Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Friday, August 28, 2009

Two Fish

What could possibly be better than catching a fish? Of course it would be catching two fish at once! I've been chasing stripers all over east Tennessee recently and while I have caught at least one on every trip, it is the other species that are making up the bulk of my catches. Last night I caught a largemouth bass, yellow bass, white bass, hybrids, skipjack, and three stripers.

While fishing a few days ago, I fell hard and messed up the reel for my 7 weight. This has made recent fishing a lot more interesting. Even a three or four pound "baby" striper feels like a monster on the 5 weight. I still haven't hooked anything over 5 pounds but can only assume that a 10 pounder on the 5 weight would drag me into the river.

Last night I had an interesting thing happen...in fact it was the second time in only a week or so that it has happened. While fighting a white bass, another one came and hit the trailing fly. Two fish at once is definitely better than one and makes for a good chuckle. I don't believe I could land two stripers at once though unless they were really small. They pull way to hard!!!

Coming up I still have a lot to share from trips out west and I apologize for the recent lack of posts. I've been busy teaching but should be able to find some free time over the next few days. I also plan to chase a few trout again sometime soon. I have a couple of product reviews still to come as well so check back soon for more!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yellowstone River Beat Down

That is actually a slight exaggeration, but since you have no clue what I'm talking about let me start at the beginning. My cousin Nathan is definitely all about fly fishing just so long as he is catching fish every now and again. In Yellowstone, our first day's trip turned out to be a bit tough on the less experienced fly fisher. My buddy Joe and I were catching our share of fish but not without making good casts and getting nearly perfect hook sets each time.

The plan for our second day in the Park was to head into one of the canyons on the Yellowstone River in search of salmonflies. Word in all the fly shops was that the bugs should be somewhere in the park but no one really seemed to know exactly where. On the way back from Slough Creek on day 1, I saw a lot of salmonflies around the bridge on the northeast entrance highway. Things were looking good for day 2!

We woke up and after a good hot breakfast headed down into the canyon. Upon reaching the bottom, we headed upstream a good half a mile or more to get away from another group of anglers that were fishing where the trail hit the river. When we finally reached the spot we were going to start at I saw a few big bugs flying around. Since the main goal of this trek into the canyon was to hit the salmonfly hatch, I tied on a big nasty dry that looked a bit like the naturals that were out and about. The hatch was definitely not a blizzard hatch by any means but why settle for less? I wanted to fish dries and so I did, for a while anyway.

Our first stop produced fish for all three of us. Joe hooked a couple good fish and Nathan started cleaning up. I had convinced Nathan to bring his spinning rod. The fast paced canyon water was ideal for throwing a small spinner and the cutts are dumb as far as trout go. I figured Nathan would have a decent day.

About the time that things started to really get going, the sky clouded up and thunder started rumbling in the distance. As the storm got closer, we saw the lightning strikes approaching until we didn't feel too comfortable fishing anymore. Standing in the middle of water waving a lightning rod during a thunderstorm doesn't seem too intelligent so we headed over to the base of a hill to wait out the storm. The rain never got too hard and we took advantage of the lull in fishing to eat our lunches. Finally the storm moved on to the east and we started fishing again.

Within just a few minutes Nathan had taken the lead as far as numbers go. I managed a few and Joe was doing fairly well. As we moved upstream Joe and I started to regain the upper hand until we reached a nice side channel that was absolutely full of structure.

As we were moving up, I kept fishing the dry for awhile and missed some nice fish on it. Eventually it became obvious that the fish were looking for something subsurface. Salmonfly nymphs with a caddis pupa dropper seemed like a good combination, and both Joe and I were wearing them out. Then Nathan got things going and put on a clinic.

For probably 30 minutes Nathan stood at the edge of a nice run in the side channel and caught fish on nearly every cast. Most of them weren't as large as the ones coming to the fly but nice fish nevertheless. He was using a small gold spinner, and I suspected the fish were taking them for golden stoneflies. This suspicion was affirmed when I tied on a Golden Stonefly nymph from James Marsh and started catching fish again. There were a few of the bugs in the air but obviously the majority were still in the nymph stage migrating towards shore. The best tactic seemed to be a dead drift followed by a slow swing towards shore. Most of the time the fish would take the fly right at the end of the swing.

In general I feel that I can catch more fish on a fly rod (as long as we don't factor live bait into the equation), but this was clearly a day that the fish liked spinners. I had the most success when I used flies that were similar in size and color to the spinner my cousin was using and also used a similar retrieve.

Joe and I redeemed ourselves a bit by catching one of many doubles for the day. What made this one special was that Joe caught two fish at once. Is there such thing as a double double in fishing?

Eventually we fished up to a high ridge that blocked upstream progress unless we felt like doing some climbing. We stopped As it was late in the day, we headed back downriver, hitting the best spots again as we went. Everyone caught a few more fish, but Nathan was still firmly in the lead as far as numbers for the day. Another storm moved in and convinced us to hustle on up the trail to the car.

Upon reaching the top, we looked back across the canyon. A gorgeous double rainbow greeted us, arcing down into the canyon we had just left. We had already found the pot of gold though...lots of cutthroat trout...

Friday, August 14, 2009

First Striped Bass

If you read my blog throughout 2008, then you are aware that I spent a fair amount of time chasing various warm water species. A lot of that time was spent below Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River searching for striped bass or whatever else would hit. I always had to settle for the "whatever else would hit," and while it was great adding several new species to the list of fish caught, I really wanted to get that striper.

Recently I had a buddy call me up and tell me that he had caught his first and that I should try it out. At first I hated the thought of making the drive from Crossville, but subsequent stories of nice fish and a few pictures to back them up convinced me that I had to try. Earlier this week I headed out in the late afternoon for an evening of fun, fishing, and hopefully my first striped bass. The drive went by fairly quickly in my excitement.

I rolled up to the river just ahead of my buddy and started rigging up as I waited for him. When he got there, he took me down to the water and showed me the good spots. We started to see the occasional boil that told us something was chasing baitfish. I couldn't wait any longer and started casting.

After what seemed like only a few minutes but was probably more like 20 or 30, I felt a hard bump and set the hook with authority. Immediately I knew that whatever I was attached to was much stronger than 99% of all other fish I've ever hooked. I was fishing my 7 weight, and the fish was still very much in control of the situation. Minutes later I finally saw the fish and realized that my long search for a striper was over.

Throughout the evening, we both caught and released several stripers along with some hybrids and yellow bass. I had an absolute blast and will be back soon for more...before I do though I will be tying up a few more flies. One turned out to be killer, but naturally I only had one. This was the perfect fishing trip to break in the 7 weight. We never caught any big fish as far as stripers go but even the 5-8 pound fish wore me out. I can't imagine what the 20 and 30 pound fish would feel like...

Here's a few more from the evening including my largest that hit just before we decided to call it a night...

One of Trevor's fish...check out how fat the fish is...

My largest fish...

Presidential Fly Fishing

As I was checking in on the daily news, one particular story caught my attention. The title was "Obama's fly fishing trip is apt metaphor." I'm not interested in bringing much in the way of politics to this blog (other than conservation issues) so I won't get into the rest of the story. You can check out the story for yourself in the link above. Anyway, the interesting part is that this is apparently the President's first fly fishing trip. Relaxation is probably hard to come by when you are the leader of the United States so maybe this is just the hobby Obama needs. Regardless, I hope he has a great trip and catches a few good fish!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Etiquette: Where Did It Go?

As a kid with a Zebco rod and reel, I used to read everything I could that involved fly fishing. My interest in the sport was originally piqued when my family was driving through Townsend, Tennessee. In the middle of Little River were two guys, probably a guide trip. One was casting while the other seemed to be giving directions as to where to cast. Watching that guy cast was like watching poetry in motion, and although I only saw a few seconds, I knew that one day I would be out there fly fishing for myself.

Over the next few years I never forgot that moment. Every time our family would go to the mountains I would long for a fly rod. Eventually I saved a little money and bought a cheap $20 fly rod and reel at Wal-Mart. Looking back it is amazing that I ever caught anything on that rod. Even now it is definitely not the easiest casting rod. Thankfully regular practice in the backyard allowed me to progress to the point where I could catch a fish every now and again.

For several years I was completely self taught. I can't remember how many trips it took before I caught my first trout. Something motivated me to keep on though, and I eventually caught one. Being self taught was a challenge. Many anglers have the benefit of a teacher, either a friend or family member, that helps them along the road to being a competent fisherman. Usually the teacher will impart most of the traditions of the sport along with the wisdom they have acquired from many days on the water.

Since I had no one to teach me it would seem that I would be clueless as to etiquette and some of the traditions of the sport. This was not the case though. Even before I started fly fishing I read about etiquette from time to time in magazines, and even occasionally the subject would appear in books that I would read. The fly fishing was not the main point of most of the books, but I soaked up every bit of knowledge that I could.

Early on I learned that it was rude to crowd other anglers, and I was very conscientious to observe this guideline. Generally other anglers were polite to me as well and gave me plenty of room when I fished in the Smokies. I didn't start fishing tailwaters until much later.

Another major tradition I quickly learned was that you fish upstream if possible. If you want to fish downstream, you always yield to the upstream angler. One time I was fishing Abrams and figured that I didn't have any company. I leisurely worked my way downstream hitting each good pocket and run and catching a few rainbows. As I came around a bend, I saw another angler working his way upstream. Immediately I reeled in and moved to a rock on the bank to let the other fisherman have all the water. As he came up even with me I apologized for moving down on top of him. My politeness earned me a friendly chat with a really nice guy who wasn't upset at me. We talked fishing for awhile, and he even offered a few words of advice, all because I followed a basic rule of etiquette.

Somewhere around this time I had the good fortune to spend a half day fishing with Walter Babb. This was the only time during my formative years that I fished with anyone that had a clue what they were doing. I specifically wanted to learn to highstick nymphs, and Walter did a splendid job of teaching me the fundamentals of nymph fishing. Still, everything I knew about etiquette I had learned on my own.

As I started fishing tailwaters, I began to realize that not everyone adhered to the same old traditions of the sport. Among spin fisherman it seemed perfectly acceptable to fish close to one another although many of them were fairly polite and gave me room. Fly fisherman puzzled me however. I never had anyone to tell me how I should act as an angler, but had figured it out on my own without too much effort. On tailwaters it seemed that fly fisherman fished downstream a lot. I couldn't understand this because I usually worked my way up and either fished across or up and across. The downstream guys caught some fish but often not as many as I did.

Even more recently I learned a little more about the guys that were fishing downstream. Several fly fishing forums have had some vigorous debates about the "San Juan Shuffle" where an angler moves downstream shuffling their feet. Any fish downstream immediately goes on the feed as the mass of food tumbles downstream in the current. The angler then casts their flies down and hopefully catches a fish. To me this seemed completely unethical. If I was going to do that why not just toss a can of corn in? I would never do that so how was the "Shuffle" any different? Also, when I do fish downstream or let my flies drift down below me, it is much harder to get a good hookset. When a fish takes it is too easy to yank the flies out of the fishes mouth if you are pulling them back upstream.

Over the last few years all of this observed behavior has gotten worse. Boaters are a completely different story that I shouldn't get started on. Most of them have no clue how to be polite. The ones that really annoy me though are the ones with fishing poles in the boat that will float literally on top of the fish I'm casting to. Some have been lucky that I didn't have a big streamer on. I'm not a great caster, but I'm pretty sure I could knock someone on the side of the head given the opportunity. Wade fisherman seem to have no clue as to how to behave on the stream. I have had people slowly move downstream towards where I am fishing upstream. When they get close they'll just stop and wait for me to go around them. What has happened to the traditional etiquette that has been in place for so many years and worked very well for so long?

On my recent trip to Yellowstone, my buddy Joe and I spent a day on the Madison. It was refreshing to have boats (rowed by guides) go out of their way to avoid messing up the water I was fishing. However I was surprised by the lack of etiquette of the wade fisherman on the Madison and also on other park waters. We were fishing Slough Creek when several fly fisherman came walking downstream slowly, fishing as they went. One guy wearing a particularly bright and obnoxious shirt (do people really have no clue that what they wear will spook fish?) kept moving closer and closer towards me until he was no more than a hundred feet above me, spooking every fish along that bank for a good ways upstream as he went. Need I mention that he wasn't catching anything? Finally, when I realized that he was not going to politely yield to me, the upstream angler, I waded across and moved up above him. As I passed I had to refrain from saying something that I would probably have had to repent for later.

On the Madison we continually ran into anglers fishing downstream or jumping in immediately upstream of us. I experienced the same thing on my recent trip to Colorado. Invariably, the downstream anglers give me a dirty look like I'm encroaching on their water. The ones I really like are the ones fishing downstream, but as soon as you get out and move upstream of them, they glare at you and start fishing upstream.

Generally none of this is a problem when fishing in the Smokies. Maybe everyone that fishes up there actually has a clue or maybe they are just naturally nicer people and assume how to be polite. I have puzzled over the problem trying to figure it out. There seem to be two possibilities. Either people just don't know and no one is explaining proper etiquette to them or they just don't give a damn. I have a hard time believing the first explanation. Tradition is such a large part of the sport that it would be difficult for the majority of fly fisherman to never hear the general guidelines that make up standard etiquette. The other explanation seems a lot more likely and that is that most people just don't care.

The truth is probably somewhere between the two extremes. Honestly there is also a third possible explanation. There are probably a lot of newer fly fishers that honestly don't know. Still, based on all the rumblings on various message boards involving confrontations over etiquette issues and my own observations, I have to conclude that people don't observe the traditions of this sport nearly as well as I would like.

This summer has been great because I have been able to fish mainly on weekdays. The tailwaters are still crowded but nowhere near as bad as on the weekends. On Smokies streams I can always find solitude by walking a few miles. More and more I find myself wish that I lived a little closer to the mountain streams. I have to consider the cost of each fishing trip and a 40 minute trip to the Caney is definitely cheaper than a 2 hour trip to the Smokies. If I had my way I would fish the park probably 75% of the time but sadly it is probably just about the opposite.

The question that I have to face now is do I embrace the new trends by fishing downstream and crowding other anglers or do I stick to the high road? Personally I will always be a fisherman that prefers moving upstream as opposed to down and doing my best to not crowd other anglers. If the accepted norm has actually shifted then I'll be the rebel that sticks to the old ways.

So what do you think? Am I completely crazy and off base or is this type of behavior by fly fisherman becoming the norm on our streams? What is the best solution to these issues?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Elusive Salmonfly Hatch

Any fly fisher that has been in the sport long at all has heard of the legendary salmonfly hatch. Often short in duration and hard to pin down, the mother of all hatches can produce the type of fishing that we daydream about while sitting behind a desk at work. The largest fish in the river will come up for the juicy two and three inch morsels. However, for every angler telling of those perfect days, there are another hundred fishermen that have tried unsuccessfully to hit it exactly right. Most of the time you can find some fish that will rise to the big bugs if the naturals are around, but the perfect day where every fish in the river will attack your fly is hard to come by.

During this year's trip to Colorado, the main goal was to fish big bugs. We hoped to hit the cicada hatch on the Green River in Utah and the salmonfly hatch on the Gunnison in Colorado. The Green was okay but definitely not everything we were hoping for. This left the Gunnison as our best chance for throwing big nasties to hungry trout. Back camping at East Portal, Trevor and I made daily trips to the lower end of the canyon in the Pleasure Park vicinity searching for big fish. The bushes and trees around the river were loaded with bugs. It was only a matter of time before the big event happened.

A buddy of mine wanted to try fly fishing and came to meet us for a couple of days. I was really hoping that the hatch would get going while he was there. Before his arrival, the first couple of days after we got back from the Green produced similar results. Lots of bugs in the bushes and an occasional fish slashing at something on the surface, but overall we had to throw nymphs deep to catch fish. Our top producers were little stonefly nymphs and caddis pupa. Probably the fishing would have been good in the evening, but the incredible numbers of mosquitoes chased us off the river by 7:00 each evening. Never in my life have I quit fishing because of bugs until this year's trip to Colorado.

When my friend J.R. arrived, we had to tell him that the fishing wasn't quite what we were hoping for. Still, I was confident that we could put him on a few fish somewhere. The next day we did something completely different, but on day two we took him to the Gunnison. The time that elapsed between our outings on the Gunnison contained some hilarious moments that I will share later as well as J.R.'s first trout on the fly rod. His first trip to the Gunnison resulted in a slow day in which the local wildlife was just as interesting as the fishing. In particular the lizards were downright intriguing. After the slow day, I figured that if we could get him away from the pressured water he might do better. Accordingly we all agreed to make the trek into the canyon on one of the BLM trails.

The Duncan trail is not a long one. The river is around one and a half miles from the trailhead but the 800+ vertical feet included in the descent makes this a tough one. Really it is the climb back out that is unpleasant. The drive is not for the faint of heart and honestly not for passenger cars. The trout mobile came through with flying colors though and made it without a problem.

Upon arriving at the river, we saw a few guys with backpacks and fly rods preparing to climb back out. Asking for advice, we soon learned that the big bugs were on the water, but the dry fly action was best early and late. We walked a short distance up the stream and sat down to rig up. While tying on some flies for myself and J.R., I saw a large fish flash behind a bankside boulder.

We were sitting close to where I saw the fish so I had everyone move slowly back so we would not spook the fish. I quickly finished tying a pair of nymphs on for J.R. and instructed him to lob the flies and split shot upstream of the pocket. On the second drift the indicator twitched imperceptibly simultaneously with a vague buttery brown flash underneath and I hollered incoherently. Unfortunately J.R. couldn't translate my babbling into "SET THE HOOK" and missed out. After several more casts he did manage to catch his first brown trout, but the little guy was much smaller than the one he missed.

Moving upstream, we all were dredging nymphs right on the bottom. Here and there we would get a fish on, but overall it was somewhat slow. J.R. had to drive back home that afternoon so he finally called it a day and headed back out. Trevor and I kept moving upstream. I now had two rods to keep track of and rigged one with a salmonfly dry and the other with a pair of nymphs. This actually worked out pretty good. If I saw a rising fish or a spot that just begged for a dry, I would lay down the nymph rod for awhile. After convincing myself that nothing would rise it was time to dredge the bottom. Subsurface flies still produced the best although a few micro trout rose to the monster dry.

Finally my buddy Trevor and I set up on a nice deep run with a big back eddy. We started working the water, and it wasn't long before Trevor hollered, "Fish!" The words were barely out of his mouth before my indicator dove under, and we had a double on. Both of us fought the fish intently wanting to land our first good double of the trip. Finally we got both of the fish in my Coho Ghost Net. One picture of the fish in the net and one picture for each of us with our fish and both were released for another day.

We moved a little farther up the river, but the sun was sinking low in the west. Neither of us wanted to hike out after dark so we called it a day. The hike out was rough. With a pack it would be even worse, but honestly I would prefer to camp in the canyon so I could enjoy the late evening and early morning fishing.

The highlight of the day for me was just before tackling the steep climb out. We stopped at the first pocket again, and I told Trevor that I was going to try for the good fish. No one else had positively seen the fish, but I was thoroughly convinced it was in there. I crept up to the pocket and started highsticking my double nymph rig literally underneath my rod tip. On the third cast I saw the same hint of a fish flashing and my line ticked just a little. Careful not to react too strongly, I set the hook and was immediately attached to the best brown of the day.

The fish was in a shallow pocket on the edge of a rapid with a nice pool beneath. Trevor warned me not to let the fish run into the fast water, but I had no choice. Peeling line it negotiated the fast water and then ran into a huge back eddy in the pool. Finding myself with the sudden advantage, I worked hard to keep the fish from running for an undercut bank. Trevor grabbed my net but had a hard time getting a good angle as the fish stayed in deep water. Finally I had it close and asked him to toss me the net. He made a good throw and for a change everything went well and I caught it. The fish had its head up, and I lunged before it made another run. The day seemed much better as I now had a net full of big wild brown trout. Trevor kindly did camera duty, and then I released the fish, hopefully to be a 20" plus fish by the time I arrive next year.

Over the course of our last couple of days in the area we hit up some other water, but in the end the anticipated salmonfly action never developed. Now I fully understand how others feel who have chased this hatch for years without nailing it down perfectly. Naturally I'll continue trying to hit the hatch perfectly, maybe even next summer...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Too Much Fishing

There's probably no such thing as too much fishing, but I've been getting close. In the last few days I've fished the catch and release water in Cherokee, North Carolina and also spent some time on several streams in the Smokies. Naturally I've had a great time, but all the fishing has cut into my blogging time.

The Cherokee trip was a strange one. I honestly expected to have a killer day over there and probably could have by getting there earlier in the day and moving around some. Despite only fishing for a few hours, I did manage a few nice fish as did my buddy Trevor. Late in the evening we switched to streamers and caught a few more as the light was rapidly waning. The pictures turned out a little grainy because of the low light conditions and the fog on the water. You should get the general idea though...

Sunday was a fun day of something different. I was supposed to meet some guys from New Mexico and show them some of the streams in the Smokies. They had fished here in east Tennessee once before and were excited about trying some new water. Unfortunately the water situation was a little sketchy to say the least. Because of all the rainfall lately, the tailwaters were mostly pushing a lot of water. Originally I had hoped to take them to the Caney to chase some good browns but that idea was definitely not going to work. Plan B kicked in which involved fishing in the Smokies. Having fished up there for many years, I can usually find some fish even with high water conditions.

I met Phil and the other guys at Little River Outfitters and we headed up into the mountains. Little River was pretty high even for someone that fishes it a lot so we decided to try some smaller streams. This proved to be a good idea for the most part. We fished one of my favorite small stream rigs which is a Green Weenie and a hard-bodied ant. This is deadly during high water episodes because a lot of terrestrials are getting washed into the streams. The fish were enthusiastic although a bit less so than I expected. Thankfully everyone was catching at least a few and were also getting used to the tight casting conditions and continual mending that is required in the mountain streams.

After fishing up through some of the better pools, we opted to break for lunch and then try something else. After a quick trip back into Townsend to grab some Subway, we got back on the road and headed just over the ridge to the North Carolina side to try for the Smoky Mountain Slam. This was not as good of an idea. While we did catch a few the action was definitely slower. I was surprised to see that the water was higher on that side of the park. Often the Tennessee side gets more water but apparently not this time.

Finally we decided to finish the day by chasing some specs. None of the guys had ever caught a southern strain brookie so we stopped on the way back over the ridge to catch a few. None of the fish are big in this water, but each one is still special. Phil was the lucky one that caught some brookies and one of the other guys managed a few rainbows. It was fairly slow here as well though. I dredged a few fish up on a Tellico nymph including a beautiful brookie. We finished up around 6:00 as the guys needed to head back to Knoxville. A big brown sounded like fun so I went over to Little River to finish my evening.

I have not fished streamers enough and decided to dedicate the last couple of hours to ripping streamers in the slightly stained water. Despite 3-4 hits and moving a few others, I just could not hook up with any browns. Finally I decided to grab the camera and spend a little time documenting the beautiful evening. The light was perfect and the stream looked great after several years of drought.

A big surprise was in store though. The evening was still young, and I wanted to make one last stop on the river. The lower portion of Little River has a few smallies. I've never caught one in the park, until Sunday evening that is. I had cast my streamer to some dead water near the back of a large pool when suddenly the line went tight. The fish felt small and I figured that a little brown had impaled himself on the streamer. When I landed the fish I was shocked to see a little smallmouth. I also caught a decent rainbow on the streamer before I called it an evening. Overall I had a great day. It is always fun to show my favorite streams to other people although they didn't fish nearly as well as I would have hoped. Still everyone caught a few so it wasn't too bad of a day.

Hopefully these guys can make it back to fish again when the water conditions are a little better. If the generation schedule is favorable, we'll hit a tailwater or two next time!

I still owe you a lot of reports from out west as well as a couple of product reviews. Please check back soon for more. I'll have those up as soon as possible!