Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Friday, January 27, 2012


First brown of the year nailed a white streamer and wanted it in a bad way.  The fish swirled on the fly once so I threw back and it inhaled the fly like it was the last meal it would get.  Not a bad way to kick off another year of fishing for browns!

Also got that first smallmouth and it was definitely a surprise!  Normally I don't expect to see smallies out this time of year, but it just goes to show that fish do still have to eat.  Those that think fishing in cold weather is pointless just need to get out more.  If you spend enough time on the water and learn what the fish are up to, the catches will follow...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Where I live, I am blessed to have good views nearly to the horizon in all directions provided I walk a couple of hundred feet up the road.  More often than not, you will find me wandering up the road in the evening for a short walk as a way to relax at the end of the day.  Of course, if I lived on the bank of a great trout stream I would probably be knee deep in the water, but life should be taken as it comes.  Thus, for the time being, I'll be content with my evening stroll.  The most consistent draw on these walks is watching the sunset.  If I could drag myself out of bed consistently early each morning I would watch the sun rise as well, but so far I only catch that phenomenon every now and then. 

The vast horizon tends to offer up some pretty special sunsets although sometimes they sneak up on me when I least expect it.  Yesterday was such a day.  As I headed up the road from my house, I had my camera dangling around my neck, hopeful for a nice end to the day but not really expecting much.  In fact, the sky seemed to be indicating that the day would end with high clouds streaming overhead, giving the day a gray finish.  When I made it about 100 feet from my house, this is all I saw...

By the time I made it 200 feet, there were vague indications of the treat ahead although I was still somewhat pessimistic about my chances of a light show.

A quarter of a mile down the road, a glow started spreading from low in the western sky.  A beautiful end to a nice day, but nothing spectacular.  I was happily snapping a couple of pictures before resuming my walk.

After three pictures, what I saw made me run up the road to a better vantage point.  The following 20 or so minutes were one of great examples of why you should always carry a camera.  I couldn't take enough pictures although in situations like this the pictures never seem good enough.  In my mind I have a memory, and in pictures I still have at least an impression of how beautiful the sky was.  For several minutes, a brilliant sun pillar was standing in the western sky.  The whole experience just reminded me how fortunate I am to live in a place where I can see the sunset and especially have the time to do it.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Old Picture...

Perusing old trip pictures is one way to help a case of cabin fever.  Last week I was examining some of my trout pictures and came across an old favorite from back in 2007.  I love how this picture turned out. Not a particularly large fish or anything, but I like how the picture is framed and the different perspective on the release...


Fishing can be a real task sometimes, especially when the fish are being selective or when they are hard to locate.  With wild fish we expect refusals, breakoffs, and sometimes they are even difficult to find.  Stockers are another thing.  Normally they eat anything and then fight half-heartedly for a few seconds before rolling over and being brought to hand. 
Yesterday I went searching for some stocked rainbows in a nearby lake.  Occasionally in the cold months, I will take advantage of the local stockers more out of curiousity than anything else.  My standard pattern is a smallish bead head Simi Seal Leech.  Once I catch a couple I start to experiment.  Afterall, it is a little interesting to find out a list of things trout will hit when they are dumb enough, nevermind that some people don't even count these stockers as worthy of the name trout. 

The standard procedure is pretty much to find a place where I can cast and start stripping the fly anywhere from just under the surface to really deep.  If the fish are around that normally will pick up a few.  When I arrived on the water, the lower end of the lake was heavily stained, some would even say muddy.  My hopes for good fishing began to dwindle when I had an idea.  This trip was going to require a little more searching than I normally would do.

Walking along the trail, I enjoyed the cool fresh air.  The breeze was light and the temperature in the low 50s felt a lot more like late fall or early spring, definitely not the middle of January.  A quick stop to stick my hand in the lake jolted me back to reality.  The water was definitely cold so any hope of picking up a few bluegill was fading quickly.  As I continued along the upper end of the lake, I had a very specific spot in mind.  When I was almost there, I heard the type of splash that can only be a fish.

Quickly searching the water before the ripples vanished, I located the fish.  It was hanging in the current as I was now in an area where the lake narrowed to the receive the creek that was its main water source.  Another fish soon made its presence known, and I set about finding a good spot to cast from.  The first three casts were a little short of my intended target but the fourth one was perfect, and soon I saw a small trout appear out of the off-color creek water to nail the leech pattern.  Now I was glad that I brought my rarely fished 3 weight.  The fish fought much better than it would have on anything heavier and the rod is so light that it feels like I'm fishing with nothing at all. 

After landing the trout, I stood up and aimlessly flicked my fly back out into the creek in preparation for another real cast.  Immediately another fish flew up to hit it and it was game on.  This time, I worked the fish in close and then left it in the water while I got the camera out.  Some of my friends question whether or not I really catch fish as often as I claim so I document a catch every now and then, even if it really isn't very noteworthy.  These rainbows were all looking pretty healthy.  Their fins had mostly grown back and while they are still a bit pale, that should all change by the time the spring hatches really kick into high gear.

About this time I started to wonder what were the fish actually rising to.  Have you ever been out fishing only to realize that you have no idea what the fish are really up to?  My first guess of midges proved to be the correct one.  It was more of an educated guess than anything and it took me a little while before I actually noticed the tiny light gray insects on the surface of the water and occasionally flying by.  Thankfully, the fish were still uneducated enough that I didn't need any 7x and #28 dry flies, and occasionally its nice to fish for something a little less demanding.

In the end, I landed a total of 4 little rainbows, all of which put an admirable bend in the 3 weight.  The search for fish was over, but ironically it was not my eyes but my ears which originally located the fish.

I'm thinking more and more about the Smokies.  Every time I close my eyes I can see insects drifting lazily down the current as trout rise enthusiastically to spring's bounty.  The next few weeks will include a lot of tying in preparation for the spring, but also will probably feature at least one or two trips to the Park to explore the streams in winter.   

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Almost There?

Even a couple of weeks worth of high water on my local tailwater can seem like an eternity.  The last several weeks are starting to seem more like several years.  The last time I was on the Caney was last November.  Since then, the generation has been pretty consistent at over 10,000 cfs.  That's a lot of water no matter which way you look at it.  A few brave souls are still out in boats but most people have been trying other spots.

Now, Center Hill Lake is finally slipping below the magical 630 feet above sea level.  Unfortunately, in the colder months this threshold has little meaning.  Winter pool is much lower than that so while we might start to see TVA cut back on the generation a little, it is doubtful that there will be any wadeable windows any time soon.  The active weather pattern looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future, so it is doubtful that the lake will drop very fast.  In fact, don't be surprised if it spikes up again within the next week or two. 

Thankfully, there are still fish that can be caught.  In fact, when I stopped by the river to take a look a couple of weeks ago, there were fish rising in a very accessible spot.  I doubt I'll be driving 45 minutes to fish a small section of bank, but I can take comfort in the fact that I could if I really wanted to. 

The last few days have awakened the first stirring of spring fever somewhere inside.  Visions of Blue Quills, Little Black Caddis, Quill Gordons, and of course rising trout, have been dancing around in my head in several spare moments.  I find myself staring out the window.  What I'm really seeing is not the dreary sky threatening more rain, but huge hatches with lots of rising trout.  As inspiration grows, I'll be heading to the Smokies searching for fish willing to be force fed in the colder water now flowing.  Some days will be phenomenal with lots of fish out feeding. Other days will be classic winter fishing with tight-lipped trout hugging the bottom, but thankfully those days will soon draw to a close as winter gives way to spring.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Entertainment

During the cold months, it is possible to slow down to something resembling a sane pace.  During the warm months, I try to get the most out of the long days.  Fishing trips morph into fourteen or more hour monsters that leave me exhausted and wondering why I put myself through the torture.  The continuing drive to get as much time in on the water as possible tends to place fishermen out in good weather and bad.  In winter, even the diehards tend to slow down at least some however. 

A particular trip this past summer found me drifting slowly down the Caney Fork with David Perry.  The cicadas were on but things had been a little slow.  The sun finally began to take a toll somewhere around three miles downriver from the ramp where we started.  Fishing hats are great for blocking glare and peripheral light but also excellent at trapping heat.  Both of us were approaching that point where you realize you are too hot and probably more than a little dehydrated.  Before things got too crazy, we finally had the sense to anchor up along a shady bank where the effects of the sun would be minimalized.  The smart thing would probably have been to stay home.  The air temperature was in the mid 90s but thankfully was moderated by the cool water flowing under the boat.

If you translate this memory into winter weather, it would sound something like this:  After three weeks of piercing cold, I decided that I had to get out on the water.  The Smokies streams were so cold that ice lined the edges and in a few places, a little anchor ice was even showing up.  Just getting to the water meant taking my life in my own hands.  I spent the whole day drowning nymphs in water that was running 32 degrees and it was clearly pointless to be fishing.  Things got really bad when a buddy stopped by and I couldn't even talk normally.  Thankfully he had his heater going and somehow translated my babbling into "I'm freezing my @$$ off" and insisted I warm up in his truck. 
After a half hour with the heater going full blast, I was finally able to at least drive myself back home.

The second story is clearly a work of fiction.  Even the relatively crazy fishermen (I fall somewhere between the two extremes although closer to the crazy category) will normally wait until a break in the weather with afternoon temperatures rising above freezing.  Even when you do make it out on the water, the pace can be slow with the focus more on keeping warm.  Any fish that are caught are seen as a blessing.  Then again, if you go home fishless, there's always the slight feeling that you should have been doing something differently out on the stream.  Afterall, the fish still have to eat.  Cold weather entertainment does not have to even focus on fishing.  Sometimes a great picture shot on the stream can make the day instead of a nice fish to hand. 

Of course, there are trips during the transitional months that can turn into problems as well.  One March, a few years back, I was hustling up the Little River Trail above Elkmont to a remote stretch of stream.  The forecast highs in the mid 50s never happened, at least not anywhere near the water I was fishing.  That was probably because the water temperature was at best in the low 40s still and the stream had a strong flow even for spring.  Around the time I would normally be thinking of lunch, I was thinking more along the lines of "I really have to find a way to get warm."  Knots had become impossible to tie which is my usual indicator of getting too cold.

Thankfully my thumb could just barely operate a lighter.  Scraping together a couple dry leaves and a small pile of sticks, I soon had a tendril of smoke as the flame caught.  The next thirty minutes found me fighting for just a little heat.  Foraging for dry wood turned up a pitifully small collection.  After pulling out most of my fire building tricks, the flames produced enough warmth to return feeling to my fingers although the pain made me wonder if freezing was maybe the better alternative.

I should have known better, should have been better prepared, or should have just waited another week.  Yet, I caught a good number of fish and what really stands out about that day is that I had the whole stream to myself.  The major hatches were on at lower elevations but not up high yet.  Having the whole stream to yourself may not sound like much, but it allows you to slow down and enjoy time with the camera or building a lunch fire instead of worrying that someone may be jumping in ahead of you.  The camera provided the best entertainment that day.

While there have been some crazy trips in the cold, such as the time we slid the drift boat down 60 feet of ramp on the ice just because we really wanted to fish that day.  The bottom of the boat was slightly worse for the wear but we did boat a couple of very nice browns on streamers.  I also can't forget the day on the Caney when the air temperature never got over 20 degrees but the trout were rising to stillborn midges all afternoon under a slightly overcast sky.  The average trout was around 15 inches but several much larger fish threw the hook or broke me off before I could get a really good look at them.

Most winters, I find myself fishing a few times per month just for the principle of the thing but usually not very hard.  The days are more relaxed, and I'm just as likely to watch a nice sunset as I am to keep fishing hard up until dark.  My entertainment on days like this often revolves around a camera.  My favorite subjects often have water involved but not always fishing.  A recent hike resulted in this picture among several others.  The light was bad, and I didn't get very creative with my shot angles, but sometimes just getting outside is better than nothing.

As winter slowly gives way to spring, my entertainment will run the entire gamut from photography in the coldest months with occasional fishing trips, to more tying as the spring fishing season approaches interspersed with fishing as cabin fever grows worse.  Finally, the fishing trips overtake everything else.  During many fishing excursions, I find myself forgetting to even bother with the camera.  At the end of such a trip, I find myself wishing for a slower pace and recalling my winter entertainment and relaxation with longing.  Of course, on the very next fishing trip I'm going full speed again.  Human nature being what it is, I tend to forget the enjoyment that comes from slowing down and allowing the stream to slide by while the fish happily feed unmolested. 

You show me a fisherman, and I'll show you an optimistic person.  Really what keeps us going is the belief deep inside that the next fish will be a monster or that on the next trip you will land more fish than ever before.  Honestly, I think that fishermen would probably make the best gamblers.  I don't know why casinos across the country are not using advertising specifically targetted to fishermen.  Of course if we switch to another type of entertainment we will probably quit fishing which would be a disaster. 

Winter simply reminds me that I should not just be optimistic about the fishing possibilities.  If I stop to look around me while I'm fishing, I suddenly see an Otter swimming down the far bank while a Pileated Woodpecker alternates flying from branch to branch and shouting its raucous call, reminding me that it would be nice to carry more than one lens when I'm out in nature.  Now if I can just remember to look for these things in the warm weather, my winter entertainment might transition to year-round entertainment.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Sunset

Plenty of Water

The trout must be happy lately, and if not, I'm sure they will be all next summer.  That's because it has rained, and rained, and then rained some more.  All this cold water will translate into plenty of cool water for the tailwaters in another 6-8 months or at least we hope.  Of course there are a lot of factors that come into play but right now things are looking good.  Unfortunately the fishing will continue to be difficult on the tailwaters for the next couple of weeks at least and probably longer for the wade fisherman.

I spent a few days at Fall Creek Falls this week and was able to enjoy the highest falls east of the Mississippi (coming in at a little over 250 feet) under much higher flows than usual.  The spitting rain and fog made things difficult with the camera meaning I didn't shoot for very long.  A few shots are always better than none however and I was reasonably happy with the result. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Backcountry Journal

I have already mentioned the new Backcountry Journal, but want to mention it again because an article I wrote was just published there this morning.  The article is about the 13 year cicadas we experienced this last summer.  If it has been just a little cold lately where you live, check out "Once Every Thirteen Years" at the Backcountry Journal and for a moment at least, maybe you can relive the warm days of summer when fish were slurping down the huge bugs all over the southeast and beyond. 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Years

Here's hoping that you are able to get out early and often in 2012.  Make the most of your time on the water and catch some good fish!