Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just Four More Months!!!

Here's hoping for a good hatch this year!!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fishermen's Excuses Go Big Time

We all know that fishermen are creative story tellers, not to mention that they come up with some of the most creative excuses.  From the classic "It must have been the moon phase" to more unusual excuses such as "there weren't enough cows standing," fishermen have an excuse.  Occasionally we even take responsibility along the lines of, "I just wasn't on top of my game and couldn't figure the fish out."

Now, in a sure sign that our beloved sport is on the verge of going mainstream in pop culture, the Federal Reserve is borrowing from a classic fisherman's excuse.  In a statement released today, the Federal Reserve says that "Growth in economic activity paused in recent months, in large part because of weather-related disruptions..."

My question for you is this:  Is the weather now an acceptable excuse for a poor fishing day since the excuse has gone mainstream or is it okay to call your fishing buddies out when they attempt to claim that a trip was lame due to weather?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tying Season

As spring approaches at a now rapid pace, the warm days with hatching bugs and rising trout are not so much a distant hope as a soon to be reality.  Lots of snow is finally falling in the mountains, although still not "enough" (is there ever enough?).  My spring break fishing excursion is looming closer as is an early summer Yellowstone excursion if everything works out the way I hope.  In preparation, things are definitely starting to happen at my tying desk.  I'll be cranking out more and more flies in the coming few weeks with only a couple of fishing trips planned.

Also upcoming here at the Trout Zone is a review of a new book by Randy Kadish, entitled "The Way of the River."  When first contacted about a possible review, I was excited since I enjoyed his last book.  This book was a good read as well and in fact I could hardly put it down once I started reading.  Reading Randy's books always encourage me to contemplate my own life more including both my successes and failures as well as how to continue growing as an individual.

In addition to preparing for the upcoming fishing "season," I also have a tentative trip lined up with Juan Ramirez of Hopper Juan fame.  Yep! The next few weeks should be both productive and enjoyable.

Finally, I'm super excited about a new rod I ordered yesterday.  After years of drooling every time I saw or was able to cast a Helios, I finally bit the bullet and bought one.  I got a smoking deal from Taylor Creek over in Basalt or else I never would have justified spending the money.  For all of you who are always on the lookout for a great deal, I recommend signing up for the Taylor Creek email newsletter.  The deal (or was it a steal?) I got was highlighted in the newsletter and was not available on the website last I checked.  Taylor Creek treats their customers right as well and I have always had positive experiences with them.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to my friend Byron Begley over at Little River Outfitters.  He is working hard on the website and honestly I don't think he stops looking for ways to make it even better.  Right now he is in the middle of a project to completely redo the "Flies" section of the online catalogue.  It is a work in progress but the great photography (for you tiers out there this is a great way to see what the flies you are tying should look like) and new organization is going to be awesome.  The flies are going to be divided into categories based on primary purpose and usage.  There will be Smokies flies for each season as well as warm water patterns and tailwater flies, and don't forget the saltwater selection which is excellent especially considering that LRO is nowhere near the salt.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fishing Trips Poll

Please vote in our poll on the right side of this page if you haven't already.  The poll is running for a few more days before I take it down.  I'm really impressed with the projected time on the water for at least a few of you.  Someone out there is living the life (although perhaps you're on the water everyday as a guide and not fishing much yourself).  Thanks for participating!

Handling Fish

I just came across a great article from Louis Cahill over at the Gink and Gasoline blog.  Titled "14 Ways to Prevent Fish Mortality," there are tons of great tips for everyone from the beginner to the seasoned veteran.  Over the years I have seen everything, including someone playing a 12 inch rainbow on the Caney Fork for over 5 minutes.  One of my favorite all-time fish abuse stories is the South Holston body slam.  After catching a big trout in the neighborhood of 26-28 inches, a man lifted the fish and slammed it to the ground (slight exaggeration because the fish probably squirmed out of his hands), at least that's what it looked like to me.  The funny part about this story?  The guy then proceeded to "wonder" out loud to his buddy for the next hour why the fish was just sitting in 6 inches of water behind a rock and not moving for the next hour.  Regardless, I'm sure we could all treat fish with a bit more respect to ensure that they are healthy for someone else to enjoy.  Check out the article, and if you don't already subscribe to Gink and Gasoline, I recommend you do that while you're over there...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cure for Cabin Fever

Like any good fisherman, winter can take its toll on me, especially now that I'm living in Colorado where winter apparently means frozen water instead of cold but fishable lakes and streams.  Yes, in the short term I miss Tennessee, but just wait until summer.  In the meantime, I've got to occasionally get out and fish even if the weather is nasty.

On Monday, the weather was anything but nasty.  Probably just about as good as it gets in winter, the temperatures were flirting with 60 degrees, there was practically no wind, and it was a holiday so I had NO SCHOOL!!!  The previous day I had already satisfied my craving for time in nature with a great hike up the Flatirons near Boulder.  The views were magnificent, and I gained some much needed exercise.  Oh, and those are people on top of the 2nd Flatiron pictured below...

While hiking is great, I still wanted some time on the water.  My last fishing trip was over a month ago and was beginning to seem more like ages.  That's why I decided to get out and do something about it!  That's right, when all else fails, its time to actually go fishing instead of daydreaming.  Knowing that I-70 would be clogged with traffic due to the holiday and all the skiers heading back to Denver, I opted to instead head south to Pueblo and the Arkansas River.

Having fished the Arkansas above Canyon City before, let me start off by saying that the tailwater is definitely not the same remote and uncrowded experience as points further upstream.  However, the fishing is good enough that I only noticed the differences until I started catching fish.

Sometimes the drive can produce some of the memories on a fishing trip.  This was the case on Monday for sure.  Cruising down a mostly deserted road in Colorado is downright peaceful.  Watching the scenery go by is always one of my favorite parts of any trip.  What I didn't expect were the cars pulling off up ahead like something was the matter.  Yep, you guessed it, a Greyhound was racing along down the road..............seriously.  I'm not joking on this one although my first reaction was the same.  By the time I realized I was not dreaming, I was flying by in the other lane.  I'm still not sure what was going on...

Finally on the water, the plan for the day was to nymph and hope for a hatch.  I rigged up my go-to 5 weight, a 9 foot St. Croix Legend Ultra that has caught many nice fish over the years.  For flies, I'm not going to be any more specific than to say that larva patterns, mostly of the midge variety, were my top producers.  For an indicator, I have been gravitating towards the indicator system some people now refer to as a New Zealand Indicator.  I love the ease of adjustability and the sensitivity of these indicators.  Byron Begley from Little River Outfitters got me started on these, and I've used the system in just about every situation since then.

I wandered slowly up the river in search of fresh water or at least some solitude.  Finally, with fishermen all over the place, I decided to walk a ways.  Apparently approaching another access, I started to run into more fishermen and decided to turn around and fish my way down through the open water below.  Other anglers would appear above and below and then vanish again as if someone was sitting in the control room shuffling the pieces of a puzzle.  My piece of river was always respected however and for that I was grateful.

Just below one deeper hole, I found a perfect run that I knew held some trout.  They just weren't where I thought they should be.  Continuing to drift my rig through time after time while slowly shuffling downstream, I started to get some hits...or was it ticking the bottom?  The possibility of fish playing with the flies refocused me just enough so that when the indicator twitched and then slowly sucked under, I was completely ready and in command of the situation.

Upon setting the hook, I discovered more than the 12 inches of trout I expected.  The fish pulled back, hard.  Worrying about the quality of my 6x fluoro, I settled down to whipping the fish.  Every time I thought it was ready to come to the net I was proven wrong.  The strong surges were beginning to make me wonder if the fish would ever come to hand or if it would have one last trick to throw the hook.  When the fish slid into my big net, I was like a little kid at Christmas.  Starting a fishing trip with a 20" fish is the perfect solution for a relaxing finish.  There just isn't any more pressure to catch something spectacular.  A nice gentleman happened by at just the right time and graciously agreed to snap a quick picture for me as well...a good day on the water and kind strangers to boot!

I was so satisfied that I almost quit fishing right then, but of course I didn't.  Surprisingly, the longer I fish, the more I occasionally consider calling it a trip at one good fish.  Maybe I'm getting to the point where the experience is more important than catching fish, but I guess I'm not quite there yet because so far these thoughts end with more fishing.

Continuing slowly downstream while giving other anglers a wide berth, I picked up a fish here and there and occasionally found an especially hot run that was good for several rainbows until I either caught all the hungry fish or spooked the rest.  Over the next couple of hours I caught enough rainbows to 18" to keep me satisfied.  One brown was hooked but not landed.  I also saw a couple of other guys stick some pigs so I have a few more ideas of where to fish next time.

Oh yeah, there will definitely be a next time.  This river is pretty awesome, especially considering that I don't have to fight the ski traffic on I-70 and its only about the same distance for me as going to the Smokies was in Tennessee.  That said, I can't wait for some local water to open up a little more.  There are a couple of browns over on Boulder Creek that I owe some attention to...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Government Encroachment

In Tennessee, the long arm of the Federal Government is reaching further into people's everyday lives.  Two simultaneous issues should provide a jolt of reality into anyone hoping to enjoy the great out-of-doors in Tennessee.  While both issues are close to the implementation stage, it is never too late to voice your displeasure.  I would contact both state representatives and senators in addition to all other appropriate people.

The first issue is of particular interest to tailwater anglers in Tennessee.  The Nashville District of the Corps of Engineers has decided to limit access below area dams.  In other words, the great fishing you may have experienced below Center Hill, Old Hickory, and other Cumberland River system dams is soon to be something of the past.

See the nice bass below?  Under the new regulations, I would not even be allowed to approach the spot where I caught it, much less actually fish there...

The Corps is planning on restricting access to areas that fishermen have been fishing for many years now.  The excuse?  Three fatalities in the past 3-4 years and a few other close calls have prompted the Corps to determine that the areas below the dams are too hazardous.  Granted, the rough tailwaters are not always safe but that is where our RIGHTS to choose come in.  No one makes those people go out on the tailwaters.  Instead of cutting access, the Corps would do MUCH better to become more consistent with flows and cease any and all unplanned generation releases.  Beyond that, people are making their OWN decisions to recreate below area tailwaters and no one including the Government should make that decision for us.

All of this discussion is ignoring the fact that, while definitely sad, there have been only 3 fatalities since 2009.  If the Government is all that interested in saving lives, let's end overseas wars, fix our healthcare system, find more creative ways to keep drunk drivers off the roads, and in general address issues that are actually responsible for killing people regularly, not just once every year or two...and let's not even mention improving our everyday lives by fixing the economy.  Oh wait, the Government likes the status quo...scratch all those great ideas.

The other issue that hits even closer to home for me is the implementation of fees for backcountry users in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Moving to Colorado has really opened my eyes in terms of seeing what allowing parks to charge fees will eventually do.  Here, there are huge limitations on where I can and cannot enjoy the wilderness nearby.  This next year will see even more limitations as Brainard Lake is now going to be managed by a private entity for profit (surprise!!! public lands managed for private profit!!!!).  Once a Government agency starts charging fees, things invariably go downhill from there.

I understand that the Park Service is trying to come up with revenue and is feeling the pinch financially so please don't misunderstand me.  However, having seen many other parks across the country jump into the "fees game," I know all to well where this leads.  Large government organizations are never satisfied with the amount of money raised and once they get started, it will only be detrimental to the dedicated users who love and care for the public lands.

Having grown up in east Tennessee and learning to love the Park from an early age, I am perhaps most disgusted that the users who will bear the brunt of this new fee system are the local users who put in many days in the Park each year.  These are also the people who care most for the land and normally pack out more than they pack in, participate in Park trail improvement projects, cleanup days, and many other service opportunities to better the beautiful mountains.

Let's do some basic math.  Prior to the fees going into effect, I would sometimes choose to backpack over car camping because of the ability to enjoy camping in the Park without paying a fee for a front country site.  At $20 a night for a front country site, just a short weekend trip becomes prohibitively expensive once I factor in gas money and any extra money spent with local businesses.  On a teacher's salary (and most people are NOT making lots of money right now in this economy), I can only afford an occasional trip.  However, prior to this year, I was able to backpack every weekend if I chose.  Now that ability has been forcefully taken from me, against mine and the vast majority of other users wishes, with only a few commercial groups (wonder why they care?  $$$) approving of the new fees.  If I choose to take a family of 5, I'm now spending the exact same price for the experience of the GSM backcountry as for a front country campsite.  In addition, the cost of the specialized gear required for a pleasant backpacking experience now means that neither myself or my family will be able to enjoy the great out of doors in the Smoky Mountains any longer except on rare occasions.

The reasons set forth by the NPS were myriad, but generally logically refuted by the backpacking public.  The NPS chose to ignore the majority of public opinion and input into the process in favor of catering to a small minority.  The "users" who were in favor of the new system were area businesses (NOC anyone?) who operate for profit on our PUBLIC lands and who realize that the new system will benefit their business financially.

Remember this great trip?  This is one of our top posts of all time based on the number of people who read it.  Guess what?  Next trip we will have to pay and there will not be anything different in terms of my experience.  Memories with my dad just got more expensive...

Does the new fee system mean I can sue the NPS next time a bear destroys my tent or that the NPS will accept responsibility for that loss?  Anyone laughing at the absurdity of THAT idea yet?  Yeah, nothing will change for the better except that more commercial groups will be utilizing the Park for profit instead of the people who have been enjoying it for years and overall backcountry usage (at least the legal kind) will take a hit at least from the locals... 

A new nonprofit has been started called the Southern Forest Watch.  Began specially to combat the new GSMNP fee system, the organization is seeking funds to combat this issue in court.  If you love the Smokies and want it to stay free as PROMISED when it was founded, donate to the Southern Forest Watch today.  

Contact your Senators and Representatives also.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease or at least sometimes when we factor the Government into the equation. If you are willing to sit down for a moment and email the appropriate people, contact the appropriate Senator here and your Representative here.  Also, you can email the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent, Dale Ditmanson, here.  If you care about either of the issues above, please take the time to let the powers that be know how you feel!!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

What a Day!!!

I had a great day today on the Arkansas River.  More details to come in the next day or two but I did find some nice fish! Big fish was a colored up 'bow of around 20" and I also found another 18".  It is an interesting river for sure but more on that later...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 Trips???

Frigid weather has prevented me from wetting a line thus far in 2013.  I know, it's a travesty, but so far I've not been inspired to take up ice fishing and the local creeks are covered with too much water......in its solid state.  This weekend everything may change.  Yes, I might actually get out on the water instead of dreaming about it for a change.  The list of possibilities is ironically strongly correlated with the list of tailwaters within reasonable day trip distance.

Many of you have not been suffering through the same lack of fishing as I have and have already put in some great days on the water.  I'm interested in hearing about your plans for the upcoming year.  Notice our new poll to the right and vote on how many days you are planning to fish per year.  For the sake of this poll, I'll consider any fishing time as a day meaning that those 30 minutes during your lunch break count.

Also, comment on this post to let me know if you have any awesome fishing trips planned for 2013.  I'll probably be jealous when I hear about that incredible New Zealand trip your planning for next month since I'll still be freezing here in Colorado but I would still love to hear your plans.

For me, I'm hoping to head up to Yellowstone in early June.  With any luck, the Firehole will be in the middle of prime time, and perhaps the Gibbon and Madison as well.  With a bit more luck, I can stay around long enough for the Salmonflies on the Madison but that may be a stretch.  Of course, lots of fishing throughout Colorado will help make this an awesome summer.  I'll put in plenty of time over on the West Slope as well as closer to home.  Finally, rounding out my current plans, spring break 2013 is in Tennessee where I'll be fishing the Quill Gordon and Blue Quill hatches as well as some caddis and stonefly hatches.  Best of all, I get to see lots of friends and family that I miss the pleasure of seeing since I now live in Colorado.

And that, my friends, may be the best part of any trip.  Sure the time on the water is always great, but it's the people you run into that often make or break a trip.  Naturally, a giant brown or two never hurt so please don't misunderstand me, but sitting around a campfire with longtime fishing buddies or perhaps someone you fished with for the first time that day is generally where the lasting trip memories are made.  So, here's to trips in 2013! I hope everyone has a banner year!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Major Landslide

The easy connection between Tennessee and North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains, Newfound Gap Road, is closed and will be for some time.  According to the National Park Service,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) due to a landslide which undercut the road near mile marker 22 between Collins Creeks and Webb Overlook at 9:40 am. The slide is estimated to be a 200 foot section of road extending 1000 foot down slope, but the full extent of the damage is not yet known. The closure is expected to be in effect for an extended period of time.
This is a major slide, and I'm guessing it will take months to get the road put back together.  Right now, I'm just thankful that I'll still be able to access Little River during my Spring Break trip home.  Let's hope there are no more major slides in the Park and that everyone stays safe with all the high water!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meanwhile in Tennessee...

While we are locked down with frigid temperatures (-4 degrees fahrenheit this morning), Tennessee is dealing with some epic flooding.  Not record flooding or anything but still scary high.  Little River in the Smokies is high enough to keep even the most hardcore anglers away since 99.9999999% of the fishing right now would simply be an exercise in futility.  Could you still catch a fish?  I suppose it is at least conceivable but only a fool would try.

My buddy Jayson graciously allowed me to use a couple of his pictures on here.  The pictures look more like something from runoff out west after a big snowpack meets a heatwave.  To put these pictures in perspective for my tailwater fishing friends, this is approximately equivalent to the amount of water flowing down the Caney Fork on a two generator release!!!

 Jayson Alexander Photography

 Jayson Alexander Photography 

With more rain forecast, its definitely possible that the streams will rise further.  Let's hope that doesn't happen as a good number of people live quite close to the river and high water will not be good for them.

Right now I'm in the planning and anticipation stage of a spring break trip to the Smokies to fish the early hatches and perhaps even land a trout or two.  I'm not sure how this water situation will affect my fishing, although if history has proved anything it is that high water events on Little River are fairly common and do not seem to have any long term effect on the fishing unless the high flows occur shortly after the spawn.

I'm confident that, barring poor weather conditions during my visit, the fishing will be about as good as usual.  Of course, its the chance of something great happening that keeps me going back.  Every fishing trip is an adventure and this spring break will be no different!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Someone Is Fishing

Today I was glad to see that someone is getting out on the water.  Ian and Charity Rutter are apparently fully enjoying the more relaxed winter season and took a break from guiding by getting some fishing in for themselves.  The highlight of the trip was a beautiful brown caught on a.............drumroll........dry fly!!!  Yep, browns on dries in January.  It doesn't get much better than that...  With any luck I'll get out in another week or so but in the short term, my prospects look bleak.  At least I can enjoy reading about others' trips!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Winter Sun

Yesterday I managed to get out and do some hiking.  It wasn't the fishing trip I had originally hoped for, but since the local creek was still mostly iced up it was better than staying indoors all day.  I always enjoy carrying the camera around and hiking below the Flatirons was no exception.  Most of the time I did not feel particularly inspired but the sun preparing to drop behind the hills was beautiful enough to bring out the camera.  Of course the picture does not do the scene justice, but let your imagination do the rest...