Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Plateau Creeks

Here on the Cumberland Plateau, we are blessed with an abundance of small to medium sized streams. Every one of these holds a variety of fish with smallmouth and various sunfish usually dominating. Tired after a long year of teaching, I just couldn't get excited about making the two hour drive to fish in the Smokies, but the thought of driving 30 minutes and trying some of the local water sounded appealing.

This morning I went through my usual pre-trip ritual of stressing over my limited available fly selection, and this is always despite the fact that I normally have enough flies to open a small fly shop. Regardless of whether or not I had enough flies, I knew that if I didn't tie a couple the trip would be a bust. Sitting down at the vise, I quickly tied three flies that have done well on these local fish before. Throwing the flies in my car along with the other necessary equipment, I was soon cruising along the back roads near Crossville on my way to a favorite area that I have only begun to explore.

Arriving at the stream, I was surprised to see that very few people were around. That is unusual for this particular spot, so I took the opportunity to fish a pool that normally has plenty of people swimming and otherwise enjoying themselves. Several fish later, the crowd started to show up so I wandered downstream in search of solitude. I moved slowly along, casting my fly to each likely spot while keeping both eyes peeled for snakes. While I love fishing this area, it always seems to have a large number of snakes. Friends have told me of seeing rattlesnakes swimming in this particular stretch of water as well so I'm always on the lookout.

As I moved farther away from the road, the smallmouth started biting better. Most likely they just weren't used to seeing flies, but I like to think that I was actually doing something right as well. I ended the day no more than a quarter of a mile from the road but still the farthest I've made it downstream.

My morning tying session was justified...all the fish I caught except for one were on one of those three flies I tied. Part of my problem with tying is that I've been lazy lately. I just don't sit down to tie in the evenings like I used to. Each fishing trip uses up more of the supply I have so eventually I have to start tying again. Tonight I need to tie a few more patterns. I'm going to a bluegill and bass pond tomorrow evening and will have a friend that is new to fly fishing along. I need a few more good bluegill patterns ready to go since I am running low on the usual suspects...so for now I'm off to the tying bench. Here are a few more pictures from today's fishing...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Diverse Weekend

In addition to attending Troutfest, I also managed to get a little fishing in as well this past weekend. I caught a few trout, a few bass, some panfish, and my first carp...not a bad way to spend the weekend I have to say.

Saturday afternoon, I decided to do a little scouting around Catoosa WMA northeast of Crossville. Catoosa is a large wild area with plenty of untouched water to sample. The streams contain bass and panfish, and there are rumors of musky in the more remote sections. I wanted to check a favorite access point and possibly fish while I was there. Unfortunately, storms earlier in the day had Stream "A" high and muddy. No worries though as I drove a few miles to another stream.

When I arrived, I was pleased to find the water low and clear. While watching the water for some indication of active fish, I saw a smallie cruise past and vanish into a deep hole. I went back to the car and grabbed the 4 weight, rigging it with a small Crazy Charlie variation I tie. Back at the waters edge, I flipped the fly into some bankside structure before wading in and caught a few fish before even getting wet.

The sky was becoming more threatening and low rumbles of thunder told me that I was fighting against time at this point. After a couple more fish, the thunder was loud enough that I decided to call it a day. Twenty minutes of fishing and 5-6 fish is a nice relaxed way to enjoy the afternoon.

On the drive back out, I saw a turkey wandering around in the road. It spooked as I drove closer so I couldn't get a picture. The wildflowers were stunning, and at one point, I just had to stop and take a couple of pictures.

Saturday night I tied up a couple of Light Cahill parachute patterns. I was more or less out, and this, along with the Yellow Sallies, is the hatch to be fishing right now in the Smokies. Of course, there are lots of other bugs in the water right now as well so be prepared. My goal was to fish dries during the evening hatch after attending Troutfest.
Sunday morning I slept in later than I intended but eventually got on the road to Townsend. At Troutfest, I wandered around taking in the sights and got to talk to several old friends and meet some new ones. After I saw everything I wanted to, I headed over to Little River Outfitters to pick up some tying materials I was needing. My buddy Trevor was supposed to meet me there so we could go check out the bass action.

After he arrived and picked up the things he was needing from the shop, we went in search of some smallmouth bass. Unfortunately the fish were not very cooperative, but we both managed to catch a few. Rain eventually caught up with us again so I decided to head back to the mountains for the evening hatch. I stopped at the first pool I came to on Little River (yeah, not many options there so guess away...) and found fish rising steadily. The Light Cahill parachute accounted for a few smaller rainbows before I moved on to another location. The final pool of the evening yielded several rainbows including one that was probably 10 or 11 inches. When I couldn't see my fly well anymore, I knew I was approaching the limits of legal fishing hours and decided to head back towards Crossville.

I stopped at one of my striper spots hoping to find the big fish in feeding, but instead I found lots of carp. They were definitely as picky as any fish I've ever cast to although that could be simply because I have no clue when it comes to catching carp. Finally I got one to take a pheasant tail nymph and the battle was on. I couldn't believe how hard this fish pulled. Everytime I thought it was ready to give up, the fish would go on another hard run. Fishing alone, I was unable to get a picture but I still have the memory.

The carp was a strange end to a pleasant yet diverse weekend of fishing. I always enjoy catching a new species although I don't really keep a detailed list of all the fish I've caught. The main thing I learned this weekend was that there are some great places close to home that I need to be fishing more. More to come on that as I get out on the water...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Big Weekend

The last few weeks of school are always extremely busy both for teachers and students. I've been too busy to fish (mostly anyway) so other than one or two quick trips for bluegill, I haven't really been out much lately. This weekend that should all change.

Troutfest is happening in Townsend, Tennessee this weekend. I'll be heading up that way on Sunday to take in the festivities which include such big names as Joe Humphries, Lefty Kreh, and Bob Clouser all doing various demos and seminars. Best of all, everything is free!

I highly doubt that I'll spend the whole day there. Instead I'll enjoy a few hours in the park on some favorite water hopefully catching some trout. The evening hatches are supposed to be great right now and the predicted rainfall should bring water levels up and trigger better than average emergence of mayflies and stoneflies. Light cahills should be hatching now as well as little yellow stoneflies and probably a hodge podge of other insects. This is the time of year to catch good fish on dries. The low light conditions during the best hatches coincide with the only legal time you can fish that also happens to be prime time for large fish to be feeding. You rarely will find nice fish rising in the middle of the day but that all changes during the banner evening hatches.

I'll try to have a few pictures after the weekend so check back to see what happened...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Snakes and Trout

At a young age, I realized that snakes would be a permanent part of at least some of my fishing trips. I can still remember playing in small streams and creeks and coming across the inevitable water snakes, not to mention other occasional types that like to hang out close to wetland areas in hopes of an easy meal. I’ve never been afraid of snakes, exactly, but do give them plenty of healthy respect. Snakes that are visible and obvious don’t bother me. It’s the ones that suddenly appear under my feet that concern me.

Some of my earliest encounters with serpents were of the terrifying variety. Running through the yard at age 6 only to have a 5 foot blacksnake rear its head in a menacing gesture practically under my feet was terrifying enough. Much worse was a trip to the Smokies with my family in which we camped on Little River in Townsend. I headed down to the stream one evening to try and catch some trout with my trusty Zebco and some spinner flies. The number of snakes I saw that evening still astounds me. In the dwindling light, it seemed that the bank was literally covered with snakes, while out in the water they swam this way and that but mostly right towards me. Probably there were only 10 or 12 total, but it seemed like something out of a nightmare that left me, if not permanently scarred, at least a little jumpy when things start moving under my feet.

During the recent epic fishing trip with my cousin Nathan and JR, a highlight of the trip was when I needed to filter some drinking water. I’ve stopped carrying enough drinking water for the day, taking only a single Nalgene and my MSR filter. Sitting comfortably on a rock while operating the filter, I looked down to see a strange pattern in the water between two rocks under my boots. At first, hope almost convinced me that it was just a strange rock or maybe a branch, but eventually I had to be honest with myself and admit that it was a water snake that had somehow appeared mere inches away. Snakes that magically appear are the ones that concern me. Thankfully, this particular critter was still sluggish in the cool water of spring, so I grabbed it by the tail and threw it across the stream at my buddies. Such is life on a fishing trip with the guys.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an appreciation for snakes. When the opportunity presents itself, I always snap a few pictures of any noteworthy specimens. Generally this means copperheads or rattlesnakes around here. While living near Townsend and working at Little River Outfitters one summer, I saw copperheads on the road near my cabin almost nightly as well as a pair of rattlesnakes one evening. In the Park itself, I rarely see poisonous snakes, but find more water snakes than I find pleasant. They have a habit of appearing while I’m wading upstream, usually in mid stride and directly under my feet. The snake dance ensues, probably leaving their nerves more shattered than mine. Still, even the water snakes can be intriguing. A couple of years ago in the spring, I came across a ball of breeding water snakes on the rocks along one of the most popular pools on Little River. If most people realized the number of snakes inhabiting that vicinity I would probably have the place to myself.

Last summer, I heard repeated stories of a rattlesnake hanging out near the trail a short distance above Elkmont. This put a damper on my normal habit of hiking out late in the evening after dark. I figured a headlamp should become part of my gear on day trips but didn’t start carrying one yet. Last weekend I found a rattlesnake about ¾ of a mile above Elkmont within 10 feet of the trail, convincing me that it was finally time to start carrying the headlamp or else hike out only while I could still see well. The snake was near a bench overlooking a nice pool on Little River. I climbed down closer to the snake to get some good pictures. There were too many witnesses around to attempt catching the snake. Harassing wildlife is strongly frowned upon so I had to leave my first capture of a rattlesnake for another day. Besides, by this point its angry response was to coil up and start rattling. Such are the hazards of photographing snakes. I wasn’t concerned in the least, but the “Holy Crap” I got from one nearby tourist when I pointed out the snake told me that not everyone is as unconcerned about rattlers as I try to be.

The rest of that day was perfect for fishing. I caught plenty of fish, even though I kept discovering that I was fishing behind people. The bright spring colors provided excellent opportunities for my camera, but the memory of the snake kept me watching me step, at least occasionally missing the beauty of new life around me. Probably the biggest difference between this and normal fishing trips was the fact that I hiked out with probably 2 hours of daylight to spare. No, I’m not afraid of snakes, its just healthy respect…I promise.

Help the Hiwassee

This afternoon I was perusing the Little River Outfitters message board and read a thread from Byron Begley. He had heard that some regulation changes were being considered for the Hiwassee River and wanted to give everyone a heads up. After doing a bit more research, I came across this article from the Polk County News. According to the article, TWRA is considering removing the "Trophy Section" designation and also adding a delayed harvest season.

The delayed harvest is a great idea, but I can't really say that I think it will increase the quality of the fishing. TWRA's version of a delayed harvest is basically to stock fewer fish with the idea that they will be caught over and over again. I fear that enforcement will continue to be very limited meaning that the fish will end up leaving the river anyway. While going to school in Chattanooga, I fished the Hiwassee a fair amount and was never checked for a license. If TWRA would step up enforcement then the delayed harvest is a great idea.

I wish the Trophy section would be left alone. It really is not doing its job particularly well, probably somewhat due to the lack of enforcement. The remote nature means would-be poachers can come and go at will with a very small likelihood of getting caught. Additionally, water quality problems during summer wreak havoc on the trout population in this area. Not all the fish die though. I know for a fact that brown trout are holding over in the river, at least on a limited basis. Better enforcement of current regulations and better stocking strategies could still make the Trophy section a great fishery. For example, brown trout tend to migrate upstream from their stocking location. Instead of stocking fingerling browns at Big Bend, TWRA should consider stocking them further downriver so they can move up into the Trophy section and get a chance to grow for awhile.

Unfortunately, there are so many things wrong with the Hiwassee that there really may not be a good solution. Still, I urge everyone that cares about this river to take a few minutes to let TWRA know how they feel about the proposed changes. Simply send an email to TWRA.Comment@tn.gov. Please include “Sport Fish Comments” on the subject line.

I would recommend supporting the delayed harvest proposal. However I cannot support removing the Trophy Section designation. Even if the section is largely failing in its purpose, it still gives these fish somewhat of a refuge on a river that is hammered throughout the warm months by many fisherman. A small sanctuary that is occasionally violated is better than opening everything up to normal fishing regulations.

An additional recommendation I would add is to limit brown trout to one kept per day. The current proposal is to allow up to two browns per day. However, brown trout hold over much better in this river than rainbows and limiting the number leaving the river would offer better opportunities for trophy fish.

Again, please take a few moments to let TWRA know what you think.