Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Chasing Brown Fish on New Rivers

Getting out and sampling a new trout stream is one of my favorite things to do. A new smallmouth river is a very close second. Chasing bronze here in middle and east Tennessee is always a good choice. The smallmouth bass is the state fish after all. Here at the southern end of their native range, smallmouth inhabit a wide variety of waters. From small creeks on the Cumberland Plateau, to larger lowland rivers and lakes, smallmouth are plentiful. With the long growing season, they can also get large. 

Last week, my fellow fly fishing guides Travis Williams and Pat Tully and I had planned on checking out a new to me river that Travis guides on. This was a river I had always wanted to fish, but so far had not made it happen. Ever since Travis got a raft, the possibilities have really opened up. I'm never sure about taking the drift boat down new rivers. A hard boat can get damaged in a hurry. The raft is made for wild and rocky rivers, however.

I was up early after a night of barely being able to sleep. Yes, I still get excited about getting to go fishing. That was good, however, as I had a long drive and needed to leave my house by 5 am. Living just into Central time but regularly commuting into Eastern time zone gets old, but at least I gain that hour back when I come home in the evening. 

When I pulled into the gas station we were supposed to meet at, Travis was already there tinkering with the raft. I quickly topped off my gas tank, and then, when Pat arrived, we headed on to the river. This is a river that has been on my radar for years. Largely because of the history in the area, I have always wanted to fish there. The fact it holds plenty of smallmouth made it even better.

After dropping off the raft, it didn't take long to start floating. We tinkered with a lot of different fly combinations with nymphing seeming to be the right strategy early. Big flies under bobbers are effective at catching smallmouth, but what we really were hoping for was some topwater action. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer and tied on a popper. We had already caught a few, and I just wanted to catch a couple on the surface.

Sure enough, that proved to be the ticket. We would still try nymphing and streamer fishing in the right places, but the vast majority of the rest of our fish came on top. We got lucky with some cloud cover that kept the fish more active and kept us cooler. By the time the clouds burned off in the afternoon, we had caught plenty of fish and transitioned to pounding the shady banks. 

Pat's big smallmouth. 

All of our best fish came from some type of structure. My big smallmouth jetted out of the stained water and crushed the popper I had on. Same thing for each of us. In the end, my buddy Pat caught big fish of the day while Travis got the biggest spotted bass. I was just happy to be out and catching a big smallmouth on top didn't hurt. 

Travis with one of many spotted bass.

Supposedly, this river also contains musky although we never saw any. I'll definitely be returning in the winter to try that out. In the meantime, I'll be dreaming of summer smallmouth on this new to me river. 

Here is a super short video edit I tossed together with a few clips from the day. For best viewing, click through and view on YouTube. Hope you enjoy!


  1. David
    I could see a Smallmouth and Spotted Bass killing a popper fishing the banks here-----Nothing like seeing them explode on the surface. The popper is where I got my start fly fishing on Smith---got top love---Great post and thanks for sharing

    1. Bill, popper fishing is some of the most fun you can have on a fly rod if you ask me.