Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Staying Warm

One of the challenges of fishing in the cooler months is staying warm, especially if you are catching a lot of fish and have to constantly be dealing with unhooking them. I have wanted to share my system for staying warm and almost waited too long. The warm months stretch ahead of us now, but hopefully this will help you plan for next winter. A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by David French from handwarmers.net about doing a product review on their hand warmers. It was a great opportunity to pick up a few handwarmers as well as motivate me to write this post that I have been planning for awhile.

First of all, I personally feel that handwarmers are crucial to my happiness when winter fishing. I always have at least one in a pocket and sometimes have two ready, one for each hand. My indicator that tells me I am too cold is simply this: if I can't tie knots then I'm too cold and it is time to spend a couple of minutes warming my hands. If I'm cold enough that I can't get warm using handwarmers, then I have a more serious problem and either need to return to my car or build a small fire.

To delay the inevitable, I highly recommend wearing a good pair of fishing gloves, at least on the really cold days. I prefer to fish without them but solved that problem by wearing it on just one hand. The main reason I have discovered to wear gloves is because they keep your hands dry. The exertion of casting otherwise keeps you sufficiently warm. However, constantly stripping line is a good way to get both cold and wet. Wearing a glove on whichever hand you hold the rold with solves this problem. I prefer to strip line with a bare hand. If I keep the line running between the fingures of my casting hand, the material of the glove soaks up all the moisture and my line hand stays dry. Naturally, when it is really cold outside the best method is to just wear gloves on both hands, and if they don't really bother you, I would wear them on both hands anyway. I just don't like the bulk...

Next, you need a way to stay dry. I never touch fish with gloves and don't recommend doing it unless you have a pair with a rubber finish to minimize the damage to the fish. There are two alternatives: either carry a net and simply never touch the fish or remove your glove each time you land the fish. I have used both and any time I want a picture of a particularly good fish I remove my gloves. Afterwords, the water on your hands and the cold air temperatures will have your hands miserable in no time. So I have started carrying a small hand towel or even a washcloth. I just keep it tucked in my wading belt so it is always there when I want to dry my hands.

After drying your hands, you need to warm them back up, and this is where the handwarmers come in. Using the handwarmer a couple of minutes on each hand is the perfect way to keep fishing for hours with minimal discomfort. I fish with this system even when air temperatures are in the teens and twenties which is about as bad as I have to worry about here in Tennessee. If you live somewhere where it is colder, then I'm sure you have to use some additional measures on occasion. One other thing I like to do is have a small fire going on shore if it is legal. Everyone has there own method, and I would be interested to hear any other ideas you may have on keeping warm in the winter...

Bugs Everywhere!!!

Like most area fly fishermen, I spend the cold months dreaming of the first significant spring hatches in the Smokies. The Quill Gordons and Blue Quills highlight the early part of the season along with various caddis and stoneflies. After trying for years to hit a good Quill Gordon hatch, this proved to be the year to hit the jackpot.

Last Sunday, I drove up to the Park on a tip from my buddy Joe Mcgroom who had fished on Saturday. His report of bugs hatching and fish rising had me really excited. The icing on the cake was that the hatch didn't start until 1:30 in the afternoon. This meant I could sleep in and still make it in time for the dry fly action.

After the usual routine of stopping by Little River Outfitters to pick up a couple of items I wanted, I drove on up Little River looking for the perfect pool. Finally I settled on the same pool my buddy had fished the day before. He had caught 10 or more fish without really moving and I hoped to duplicate his success.

Before rigging up, I walked to the water and took a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful day. The first few bugs were struggling on the surface and a couple of fish were already rising consistently to the banquet drifting downstream from the fast water above. Hurrying back to the car, I soon had my favorite rod out, an old Orvis Superfine that flexes all the way to the handle. The soft rod is perfect for a day fishing dries, and I had already made up my mind to stick with dries no matter what.

I like to keep things simple when I'm fishing assuming the fish aren't picky so I tied on a trusty Parachute Adams and waded carefully into the calm water in the back of the pool. Several fish were rising by this time and I cast to the nearest one. Three casts later I had my first fish of the day. Sometimes catching fish that fast is a bad sign, but this time it just meant the fish were dumb and hungry. I took another step out and continued casting until another fish rose to the dry. Fish after fish rose with reckless abandon to my offering including a chunky brown of probably 12 inches that threw the fly after a spirited fight.

I continued moving up the pool casting to first one fish then another. Eventually they started to catch on, or maybe I just caught all the less intelligent residents. Regardless, it was a great way to start the day. After walking back to the car, I drove a short distance downstream to try another favorite piece of water. This one was decent but not as good as the first hole. Still, I managed a few more fish.

By this point in the trip, I was excited. Most of the fish I was catching were browns. Those that know me realize I would prefer to catch brown trout above all others. Not only was I catching browns, but they were mostly 9-12 inch fish, beautifully colored and obviously very healthy. The rainbows were gorgeous as well and quite chunky.

Moving on downstream, I stopped at a pullout right beside the stream. Sneaking along the edge of the stream, I started picking off fish after fish. The best fish of the day came from this stretch and was a brown of between 14 and 15 inches. It rose from the back of a deep run populated by several rising fish. Spring is the best time to catch larger browns on a dry. One of these days I hope to find one of the truly large fish rising to a good hatch. Until then I'm more than satisfied with catching 8-14 inch fish all afternoon.

Days like this one make me wish I lived closer to the Park. However, I would probably call in sick too often if I actually lived closer so its probably a good thing. Soon I'll be back, likely within the next week or two. Right now its time to tie flies so I'm prepared for the next trip...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Break 2010: Florida Everglades

Each year I try to do a trip for spring break. For the past several years I have been going to the Smokies to chase trout and the first spring hatches. This year some friends were wanting to do something out of the ordinary. Just a week before break was supposed to start someone suggested going to the Everglades in Florida and doing some canoeing. While I love the Smokies, I’ll usually give other things a try occasionally as well so I cleared my schedule.

We took my canoe down and rented another. There were five of us so two canoes would suffice. With just a couple of days to go before departure, I was fortunate enough to talk to Ian Rutter and gain some valuable advice on fishing the area. This trip was not specifically a fishing trip although I obviously intended to take a fly rod along.

Before I knew it the day of departure had arrived and we were driving south. We left in the afternoon and just drove through the night, arriving in Everglades City the next morning. Originally I had hoped to paddle out of Flamingo and all my fishing information was on that area. Things worked out well though from a monetary standpoint. Canoe rentals were only $25 a day in Everglades City as compared to $50 a day at Flamingo. Also, we were able to score a beach campsite that was free. The small island we spent two nights on was between 7 and 8 miles by canoe from Everglades City.

On the way out we saw porpoises including what appeared to be a young one that was much smaller than the rest. After driving through the night, we were all exhausted. Upon arriving where we were to camp, I set up my tent, crawled in and just fell asleep.

The next day we planned on doing a paddle around the area and then going back to our beach site. I had barely crawled out of my tent before one of my friends excitedly told me to come and try to catch the shark. I walked the 100 hundred or so feet over to where they had seen this fish, and sure enough, something was slowly cruising back and forth in the surf. Back at my tent, I strung up the fly rod and tied on a big Clouser. The fish was still working the shoreline when I got back so I waded out to get a little closer. Apparently, Clouser Minnows were not on the menu. After several minutes of fruitless casting, the fish vanished for a minute as it turned around to come back down the beach. When it reappeared, it was no more than 5 or 6 feet away. The murky water kept it from seeing me and being frightened. Immediately I realized it was not a shark but a nice tarpon. The huge scales gave it away. I didn’t have much in the way of other flies to try (more on that shortly) and acting on impulse, I reached out and grabbed its tail. At first it didn’t seem to notice until it tried to move. Upon realizing that something was now attached to its tail, the fish made a rapid escape towards the open ocean. I never saw it in as close again although that evening it, at least I like to think it was the same one, was rolling probably 75 yards offshore.

Caitlin Cress Photo

After the tarpon vanished, we ate breakfast and prepared for the day’s adventures. We wanted to paddle through some of the smaller channels where the opportunity to view wildlife would be greater. Over the course of the day, we saw plenty of birds and also a manatee. This was my best opportunity to get a little fishing in, and although I didn’t fish as much as I would have liked, I still had a good time. I caught what I believe was a Mangrove Snapper and also had what looked to be a baby tarpon blow up on the fly but couldn’t hook up.

Caitlin Cress Photo
Caitlin Cress Photo

In addition to seeing the wildlife and enjoying fishing, we also found a cool mangrove tunnel to paddle through. All of these elements combined to create a great total experience. That evening the tarpon was rolling offshore again but too far out to cast to from shore. After a hearty supper, we hit the sack to be ready for the paddle out the next day.

Caitlin Cress Photo

The last day on the water was the most difficult day of paddling, largely because my body was sore from the unaccustomed paddling the previous two days. The tide was mostly to our advantage paddling back, but we were paddling directly into the wind. We planned a route that would take us through smaller channels where wildlife was more likely to be found. The mnost exciting part of the paddle back was when a school of rays came swimming by. I was lucky to have the polarizing filter on my camera and got a couple of pictures.

The sky grew darker as we got closer to our take out point. It looked like a bad storm would break at any moment, but miraculously we made it back safely. After loading the gear and canoe, we started driving east. No more than 5 minutes down the road, the storm broke in all its fury with a wall of rain that caused progress to slow to a crawl. Still, we continued east with the eventual goal of heading south towards Homestead and the other entrance to the Everglades.

We didn’t move nearly as fast as we were hoping and it was after dark by the time we arrived at Flamingo and found a campsite. One of the things that Ian Rutter emphasized to me was the need to stay in after dark. I try to avoid bug repellent (at least anything containing Deet) as much as possible, but within 30 seconds of exciting the van at Flamingo I asked for the can of Deet and applied a liberal amount all over my clothes. There are showers at Flamingo so I could clean up as soon as the tent was up. After putting up my tent and getting a shower for the first time in a few days I crawled into my tent. The mosquitoes were so thick that I literally heard a continuous hum as the bugs swarmed all over the mesh of my tent as they tried to get to me for a feast. Four or five had entered the tent at the same time I did so the first few minutes in my tent were dedicated to a mosquito hunt. Only after dispatching the bloodthirsty critters could I sleep in peace, the hum of hundreds of mosquitoes still loud in my ears. The next morning, the vast majority of the bugs were gone. Apparently they only come out en masse under the cover of darkness, and that is consistent with the advice I got from Ian.

Our last full day in Florida was dedicated to checking out the areas wildlife. I got my alligator pictures and then some. We also saw a crocodile and plenty of birds including spoonbills. To cap off the trip, we drove out to Key West to see the sunset before beginning the long drive back home. The drive back was around 18 hours. Since I stayed awake with the driver for most of the night and then drove the whole daylight portion, I was exhausted and took a long nap when we got back.
Caitlin Cress Photo
Caitlin Cress Photo
Caitlin Cress Photo
Caitlin Cress Photo

The trip was awesome although it would have been nice to spend more time fishing. Someday I hope to return and do another trip in the Everglades when the fishing is better. Much thanks to everyone that responded here on my blog and also via email to give me advice on the trip. If I had just gone to fish it would have been a disappointing trip as many of you suggested, but I had a great time with friends and was able to see a lot of interesting wildlife in the process. I’m currently in the process of planning something bigger and better for next year’s spring break. Lots of backpacking and a sizable dose of fishing will be included.

That said, I have another break coming up in 2 or 3 weeks and am finalizing plans to be in the Smokies. I might go next weekend as well. This year is shaping up to be one of the best for fishing the Park that I have seen in a long time. The hatches have been quite strong and the fish are very healthy. I’m excited to see what the rest of the year has in store…

Dan Mcgrath Photo

All photos without a credit are taken and copyrighted by me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Caney March 19, 2010

Low flows are much more common on the Caney now. A corresponding increase in fishing pressure was obvious at all the major access points this past Friday. I arrived at the river around 2:30 in the afternoon and spent the first 20 minutes checking all the main access points from Happy upstream to the dam. With all the other spots crowded I settled on fishing at Happy.

There has been a lot of discontented rumbling about the river for weeks now, and I was really curious to see for myself how the fishing was. While I can’t provide much optimism, I can report that there are still at least a few fish in the river.

The first rig of the day was my Caney standard of a dry and dropper. After fishing for a good long while without catching anything, I decided to sit on the shore and just wait for something to rise. Once, a larger fish that had already rose a couple of times swirled on the surface across the river. However, I wasn’t about to wade across the river again unless the fish showed some consistency with its rises. After waiting for around 30 minutes, a fish rose out in the middle, just out of casting range from where I was sitting. A couple of minutes passed before it rose again, and then again. Finally, a fish with a rhythm.

Wading quietly out while stripping line off the reel, I started casting. The first cast was about a foot long and the fish rose between me and my fly. The second cast was perfect and a sudden swirl proved the fish was hungry. A major battle ensued as I brought the huge 8 inch fish to hand. The fish didn’t really fight much, and I quickly removed the hook to get the little brown back in the water.

Encouraged, I started probing the water again. Blindly covering water just wasn’t the answer so I finally reeled in and started walking down the bank while thinking about just calling it a day. Just before turning to head up the ramp, I saw a rise and decided to give it another shot. Again, I fished for awhile without hooking up. Finally I found a fish with some consistency and made up my mind to catch it. For such a little fish, it proved very difficult to catch. There wasn’t a very good rhythm to its rises so I just kept casting away. By this time I had tied on a small #20 parachute pattern that was close in color to the blackflies that were hatching. I probably cast over this fish for 30 minutes. Normally on the Caney I wouldn’t waste that much time on such a small fish but there weren’t exactly tons of fish to be caught and besides, I wanted to catch fish on dries. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I hooked the little fish and decided to take a quick picture. Sometimes I’m just as proud of catching little fish as I am of big fish. It is all a matter of perspective and the little brown I caught took a lot of patience and persistence.

I fished for just a few more minutes before deciding to call it a day. It was really nice to be back on the river again. I wish I could provide more optimism about the fishing but for now things are going to be tough. The river will fish well again but it may take a few months. Thankfully it is time to really start fishing hard in the Smokies and the warm water species should be turning on soon as well. I just ordered a float tube to aid in fishing area lakes and ponds. With the price of gas creeping up again, I’ll probably spend more time this year looking for local alternatives to trout fishing.

Coming Soon

I am really behind on posting here. I have several fishing reports as well as some stories from a canoe trip in Florida and a product review. This weekend I fished the Caney on Friday and the Smokies on Sunday so check back soon for those reports. This afternoon I should have some free time and plan on doing some updates...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Little Help

I'm currently thinking about heading down to Florida for spring break to camp and fish in the Everglades. I know absolutely nothing about that area. Thus, I'm shamelessly begging for a little information to help me decide whether it is a trip I want to do. The spring hatches should be starting here in the Smokies, and I'm having a hard time being convinced that it is worth the trip to FL. Currently I don't own any saltwater gear so I only need information on the freshwater portion of the Everglades...no ocean fishing for me... If you are willing to offer advice, feel free to reply here or you can email me. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Almost Spring?

Traditionally, the first week of March also brings the first quality hatches in the Smokies. This year has brought colder than normal temperatures meaning that many people here in east Tennessee have a severe case of cabin fever. The cold weather is hanging on strong, bringing snow across the area today. The high elevations in the Park have a lot of snow with Mt. Leconte probably well over 4 feet by now due to this latest storm.

Even the low elevation streams will be running cool for awhile due to the effects of snowmelt. The Quill Gordons and Blue Quills should be hatching any day now, but the cool water temperatures will probably keep the hatch from getting heavy anytime soon. In addition to the first mayflies of the year, we should also be seeing brown and black stoneflies and also little black caddis.

I've been tying hard the last several days trying to prepare for the new season. This weekend I intend to put all those flies to good use and will likely fish the Caney and also hopefully the Smokies. The following week I'll be off for a few days for spring break and will spend as much time on the water as possible. It is about time as I have only averaged 3 days on the water a month so far this year. Those that know me realize that I normally fish a lot more than that. I'm looking forward to the spring fishing for various warmwater species as well. Bluegill are always fun, and it should be time for white bass and stripers soon as well... Hopefully all of you will be getting out a lot over the next few weeks as fishing heats up with the weather!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Caney Finally!!!

The Caney was finally fishable to wade fisherman after weeks of high flows. I arrived at the dam around 1:30 Sunday afternoon hoping for a good hatch and some active fish. After gearing up, I walked down the trail to the wooden steps and made my way into the water. There were already several other fisherman working the off-color water so I moved further downstream to get some distance.

Finally, a couple of splashy rises got my attention so I paused to rig up. After being away from the river for so long, I decided to go back to my favorite rig, a dry and dropper. My starting dropper on the Caney is normally a Zebra midge, and I wanted to try a new color combination. The stained water made things a bit difficult, but I quickly developed a routine. For the rest of the day, if I found a consistently rising fish, then I could generally get it to eat the midge. Here's an example of the water where I was finding fish.

A sparse hatch of blackflies was in progress when I arrived on the river, and it appeared that the fish were keying on the insects as they fluttered across the surface. My dry fly was a little too large to get their interest. However, once the water clears and the fish start keying on adults, I will be casting tiny dries to Caney Fork fish sipping adults or emergers in the film.

The river is still very off-color, and I'm a little concerned about the health of the fishery. However, over the course of the 3 or so hours I fished, I managed to catch several and also saw a few larger fish. I'm guessing the turbidity of the water is at least partially due to the continuing efforts to reinforce Center Hill Dam. If we continue to see some low flows on the river, the fishing should improve. In general, the first few days of lower flows provide slower fishing as the fish get accustomed to the change. Once the flows stabilize, the fishing should turn on. Hopefully the water will clear up as well which should help tremendously.