided that it was worth the $7.00 for a daily permit to fish the catch and release water. To fish this water you need a special permit on top of the daily permit but I had already purchased one on a previous trip. The catch and release section permit is good for one year. After stopping at Big Don’s to pick up the permit, I headed up to start fishing. After examining all the places to fish I settled on a relatively uncrowded section (often difficult to find).

Looking the water over, a certain pool jumped out at me and I worked my way over to check it out. There were several nice fish feeding in this pool and I set about trying to catch some. My standard rig in the catch and release water is a double nymph rig that matches whatever naturals should be in the water. At this time of year that includes stonefly nymphs, Blue Quill nymphs, Quill Gordon nymphs, and midges. More mayfly species should start hatching any day in the mountains and nymph imitations of them should be working as well. A bead head pheasant tail nymph seemed appropriate as it does a great job of matching many insects potentially moving around this time of year. I dropped my “Trophy Section Secret Fly” off the back and started fishing. Not too many casts later I hooked the first fish of the day, a nice rainbow.

For the next couple of hours it was game on. I found fish in a lot of obvious places as well as some not so obvious places. I got frustrated over difficult fish that would eat but I couldn’t get a good hook set on. I was surprised by the size of fish that came out of some spots and also very pleasantly surprised to catch a few wild fish (browns and ‘bows) in addition to the stockers.

After fishing a long stretch of water, I headed back for the car and a snack break. Catching lots of good fish is tiring business and I needed some nourishment for the afternoon’s fishing. After eating and hydrating, I decided to look at the rest of the Catch and Release water to look for something different. I found a lot of nice water but lots more fishermen and a distinct lack of quality fish. Apparently they aren’t everywhere. Back to my morning stretch it was and thankfully no one had moved in yet. Fishing through the same stretch yielded more good results. Finally, as the day wore to a close I found myself on what had been crowded water earlier in the day. I stuck a few nice fish and then moved up in search of the Palomino rainbows…

There were several out actively feeding in addition to lots of big rainbows. The first rainbow I cast to ate and took off on several runs while my reel screamed. After following this fish downstream, it eventually broke me off so I headed for the bank to retie. The next rig was successful as well but it took awhile to get that first fish on. Finally I hooked and landed a rainbow of around 20 inches as well as a brook trout and started thinking about the Palominos again.

One particularly nice fish had moved out of the deeper water to feed midstream. I had been watching the fish for awhile and pondering how to approach it. Spooky fish don’t react well to lazy fisherman and by this point in the day I was feeling pretty lazy. A couple of casts in its general direction earlier had caused it to drift downstream another 10 feet or so before getting back in the chow line. After thinking over the situation, it became obvious that I needed to approach the fish from upstream. Feeding mends into the line as it drifted downstream would get the fly down to the appropriate depth.

What I had not counted on was the indicator spooking the fish. These fish see plenty of those so it shouldn’t have been a surprise. After the fish moved over a couple of feet, I realized it was going to take something just a little different. The occasional rise from the fish let me know that it was looking up so I decided to use the traditional wet fly swing. One of the flies I had on was a soft hackle so I figured it just might work.

I cast across and slightly upstream so the flies would have plenty of time to get down. As they approached the fish, I started to slowly raise the rod tip and gave the line some very subtle twitches. The fish moved up in the water column to investigate and began to follow. I felt the first slight bump but waited until the fish had fully taken the fly before setting the hook. In this type of fishing, the biggest mistake is to set the hook as soon as you think the fish has opened its mouth. Since you are standing upstream, too fast of a hook set will invariably yank the fly out of the fishes mouth. For once, my timing was perfect and the fish was solidly hooked. After a battle that left my rod arm exhausted, I netted the beautiful hook-jawed fish and took a couple of pictures before releasing it back to be caught another day. This was the high point of the day and I decided not to ruin it by fishing more. I took some time to soak in the moment, the warm sun, and the beautiful scenery. There’s nothing better than standing in a Smoky Mountain trout stream and I wanted to remember the trip for a long time to come…


  1. Good job. That thing looks like a twinkie.

  2. Hi David. Did you happen to get a good side shot of the Palomino? I have been looking for a good "model" and from the look of the one you posted...you might just have it! (I do angling art & illustrations. You can see my blog at www.52trout.blogspot.com
    Alan Folger

  3. Alan, I do indeed have a side shot, one of which is fairly decent. Shoot me an email (you can find it through my blogger profile) and I'll be glad to send it to you... By the way, I checked out your blog and really like your work!

  4. David,

    I love "The trophy section". I lost a huge bow on Saturday. It took on an adult caddis size 14 with a slurp. Made me run downstream and eventually the hook came loose. Next time, I know where he lives he he...

  5. David - great pictures. Can you give any advice to someone who fishes alone and wants to get pictures similar to the ones you have here? Thanks.