Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Epic Smokies Trip

Another trip is in the books and was one to remember for a long time. The fishing was great and the catching was off the charts. The first afternoon was spent figuring out what the fish wanted, but once we discovered the hot combination things quickly improved. Fish would take a variety of nymphs the first day, but the clear favorite was a beadhead caddis pupa. On top, the fish were definitely interested in taking a Parachute Adams. I finally settled on a dry/dropper combo as the best way to consistently take fish.

We kicked off the fishing portion of the trip after we set up our camp at Elkmont. Instead of wasting valuable fishing time driving somewhere, we just fished out of the campground, hiking either up or down the river. With me on this trip was my cousin Nathan and his buddy JR. Nathan fishes with me fairly often, but this was the first time fishing with JR. To make things even better, this was JR's first time fishing in the Smokies.

Taking people out to a Smokies stream for the first time is always a great experience that I enjoy immensely. You watch their progression, beginning with them splashing through the stream spooking all the fish, to becoming a wily veteran utilizing every bit of cover and camouflage to approach the fish. JR had fly fished a little before so the casting was not a problem. He did just fine getting the fly to the fish and his reflexes were quick enough that he hooked his first fish within 10 minutes of getting on the water. Best of all he learned quickly. I never had to tell him twice to be sneaky. Stealth cannot be emphasized too much in trout fishing, and in particular this is true in the Smokies.

My favorite tactic for putting someone new to the park onto fish involves a beadhead nymph and an indicator. For that matter it works great for anyone not accustomed to highsticking nymphs without an indicator. We all started out with nymphs simply because it was a bright sunny day. Trout tend to be a little skittish under these conditions and sit deeper in the water column. Of course, this time of year, you can almost certainly find trout willing to rise to a dry fly if you are willing to cover water.

Playing Guide for JR, his first Smokies rainbow (Nathan Stanaway Photo)

With both Nathan and JR both set up with nymph rigs, I was ready to fish myself and tied on a double nymph rig. Once I get people catching fish, I start experimenting with patterns, quickly cycling through patterns that will likely be catching fish at the given time of year. Currently yellow stoneflies are starting to hatch and of course there are still plenty of mayflies around. Additionally, the caddis should really be turning on shortly now. The mornings feature an excellent midge hatch. If you know what time of day each of these insects are active, you can maximize your efficiency in catching fish.

I cycled through most of the standard patterns that usually work well for me this time of year. While all the flies caught fish, I still felt that things could be much better. Finally I tried a simple little caddis pupa with a beadhead. Immediately I started catching fish. At first I thought it was a fluke, that is until I moved into a small pool no larger than 15 x 20 feet. Every cast resulted in either a hookup or a missed strike. By the time I had pulled out 5 or 6 fish, I knew that I was onto something. Each fish hit the same pupa pattern. The best brown trout caught the first day came from this pool. Quickly digging through my fly boxes, I found a few more so Nathan and JR could get in on the action. Moving together upstream, one on each side and one observing, we started to nail fish left and right.

( Nathan Stanaway Photo)

After an hour or so it was getting towards dark. We fished up to one last pool, in the process catching a few more fish. As we were leaving the first mayfly spinners were making an appearance, and the fish started rising enthusiastically. On the hike out, I saw fish rising in every pool and soft pocket. Arriving back in camp, we built a huge fire and did the traditional hot dog roast. Sitting around the fire, we shared stories from the day before finally hitting the sack.

Saturday morning I got up early to hit a few pools below Elkmont in search of larger browns. Despite my best efforts, I never saw any truly large fish but had a good time looking. Before heading back to camp for breakfast, I fished a favorite pool and caught a few rainbows. Again, the bead head dropper was nailing all the fish.

In camp, after eating a hearty breakfast, I pulled out my tying equipment and cranked out a dozen of the hot fly pattern. Assured of a good supply of flies, we headed out for another day on the stream. Our destination required a bit of hiking which is always a gamble. Someone could be on the water ahead of you spooking all the fish and causing your catching numbers to suffer. However, if you are the first one on the water in a few days, the results can be spectacular.

We finally commenced fishing in a favorite pool of mine. Of course, I say that about most of the water on Little River. Still, I have had more good days in this area than any other stretch of Little River. I figured that it would probably produce at least a few fish for my less-experienced fishing buddies. What I didn't expect was how much the river would show off for us.

I started fishing up the first run while Nathan and JR got into their wading gear. Generally I hike in ready to fish, but they packed their waders. Fishing to the head of the first pool produced five fish, and my excitement was growing exponentially. Most of the fish were on the dropper, but some were rising to the Parachute Adams as well. Once I got Nathan and JR fishing, they were immediately successful as well.

Soon we developed an efficient rhythm. In stretches where it was easy to leapfrog, we spread out through a 100-200 yard section. Where the rhododendron crowded closer to the water, we fished directly across from each other in stealth mode, sneaking slowly along the edges and picking pockets for the brightly colored rainbows and occasional brown that took the caddis pupa with reckless abandon and kept rising often enough to insure that we stuck with a dry/dropper rig. In fact, by the end of the day, we all agreed that probably half of our fish came on the dry flies.

There were many highlights throughout the day, but one of the best was when Nathan caught a nice fish. I was busy helping JR to retie when I heard Nathan shout. When I looked up, I saw his rod bent and asked if it was a good one. The look on his face was priceless as he responded in the affirmative. Quickly finishing the knot for JR, I started wading back across the stream to help land the fish and take pictures. The trout started on a blistering run downstream with Nathan following in pursuit. Finally, in some dead water behind a boulder we landed the nice brown. High fives were given all around and then we took a few pictures. The fish had put up a heroic fight so I spent some extra time reviving it. When it was rested, the fish took off quickly, hopefully to grow some more before we catch it again.

Another highlight was when I happened on a pool where seemingly ever trout was out feeding. Before I was finished, I had taken 12 trout out of the pool along with my best fish of the weekend, a 12 inch brown. In the last pool of the day, Nathan and I caught 1o trout between the two of us. These are just two examples that give some idea of just how good the fishing was on this trip. Sometimes I enjoy just catching a lot of fish. Other times I am in the mood for a difficult fish or maybe a quality hatch. On this trip, I definitely got my fill of catching average Smoky Mountain trout.

(Nathan Stanaway Photo)

Sunday morning we planned on fishing for an hour or two after taking down camp. JR still had not caught a brown trout despite catching probably 40 or 50 rainbows over the previous two days. We decided to fish a section close to camp and hope for a brown or two. Again, the stars aligned and JR got his brown in the first pool he fished. This was a good way to finish an epic weekend. Both Nathan and JR had caught a lot of fish and the weather had been perfect. Things couldn't have been better...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Smokies Weekend

Fishing was absolutely sick. The fish seem extra stupid right now. Full report to come in the next day or two...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Lull

My fishing time has been increasing significantly lately. This past weekend I was able to take the new float tube out for a short maiden voyage. The fishing was great but the catching was nonexistent. I am excited to use the tube to exploit the many untouched stillwater opportunities in the area. It will also come in handy on my excursions out west.

With the recent unseasonably warm weather has come an excellent response from the fish. Trout in the mountains are feeding enthusiastically on the bounty now constantly passing in the current. Smallmouth bass are starting to be caught again on the lower elevations of the same streams. This past Sunday found me headed for the Smokies again. My observations from the trip surprised even me.

This time of year, the normal routine is for the insects to become active in the middle of the day. Significant hatches tend to start around noon, give or take an hour. The norm has been significantly altered however due to the very warm temperatures we have been experiencing. It appears that the Quill Gordons are just about over now. Naturally a few stray bugs are still emerging but the bulk of the hatch has passed. If my observations from Sunday are accurate, it actually appears that we are in a lull between hatches. Hendricksons have started but are not particularly heavy yet. A random assortment of stoneflies, caddis, and several mayflies are all trickling off but not in consistent all-day action. The midge hatch was actually probably the best of any type of insect I observed, but I was there to fish dries and didn't even feel like dropping a Zebra Midge under my Parachute Adams.

Fish are still more than willing to eat a dry...you just have to find the ones that are looking up. The weather featured a bright sunny day which have in turn drove the fish deeper during the middle part of the day. Fishing on Sunday felt much more like mid summer when early and late are the rule to consistent action. The fish that did rise generally did so in the shade although that was not 100% true.

One of the highlights of the day was having my license checked by a ranger. I am always glad to see them out patrolling the streams and made a point of telling him that I appreciated his efforts. I hope everyone else will do the same when a ranger or fish and game officer stops by. They have a tough job and I notice that we as fly fisherman (myself included) often like to grumble about a lack of enforcement. A little positive feedback can go a long ways towards getting better enforcement and effort from the people responsible for enforcing the fishing regulations.

If the hatches in the park were a bit on the light side, the caddis hatch below the park was more like a blizzard. I stopped on the lower portion of Little River to try and find some smallmouth bass and was amazed at the number of little black caddis in the air. It looked exactly like pictures I have seen of the famed Mother's Day Caddis on rivers like the Arkansas in Colorado. Unfortunately, trout are almost nonexistent in the lower sections so there were no fish actively rising to the banquet. The smallmouth were not very cooperative but I did manage one small fish on a Clouser. I intend to spend a lot more time this year figuring out smallmouth. Hopefully I'll find some larger ones soon...

At one point during the day, I spent some time just enjoying the beauty of a mountain stream in early spring through my camera lens. The following are a few of the shots I took. The first picture is of a nice run that produced several rises but all from smaller fish. I took a rainbow and a brown, one near the back, and one at the head of the run.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Small Ponds Waking Up

This is one of my favorite times of year. In the mountains the trout are rising to the best hatches of the season, and at the same time the warm water scene is heating up. This past week we had an outing for the guys at the school I teach at. There would be a small lake very close by so I took a couple of fly rods hoping to get a little fishing.
Things worked out much better than I anticipated when a bunch of guys wanted to go swimming and I was assigned to be one of the people to supervise. Naturally I rigged up the two rods. At this point some of the guys were watching with a bit of interest and one came over and asked if he could try it out. I'm always glad to give my students a chance to try the sport. Last year's outing produced good results with the bluegill for all the students that tried fly fishing.

This year I was a bit surprised by the fact that only one guy, Michael, was really interested in trying it out. We both strung up our rods, mine for bass and his for bluegill, and started to slowly make our way around the pond. I fished the first spot, all the while providing commentary on what I was doing and I.
Michael K. Photograph

As I was bouncing my fly past some structure, a bass came out to inhale the offering. The guys were all impressed and I was happy. Last year we couldn't buy any bass on this lake so it was a good start. After getting a couple of pictures, we continued moving around the pond. I slowly worked ahead, constantly watching for fish and directing him to sneak up and cast when any were spotted. Still, the fish were very spooky and we were having a hard time getting close enough for his basic casting skills.

Michael K. Photograph

Finally, we were about out of time. I stopped at a small bay and proceeded to pick up my third small bass of the day while he jumped in a canoe with another guy to take a shortcut back. As I was releasing my fish, I heard him shouting, "Mr. Knapp, Mr. Knapp!!! I've got one!!!" I sent back instructions to keep the fish in the water until I arrived and then hurried on around to where he was. He had a big grin on his face and a nice little bluegill. After helping him pose with the fish, I snapped a couple of pictures and then we released the fish. All in all, it was a great outing and hopefully another young person was converted to the sport.

I currently have a new float tube sitting in my living room waiting for its maiden voyage. I'm hoping to do that tomorrow or Sunday so check back soon for more warm water action here in East Tennessee. I'll be heading for the mountains again soon as well...