Photo of the Month: Golden Explosion

Photo of the Month: Golden Explosion
Showing posts with label Backpacking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Backpacking. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Small Details

For some people, this will be a boring blog post. If you are here for fishing info, you can skip this one. Hopefully this will resonate with someone other than myself when I say this, but I don't go fishing just to catch fish. There is the old cliche story about first you want to catch a fish, then a lot of fish, then a big fish, then a lot of big fish, then you come full circle and just want to go fishing. Well, this is similar to that concept, sort of. 

It is probably the photographer in me, but patterns, shapes, colors, light or the lack thereof, and interesting flora and fauna all interest me. In fact, that is one reason you are just about as likely to find me roaming the woods with a camera (or even just my cellphone) as with a fly rod. However, it is the small details that often greatly enrich my fishing trips, adding immense value to what is already a special experience. 

Sometimes, those small details are the fish themselves. A closeup of a native southern Appalachian brook trout never gets old and why I have way more fish pictures on my phone and computer than necessary. Even after seeing thousands of wild and native fish, I still have to snap a picture because they are so pretty. 

©2020 David Knapp Photography

Still, it is often more about things other than fish. In other words, it is easy for a fish to catch your eye. That is what you are targeting after all. But how about that interesting mushroom? How about stream side wildflowers and other plants? Or maybe spiders? Seriously. All of these are things I tried to take pictures of on my recent backpacking trip in the Smokies. 

Near camp, these ferns growing off a bridge caught my eye. The contrast of bright green against the watery background kept me coming back again and again. In the end, I settled for what my cellphone could do, but left wishing for my "good" camera. 

©2022 David Knapp Photography

Sometimes, my efforts aren't particularly successful. I found some neat pink turtleheads, but my cellphone pictures were less than stellar. They didn't make the cut to share. Maybe next time I'll have a "good" camera. The few bright leaves around also drew my eye and at least a couple of them weren't half bad. Can you find the angler in the background on this one?

Fall colors in the Smokies
©2022 David Knapp Photography

This next one was one of my favorites. I'll call it the "Cat's Eye" for obvious reasons. No joke, this is exactly how I found these leaves. Nature never ceases to amaze me. What are the odds that these two leaves just happened to link up so perfectly? 

The cat's eye made of leaves
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Even the smaller details near camp were interesting. I found jack in the pulpit seeds, bursting bright red and ready to grow the next generation of these interesting flowers. I found spider webs with spiders who weren't camera shy. This was another one that begged for a better camera, but the cellphone did not do too badly either. 

Great Smoky Mountains spider
©2022 David Knapp Photography 

One of my favorites from the trip was also one of the plainest. Something about the meeting of deciduous and evergreen here made me happy when I saw it. Of course, with so many evergreens in the Smokies eliminated by things like woolly adelgid, I'm just happy to discover one that is happy and healthy along a trout stream. 

©2022 David Knapp Photography

I like to eat, so every time I see some type of mushroom, I always wonder if it is edible. This one was no different, although I wasn't really prepared on this backpacking trip to cook a mushroom. It would have been a fun task back in camp if I was. There are only a very few wild mushrooms I feel comfortable with. If you are versed in wild mushrooms, let me know what this one is and if it is good to eat! 


©2022 David Knapp Photography

By now, you are probably beginning to get an inkling of the types of things that catch my eye while on a trout stream. Often it is birds or other wildlife, but they are usually too quick for me to catch with my cellphone. On these backpacking trips, that is usually all I carry. Too much weight with the other options. Even on day trips, it is all the extras that bring completeness to my experience. Without the small details, it would just be a fish catching excursion, and those aren't always super successful. Fishing trips, however, are always successful. Catching a fish is just icing on the cake...

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 3

If you haven't read about the first couple of days of my fall backpacking and fly fishing trip adventure, you might enjoy reading those first. If you are already caught up, then skip these two stories and continue on with day 3!

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 1

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 2

During the lead up to this backpacking trip, my friend Buddy and I had many detailed conversations about gear. As a retired engineer, Buddy is more diligent than most about counting every ounce of weight in his pack. I got to reap some of the benefits, because it motivated me to pay more attention to pack weight than usual. One of the things Buddy had decided to do to limit his overall weight was eliminating his fly rod and just fishing Tenkara rods on this trip. While I enjoy casting and wanted a "regular" fly rod, I often carry a Tenkara rod as backup and decided this would be the perfect excuse to finally fish this rod for a whole day, something I hadn't done in a good long while. 

The rod I usually take on brook trout trips is a Suntech Kurenai HM 30. It is an excellent choice for a backup rod because it weighs under 1 ounce. In other words, I'm not adding much extra weight by taking it. This rod was gifted to me by a good friend and quickly become one of my absolute favorite rods. I also have some nice Tenkara USA rods which are fantastic fishing tools themselves, but this rod is by far and away one of the nicer rods I own. Anyway, if you have any questions about this rod, don't hesitate to ask. 

The morning of our second full day in the backcountry and third day out overall dawned just about perfectly. Skies were partly cloudy, and there was just enough cool air at this high altitude to remind me that fall was on its way. I was excited about the day of fishing and ready to get going. After a quick breakfast, Buddy and I hit the trail. My favorite fly rod was stashed back in camp, and I was going for a Tenkara only experience. 

To complete my setup, I had a size 3.5 level line and 6x tippet. While we wanted to fish dry flies, I had got started on a bad trend the day before fishing a Barbie Bug. It had worked so well, I knew it wouldn't take me long to put one back on. Sure enough, after not finding any fish willing to rise early in the day, I went to the Barbie bug and never really looked back. I was fishing the whole setup like a high stick nymph rig. The Kurenai rod enabled me to place the fly wherever I wanted and was so delicate that even the smaller brook trout felt like monsters. 

Small native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


While the numbers were incredible, the overall size seemed smaller on this stretch of water. Buddy prefers a stretch just a little higher than where I fished on day two with Russell. For me, in addition to the insane numbers of fish, the highlight of the day was fishing a little higher up this drainage than I have ever been. I also took the opportunity late in the day to scout further up the trail and look for additional new access points to that upper end of the drainage. I don't know about the whole way up, but I did find an access point that could be used to enter or exit the stream far enough up to open up almost another whole day of fishing. 

Next time, I intend to explore this stretch. That said, with the overall average size being down compared to further downstream, I don't expect to find too many monsters. Of course, around here, we don't go fishing for brook trout with the expectation of catching big fish. The trip is about so much more than the size of the catch. Otherwise I would have quit these excursions long ago. Here is one of our better fish size wise this day.

Nice native brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography

The majority of fish in this section didn't seem to be as bright with their colors either. I don't know why that is, but it has tended to be the same on other trips as well. Either way, this was probably one of the prettier fish of the day.

Gorgeous native brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography

By the time we had fished up into new to me water, the day was getting late. I wanted to snag one more to reach a nice round number for the day. I rarely count, but very occasionally on these highly productive small streams I do. This is mostly just a curiosity. For example, when it feels like you caught a ton of fish, was it 40? 50? 70? 100? Most days I don't have the first clue, but occasionally it is fun to keep track. On the other hand, I don't want to take things too seriously, so I also tend to forget as soon as possible. I have good memories of days spent on the water with friends, and pictures of gorgeous native char or wild trout. What more do I need?

After reaching the trail, I hustled up to look for new/additional access points. One likely spot that I had originally located from the stream bed turned out to be even better than I had hoped for. It will be the entry point for a future expedition to push ever farther up this favorite drainage. I'm still eyeing some spots MUCH further up the drainage for possible entry/exit points, but so far haven't turned anything else up. 

Buddy had started back towards camp when I headed up the mountain, but I caught him nearly back at camp on the way down. We got back and enjoyed one last evening in the mountains before hiking out the next day. There is always a bit of a letdown as the end of the trip approaches. Yet, at the same time, there is also excitement to get home and see my family, eat home cooked food, and sleep in my own bed. My backpacking setup has gotten pretty cushy thanks to a Big Agnes Q Core deluxe sleeping pad, but it is still sleeping on the ground no matter how comfortable the setup gets. Still, there is nothing better than spending the night in the woods next to a rushing mountain stream, so it is always best to end a trip soon enough to leave you wanting a little more. This trip was just a warmup for an epic adventure merely a few days later, but I'll save that story for another time...

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 2

After a soggy but good start to my backpacking trip, I was excited for a couple of dry days. There are so many great places to fish in the Smokies, and I was ready to sample a few. The main target species on this trip is native brook trout. Wild rainbows are abundant as well. There would be no shortage of fish to catch. 

On this first full day of fishing, Buddy was heading for his favorite section of water. Another friend, Russell, was hiking in for the day with plans to fish my favorite section with me. In many ways, this is a better way to do some of my favorite backcountry trips. You don't have the 40 pounds of gear on your back which makes hiking in and out much easier. However, it is a long day to fish some of the water we like to hit and still have time to hike out. 

Russell has been known to hike out in the dark on occasion. Personally, I am a little nervous about hiking in the dark during the warm months. There are too many rattlesnakes and copperheads roaming the trails for comfort. In the cold months, I love night hiking and have done it on a few different occasions. There is something about being in the woods at night. This is especially true for night hiking without extra light during a full moon. Talk about an amazing experience! 

Anyway, to get back on track, Russell showed up a little earlier than expected after making good time on the way in. I was getting close to finishing breakfast. Russell and Buddy spent some time catching up while I ate, cleaned my breakfast dishes, and packed my waist pack for the day. This includes fishing gear, lunch, a water bottle, water filter, knife, and lighter and matches plus fire starter. In other words, I wouldn't want to, but I could probably spend the night semi comfortably with this small pack's contents. 

None of this took long as most of my gear was already packed. I just needed to add my lunch/snacks and we were ready to roll. A short walk later, we were standing at the edge of my favorite stream just above a fairly good sized waterfall. This whole area has numerous falls and plunges. In other words, it is exactly the type of water you think of when you think about brook trout fishing. Russell and I started a fast paced leap frog style of fishing, and we were soon catching some beautiful fish. 

Russell fishing up a small brook trout stream
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


This stream is incredibly beautiful. Sometimes it is hard to focus on the fishing. I have been known to carry a DSLR camera with me on stream. I've largely gotten away from that for weight considerations, but I still spend a lot of time with my camera out. On this trip, in addition to scenic stream shots, I also found some interesting wildflowers. This black cohosh was blooming a little late in the year, but definitely not outside the realm of possibility. 

black cohosh in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Black Cohosh. ©2022 David Knapp Photography


While I looked for wildflowers, Russell was busy catching some fish. In fact, he found our largest brook trout for the day. Here is a closeup of his special fish. 

Trophy native southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


Interestingly, while we both caught plenty of good fish, the average size seemed down slightly from years past. If anything, numbers were higher than ever which would make sense if the size is down a little. These fish have a very limited amount of food in their small ecosystem, so an increase in numbers usually corresponds to a decrease in size across the board. Still, the fish were nice sized. We are talking differences of an inch or so, nothing more. The colors were also subtly less then on past trips. That is likely because this trip was 2-3 weeks earlier than I normally go. When you hit it right before the spawn starts, they are all dressed up in their fall best. We were there during the transition season between summer and fall outfits. 

Colorful southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


The day seemed to go on and on while the number of fish we caught approached the absurd. This section of stream is fairly lengthy. You can't rush either. The rugged terrain would make quick work of anyone in a hurry. Slow and steady definitely wins the race here and gets you back to camp in one piece. We were keeping a general eye on the time, however. As it started to get late and Russell needed to make the long walk out, we eventually picked up our pace. 

David Knapp fishing for brook trout
Photo courtesy Russell Duncan. ©2022


One last beautiful southern Appalachian brook trout
©2022 David Knapp Photography


I was starting to think about supper by the time we got out on the trail to walk back to camp. Buddy was already there and busy with his evening meal preparations and I soon joined him. After a relaxing evening, I went to bed early to rest up for another big day of fishing on day three...

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Annual Fall Backpacking Trip 2022: Day 1

The last few years has seen me return to backpacking at least once or twice a year. I've developed a habit of visiting my favorite brook trout streams in September. The spring or early summer trip is a revolving trip that visits different streams each time for the most part. This year's September trip was scheduled a little early. Normally I wait until closer to the end of the month, but this year it had to happen a couple of weeks sooner due to a family Colorado trip. Regardless, the brook trout were beginning to color up in their finest fall apparel and were feeding with the abandon that one expects of trout in the fall.

I loosely planned the trip in conjunction with a couple of friends. In other words, we intended to arrive at the same campsite around the same time and hopefully fish together, maybe some or maybe the whole time. Keeping things casual left open more options than if we had a rigid game plan. 

As with most campsites I stay at on these types of trips, this one is right on a stream. That makes things like meal prep and water gathering easy, but you do deal with a lot of condensation. Once things get damp, the high humidity along the creek keeps them that way. Still, the benefits far outweigh any small negative aspect, especially walking out of my tent and immediately starting to catch trout.

Ready to start hiking on my backpacking trip
David Knapp heading out on a backpacking adventure. ©2022 David Knapp

The first day, our goal was to arrive at camp early enough to maybe catch a few fish. When I saw the forecast, I almost bailed on the trip entirely, but since I had friends expecting to see me, I decided to slog it out, literally.

Things started out nice and dry as I got my pre hike selfie in. I got about a mile up the trail before it started raining. In the next couple of miles, I walked through one of the worst downpours I've ever experienced while backpacking. The only one that compares was a cloudburst while hiking up Clingmans Dome out of Forney Creek. That hike wasn't as bad as this one, mainly because I knew I had a change of dry clothes waiting in my car along with climate control. 

When I arrived at camp, I told Buddy that I knew exactly when he arrived to set up camp because the sky had opened up on me. His camp was up although damp. Thankfully the rain eased off and gave me time to get my stuff set up without the massive downpour. Having a dry retreat during a wet backpacking trip can really make things seem much better. 

After setting up camp, I decided I might as well go fishing. I certainly wasn't going to get any wetter in the creek than I already was. The water was up a little and stained with the dark tea color. The tannins in the leaves and pine needles more or less makes tea out of the water. Hoping that a flood wasn't imminent, we worked our way up the stream catching fish here and there. 


Fishing a backcountry stream
Buddy working his Tenkara USA rod on this Smoky Mountain stream. ©2022 David Knapp


I was pleasantly surprised to find myself catching more brook trout than rainbows. While I usually catch some brook trout, I usually catch a lot more rainbows. On this evening, that script was flipped. It reminded me of my first trip to this drainage where I caught several beautifully colored brook trout.


Great Smoky Mountains backcountry brook trout
Closeup of a native southern Appalachian brook trout. ©2022 David Knapp


Native southern Appalachian brook trout
Native brook trout are absolutely incredible. ©2022 David Knapp


Eventually, things started to revert back to normal and the rainbows began to dominate as we worked out way upstream. We each found a few fish with some coming from surprisingly skinny water. The fish were still largely in summer mode. The riffles were producing at least as well as the pools and deeper runs.

Wild rainbow trout in the Great Smoky Mountain backcountry
Wild Smoky Mountain rainbow trout. ©2022 David Knapp


With the threat for more rain and potentially rising water, we soon decided to head back down to camp and start supper. That task was completed before more rain caught us and I was able to enjoy getting into a dry tent and dry clothes for the night. I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the creek charging past just to my left. My dreams were of brook trout attacking dry flies that I would hopefully find on the morrow...


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Something Good Always Happens On Deep Creek

Some fishing experiences tend to end in disappointment while others tend to end in elation. For example, there is a stream in the Smokies that, due to its small blue line status, will remain nameless. It looks fishy and I sometimes catch some fish there, but it never fishes nearly so well as it looks like it should. Every once in a while, I go back and give it another shot, but so far it has been mediocre. Other streams have a tendency to always impress. This has been my experience on Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I have long said that something good always happens on Deep Creek. For me, that has historically been a memorable fish. While all the fish I catch should be memorable, it was beginning to look like my backpacking trip would conclude with lots of beautiful but average trout. The usual Deep Creek lunker had eluded me.

Thankfully, as we began hiking down the trail on our return to civilization, I carried with me the memory of two incredible days on the water in the Smokies. The first day was memorable because I returned to fish a pool that had previously produced my largest brown trout on Deep Creek. The second day was memorable because I had finally achieved my long time goal of fishing around Bumgardner Ridge. The experience had been everything I had imagined, short of 20 inch wild trout leaping onto my hook the whole way that is.

As we hiked down the trail, I began to think about one pool in particular. This pool is in the lower reaches of the creek. It is where I had broken off a rather large brown trout the year before. There are several of these big pools on Deep Creek. Bottomless pools that must contain truly large brown trout, these are the pools that keep anglers coming back and dreaming about the big one.

By this point in our trip, I was simply focused on getting back out to my car and heading home. I was already dreaming about some good home cooked food instead of the backpacking food that required rehydrating before eating. A soft bed also sounded rather nice. Clearly I'm getting soft in my old age, but the comforts of home were pulling me down the trail faster than I had hiked in a few days before. I did some quick math in my head and decided it might even be possible to make it home in time for lunch.

The thought did occur to me that I might discover a big fish. Mostly I hoped that it wouldn't happen, because if it did, then I would probably need want to fish for it. Approaching the final pool of reckoning, I was almost scared to glance into the water. I purposefully left my polarized sunglasses off. If I couldn't see through the surface, then I couldn't find any fish.

Upon first glance, the pool seemed devoid of fish. Whew, close call, right? The smart thing at this point would have been to keep going. However, with no other anglers in sight, I couldn't help but linger. This was the pool that I had been dreaming about for over a year. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to examine every rock, every boulder, every inch, just in case that big fish was still around.

When I saw the fish, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was late enough in the morning and enough people were around that a fish that size should have already moved up into the deep heart of the pool before then. The fish looked about the same as last year, maybe a shade bigger. There wasn't much mistaking this fish though. A an opportunity for redemption was staring me in the face. The fish was clearly eating. The white of its mouth was obvious from our vantage point every time a bug drifted too close.

I had purposefully packed my wading gear inside my backpack knowing that the harder it was to get to everything, the less likely that I would actually stop to fish. This fish was in such a perfect position and looked so big, though, that I just couldn't refuse the chance to cast to it again.

Digging through my fly box, I selected a big black Kaufmann's stonefly along with the same bead head caddis pupa that I had broke the fish off on last time around. Assuming it would spook the fish, but really having no other choice, I also added the smallest airlock indicator they make. I couldn't get close enough to high stick very effectively so the indicator would have to do the trick. I took a while to sneak into position. The riffle just downstream from the pool affords a level of cover, but you still don't want to be too casual about the whole thing.

Soon I found myself kneeling in the riffle downstream of the fish. I could still see it large as life. My buddy John had dug out his GoPro and started filming. Strangely, I didn't feel any pressure. Either the fish would eat or it wouldn't. If it ate, I would either land it or I wouldn't. For some reason, spending a few nights in the woods puts things into better perspective, and I had never been more relaxed while fishing for a large trout.

After fishing for a while, the bottom fly caught the bottom just upstream of the trout. When I gently tugged to get it moving again, the large fish casually cruised up and across the pool and out of sight. Almost ready to leave, I remembered that the fish had done the same thing when I fished for it last time. Thankfully, my memory proved correct. This was a tolerant fish.

Several minutes later, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as the fish worked back up through the riffle to my left. It casually returned to its feeding lie and sat back down. I waited another minute, absolutely certain that another cast would spook it for good. But it didn't.

Eventually, I was convinced that the fish didn't want what I was offering. I changed the dropper to a small Pheasant Tail nymph. The fish had clearly been eating when I first spotted it. It seemed to know I was there, because its feeding had nearly ceased. In fact, when it finally ate the same big black stonefly I had been throwing the whole time, it was probably the first time it had ate anything for several minutes.

The same thing had happened when I broke this fish off over a year ago. The currents are tricky in the back of this hole, and I'm convinced that the flies just finally drifted correctly through the spot. A good drift is essential to catching trout and this fish proved that yet again.

The fish tried running hard down the river. I made a beeline, running across the tailout to maintain pressure downstream. Trout will generally pull away from the pressure, so by pulling downstream, I encouraged the fish to pull back up into the home pool. With that potential crisis averted, I settled down to fighting the fish. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the fish slid into the shallows and I grabbed its tail.


My buddy John came down the bank and graciously took some pictures for me. He also took a bit more video including of the release. I can't wait to see the final video. It is the first time I've had something filmed like that. The chance to relive that moment will be a lot of fun. In the meantime, I'm already considering how and when I can return to Deep Creek. I don't know what future trips there hold, but it will probably be something good. Oh yeah, I did make it home in time for lunch, albeit just a little late. It was worth running a little late though...

Update: Find the video HERE.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fly Fishing The Bend Around Bumgardner Ridge on Deep Creek

The Bend. Bumgardner Ridge. The stuff of legend. This is remote Smoky Mountain fishing at its finest. Inaccessible water that rarely gets fished, this is just what everyone is looking for. It also happens to be some of the toughest water I have ever fished, and it is about as remote as you can get. Our day started a bit earlier than the previous day. We would need to walk about three miles back down the trail before reaching our entry point for the day's fishing. Breakfast was quickly cooked and eaten, lunches were stowed in our day packs, and we hit the trail.

On the hike down, I kept getting distracted by the wildflowers. The day was about as perfect as can be for an early spring hike. Many wildflowers were spotted on this trip, but as the focus was on fishing, I eventually pulled myself away and kept moving down the trail. I took quite a few pictures of the flowers, but most don't do them justice. These two will probably make you think that everything blooming was purple which isn't true. They just happened to be two of the better shots I got. By the way, explain to me why those violets are called "Blue" if you can. They look purple to me and my eye doctor assures me that I am not color blind.

Great Smoky Mountain Dwarf Crested Iris along Deep Creek
"Dwarf Crested Iris" ©2019 David Knapp Photography

Great Smoky Mountain Common Blue Violets along Deep Creek
"Common Blue Violets" ©2019 David Knapp Photoraphy

When we reached campsite #60, we also reached the access point for our fishing marathon. The bend around Bumgardner Ridge features a lot of high gradient water and this starts immediately above this backcountry campsite. In fact, we were almost tempted to bail on this fishing trip before we made it more than a hundred yards. The water was still on the high side from lots of recent rainfall. This made moving back and forth across the stream challenging at best.

We weren't catching fish at a lightning pace either. Because this water is close to a backcountry campsite, the first few hundred yards assumedly receives a fair amount of fishing pressure. As we moved higher up the drainage, we began to feel like we were truly on remote waters. The trail here loops far back from the stream as it crosses Bumgardner Ridge. Thus, once we entered this section, we were committed to make it through or have to wade all the way back down to our starting point.

Fish started to show up, although not in huge numbers. We caught one here and one there, but never several in one spot. More than anything, this was a product of heavy water that was borderline for fishing in many spots. Some of the better pocket water was simply too fast and turbulent. Here, my buddy John fishes one pocket next to a rapid. Once the water drops a bit more, what was then heavy water will turn into the best fishing water in this section. Overall, I think this section would fish better in the summer or even fall.

Smokies fly fishing on Deep Creek

Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing on Deep Creek

Moving on up the river, we came to several gorgeous pools. There were probably 4 or 5 excellent pools in this whole stretch. In other words, a LOT of wading and a LOT of work for a few prime fishing spots. We persevered, however, and were rewarded with some beautiful wild rainbow and brown trout. This is the Great Smoky Mountains backcountry, and the real reward here is a pristine and remote environment where you won't see another angler all day. This seems to be increasingly hard to find these days. For this reason, the fishing was great even while the catching was a little slow.

Deep Creek brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

By mid day, the fish were looking up and we kept switching between nymph rigs and dry/dropper rigs depending on the water type. As much as possible we stuck with the dry fly setups. A seriously good hatch never really materialized on this trip, but there were enough bugs around to get the attention of the trout. John got several dry fly eats in this hole, for example.

In the Great Smoky Mountains on Deep Creek, we find the Orvis 10' 3 weight rod in its natural habitat



An angler on Deep Creek in the Smokies hooks a nice trout and gets the rod bent

John was fishing an Orvis Superfine rod which was perfect for dry flies on this type of water. I had brought an Orvis 10' 3 weight Recon which not only fishes dry flies very well, but is also perfect for high sticking nymphs as anglers have done in the Smokies for a 100 years. Back in the day it was done with a long cane pole, and today we use modern graphite fly rods, but otherwise the techniques are still nearly identical. The long rod is used to run heavily weighted nymphs through deep dark runs where trout like to hide and the result is truly amazing.

There are many fish in these creeks and an angler who is effective at high sticking will find lots of those trout. While similar to the newer techniques known collectively as "euro nymphing," high sticking still has its own distinct flavor. For example, on this trip I left the sighter or indicator tippet at home. Split shot is used in addition to weighted flies. There are other subtle differences, but in reality euro nymphing is a new spin on an old method we have been using for a long time here in east Tennessee.



Even in the high water, stealth was important. We were able to get closer than usual, but still made sure to stay low and sneak up on the trout. The fish in the Smokies are some of the spookiest I've ever fished for. If I could share one piece of knowledge with visiting anglers, it would be to focus on stealth. Dress to blend in with your surroundings, stay low, and think like a predator. Stalk the trout you are after.

By late afternoon, we were both getting tired. This had turned into one of the longest and hardest days of fishing I've ever had in the Smokies, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. This was a long time goal of mine, and I'm thrilled to have finally made it to fly fish around the bend below Bumgardner Ridge. We had taken some very specific observations early that morning on the hike in and now we got out of the creek a bit short of the accepted exit point for this stretch which is directly across from Bridge Creek. We climbed out before that and were glad that we did. Both of us were tired and that is when accidents usually start to happen. Better to quit and fish another day than to push on and get injured.

Back in camp that evening, we discussed the next day. Our original itinerary involved moving upstream to a couple more camps over the next two nights, finally exiting to Newfound Gap Road on Monday. The last weather report we got called for rain and storms on Sunday as well as a good chance of rain on Saturday. We knew the fishing would get tough if we stayed and decided that hiking out the following morning would be the best plan. Neither of us was dying to stay holed up in a tent while it rained or, even worse, stormed all day. This proved to be an excellent decision but we wouldn't know how good until the next day.

Deep Creek is one of my favorite fly fishing destinations in the Smokies. While I don't always catch as many trout as on other streams of the Smokies, something good always happens. On this trip, it was beginning to look like the "something good" for this trip was fulfilling my longtime goal of fishing around Bumgardner Ridge, but we still had the hike out.

To be continued...


Friday, April 19, 2019

First Full Day of Fly Fishing on Deep Creek

The original plan for this camping trip was to start on lower Deep Creek and work our way to the headwaters over the course of several days. With that goal in mind, we wanted to fish the big bend around Bumgardner Ridge above campsite #60 on our first day. When we arrived Wednesday evening, the stream seemed fairly high after rain a few days prior to our trip. Since neither of us had ever fished the bend, we didn't want to get in there with water conditions being a little high. So, after some discussion, we decided to fish water immediately downstream and upstream of camp for our first day. This proved to be an excellent decision.

As with much of the fishing this time of year, things started out rather cool on Thursday morning. With the cool start, the fish were a bit slow getting going. We caught a handful of fish here and there, but it wasn't until the sun had been on the water a couple of hours that things really got going. We walked back downstream to campsite #59 with the goal of fishing back to our camp (#58). Deep nymphing proved to be the magic formula early. I was fishing a double nymph rig while John was working a dry/dropper. Throughout the shady stretches, I caught a few fish deep but it wasn't until he through into the first little patch of sunlight reaching the creek that John got a rise to the dry fly.

By the time we were approaching campsite #58, sunlight had reached nearly the entire creek valley and the fish were starting to really turn on. Lots of small brown trout were in the flats immediately downstream of camp and were more than willing to smash the dry fly or run with the little Pheasant Tail dropper. When the bear cables at our campsite came into view, we were both getting hungry and lunch in the comfort of camp seemed like a good idea. Here are a couple of pictures from the morning session.

Big red spots on a Deep Creek brown trout

Deep Creek fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Deep Creek in the Smokies and a perfect bend pool for fly fishing

After lunch, we hustled upstream to check out the water between campsite #57, #56, and #55. This is probably my favorite backcountry water on Deep Creek when it comes to fishing for brown trout. I've caught some really big brown trout (for the water) in this stretch in past years and was hoping for more of the same.

Because of the elevated water levels, getting around was a bit tougher in this stretch than I am used to. Fish were out and hungry though and the fishing was good. I kept switching back and forth between a double nymph rig and a dry/dropper rig. Fish were coming up to dry flies just often enough to want one tied on, but more were eating the nymphs. As usual, my simple caddis pupa was accounting for a lot of fish. Deep Creek and other North Carolina streams have an insane amount of caddis. We only noticed sporadic mayfly activity which seems odd this time of year. However, the bright sunny day definitely wasn't helping us when it came to good hatches of mayflies.

While no single fish really stands out from that day, we did catch plenty of very healthy and fat rainbow and brown trout. Each fish was carefully released to grow some more and hopefully be there the next time I return to Deep Creek. Here are a couple of fish from our day.




By mid afternoon, a stout breeze had kicked up. In fact, things got a bit dicey for a while. The wind was really rolling through the Deep Creek valley and every once in a while, large branches would fall out of the trees. We also heard some huge crashes back in the woods. There are many dead hemlock trees along the banks of Deep Creek and this made for a more exciting than usual day. It got bad enough at one point that we actually discussed whether we would need to get our stuff and hike out. Thankfully, just about the time it was really getting unbearable, the wind started to ease off. The rest of our trip wouldn't be that windy.

By late in the afternoon, we had reached a trail junction. Just upstream was a nice pool that I always like to fish. We decided to make that our last stop of the day. I quickly waded upstream and started working the deep water, hoping for a big brown trout. It wasn't meant to be on this day, although I did stick another fine rainbow trout. As we hiked back to camp, we decided that the stream levels had fallen enough to justify the excursion through the bend around Bumgardner Ridge the next day. We hoped for good weather and hungry trout plus a good night's rest...




Read Part One of our Deep Creek Trip HERE.

For information on guided fly fishing trips in the Smokies, please visit our guide site, Trout Zone Anglers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Return To An Old Favorite: Deep Creek

Rivers are like old friends. You may not see each other for a while, but when you do, things pick back up right where you left off. Deep Creek on the North Carolina side of the Smokies is just like that for me. I'll routinely go several months and often more like years between trips there, but each time I stop by, it always seems to show off for me. I once caught my largest brown trout at that point in my angling career in the Great Smoky Mountains in Deep Creek. I've also spent more long hiking days there then anywhere else in the Park, at least with a fly rod in hand.

My favorite trips have tended to be multi-day backcountry trips. Several days in the woods with a fly rod is good for the soul. That said, I'm selfishly glad that more people aren't lining up to try it out. Solitude is always a huge part of the draw for me when I'm in the mountains. I've made many good memories on Deep Creek, and I just got back from yet another incredible excursion.

The most recent trip happened the way most trips do, with an offhand comment. When my friend John mentioned that he enjoyed backpacking, I agreed with a "if you ever want company on a trip let me know."  Several months later, we both had cabin fever and were thinking about the good fishing of spring. I have fished nearly all of Deep Creek at some point or another, but never in one sitting. I floated the idea of a hike from top to bottom or perhaps bottom to top and John quickly agreed. From there on, the trip took a life of its own.

Once permits were secured, we were mostly committed to heading in on a Wednesday and not hiking out until a Monday, a glorious five nights and six days in the backcountry. I say mostly because the whims of weather, among other things, are what actually dictates any camping trip. While I have no problem roughing it, I also don't want to be in the middle of the mountains during an extreme weather event. Then, two weeks before the scheduled departure date, I came down with the flu. Staring at a hard deadline to get well, I committed to lots of rest and plenty of fluids and Vitamin C.

The weekend before our trip started, I found myself hiking 5+ miles and feeling good the next day, so things were looking up. After following that up with a couple of days of guiding, I knew that I would be fine. I had scheduled Tuesday off, so it was spent with a last minute trip to the grocery for a few food items and with packing which consists of cramming way too much stuff into my old Lowe Alpine backpack.

My packing list seemed a mile long, yet I couldn't reasonably get rid of too many things from that list: backpack, tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow (a tiny inflatable job), headlamp, trekking poles, various items of clothing, jacket, rain jacket, TP, bear spray (a simple precaution), cookware, cookstove, fuel, food, water filter, water bottle, camera, oh and plenty of fishing gear. I normally carry way more fishing stuff than I need and this trip was about par for the course. The highlight of this particular trip was my new Patagonia ultralight wading pants. I think they call them the Gunnison wading pants. Turns out they were one of the better purchases I have made in a while along with the ultralight wading boots from the same company. My wading gear now weighed less than just my usual wading boots. They are great boots, I should add, but a little heavy for backcountry camping. In the end, I was torn between wet wading and taking my new wading pants, but ultimately I knew that the water would be cold in the mornings if nothing else.

Finally, the big day had arrived and we met up in Townsend at Little River Outfitters. This allowed us to get any last minute necessities if we thought of something. From there, we made the drive over the ridge on highway 441. Lunch was a quick stop for Italian food in Bryson City and plenty of carbs to power our hike. Over lunch, we made what turned out to be a very smart decision. With the weather forecast was looking good, up until Saturday. From there on, it would deteriorate to a day of rain and perhaps storms on Sunday. We decided that the smart thing would be to hike out on Saturday before the nasty weather arrived.

Hitting the trail, we finally started towards our destination for the next three nights, backcountry campsite #58. The spring wildflowers were blooming in profusion, and I was wishing that the camera wasn't packed away so efficiently. We really needed to make it to camp, though, so I mostly left it alone. The one exception to that was when I saw a Painted Trillium by the side of the trail. This was a treat, especially at the lower elevation we were hiking at. I took off my heavy pack and dug out the camera for a quick picture.

Deep Creek trail and a Painted Trillium


Continuing along, we managed the always painful climb over Bumgardner Ridge before descending back to the creek. The final approach to our campsite featured a series of short climbs and descents with some level stretches mixed in for good measure. The trail sticks to the east side of Deep Creek except in the lowest reaches, so there is a lot of up and down as the creek meanders up against the steep hillsides. Finally, we passed campsite #59 and then Nick's Nest Branch. As we turned the corner from the creek, our campsite was dead ahead. As it turns out, #58 was a very nice campsite with benches alongside the fire pit. This was perfect for us to spread our gear out and cook our meals among other things.

We got our tents up, and otherwise organized the campsite for our stay. Firewood was collected, and supper was cooked. With a full stomach, I soon turned my attention to other important items.

Campsite #58 on Deep Creek

Campsite #58 on Deep Creek setting up camp


As the sun sank low in the western sky, I decided to quickly rig up. I was dying to try my new wading pants and catch a fish or two! The water was still up from recent rainfall, so I went with a deep nymphing rig including my favorite caddis pupa and a light pink worm pattern. Some split shot made sure I was getting down. Finally, in a small pool just above the campsite, it happened. My line ticked, I set the hook, and the first rainbow trout of the trip soon came to hand. The gorgeous rainbow was fired up and jumped several times.

Rainbow trout on Deep Creek

When I caught this rainbow, I was about out of daylight and thus legal fishing hours. I reeled in, got my wading pants off, and considered the first day a big success. The hike in hadn't caused as much pain as I anticipated so that was a big plus. We got the fire going and enjoyed a quick fire before heading to bed. Neither of us wanted to stay up too late. Rest was important for the big days of fishing ahead...


Read part two of the story on this backpacking trip HERE.

Find information on a Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing guide HERE.


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Chasing Golden Trout in the High Sierra

One of my dream trips is backpacking in the high Sierra Nevada mountains of California in pursuit of not only golden trout, but also a true wilderness experience in a habitat unlike any other that I have enjoyed yet. This video is of an epic backpacking trip high into the mountains in pursuit of golden trout. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me!

These other recent posts on the Trout Zone may interest you as well!