Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Be Bug Aware

Today, while out guiding, I had an experience that reinforced the importance of really paying attention to what is going on while you are out on the water if you want to be successful fly fishing. We were fishing Little River through some fantastic mayfly weather. You know the type: cloudy, cool, and wet at times. With rain gear on we were staying pretty dry, but as might be expected the bugs were struggling to get off of the water which meant that the trout were feasting heavily.

When we first got to the edge of the water, I knotted on a #16 Sulfur Parachute. With a few sulfurs on the water, that seemed like an obvious choice. Within a couple of casts the first fish ate and was quickly landed and released. We then moved up just a little in the pool to cast to more risers. A few fish hit but somehow missed the hook, and after another 10 minutes we realized that the number of strikes had dwindled even though the fish were still eating something.

Putting my face down to the water didn't help much other than to confirm there were microscopic midges, but I was convinced the fish weren't eating those for the most part. The takes were too boisterous. Squinting a little, I saw some little bugs. Blue-winged olives were hatching. Using the larger sulfur to help find the little bug seemed like a smart strategy so I added 6x tippet to the bend of the hook on the #16 and added a tiny #20 Parachute BWO dry fly. Immediately we were back in business. This went on for several fish and culminated in the largest fish of the day, a wild rainbow that easily went 12 inches which is a nice fish for the Park.

Jack with a beautiful wild rainbow.

However, shortly after the big rainbow, the hits became few and far between again. We moved to another pool and again quickly caught a fish on the combo rig we had been fishing, but after several refusals on both the BWO and the sulfur, it was clear that we needed to make a change. The fish were rising vigorously and it was apparent why when we simply glanced around. Big yellow pale evening duns were hatching, and because of the rain were having a hard time getting airborne. A quick adjustment had us back in fish in a short time that culminated in a healthy 10-11 inch brown as the last fish of the day. However, this story would have been over by the end of the second paragraph above if we had not made adjustments. Instead, we figured out what the fish wanted and played the game.

If you are seeing fish rising but getting refusals, take time to sit back and watch. This is where a guide can really help since they can focus on figuring out what the fish are eating while you focus on watching your flies. If you do not want to hire a guide, then just stop casting and watch the fish for a bit. Put your face down near the water, look in the air around you. Eventually something will click and you will pull out the right fly and be into fish again. Don't stick with a fly just because it worked last time. Every fish is a new puzzle and that is one of the things that makes this sport beautiful. If it was too easy we would all give up soon.

Friday, April 17, 2015


There is a lake nearby that I've been fishing off and on for a few years. Despite a lot of pressure, it seems to always produce something, even if it is just big bluegill and redear sunfish. The lake is managed for quality bass fishing and in the winter it receives a stocking of trout. Oh, and it has a boat ramp, one that I've never used.

All of my previous forays have been on foot. The lake is relatively accessibly to the shore angler and there is something fun to me about sneaking around a lake with a fly rod and trying to quietly approach fish near the banks for a good presentation. Naturally, as soon as I got the boat last year, I started to wonder how the lake would fish if I could really get around and chase the fish properly. Fast forward to last week when a friend mentioned that they would be passing through and wanted to do a little fishing. I saw a great opportunity to get out and do some exploring and also have a good time catching fish.

When we dumped the boat in at the ramp, the first thing I noticed was a steady breeze out of the southwest. Wanting to row to the southwest end of the lake, I mentally prepared myself to fight the wind. Soon we were moving along nicely. I anchored up a bit off shore so he could tie on a lure. 

While he was busy, I started using one of the 3 fly rods I had along. A four weight, five weight, and seven weight would allow me to fish a variety of flies and hopefully target different fish. The four weight had a small bead head Simi Seal Leech, the five weight had a Clouser Minnow, and the 7 weight had a Diamond Hair Minnow in rainbow trout colors. Those bass grow big by feasting on the leftover stockers in the spring as the water warms.

After fishing a few minutes, I started rowing again and at our next stop, I quickly caught two small bass on the leech. Soon my buddy Alex was convinced to try the fly rod. After a brief description of the cast, he was casting well enough to catch fish and we kept fishing. Over the next 30 minutes, I found another bass, this one nice enough for a quick picture, and Alex lost or missed several fish including at least one nice trout and several bass. Thankfully he finally caught a good bluegill before he could get too frustrated.

We continued on around the lake, and eventually Alex caught the trout he was looking for which was his first ever as well as first on a fly rod obviously.

I rowed for the most part although when a particularly good section of bank would come along, down went the anchor and I fished the Clouser, catching a few nice bass in the process.

Finally, it was getting late. Alex had a long drive back home ahead of him so we headed back out. I'm sure he will be back because, when we finished, he told me that it "was the best fishing I've had in a long time!" I know for sure I'll be back. I never did find those big torpedo shaped bass that will chase the rainbow trout. The variety is also fun, and I can't wait to try it again!

If you are interested in a guided trip here, please contact me at (931) 261-1884 or via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Prime Dates Still Open

If you have been thinking about a guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies, do not delay too long. The calendar is really filling up although I still have some of the best days of possibly the entire year available during the first week in May. Right now, I have Tuesday through Friday available, May 5-8. I do have some scattered dates available the rest of the month for weekdays. That is great if your goal is for good fishing as weekdays will see smaller crowds and less pressured fish. If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip, contact me today to discuss details and trip options. Email is the best option at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or you can call/text (931) 261-1884. The first option is more reliable as I'm often out of cell service guiding.

This has been a banner spring so far with some very good dry fly fishing at times and consistent nymph fishing most of the time. Fish are fat and healthy and looking for a meal. Bugs are hatching well now although May is usually considered the very best month for fishing in the Smokies. Don't miss out!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Crossing the Ridge

Fishing trips are often planned, and of course those are generally the most successful. Poring over maps, imagining every possible eventuality and planning for it, tying lots of flies to match whatever you expect to hatch, all of these add up to create the perfect trip. Then there are those other trips, the spur of the moment "decide as you go" type trips. Flexibility may not always generate the best fishing, but sometimes it can. Of course, since you cannot pursue both options simultaneously and independently, it is impossible to know which course of action would have give you a better trip, but if you ask me, spontaneity is good for the soul at least occasionally.

Last week, a planned two-day fishing trip to sample the spring fishing for myself was cut short. That was all fine and good since the reason was morning guide trip the first day. Seeing an opportunity to pay a few bills and pay for the trip as well, I reasoned that giving up a morning of my own fishing trip was not a bad price. As a guide, I have to take trips when I can get them.

The original plan was to camp at Elkmont, and with the guide trip in the morning that seemed like an even better idea. I didn't account for the spring break crowd though. Driving through the campground in mid afternoon, I discovered that all sites were full except for one or two handicap accessible sites. Technically those are first come first served for anyone once the rest of the campground fills up, but I don't like crowds and decided to go with the flow.

My backup plan became Smokemont on the other side of the Park. Crossing the ridge into North Carolina, I enjoyed the excellent views from the top before rolling down the hill to the campground. The campground was probably only half full which, while still not perfect, is a lot better than what I saw on the Tennessee side.

The tent was put up in short order, and I got organized with my gear. Guide rods were disassembled and or the rigging modified to suit my fishing needs for the next 24 hours. When the pack of 1x leaders turned up missing because they were sitting safely back home, I simply cut back a leader and then extended it with 1x tippet to make a suitable streamer leader. The nine foot four weight rod was outfitted with a dry/dropper consisting of a #12 Parachute Adams and a bead head caddis pupa of my own design in size 14.

Carrying both rods, I strolled down through the campground with the plan of fishing back up to camp. The light was only going to last so long and I wasn't wasting any of it by hiking or driving to fish.

In an hour or so of fishing, I had two good tugs on the Olive Sculpin that was on the streamer rod and caught a couple of little fish on the four weight. The water was a tad lower than ideal for streamer fishing so I focused more on the lighter rod after the first good pool. Back near camp, a kind gentleman offered a bit of advice and told me that a dropper would probably help my fishing. I smiled and thanked him for his generosity and advice.

A sudden craving reminded me why camping at Smokemont is so nice: Cherokee, North Carolina has a Taco Bell a short distance away! Normally, once I immerse myself in the calm of nature, I won't return to "civilization" until absolutely necessary, but on this occasion, it seemed like the thing to do. Flexibility tasted delicious.

Awakening early the next day, I was on the water well before the sun came up over the ridge. One good fish that I've been chasing for a while gave a half hearted tap on the streamer and was gone. A switch to white in the form of a PB&J produced better results. Shortly after switching, I nailed one of the fish I missed the previous evening. Further down I was chased by a goose and missed another trout. Talk about high adventure! Since the goose didn't quite catch up with me, I soon realized that I was still alive and vowed to keep a close on the large birds in the future.

Getting hungry, I found my way back to camp and discovered that the camp stove that I had "packed" wasn't actually there. Never assume that your camp stove is in a bag just because you glance in and see canisters of fuel. Another quick trip into town for breakfast soon had me fueled up, and shortly thereafter I found myself at the chosen North Carolina trailhead ready to hike in for the day's fishing in the Smokies.

Determined to fish new-to-me water, I set a good pace until the wildflowers distracted me. Stopping for a while with my camera, I enjoyed the show. Flexibility was gorgeous I must say.

About the time I was finishing with the pictures, a couple of guys came down the trail. Having talked to them in camp the evening before, I knew they had fished up above that morning. They reported slow fishing with the high water levels of spring making the catching tough. Wondering if I had made the right decision, sticking with the plan seemed like the thing to do although I had misgivings. Not too far upstream, a perfect pocket called for my dry fly so I decided to try and pick off a fish.

After a few drifts, I hooked what turned out to be a very solid rainbow and the theme of the day would begin to establish itself: decent numbers of fish with the nicer fish generally (though not always) taking the dry fly and coming from the obvious prime lies. After a quick picture, the rainbow swam away to be caught on my next trip hopefully.

Moving up the stream was a challenge. The water was a bit higher than I often like to wade. Wet wading kept me from doing anything stupid since the water was cold enough that I wouldn't get in too deep. Still, if I could find a good pocket or slick, I was generally rewarded with a fat trout.

An interesting pattern began to develop when I hooked my 10th trout of the day, a nice brown, on a dry fly. Significant numerical milestones for fish caught were also turning out to be nicer than average trout. Fish number 20, 25, and 30 continued that pattern before finally being broken at trout number 35.

While I was catching a lot of fish, the actual catch rate was not what I would call excellent. Good perhaps but not excellent. Having experienced days in the Smokies where 20-25 fish an hour are legitimately possible, averaging 7-10 fish an hour is probably a bit more realistic for normal conditions on a backcountry stream. Putting in a long day on the water was the recipe for a lot of fish on this trip. The fish I was catching were beautiful. Here are a couple of the prettier fish I caught during the day. Look at the blue dot on the cheek of that brown and the bright colors on the rainbow.

In between catching fish, I also paused and took time to enjoy the scenery. Admittedly, I generally remembered to relax after catching a nice trout, but at least I was relaxing!

By the time I was getting close to 40 trout, the clouds were looking darker and an occasional rumble of thunder sent me back down the trail. After a quick dose of rain, I stopped and caught a few more trout to bring me up to 40 fish exactly for the day. Rarely do I ever keep track of numbers, but occasionally I like to see how many I'm actually catching. On this trip where flexibility ruled, I was somehow able to keep track of the numbers. Normally I forget after fish number five or six and just give up. Possibly that is a sign of getting older. My brain is apparently not high powered enough anymore to keep track of the details of a well-planned trip and the number of fish I'm catching. 

Back at the car, a quick check of the time told me there was still hours of daylight left to fish. The morning and early afternoon had featured rainbow and brown trout so a quick stop for brook trout seemed like the logical next step in my fishing adventure. Crossing back over the ridge, I settled for some roadside water that gets a fair amount of pressure and lucked into a stretch that had obviously not been fished that day or for a while. Both rainbows and brook trout rose willingly to the dry fly although the dropper was getting more action at this higher altitude.

Frustration flared briefly when I snagged a couple of hungry tree branches, but thankfully I was able to retrieve my flies. Finally, realizing that I had been fishing for 12+ hours, it dawned on my why I was getting tired. Whenever I start to lose my edge on the stream, I know that I'm getting tired. In this instance, I didn't have to fall on my butt to realize I was getting tired so I guess tangling some flies in the tree is not so bad after all. Quitting is always the smart thing at this point, either temporarily to refuel and rehydrate or for the day. With another 30 trout caught on this stream, I was ready to call it a day. The walk back to my car was a splendid last dose of fresh mountain air before the drive home. 

Relaxed from my trip, I realized I was not in the same rush as the day before. Instead of passing the slow cars, I found myself pulling off to let the faster people pass me on the curvy roads. Eventually, as the sky was getting dark, I was driving out of the foothills. When I got home, I was soon in bed and fell asleep almost instantly.

My next trip to the mountains will probably be planned with the meticulous detail that accompanies the majority of my excursions. Then again, I had so much fun on my spontaneous trip that I just might have to do it again.

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee or North Carolina, please call or text me (David Knapp) at (931) 261-1884 or email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com. I can also be reached through the Contact Me page at Trout Zone Anglers. I offer both front country and backcountry fishing trips. Backcountry trips are generally only full day trips but offer anglers the chance to fish less pressured water like I did on this trip. The results are often more and sometimes even larger trout.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Active at Sunset

Yesterday, after helping at Little River Outfitters with day two of their beginner fly fishing school, I headed back into the Park for a couple of quick adventures. I'll tell about the other one later. For now, I'm still remembering the evening hatch with satisfaction.

With the sun sinking below the ridge line, the river was left in the shade of a warm spring evening. The bugs were becoming more active. Working up through first one pool and then some pocket water,  I managed a small wild rainbow that just happened to be one of the coolest takes I've seen in a while. My outfit of choice was again the Sage Accel 904-4 that I've been enjoying lately. A #12 Parachute Adams with a bead head nymph of my own devising as the dropper completed the rig.

Instead of coming up to hit the suspended nymph like I would have expected, the rainbow shot all the way from the bottom to the surface to inhale the dry fly without any hesitation. I was peering over the top of a rock and watched as the trout came all the way from the bottom in 4 feet or so of water. After releasing that beautiful little fish of maybe 6 inches, I headed on up to the next pool while noting how slippery the rocks were for so early in the season.

Soon the stream would be shrouded in darkness, but at this magical moment as the sun was setting, bugs were hatching and the trout were happy. Some small fish, mostly warpaint shiners, were hitting the surface, but I was interested in larger quarry. Finally positioning myself at the bottom of the next pool, I took a moment to look all around.

There was a flicker of movement under the fast current near the tailout, and I noticed what appeared to be a quality fish moving back and forth as it fed on whatever was coming by in the drift. Without hesitating, I dropped the flies about 3 feet above the trout and watched in satisfaction as it came off the bottom to inhale the dry fly.

The fish was much larger than most rainbows in the Smokies, so I played it carefully out of the heavier current. Somehow I kept it from plunging into the rapids below and soon had it close enough for a quick picture. Slipping out the hook, I cradled it for a moment before it swam strongly away, hopefully to be caught another day.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

South Carolina Trout Fishing: Day Two

Now that we are a month removed from my South Carolina excursion, I'm finally getting around to day two of the adventure. Things got busy in a hurry once the weather turned nice so I'm a little behind. Other great stuff is on the way this week including a trip report from the Smokies last week in which I matched my second best all time day for numbers. The quality was good as well.

So, back to the headwater streams in the northwest corner of South Carolina, after our day one trip to explore the lower reaches of the stream, we were excited to hike in a bit and see how the stream fished higher up. The weather was again perfect and the only fly in the ointment so to speak was the necessity to get back home to help my cousin do some work around the house before it got too late. Seeing as how the stream was relatively close, that was actually not really a problem so we headed out early for a great day on the water.

We headed up the trail, completely unsure of what to expect from the fish. The stream was beautiful though and it was not too hard to imagine a trout or three in every pool and pocket.

Dry flies were still tied on from the day before so we were ready to fish! Heading slowly upstream, we had a few hits and even caught some smaller trout. The fish were obviously there but the action was not quite as fast and furious as the day before. Overcast conditions probably did not help since the sun was not warming the water as early in the day.  Eventually, however, the bugs did start to show up. Quill Gordons were hatching along with a few stoneflies and caddis.

By the time we were getting hungry, we had progressed on up the stream a ways and were needing some energy to fuel our last hours of fishing for this particular trip. Some delicious chili and chips on a cool spring day hit the spot.

Not long after lunch, we started finding some nicer fish. The pools were perfect and obviously provided habitat for quality trout.

While the fish were still not large, they were better than the tiny two to three inch fish we also were catching at times. These wild streams always provide a variety when it comes to the fish size. Most streams have large numbers of one and two year old fish and fewer of the three and four year old fish just because of the natural cycles. That means that any time you are on these streams you better expect to catch a few of the little guys also.

While stopping to catch pictures instead of fish, I had fun with my camera and my cousin took the opportunity to catch a nice rainbow.

What was particularly interesting to me about this rainbow is how golden it appeared and also how dense the spotting is. I'm quite curious about the genetics in this stream. Does anyone know how much coloration like this is a product of genetics versus the environment? The stream produced several of these golden colored rainbows with a lot more yellow compared to the fish I catch in the Smokies. Some of the rainbows looked a little more "normal," though still with a yellow tint.

Eventually, after having more fun with the camera along the way, we reached a good point where we could get out and hustle back down the trail. We were pushing our deadline to get back to my cousin's house and knew we better hurry. What a fantastic day though! I'll be looking forward to getting back down there. I went ahead and got an annual fishing license and am sure there will be more fishing adventures in South Carolina!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Dry Flies and Brook Trout

Have you ever developed a sudden craving? Hopefully it is for some delicious food and not that bad habit you kicked years ago. The other day I developed a craving for some brook trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. The fish were all glad that it just involved catching them and not eating them.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I drove over to my local farm pond to see what was going on. When I got there, the weather was so perfect that I started thinking about fishing again on Wednesday. Suddenly, I knew I had to go brook trout fishing in the Smokies. Just like that.

Somehow, spending April Fools out fishing just makes a lot of sense. Away from civilization, the only tricks that can be played are either on yourself or on the fish, hopefully the latter. While I love guiding, I don't always get to fish as much for my own enjoyment and with a couple of open days on an otherwise busy calendar, I knew it was best to get out while I could. After a stop by Little River Outfitters to pick up a couple of awesome fly cups with built in dividers (I use these cheap plastic fly cups ALL the time), I headed on up to the trailhead.

Now, I know you are thinking that you have figured out where I was going if you know much about the Smokies. Turns out you probably don't know after all, because it wasn't where you are thinking and where everyone else is going. That was intentional. I didn't want to fight crowds all day.

When I hit the trail, I was confident that I would be the only person on the water, and I was right. On the hike in, the trail is fairly clear for a while but slowly dissolves. This stream involves getting a little off the more travelled trails which is at least one reason not many people know about it or fish there. Here the path is still fairly obvious while it runs along a carpet of wildflowers.

Even though I was focused on fishing, I did stop long enough to enjoy the tiny flowers and dug out the camera to take a couple of pictures. Here is one of the better ones.

Not long after, the sound of roaring water got louder and the creek came into view. Even though I know that the fishing is better farther up, I wanted to see what the lower section was like and started fishing right away.

This trip was the first time using my new toy. People who book a trip with me will enjoy using this rod I think. I've seen reviews on this rod both praising it as well as people who do not like it. I will say this about the rod: it was extremely accurate with dry flies at the close ranges (8-25 feet) I fish on the brook trout streams and was fairly sensitive while having enough backbone to be a fantastic nymph rod when necessary as well.

The action on the lower creek was slow as is normal. The average sized fish was also really small which led me to believe that the creek may have been fished in the last day or two. Or it could just be not as good. Clearly, further investigation is necessary. Larger fish were there, however, but appeared to need a few extra meals. This relatively long fish compared with the little guys I started out catching was as skinny as any brook trout I have ever caught.

As the water slowly warmed, so did the action. By the time I was moving higher up the creek, I had cut off the dropper and ditched the short experiment of a double nymph rig (which to be fair did catch a fair number of fish). A simple Parachute Adams or Elk Hair Caddis was all the fish seemed to want and so that's what I fished.

Moving up the creek, I paused to eat lunch before catching more brook trout. I decided that one sandwich was not enough and made a mental note to bring two next time.

The stream was so beautiful that I stopped to take pictures of the water from time to time as well as the usual pictures of the trout I was catching.

Eventually, with the nice bright sunlight to allow fast exposures, the wheels started turning in my brain, and I decided to plan around with some in the water shots. While I have no problem with a quick fish picture as long as one is careful to wet their hands and being fast to get the fish back in the water, shots of fish in the water are nice because they look more natural. Here are two of my favorite results.

By this time, I was getting hungry. Wishing for a second sandwich didn't seem to fix the problem so I started the hike out before things got desperate. On the way, I stopped to take a shot of the "trail."

The stream also begged for another shot or two as well.

Walking through one section where I had been in the stream on the way up, I noticed the flowers were even better than on the hike in further down the mountain. Out came the camera and if anyone had come along they would have been calling for a rescue probably as I was all sprawled out on the ground trying to get just the right angle.

Farther down the mountain, I again stopped to catch a second species for the day. The stream I had been fishing was strictly a brook trout stream and hopefully it stays that way. Down below, the stream is a good rainbow trout fishery. Watching this fish come up all the way from the bottom to eat the Elk Hair Caddis was a good ending to a fun day on the water.

One more stop with the camera not far from the trailhead made for two more enjoyable pictures and then I was back to the car and heading home for something to eat.

This day was a great reminder that this is not all about the fishing. The little things along the way from flowers to trailside reflections help make each day out something special to be remembered for years to come. The brook trout were just a bonus. I did get to spend the day out in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after all...