Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Put 'Em Back

Killing large fish is purely selfish. Release them and someone else can have the same joy of catching it. Remember, a large fish is relative to where it lives. On some Smokies streams it may be a 10 inch fish while on other streams it may be an 18 or 20 inch fish. Plus, those are the good genes that we want to see passed on when we are talking wild fisheries. Just saying...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Creek Fishing

Wading warm water creeks and streams is one of the less popular but nevertheless fun elements of the sport of fly fishing. Some people never even get that far. If you only fish a few days a year, you are likely still focusing on trout for each of your trips. That is just fine, and with a few exceptions, what attracted most of us to the sport to begin with. In fact, I still fish for trout the majority of the time. That said, when I have a few hours to kill and want to have fun, you can probably find me with a four weight rod and some topwater bugs looking to have fun with the smallies and panfish.

Last Tuesday, I checked with my buddy Chase to see if he wanted to fish some creeks. We agreed on when and where to meet and not much later I was headed out. Looking down at the outside thermometer on my car, I knew it was going to be a hot one.

When we arrived stream-side, we found the usual collection of people out swimming, drinking beer, jumping off of the rocks, and generally scaring all of the fish. That always means a hike so we hit the trail. By the time we had hustled back about a mile, my shirt was soaked with sweat, and I was almost ready to jump in and swim instead of fish. As soon as we started fishing it was obvious that the discomfort was just a small price to pay.

The fish were hungry and looking up, always a good combination for fun. I nailed a gorgeous sunfish on one of my first casts. The fish hit so hard that I thought it was a smallmouth.

Chase soon followed up my sunfish with a nice smallie that would turn out to be the best fish caught for the trip. We saw some much larger fish that, while mildly interested, were much too intelligent for us on this trip. With a little foresight and planning, these fish are just as catchable but a few factors need to come together to make that happen.

Cumberland Plateau smallmouth bass

In the end, with the heat and humidity, we didn't make it as far up the creek as I sometimes do. The trip was eventually cut short when I didn't want to make a required scramble around some boulders through thick brush. If the weather was cooler and we had more hours of daylight, then we probably would have continued up the canyon.

At this furthest point upstream, I paused to take some pictures. After shooting several of the scene, Chase nailed another good fish, this one a nice sunfish. A couple of pictures later and we headed back downstream.

The thought of a Gatorade in the cooler in my trunk kept us moving back down the trail at a good pace. I'll be back to this stream soon, but probably not while it is so hot.

This next week is going to be great for fishing across the area. We got enough rain this weekend to help just a little with the water levels and the water temperatures are dropping like a rock. The good fishing should last at least through the upcoming holiday weekend. If you have been thinking about a midsummer trip to the Smokies or to walk a smallmouth creek, this is the time to do it. The topwater bite is ON for smallies on the creeks and floats are putting out good fish and numbers still. The flows are very good right now for Caney Fork floats.

Contact me if you are interested in a guided trip for trout in the Smokies or on the Caney Fork, or smallmouth bass and panfish on the Cumberland Plateau streams. Email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text me at (931) 261-1884.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Moving Day: Initial Thoughts on the Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack

Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack

Moving is always hard. In fact, I dread the day I have to move again just because of the work involved. Packing, loading, unloading, unpacking and don't forget all of the cleaning involved on both ends of the trip. New gear is kind of like moving, especially in the case of moving from one storage system to another. It can take some getting used to, but usually there is also some excited anticipation involved.

The transition will be easy in many ways since I'm moving from one waist pack to another. On the other hand, I know I'll reach for something only to discover it isn't where I expect it to be. Probably I'll do that several times over the next few days and weeks.

One of the major selling points for me on this new system is how easy it will be (I hope!) to eliminate the lanyard from my current setup. I'm not convinced that I won't pull it back out, but I'm excited to at least attempt fishing without the lanyard. Less clutter dangling off of my neck for one thing, and just a cleaner system in general all points to this new system staying for a while.

As with all moving, I've been comparing the new pack with the old. Some things I like while on others the jury is still out. For example, I loved the twin water bottle holders on each side of the old waist pack. The new pack has a single water bottle holder on the bottom of the pack. By the way, my old pack is a William and Joseph pack (back from the days when their packs were still made with zippers versus the newer magnetic closure system). The new pack, as the title above says, is a Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack. I've noticed that William and Joseph is still making a pack with twin water bottle holders so there is no guarantee that I'll stay with my current setup.

I also really like the roominess of the old pack. I like the roominess on the Simms Guide pack as well, just in different ways. For example, on the old pack, there is one massive main compartment without any dividers other than one mesh pocket along the back wall. On the new pack, there is a handy divider with plenty of pockets to stash things like leaders and extra tippet spools, split shot containers, strike indicators, and all of those little gadgets that most fly fishers eventually find themselves carrying. Simms definitely put a lot of thought into this pack.

The downside of the divider is that it is non-removable. In other words, once you get stuff crammed in all those little storage pockets, it can be tough to add a LOT of fly boxes. Right now I comfortably have four in there. My old pack was set up in such a way that I could probably get 6-8 fly boxes in easily and still have plenty of room for the other stuff. I'm sure with some repacking I can get more in the new pack, but it would be great if the divider came out easily when I wanted it to. Velcro would have been an easy addition/solution there.

One of the things I really like on the new pack is how easy it is to store tippet and forceps in a readily accessible position. The tippet holder attaches to the pack through the use of velcro. This is probably the main thing that makes me wonder if I'll go back to a lanyard as I have yet to see how well the velcro holds up. In my experience, velcro generally has some limits to its longevity. Again, time will only tell.

Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack

Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack

The new pack is also great because it does only have one main compartment. Yeah, I know, I just sort of complained about that feature. The good side of it is that I open one zipper and everything is at my fingertips. Flies, split shot, indicators, tippet, floatant, and many other things are all right there ready to use. That prevents me from wasting time and opening multiple pockets to re-rig someone who has just broke off or got a birds nest so bad that the best solution is to cut it out. As a guide, I deal with that on a regular basis, as a fisherman too I might add.

Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack

So at the end of my move, my initial thoughts are largely positive. I'm already excited to try out the new pack. My clients may wonder why I keep reaching for imaginary gear, but in the end I think we'll still get out there, find a few fish, and trick some into eating our flies. Once I get some time on the water in I'll follow up. Until then, I am recommending the Simms Headwaters Guide Hip Pack as a great way to carry your gear out on the water.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To Be Detailed and Descriptive or Not?

Brookie from Stream X. Yeah, I'm not talking.

A recent local trend has been disconcerting to say the least: publicly outing small streams, particularly brook trout streams, on the Internet for the masses to read about. Sometimes referred to as HOTSPOTTING, the results can be horrendous.

Now before someone calls me out (aw, shoot, go ahead and call me out because it should make for some good entertainment), I recognize that I have often given trip reports that are detailed enough as to leave little to the imagination, sometimes even naming small streams myself. In fact, anyone who has followed my blog for more than a few months has probably noticed that the details associated with my fishing reports have dwindled to the point that some people probably don't even bother to read them anymore, and that is fine with me. In all honesty, I started writing this blog for myself and if others enjoy it so be it. Most of my trip reports are from fairly obvious Park waters, but I'm still not interested in having company next time I fish there.

Having seen what exposure can do to streams has definitely shifted my views over the years. When I first started exploring some of the high elevation brook trout waters in the Smokies, it was not unusual to be able to fish roadside for days and not see another angler. Back then, my favorite sections were probably fished no more than once every couple of weeks and the fishing was accordingly amazing to the point of being stupid easy.

Now, with fishing reports filling the Internet (including from yours truly) and anglers seeking out the water in ever increasing droves (or so it seems), it can be rare to find a piece of water to yourself anywhere close to a road. Add to that an increased acceptance of catch and keep and it becomes obvious why certain sections that used to produce 50+ fish days with several pushing the 10-12" range are now good for maybe 10-20 fish with none over 8 inches.

Sure, people have been keeping fish for a long time, but when did it become acceptable to proudly herald the fact, an act that just encourages more and more people to do the same? The fisheries biologists say that anglers have little to no impact on the trout populations in the Great Smoky Mountains, but that is assuming the status quo from the past few years. If just the anglers I have guided had all kept a limit on each guide trip, I would personally be responsible for the removal of triple digit numbers of trout in the last couple of months. Spread over the whole Park that is a really small number, but concentrated into a few sections I like to return to over and over again that suddenly becomes very significant.

Even more importantly, when anglers remove the largest trout from a section of stream, they are removing the dominant genetics from the gene pool and leaving the little guys that just weren't quite good enough to to make it to "head honcho" status. Spread that trend out over several generations of fish and the result is disturbingly obvious. Catch and keep has its place in our streams, but seriously, please release the largest alpha fish. Those are the genes I want to see being passed down on these wild streams.

So what is the main problem? I could be wrong, but it would appear to be a lack of education. A lot of newer anglers, like myself many years ago, are stoked about the sport and finding such good places to fish. Without quality mentors to teach them the near sacredness of the pursuit of trout and other fish on the fly, it can be a tough trial by fire. Unfortunately, at least a few of these people will have to learn by arriving at their favorite stream to find a plethora of anglers fishing their hidden gem.

Some hints I've seen online recently are obvious to anyone with a map and brains, but still probably shouldn't be announced to the masses. For example, the fact that Stream X has a decent flow and cold water is obvious to anyone with a map and vague concept of geography, but that doesn't mean that 500 anglers from the region should immediately descend on it just because they read about it online. Believe me, there are those anglers out there. "I read about it on the Internet so it must be true/awesome/epic/you name it, and I'm going to fish it this weekend."

A recently outed, previously hidden gem.

As a guide, I have been extremely selective about where I will take anglers. For some of the lesser known remote waters, I will not take clients there unless they specifically request a trip there. That means they have done their homework and already have some info on fishing there. Good for them.

While many of us view the exploration of new waters as part of the charm of fly fishing, there are some less than scrupulous or even just purely lazy anglers who read trip reports simply to glean knowledge about a hot spot that is not often fished. Some of those are fairly harmless and probably won't catch many trout anyway. Others are looking for an easy place to poach. I've talked to those people and have heard the stories such as anglers who used to take "brookies by the bushel" out of some remote headwater streams. Having heard the stories from credible first hand sources, I don't want to be the one responsible for making it easy on others to do the same.

Finally, most of all I'm admittedly selfish. Having worked very hard for 20+ years to discover most of the Park secrets for myself, it is tough seeing them outed by a careless word to the whole world. As someone who actively searches the Internet and keeps a detailed log of possible "secret" waters across the country to someday fish, I know that I'm not alone in my quest for that secret fishing hole. In an age of more and more transparency and fewer secrets, I just hope that at least one of my secret brookie streams will still be untouched next time I fish it.

Is there some contradiction with my complaints and the fact that I guide? Am I part of the problem?Quite possibly (and definitely in terms of creating new anglers or introducing people to fishing in the Smokies), but at least I am in a position to help educate others on protecting the resource. For example, I am always amazed at how many people (including long time fly fishermen with plenty of experience) seem to have no clue that you should NEVER dry hand a fish. Yes folks, please get your hands WET before touching a trout (assuming you even need to touch it). I have no problem with a quick picture of your catch, but dip those hands in the stream first.

The crazy part of this whole thing is that it is not even limited to small waters in the Smokies. Even tailwaters are susceptible to this. I've seen a fair amount of increased traffic on my local tailwater just from a few generically good reports on how it is fishing this year. With large numbers of quality fish leaving the river on stringers, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the pressure is bad. Our tailwaters could be full of fish averaging a legitimate 15-18" if we could just get people to release the majority of their catch and follow the regulations. Unfortunately, a lack of education and a stocking truck chasing mentality permeates the local fishing culture. People are living in a time of instant gratification and are not willing to see how letting a few go now could lead to unbelievable fishing down the road. This weak-minded approach is leaving our tailwaters in a sad state compared to the national treasures they could be.

The best pictures do not show any landmarks.

If that is not enough tangents for one post, then I don't know what is. I'll wrap this up as I don't have much else to say. I guess the recent hot water and low water leaves me without much else to do than dream up complaints. Maybe I should move back out west. I hear they have more water there than they know what to do with.

Oh, if I don't share much information with you, that is probably because I'm watching to see if you are a good steward with what you do know. Want to learn some secrets? Find a map and start hiking to search them out for yourself. Once you pour out your sweat in search of a great fishing location, you probably won't want to share either.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tailwater Action

Recent float trips have been producing some nice fish. The other day, an angler hooked an 18" brown trout and played it perfectly through several blistering runs before it finally got the best of him and spit the hook. Another recent Fathers' Day gift trip produced a memorable trophy for this dad! I'm not sure if he or his son was more excited. His son did a great job on the camera though while I helped pose the fish. Check out this gorgeous rainbow trout!

Big Rainbow Trout on the Caney Fork River
Photo Courtesy of Trone Sawyer

The lack of recent updates is a direct result of how busy things have been. I'm scrambling to get caught up, but most of my free time is spent keeping a good supply of fish catching flies in stock for guide trips.

Lots more is on the way so stay tuned for more reports and thoughts on the current fishing around the area!

If you are interested in a guided float trip on the Caney Fork River or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please contact me through Trout Zone Anglers, via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com, or call/text (931) 261-1884. 

Where We Are Fishing

Where have I been fishing? Not the lower elevation streams that are already excessively low for this time of year and running much too warm for fishing to be ethically acceptable. That much I can say. Of course, some trips have been on the Caney Fork River which fishes very well during dry years. However, up in the Smokies, the key is to head high to the high gradient mid and upper elevation waters that tumble down from the highest portions of the Park. Up high, water temperatures are still perfect for trout so you can fish with a clear conscience.

The rhododendron is starting to bloom and will work its way farther and farther up the hill as we move through the next few weeks. I've heard that the Flame Azaleas are peaking right now up on the ridges and balds. With a little luck I may hike up there this week to see the sight for myself before it is too late. The trout in the streams are happy and willing, but we could definitely do with a little more water.

Thankfully, the long range forecast is looking excellent. By late next week, a cooler and hopefully wetter weather pattern will kick in. In fact, if things get really good we'll even be back in the lower and mid elevations of the Park again. I can only hope.

If you are interested in a guided float trip on the Caney Fork River or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please contact me through Trout Zone Anglers, via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com, or call/text (931) 261-1884. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Exploring the Smokies

While I have fished a majority of the larger drainages in the Smokies with only a few left to check off the list, there are still many small tributaries to explore. Many of these are far enough off of the beaten path that I prefer visiting them with a friend. The streams of the Park are rugged so there is the safety element, and of course it is hard to beat good company while out on the stream. Fly fishing small streams is definitely best with a friend or fly fishing guide.

When Mark from Fishing Small Streams contacted me and mentioned that he would be passing through the area and fishing for a couple of days, I saw an opportunity to meet a fellow small stream enthusiast and explore some new water. Fast forward a couple of months to mid May, and I'm headed up to the Smokies to meet Mark at the campground he is staying at. We discuss the plan for the day while glancing at a map and then head towards the trailhead for our first stream.

A short and pleasant hike gets us to the lower portion of the stream we wanted to target first so we drop in and start fishing. Almost immediately, Mark caught the first fish of the day.

Moving up the narrow creek required climbing over and around large boulders. The exertion was worth it though. Nearly every little pocket was good for at least one trout, the majority of which were some of the prettiest brook trout you will find anywhere although a few rainbows were in the mix as well. Both of us caught several gorgeous fish. Even though they were all small, they made up for it with an attitude suitable for a fish several times their diminutive size.

As we moved along up the stream, I paused to take some scenery shots as well as a picture or two of Mark fishing. On these small streams, shots of a fisherman in action helps put the stream into proper perspective.

Later, I discovered that Mark had taken a few shots of me as well. Here is one of my favorites.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Wittman

I was thoroughly amused when I arrived at the campground and discovered that I would not be the only one wearing camo for this trip. Apparently small stream aficionados think alike.

After we had fished perhaps a quarter mile of water, we decided to hike back and and continue our marathon fishing day by heading to another stream. This one would be new only to Mark. Our decision was confirmed when we reached my car at the trailhead and discovered that another fisherman had arrived while we were fishing and had undoubtedly started somewhere above us. Fishing used water is never a good thing on these small streams so we definitely left at a good time.

The next stream was a lot larger as its name would suggest. Rainbows and a few brown trout inhabit its waters with brook trout up in the headwaters as is the norm on most Smoky Mountain streams. With limited time, we decided to just fish right near where I parked the car. On most streams, I prefer to hike in a ways to get away from the crowds, but this particular stream seems to get less fishing pressure than most. The fish were responding with enthusiasm right away and mostly to dry flies. Does it get any better than this?

By this point, we were both getting a little tired but still had another stream or two to check out. Thankfully, both of them were close to the campground he was staying at so we headed back. To make a long story short, both streams near the campground were great for both small feisty rainbows and some more beautiful specks. The brook trout in this area are prolific, so much so that at least one area stream is used as a collection stream by the NPS when doing brook trout restoration efforts.

With the sun sinking low in the sky and a long drive home, I said goodbye and headed out. It had been a good day on the water with a new friend. Let me know when you are headed down this way again Mark and we'll find some more new streams to check out!

Read Mark's take on our day and the rest of his time in the Smokies HERE.

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip to fish small streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please contact me at (931) 261-1884 or at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com. Thank you!