Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Monday, May 30, 2011


Have you ever gone fishing knowing that a certain hatch might be on, and yet remaining pathetically unprepared because you just didn't get around to tying a few patterns up?  I've been known to suffer from this affliction a time or two, the most recent happening just yesterday.  A particular brood of 13 year cicadas is emerging across a large portion of Tennessee as we move into the summer.  There is a certain little lake near Cookeville that I like to fish occasionally, and the last time I was down there the cicadas were definitely hatching.

The noise was so obvious on the drive to the lake that I didn't even need to get out of my car before I knew with certainty that the cicadas were out in force.  In fact, as I wandered through the woods around the lake, the noise was deafening.  I wondered if a person could go insane from the bedlam but then quickly moved to the more positive line of thought involving fish hammering big dries. 

Then I remembered that I had intended to tie some new cicada patterns, but in all the hurry that we call life I had forgotten.  At this point I began a ritual that is, for me at least, frighteningly familiar.  It involves digging through box after box of flies in the vane hope that I stashed a cicada in some obscure corner of a fly box normally reserved for a completely different type of pattern.  As my options dwindled, I kept returning to the box that held my extended body salmonfly patterns from a couple of years ago when I chased this hatch around Colorado as well as in Yellowstone National Park.  One fly in particular stood out to me.  Instead of tying it with the usual orange foam, I had used black foam with orange thread to provide the segmented look.  Realizing it was my best option at the moment, I tied it on and began stalking fish cruising the shallows. 

The first two fish I cast over did not like the shadows darting overhead and headed for the sanctuary of deeper water.  The next fish was not as intelligent and promptly slammed the salmonfly posing as a cicada.  After a couple of quick pictures I moved on, catching a few more bass and some bluegill and redear before reeling in to change flies. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Sometimes, when the catching aspect of the game is particularly successful, I start to wonder if the fish would hit any other patterns.  This thought process initiated, it didn't take long before I reeled in to change flies.  Surprisingly, the fish weren't entirely dumb.  Other normally solid patterns did not produce as well and it was obvious that the fish really were starting to prefer the juicy morsels that occasionally ended up in the water. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

During the course of the afternoon, it was not entirely lost on me that I was just catching bait in the overall scheme of things.  Three times, the water nearby erupted with small baitfish fleeing for their lives as a dark torpedo materialized below.  These big bass got me wondering if maybe I shouldn't bring my float tube next time to really fish the lake properly.  But then, is size really that important?  Shouldn't I just be content catching plenty of fish on big dries? 

Now that I know how important the cicada really was to the success of the trip, I will probably tie a few up in my spare time.  In fact, it's entirely possible that I will get carried away and tie more than I possibly need.  In the end, this works out just fine.  I'll probably end up fishing with a buddy that had the same problem I had, knowing he needs a few cicadas but just didn't take the time to tie any.  When that happens, I'll open my box and ask, "Want to try one of these?" 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Friday, May 27, 2011

Clearance Sale

This is a good time to get some deals from lots of companies.  Currently there are some great deals in the  Orvis Clearance Room.  If you are looking for some good fishing pants check out the Ex Officio pants.  If you need to pick up a smaller pair of wading boots (perfect for those growing kids that will only wear the boots for a season or two), check out the Henry's Fork Wading Boots or the Pack and Travel Wading Shoe is available in a wider variety of sizes which means if you hurry, you can pick up a new pair of wading boots for yourself as well.  Personally I am stocking up on felt sole boots when I find a good deal since most major companies are transitioning away from making them anymore.  Some states are passing laws against there use but here in the freestone streams of East Tennessee, they are far superior to any other boot sole.  I want to come back without any broken bones so will continue to wear them here in the Smokies.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bluegill and Redear

An afternoon of chasing panfish is hard to beat.  For the first time this month, I finally got some fishing time on a local lake.  The fish were there and aggressive.  I quit after pestering a few because sometimes it's just too easy, and I start to feel a little greedy if I continue to fish.  Still, it was much needed time on the water.  Hopefully things will continue to improve, and I'll be out chasing some trout soon.  Since school is now out things are definitely looking up. 

Here are a couple that I persuaded to pose for a picture...

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

This is one of the first fish I landed.  For some reason I don't seem so pleased...maybe I was secretly hoping to catch trout instead..."wait a second, THAT'S NOT A TROUT..." Seriously, you won't find me complaining about getting fishing time right now.  This was my first time out this month so I was probably suffering withdrawals and just getting reaquainted with what a fish actually looks like...

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gierach's Latest

A couple of days ago, I received a copy of Gierach's Latest Book entitled "No Shortage of Good Days," to review on my blog.  I'll be reading it over the next few days and will be writing a review here on my blog as soon as I finish.  It seems that several other bloggers are reviewing it as well, including Tom Chandler over at the Trout Underground who had the brilliant idea to provide continuous live blogging of the book as he reads.  Anyway, I'm in the process of wrapping up the school year (its graduation weekend) so things will be hectic for the next few days, after which I hope to get a full review up as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Huge Redear

Imagine a beautiful day out on the lake casting poppers for sunfish (or whatever method you prefer) when suddenly a monster interrupts the routine.  That's what happened to an Arizona angler on Lake Havasu, an impoundment of the Colorado River on the Arizona/California border.  Here are some pictures of the beast along with a few details on how it was caught.  It was not caught on a fly rod but is an amazing fish regardless. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Picking the Pockets: Improving Your Pocket Water Game

Middle Prong of Little River, Great Smoky Mountains NP

As we move into late spring and early summer, the pocket water sections of most freestone streams here in the southeast can produce the easiest fishing you’ll experience all year.  In fact, my best catching days have all been on this type of water.  Granted, it can be hard to determine what should be referred to as pocket water in streams like Little River where everything looks a lot like pocket water.  For the purpose of clarification, I’m going to define pocket water as a section of stream where the overall flow is medium to fast and is interrupted by boulders and other stream obstructions that create holding water in a section that is otherwise too swift for trout to inhabit.  The picture above is a prime example of the type of water I’m referring to. 
Fishing pocket water is not normally the poetic aesthetically pleasing experience many associate with fly fishing.  Instead of making a beautiful 50 foot cast with a tight loop, you’ll often find yourself chucking heavy nymphs with plenty of split shot.  If textbook hatches and trout rising on a glassy surface are your game, stop reading now.  If you are interested in catching more fish, then this was written for you.
Pockets generally hold a lot of fish year round, but they really shine during the summer and fall.  One oft cited reason they fish so well in the summer is that the fast broken water will hold oxygen better, attracting fish out of the slower pools and runs as the water warms.  Additionally, the insects that the trout feed on are normally widely available in the fast water surrounding the pockets.  The calm pockets provide shelter from the current while the broken water on the surface provides shelter from aerial predators.  All this means that trout feel safe and are relatively easy to approach while holding in pockets. 

As we move into the summer months, some of the more significant hatches are mayflies and stoneflies that have a strong preference for faster water.  Here in the Smoky Mountains, the Isonychia bicolor (Slate Drake) mayflies hatch for an extended period starting in late spring and lasting through the summer.  The nymphs are particularly vulnerable as they swim towards boulders or rocks along the shore prior to hatching.
Stoneflies tend to prefer fast water as well.  In the Smokies we have good to excellent hatches of Golden Stoneflies and Little Yellow Stoneflies (including Yellow Sallies).  You can throw stonefly nymph imitations in pocket water and catch a few trout year round, but during the spring and summer you can have banner days catching an obscene number of fish. 

 A beautiful pocket water rainbow

Fishing pocket water is generally pretty simple.  In general, the closer you get the better.  When I fish freestone streams with good pocket water, it is rare for me to have more than 10 feet of line out.  Sometimes I only have a foot of line out past the top guide.  The easiest way to fish pocket water is with a dry fly, but often the most efficient method of catching is to fish nymphs.  My favorite summertime rig is a combination of heavy Tellico nymph to imitate a stonefly and an Isonychia soft hackle pattern I tie. 
One of the better rainbows I have landed in the Park fell for the Isonychia while it was still in the developmental stage.  Some of the largest browns I’ve caught came on Tellico nymphs.  It is not a coincidence that these fish feed on the most available food items. 

In the winter I prefer to fish a dark stonefly nymph with a midge dropper.  A surprising number of fish show a preference for the midge even in pocket water.  I guess their eye sight is much better than mine, because I have a hard time seeing them when they are sitting in my fly box, much less rushing downstream on a strong current. 
When fishing pockets, don’t forget to try terrestrials.  Trout in streams both east and west feed on a surprisingly wide variety of foods.  Ants and beetles make up a larger portion of their diet in the warmer months and other choice morsels such as grasshoppers and cicadas may bring up the largest trout of the season.  Bouncing streamers around cover is another good trick for pocket water. 

If you want to target fish in pockets with a dry, stick with something that matches one of the expected hatches unless you find a specific hatch to match.  Flies should be visible so you can track them through the current.  Here in the Smokies I fish a Parachute Adams or something similar a majority of the time but Stimulators and other bushy patterns work also. 
In pocket water, the best area to target is normally the slack water immediately behind any obstruction (the pocket itself).  However, you can improve your catch rate considerably by purposefully targeting what seems to be faster water downstream of the pocket.  Without actually showing you what I’m talking about it can be difficult to describe but I’ll make the attempt. 

Generally a pocket will have currents flowing around each side of it and perhaps even a small back eddy within the pocket.  These current tongues will meet up again some place downstream.  Most people think that’s all there is to the pocket, thus placing all their casts in the slack water and then moving on.  This common mistake means they are missing out on some of the better fish in the pocket.  The best feeding lie is downstream of where the currents converge.  This is because under the surface, especially near the bottom, the calmer water of the pocket continues downstream under what appears to be a fairly fast current.  Rocks near the bottom provide enough cover for a fish to sit behind, and these fish are virtually sitting in a funnel, with food coming from both sides of the pocket and as the currents merge together again. 
This position at the far downstream tip of a pocket is often a prime lie, meaning the largest fish in a given piece of water will make its residence there because it fulfills all the trout’s needs: food, shelter, and a place to rest from the current.  In this type of water, trout will not come up for a dry fly unless there is a heavy hatch going on.  The strong current near the surface of the stream means the fish will be expending too much energy when it could just sit on the bottom and gorge on nymphs, larva, pupa, and other bugs and critters caught in the drift. 

In the illustration below, the arrows represent where each trout’s food is coming from.  Notice that the larger fish are sitting under what appears to be a stronger current.  However these fish are getting food from multiple directions at once without moving at all.  Also notice that fish are not always facing upstream.  In fact, fish will often be facing downstream.  Trout will face into the current regardless of what direction it is coming from. 

As with all fishing, careful observation will be the difference between those who have success and those that go home frustrated.  Despite the broken character of pocket water, it is still possible to spot trout. 
Two summers ago I was fishing the Gunnison River in Colorado with two friends.  One was a new convert to the sport.  We sat down on some rocks by the river to rig up.  While sitting there I noticed a flash that could only come from a feeding trout.  Hoping my friend could catch a quality fish on his first trip, I got him set up and then talked him through how to approach what I believed was a big brown.  On about his third cast, I noticed the brief flash again and yelled “Set!”  His reflexes were not yet those of a seasoned fisherman and the hook set was hopelessly late.  Yet to get a good look at the fish, we all leapfrogged up the river.  The whole time though I continued to wonder about that trout. 

At the end of the day, we were hiking back down the river to our trail out when I decided to give the fish another shot.  Carefully tying on two of my best stonefly imitations, I made a careful cast into the small pocket along the bank.  The line ticked almost imperceptibly, and without thinking I set the hook.  Immediately I realized that the best fish of the day was on the other end of my line.  The fish tore through a set of rapids and into a large pool while I ran downstream as fast as I could.  Finally, the heavy bodied brown came to the net in a large back eddy.  We snapped a couple of pictures, and I pondered how I managed to spot the fish in the first place.  The lesson stuck with me though.  I always thoroughly fish every pocket in the hopes of stumbling across another chunky brown.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Improving Your Fly Fishing Skills

Lately I have been suffering from too much work and not enough fishing.  Instead of allowing it to slowly affect my attitude, I decided that if I can’t go fishing as much, I can at least still think and write about it.  With that in mind, I’m going to work on some new articles over the next few weeks.  For many of you, I will most likely be repeating old information.  However, at least some of you will hopefully find something useful in what I will share that can improve your skills and help you catch more fish.
Some will be brief articles that simply highlight one key point while others will focus on broader subjects.  Mostly I will discuss trout fishing in moving water but may touch on other areas as well.  If you have a specific area or subject you would like me to address, please send me an email or leave a comment here, and I will see what I can do.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Backcountry Dorado

The latest issue of Catch Magazine is live and includes incredible video of fishing for freshwater dorado.  If you want to be inspired to try something completely different, check out the video.  It might take a little while to load but it is well worth the wait. 

Monday, May 02, 2011

Picture Specials

Right now I am running a special on two separate products, picture downloads and 8x10 premium quality prints.  The prints are on sale for just $15, and the downloads are half off at just $2.50 each.  If you have been wanting a hi-res version of any of the photographs you've seen here, this is your opportunity to get them for desktop backgrounds or anything else you want to do with them (personal use only at this price).  Remember, all of my photographs that are showcased here at the Trout Zone as well as the Trout Zone Photoblog are for sale through Fotomoto.com.  Additionally, I have distribution agreements with contributing photographers so most pictures you see here are available for purchase.  To see pricing or make a purchase, simply use the buttons under each photograph.