Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Friday, June 29, 2012

Different Kind of Soft Hackle

Here's an experiment I just tied up. I love soft hackles and was thinking about different ways to do one with a bead head. Here's what happened...

Hook: #14 TMC 2487
Bead: 7/64 Bronze
Thread: Tan 8/0
Tail: Hare guard hairs
Rib: Krystal flash, color to suit
Body: Hare's mask dubbing (include a little in front of the bead
Hackle: Partridge

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Heat Wave!!!

Temperatures are soaring here in the southeast.  Highs starting tomorrow will be challenging both the record high for each date but also the all-time record high here in Crossville, Tennessee.  Tomorrow's record high temperature in Crossville is 92 and for Saturday the record is 93.  Both days' forecast high is 100 degrees.  The all-time high for Crossville 101 degrees so there is a significant chance of breaking that as well.

Graphic Courtesy the NWS Office in Nashville, TN

Somehow the heat has diminished my excitement about going to the Smokies tomorrow. To travel that distance and burn that much fuel is an investment for which I want a more pleasant return in exchange. Thus, my fishing expedition tomorrow will be confined to a local destination for smallmouth and panfish, not exactly a bad trade-off.

Later this weekend I'll probably be doing a half-day float to throw terrestrials and maybe some streamers.  In between all the excitement, I'm planning on tying and trying to keep cool indoors.

At least we aren't burning like the western United States.  For those interested in learning more information about the fires around the country, check out the InciWeb site.  There is a lot of good information there although the severity and number of fires means that some of the information is not being updated in a timely fashion.

The information that intrigues (and disturbs) me the most are the fire area maps.  Watching well-known trout streams get toasted is not pleasant, but realizing how large of an area these fires are capable of burning in an afternoon is at least interesting.  In the meantime, keep all of those who live near the fires in your prayers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Please vote!!!

If you didn't notice already, there is a new poll up.  I have not had one for a while and this one is exploring how many of my current readers tie their own flies.  Lately I have enjoyed doing more tying again and want to know if my readers share my interest in tying.  Find the poll just above and let me know how much you tie!!!  Personally, I tie probably 99.9% of what I tie but every once in a great while will pick up a few flies somewhere...

More Brookies?

I think the answer is yes!!!  My recent brookie backpacking trip has inspired me to chase brookies again, and hopefully soon.  I'm planning on trying to make it to the mountains later this week to beat the heat on a brookie stream.  The beauty of a day trip is appealing right now as forecast highs are supposed to soar into the 90s even in all but the high elevations of the Smokies.  Trying to sleep outside in a tent when its that warm just does not appeal right now.  A day trip is much better and may even allow me to try a few different things including bass, trout, and maybe even stripers!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Quick Fishing Summary

Since I was in Nashville over the weekend, I decided to stop by the Caney on the way home Sunday evening.  Rising fish greeted me when I arrived so I strung up a 4 weight and rigged up a dry with a Zebra Midge dropper.  A few small browns later, I was glad that I had stopped by my neighborhood tailwater.

Earlier in the weekend, friends of mine canoed from the dam to Betty's Island.  They reported that the boat and angler traffic was horrendous.  Right now you can basically forget fishing the river on the weekend in the normal areas.  Weekdays will be marginally better but still busy.

If you want to enjoy some great trout action, I would recommend heading to east Tennessee.  Choose from the tailwaters or mountain freestone streams.  If you are hitting the freestone streams and rivers, be sure you head high enough to get away from the worst heat.  Trout in the low elevations will be stressed due to higher water temperatures and resulting lower dissolved oxygen content.  Tailwaters will continue to fish well although the summer doldrums are upon us.  When the sun is high overhead with not a cloud in the sky, the fish can be pretty spooky.

Unfortunately, the weather pattern looks to stay about the same for the next week or more.  Hot and hotter seems to be the drill around here with dry conditions persisting.  Tennessee is slipping into drought conditions and I'm very concerned for area fisheries.  The tailwaters may be fine but low elevation freestone streams will probably see some fish kills by late summer if we don't start getting rain.

Dry years are a great opportunity for better than average terrestrial fishing.  I don't know why, but low water and terrestrials go hand in hand.  On the tailwaters, look for hopper and beetle fishing opportunities.  The annual cicadas are starting to hum as well so watch and listen for those.  In the mountains, a bumper crop of small hoppers along with normal ant, inchworm, and beetle fishing should make for a great terrestrial season.

As we move through the summer, terrestrials will increase in importance in the mountains along with Isonychia mayflies.  Little Yellow stoneflies and Golden stones will both continue to be effective although as the summer wears on they will be less significant.

On the tailwaters like the Caney and the Clinch, sow bugs will become more and more important and of course midges and blackfly larva continue to work well.  On the South Holston, the Sulphurs are on now as well as good beetle fishing during low water times.  If you want some phenomenal dry fly fishing, I recommend either the South Holston with its Sulphur hatches or the Hiwassee with the Isonychia mayflies.  The ISOs on the Hiwassee are unique from most Isonychias in that they hatch mid-stream instead of crawling out on a rock.  That means that drifting with dry fly imitations and emergers is a great way to get into some nice fish!

As the heat continues, striper action will get better and better in area tailwaters.  We have already seen some HUGE stripers this year and are excited to get back into the striper game.

Regardless of where you are, don't let the heat beat you!  Get out early and late to avoid the worst of the heat and catch some fish.  This is a productive time or year if you can get out...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Topwater Bass

Trout aren't the only fish looking up.  I recently hit a lake full of bass and panfish with one of my favorite hopper patterns.  In addition to a couple of BIG bluegill, I found a couple of nice bass that wanted to play.

The first fish was cruising with a school of fish in the middle of the lake, periodically nailing something on the surface.  Casting the hopper out in front of the fish and twitching it resulted in an explosion and some tail-walking as a nice bass came to hand.

The next fish was sitting up along the banks.  I was drifting within casting range of shore and pounding the fly up under branches and near structure when a swirl suggested that a fish ate.  When the line came tight, I knew I was into a nice fish.  The 4 weight rod bent and 5x tippet straining, I gradually worked the fish out away from the snags and into open water.  Finally, a quick picture, then I revived the fish.  With a splash it took off to be caught another day...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Yellow Stones

Late spring and summer in the Smokies always means Little Yellow Stoneflies.  There are different species, ranging in size from the big Golden Stones down to #18 but most commonly in the #12-#16 range.  The following is one of my favorite patterns for this hatch.  I like it for two reasons:  it is easy to tie, and it floats very well.  If you want to try it out, here is the recipe.

Hook: #16 TMC 100 or similar dry fly hook
Thread: Yellow 8/0
Body:  Yellow Poly Yarn
Wing:  Yellow Poly Yarn
Hackle: Light or Medium Dun, trimmed on the bottom

Lots of other great patterns work, but I'm about efficient, easy to tie patterns that still wear out the fish.  Next time you are heading up to the Smokies, make sure and stay until evening and then tie one of these on.  You'll be glad you did...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Backpacking For Brookies

Backpacking trips tend to happen abruptly.  That is, while I think about them and plan them for a while, things always seem to work out differently than I intend.  This past weekend was such a trip.  My original plan was to backpack into a favorite stream where you could catch brookies, yes, but also rainbows and browns.  In fact, my last trip there produced a fine brown trout close to camp in addition to lots of other great memories, both on the water and in camp.

As the departure date for this trip approached, the trip shifted its focus.  My dad decided to come along as he has been wanting to camp with me for a while now.  The front country campgrounds were all full or nearly so, and our desire for solitude made the decision to backpack easy.  I was concerned about my dad carrying a pack for too far, so changed our destination to an easy hike with willing brookies as the target species.  My dad does not fish although enjoys going with me on my adventures.  Joining us on this trip was a buddy of mine who I have been friends with since we were both kids.  He had not fished in the Smokies for many years and was excited to catch some brook trout.

On the day of our departure, it took a little time to get organized.  I wanted to keep my dad's pack as light as possible so packing took a bit of extra time.  In the end, we got on our way about fifteen minutes later than I wanted which was not bad!  Stopping in at Little River Outfitters gave my buddy David the chance to get a license, but soon we were on our way again.  A quick stop at Subway for lunch gave us the energy we would shortly need to hike to our campsite.

Arriving at the trailheads, the three Davids (yep, we all have the same name) shouldered packs and started moving.  The hike in was beautiful, but we were frustrated to discover an extra group at our site (not supposed to be there) that added an extra 4 tents to the relatively small camping area.  They were clustered like servants around a king of a tent that the other party (supposed to be there) had lugged in there.  While exploring the options for pitching our tents, I discovered where a recent visitor had used the bathroom without concealing it very well.  Not surprisingly, I was just a little frustrated about everything.  However, once we got the tents up and some food going, I decided there was no point to being upset in such a beautiful environment and that I might as well enjoy my time in nature.  I had brought in pita bread with avocados and tomatoes for supper and it was the perfect food after the hike in.

The creek nearby was gorgeous and after supper cleanup, I just had to rig up my fly rod and probe its waters.  Three brookies later I was convinced that we were in for a great camping and fishing experience.  The fish all came on a yellow Neversink caddis that happens to be one of my favorite little yellow stonefly imitations.

Back in camp, as day light yielded to darkness, we made small talk with the other campers before hitting the sack.  The soothing waters of the creek lulled us to sleep as it murmured by in the night.

The next morning, the big group of hikers had packed up and left by the time we got up, definitely a good start to the day.  They were very polite and kept almost complete silence so as not to disturb us as they packed.  By the time we were up and fixing breakfast, I was getting antsy to be fishing.  Its hard to not get distracted from breakfast when you are eating on the banks of a perfectly good trout stream.  Such are the difficulties of life.

Finally, with everything cleaned up, lunch packed, and rods rigged, we started off on our adventure.  As we were walking to our starting point, the trips first and second snakes made an appearance.  While I'm not exactly scared of snakes, it does tend to make one more cautious once you've spotted a couple.

Getting into the creek proved more difficult than you might think.  The banks were covered in vegetation, including a healthy crop of stinging nettle.  I avoided it the whole weekend, but both my friend and my dad ended up playing in it with varying degrees of resulting discomfort.  Once in the streambed, it was essential to keep moving through the water and on the rocks.  To move up the banks was to invite death by stinging nettle or at least a short term painful disaster.

I had brought my favorite fly rod (4 wt) which was designed just for such trips as this.  Small streams and dry flies are where this rod shines although I fish nymphs with this rod fairly often as well.  We started out with #16 yellow Neversink Caddis and that proved to be a good choice.  Really, in the Smokies, its hard to go wrong with any #16 dry fly in yellow this time of year.  I like the Neversink because of the foam wing that just keeps floating.

The first pocket we each fished produced nothing, but then the brookies started to come to hand.  A fish here and there, although not as many as on my previous trip to this same stream.  Still, they were pretty, and its hard to complain about catching plenty of brook trout without sounding selfish.  The stream was beautiful as well, the kind of place you find yourself daydreaming about at work.  Lush green lined the bank and led up into the darker woods above.

My buddy was happily catching trout after trout.  He hadn't fished the Smokies for quite some time and was glad to be getting into brook trout.  These southern strain brookies are amazingly colored, and while I love catching browns most of all, I would rate brookies a close second even though a 10 incher is considered a really nice fish.  Really, its hard to compare the benefits of one fish over another because in the end, for most people, the best fish to catch is whatever happens to be on the end of the line.  And of course, a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, or something like that.

Anyway, there we were, in the middle of nowhere, catching more gorgeous brook trout than we deserved.  The stream continued to wow us around each new bend.  The fish rose more and more willingly as the day continued to warm and a bit of a hatch developed.  A couple of caddis here, some stoneflies over there, and a few big mayflies all combined to keep the fish interested but never too full for something more.

Eventually I tied on a #14 Parachute Adams as an experiment.  I dropped a little bead head behind that but soon removed it once the fish proved they really just wanted the dry.  By the time we stopped for lunch, fished a little more, climbed a couple of waterfalls, and hiked back to camp, we had each caught more brookies than necessary to call it a great day.


On the hike back, the trail nearly vanished in places from the onslaught of vegetation, including the dreaded stinging nettle.  Here and there, wildflowers drew our attention.  My camera would come out, then it would be moving again towards camp.


That evening we had a treat in store.  We had packed in everything to have chili dogs for supper.  I've brought some pretty good food on backpacking trips but this might be my new favorite.  In my opinion, when you aren't hiking very far it is well worth the extra weight to eat well.  I brought some newspaper and such for kindling so we roasted the hotdogs over a small campfire.  As the coals grew dimmer, we grew sleepy until it was obviously time to go to bed.

The sound of rain gradually woke me the next morning.  This dreaded sound on a backpacking trip is frustrating to say the least.  My solution was to roll over and try to catch a little more sleep.  This strategy worked perfectly, and by the time I was ready to actually get up, the little shower had spent itself and the day held the promise of good hiking weather for our trek out.

After chowing down on breakfast and throwing gear and dirty clothes into the backpacks, off the trail we went.  Just outside of camp, we came across a nice-sized black bear that took off up a hill.  I don't often see bears on backpacking trips so this was one of those nice bonuses that you accept but don't expect.  Later, within sight of the parking area in fact, another critter stopped us.  This time a nice timber rattlesnake that was stretched out by the trail.  After a maneuvering for a picture, the snake got a little grumpy and coiled up and proceeded to rattle at us until we left.  The snake was an even greater treat than the bear, being only the 4th rattler I've seen in the wild.

Back at the car, the lure of a good meal had us hurriedly throwing our gear inside and hitting the road, another great trip complete!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Brookie Water

Now that the heat is building and summer is asserting itself even before officially starting, the high country brook trout streams sound more appealing than ever.  This past weekend I made it to where the temperatures where cool and the water and trout plentiful.  Lots of brookies were caught and released.  More to come once I have a little free time...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tying With Mustard

One of my most productive patterns for smaller streams out west such as high elevation cutthroat streams is a variation on the Copper John.  I call it the Mustard John.  The fly is also extremely successful on rivers like the Gunnison during Yellow Sally times.  I'll always fondly remember fishing the Gunnison River immediately below the NP visitor center for 2-3 hours and catching trout after trout.  Most of them were browns in the 14-18" range with one or two pushing 19" and a beautiful rainbow trout thrown in for good measure.  All fish came on the Mustard John.

I'm currently preparing for a Smokies adventure this next weekend and was tying a few flies last night.  It occurred to me that some of you may enjoy using this fly so without further discourse, I give you.........the Mustard John!!!

Hook: TMC 5262 #14
Bead: Brass 7/64
Thread: 8/0 Yellow and Black
Tail: Brown Biots
Body: Medium Ginger Ultra Wire
Thorax: Peacock Herl
Wingcase: Mottled Bustard Thinskin + Pearl Flashabou + epoxy
Legs: Mallard dyed wood duck

Tie it the same as you would a regular Copper John, just using the different colors mentioned above.  For a good tutorial on tying the Copper John, refer to this page on Charlie's Fly Box.  If you don't already tie and fish Copper Johns, I highly recommend that you add them to your arsenal immediately.  Don't hesitate to experiment with colors.  Other proven colors to try are red and green but don't let yourself be limited.

Floating the Caney

On Sunday I made it out with a couple of friends to float the Caney.  As always we had a great time and even managed to fool a few trout.  Rain was threatening throughout the day but never really materialized to any great extent.  I was a little disappointed because I wanted to throw streamers and wanted some downright nasty weather.  Still, we managed a few fish, mostly on nymphs.

  Photograph by David Perry

The high point of the day was seeing some BIG stripers, one of which was feeding in a shallow riffle.  Really I wish these fish would stay away from the trout but when you do see one it is pretty exciting.  In fact, I might have to start doing some striper fishing again sometime soon.

For a little more on this float, check out David Perry's blog over at Southeastern Fly.

Monday, June 04, 2012

A Splendid Two Hours

Everyone has it, or at least everyone should.  I'm talking about that little local fishing hole which for the more blessed is a blue ribbon trout stream, but for the rest of us is probably a little pond or maybe a small stream full of a wide variety of species.  My local fishing hole, not to be confused with my home water which is a completely different topic, is a little lake down the road which happens to be the water supply for a nearby municipality.  That means that boats with gas engines are prohibited from using them on the lake, and it is never crowded despite the boat ramp.  The bank sitters are likely to be found chunking bait under a bobber, but otherwise it is easy to find a quiet spot and catch a few fish.

For me, the beauty of the local fishing hole is precisely the fact that it is close.  I can drive the three or so miles without feeling like I just spent my life's savings on gasoline.  These days a road trip can unfortunately begin to feel a little like that.  Since it is so close, I don't really feel the necessity weighing down on me to get in my money's worth of fishing time.  Those Smokies trips often turn into fishing marathons simply because I went to so much effort to get there, never mind that I would rather be fishing there but its just too expensive to do very often lately.  If most people could get past the deluge of information on the great fishing to be had in other locales, they would probably find great fishing in their own back yard with a little bit of effort and research.

That local fishing hole can have a bit of mystery to it.  This is generally due to the fact that we tend to overlook what we have in the back yard for destination trips that require a $400 plane ticket and leaves us standing in "famous" water.  Local fishing holes often surprise, or at least surpass expectations, but that seems to be how things work.  Fly across the country to fish in Yellowstone, and every time you leave thinking that it could have been at least a little better perhaps.  But catch a monster in that little out of the way fishing spot and you'll probably be bragging to anyone who will listen and not always so subtly either.

The nicest thing about the local fishing hole is that I can be there for a couple of hours but home in time to cook a good supper and maybe even mow the grass.  For some reason I occasionally return from a longer trip feeling slightly guilty.  After all, when you know full well that there are legitimate chores to do at home, you would have to be detached from your conscience if there wasn't at least a little twinge of guilt at so much time fishing.  Of course, any good fisherman has long since figured out how overcome those twinges, but its nice to have a fishing trip that doesn't produce them in the first place.  That's where the little lake down the road comes in for me.

Yesterday I almost talked myself out of fishing.  The excitement level is not the same for those local spots, even when you know full well that the fishing will be good.  Just about any lake I choose around here will have good to excellent fishing for bluegill, but I was not really in the mood for catching them or so I thought.  Once my mind was made up I moved about with purpose but still unhurriedly.  After all, when you only plan on fishing a little while what's the rush?

A brilliant thought struck me as I was scrounging around for all the right gear:  why not take two rods?  After all, that is what I would do on a float trip and perhaps I would even take three.  It never hurts to be prepared so, just in case, I tossed in the 7 weight for the bass if they wanted to play.

Arriving at the lake, I quickly figured out that I had made two mistakes.  I left home the banana bread that was going to be my mid-trip snack, and also the spool of 12 lb. fluoro that I use for tippet with streamers and other larger flies.  The snack I could do without, but the fluoro was more important.  Did I mention I was only three miles from home?  It was way better than the time I made it halfway to the Caney Fork before realizing that I left my wading boots, and I remembered the banana bread on round two through my house.

Back at the lake, I got the usual questions and stares about the float tube.  Apparently the locals here are just a little unfamiliar with the concept.  When I explained to one guy that, no I didn't have a paddle but I had fins for my feet, he mumbled something and found other places to be.  His confused look explained everything though.  As I launched, everyone around stopped to stare as I slowly but surely kicked across the lake.  Some people really don't get enough entertainment in life.

Upon reaching the other shore, I started throwing a tiny white streamer against the banks.  The logic was that something that small would appeal to the bluegill but the color might still entice bass.  After a short session that probably had as much to do with confidence, I switched to a bead head Simi Seal Leech in black.  Immediately fish started to eat the fly.

After a couple of bluegill, I tossed the streamer rod around with a Wiggle Minnow and......nothing.  Again, I didn't really properly apply the scientific method, but the small sample available suggested that a switch back to the bluegill rod might be in order.

Something about the opposite bank was calling me, so I decided to kick across and fish the shade.  The few bluegill I had picked up so far were from bits of shade where trees overhung the water.  A good fisherman will fish in any circumstances, so I tossed the line as far as I could and started to troll my way across.  Since the lake is deep and fairly cool, I didn't expect much but one never knows.

About half way across, I felt the surge of a nice fish.  In fact, it was even taking line a couple of times on my 5 weight.  My first thoughts were of bass, but then the fish came to the surface and even from a distance away I could tell it was a big bluegill.  It is funny how a glimpse of a fish is all it takes for you to want that one fish even though there are plenty more to be caught.  I was already envisioning what the pictures might look like.

Most of the time, when you start day dreaming before landing the fish, something goes wrong, but in this case everything worked out perfectly.  Soon the fish was both being roughly measured against the ruler on the stripping apron, but also photographed in a couple of different poses.  Finally, almost reluctantly, I let it go.

Turning to face the new shore, I continued by catching a few more bluegill and even taking another picture or two.  Later the 7 weight came out again, just long enough to catch a couple of bass.  As time moved along, I drifted along the shore and enjoyed the day.  The banana bread came out and the mid-afternoon snack was great.  I never did need that tippet come to think of it, but the banana bread hit the spot.

As I slowly neared shore again, I could hear the little kids asking, "Mommy, what is that man doing?"  Smiling I loaded all my gear into the car, and rolled back towards home.  Glancing at the clock in my car, I realized that I had only been there for two hours, but in that time life had slowed down and everything was splendid.  And, yes, I was back home in time to make a scrumptious supper.