Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth
Showing posts with label Brook Trout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brook Trout. Show all posts

Friday, February 21, 2020

Sacred Places

Every angler should have a secret place. The probability that no one else fishes a particular piece of water is low, but hope springs eternal in the minds of anglers and the possibility does technically exist. Maybe, just maybe you can find that one perfect stream or pond that no one else visits. Or, if they do, maybe only a handful of other anglers know about it.

My secret places are scattered across the country. There is that canyon stream in Arizona. While I know it does get fished, the number of anglers is clearly low based on the lack of a stream side fisherman's trail. In Colorado, two of my favorite small streams clearly don't get fished much based on the reception I always receive from their clean finned residents. The fish are generally pushovers and obviously don't see much pressure. In Yellowstone, a favorite section of the Yellowstone River itself always fishes well. It is almost as if no one else wants to walk that far off trail in grizzly infested country. This is precisely a big piece of why it fishes so well and also has a lot to do with why I'm normally a bit jumpy on the hike into this bit of water.

Closer to home, some of my favorite water on the Cumberland Plateau obviously doesn't see much pressure. At least, the fish are about as gullible as smallmouth should be while still reserving just a bit of cunning to make things interesting. This could be explained by the copperheads, rattlesnakes, ticks, and chiggers you have to get past first. Yet, I keep going back if only once or twice a year to one of these streams or another. In a good year I might make half a dozen trips. The overlap between gaps in the guide calendar and good smallmouth fishing just doesn't exist, so these trips are at least a bit intentional and not just a last minute whim. Still, when a cancelation comes in late during the warm months, chances are high that I'll head to a smallmouth stream the next day.

In the Smokies, which are my true home waters if you overlook the hour and a half drive, lightly pressured water is getting more and more difficult to find. Despite the constant barrage of "facts" showing that our sport is declining, I keep seeing more and more anglers on the water. This isn't all bad either. More anglers equates to more people advocating for our fisheries. Of course, it also means that I'm more likely to hike three miles only to find the entire stream saturated with other likeminded optimists.

When I hike any distance anywhere, I mostly expect to find the stream devoid of other anglers and the fish willing to the point of stupidity. Rarely does it work out that both of those things happen, although I can still find water to myself more often than not. The fish just aren't the easy things they were when I started into this sport and the streams were less crowded. Back then, an hour's walk basically guaranteed a phenomenal day of fishing. Now, the day might still turn out rather well, but the fish are more educated and require a few tweaks to the fly selection before becoming agreeable.

Some would say that the fishing is getting more technical. I don't know about that other than to say that some of my best fishing in the mountains lately has been on midges. Is that because I finally tied on a fly that no one else is really fishing? Or is it because there were massive midge emergences both times I've been up there lately? Probably the latter but one never knows for sure. Just in case, I'm still keeping all of my old tried and true flies in their respective boxes in the hopes I can leave the midge box at home again soon. In the meantime, I'll keep tying on a midge more often than not. At least I can get away with 5x instead of the 6x required on my local tailwaters.

Last year, I made a point to fish some new water. That could mean new to me streams, or sections of streams I haven't fished before. More often than not, these adventures ended up taking longer than I intended, but I'm not complaining. At least once, I inadvertently fished a new section of stream when I bushwhacked in at the wrong spot. That was one of my favorite trips of the year.

A healthy hike is required to reach this particular stream. The rainbows have faded out at this elevation, leaving just native southern Appalachian brook trout for anglers willing to work hard to reach them. I've fished this stream off and on for at least 15 years and perhaps longer. What I do know is that this is some of the best brook trout fishing I know of. On its best days, this stream can leave you feeling like you are the only one who ever fishes there. Those days are more common on this stream than not, but I've also had days where only a handful of fish were caught. On those days, one always wonders where the fish have gone.

The trip can be done about as easily as an overnight or longer trip or as a day trip. Lately, I've started to become interested in backpacking more again. Since I don't fish as often as I used to (pro tip: don't start guiding if the goal is to fish more), I've begun planning my trips with more care, aiming for quality instead of quantity. So far it seems to be working. This particular trip started with a casual discussion with a friend who was interested in trying some backpacking. Greg has a strong preference for brook trout in wild places. Since I also have a soft spot for our arguably most beautiful native fish, the decision was easy. Three nights with two hard days of fishing and perhaps some fishing on our arrival and departure days seemed about right.

I described the amazing little creek to him but tried to hold back a little, probably afraid it wouldn't live up to either of our expectations. However, when all was said and done, the stream really outdid itself. Between the two of us, we caught, well, let's just say we caught a lot of brook trout and never mind exactly how many. The real beauty of this stream was the quality of the fish there. Some of them were pushing nine inches which is really nice for a brook trout in the Smokies. The largest was caught by Greg and measured 10.5" exactly. Oh, and most were on dry flies. These native brookies are real gems, almost too beautiful to touch.

Brook Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of my 9" native brook trout from Stream X. ©2019 David Knapp Photography

While I normally gravitate towards the ease associated with nymphs, I prefer dry flies whenever and wherever possible. On this trip, I took just a few basic bead head droppers just in case and then an inordinate number of dry flies. I think I may have used a grand total of 4 or 5 the entire trip. The longevity of each fly had a lot to do with tying them myself and adding a few reinforcements. Yellow dry flies brought fish to the surface just like they should in the Smokies. Orange was starting to work some also with the approach of fall.

The fish were generally where they were supposed to be, but surprises showed up in some not so obvious places as well. The big plunge pool beneath a small waterfall didn't yield many, while some other large pools produced fish after fish. One rather nice brook trout was hiding in a tight little pocket under a dark plunge. I let my fly drift back into the blackness, and no matter how fishy that spot was, I was still shocked when the tip of my fly rod jerked down hard. That was also the day that the fishing seemed a little off.

The first part of the day was decent, but the catching would just start and stop for no apparent reason. We ended up with nearly as many trout as we had caught on the first day, but had to work a little harder for them. Some sections of stream seemed rather barren, and I was left wondering if I had come along behind the Park fisheries crew.

On another backpacking trip, my friends and I had marched miles and miles into the backcountry with expectations of gloriously easy fishing. That was the trip I stepped over a rattlesnake on the trail too many miles from help if things had gone differently. Thankfully the snake was sluggish and downright genial. That same day, our neighbors in camp had found and killed a large rattlesnake on a midstream boulder and seen three others. They were planning on eating the snake that night. My buddy Pat explained to them that, as this was a National Park, all of the wildlife was protected, and if a ranger showed up, they better make the dead snake scarce. I don't know if they got the message or not, but we didn't spend too much time worrying about it beyond a momentary sadness.

That was another trip where we had started with great hopes of walking many miles to find pristine water. When we found another party there with the same ideas, we had to make some adjustments. The funny part about that trip is that the Park fisheries crew had been there just the week prior and the trout were still in a stupor on the creek they had sampled. We caught a few fish, but either the stream didn't have as many or they were still all in shock, pun intended.

Fly anglers are eternal optimists, doggedly pursuing small, surprisingly difficult quarry in tiny creeks and streams, all in the hopes of discovering fly fishing nirvana. On that trip, we didn't find what we were looking for. When the stream started branching into more and more little branches and things got tight, we finally gave up and traipsed back down to camp on the nice trail the fisheries crew had trampled down the week before. That trip seems like a lifetime ago now, but the trip to my favorite brook trout stream is still clear in my mind.

As the last day of fishing on that brookie stream started to wind down, we found ourselves far from the trail. We finished fishing that evening at a big plunge pool high in the mountains with many miles of good brook trout water above us. We were both a little tired I think, Greg and I. Living on backpacking rations works well, but once your metabolism catches up to your increased activity levels, freeze dried food just doesn't satisfy anymore. We were both running strong on the high of adventure but also starting to think about home.

As we walked back to camp for one more night in the mountains, I asked him if that was the best brook trout stream he had ever fished. After thinking about it a while, Greg agreed that it was an incredible stream, but also mentioned his own favorite stream. Every angler should have a sacred place and his was possibly elsewhere. Only more time on both would ultimately determine which was his favorite. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with having several sacred places either.

Most of the places I fish are ones I'm willing to talk about. I do have some sacred places though, and this brook trout stream is one of them. Probably there are many places in the Smokies that still have fishing as good as we experienced in those two days, maybe even better. This one is mine, though, and while I don't mind letting people know that a place like that exists, I won't be drawing maps for anyone anytime soon. In the winter months, I'll be pouring over trail and topographic maps searching for yet another amazing backcountry trout stream. More places like this exist, but it takes determination and lots of effort to track them down.

Lately, my exploring has been done via Google and Google maps. I've been researching for a big trip this summer to Glacier. My wife has graciously agreed for me to pursue bull trout somewhere west of there after we hike in Glacier National Park for a week, and I've honed in on one place in particular. What drew me to that area was a plethora of documentation that shows where the bulls should be. In other words, I've never been there, but feel certain, that I can walk almost to the very spot where I should be able to find some bull trout. That is the danger of the inter webs. Good information used to be the result of lots of research. Now, with the click of a few buttons, I can find where to catch a bull trout to within a hundred yards of a likely spot.

For now, I'm selfishly glad that the information was so accessible. I've never caught bull trout, so this will be a bucket list item checked off if all goes well. On the other hand, once that happens, I might add this stream system to my list of sacred places. In that case, you may get a report, but it will be fuzzy on the details which is as it should be.

Back closer to home, I've been looking for new places to dump my boat in the water close to home for a few hours. Again, Google maps has been a lot of help. There are numerous small lakes in the area, and at least some of them have to have a boat ramp, right? The larger lakes sound interesting too. With Dale Hollow, Center Hill, Watts Bar, and lots of other big reservoirs in middle and east Tennessee within an hour or hour and a half, the appeal of new fishing opportunities draws me in. Yet, for some reason, I haven't gone very far out of my way to try these different options. When I want true adventure, I usually tend to look for moving water. The smaller the better. That's probably because of the difficulty of enjoying your own fishing hole with bass boats jetting past at 60 miles per hour.

One stream that I really like to fish feels a lot like brook trout fishing. It's one of those trickles that you pass on your way to better known water. I don't know of anyone else that fishes there. The beauty of this little stream lies in the resident coosa bass. For some reason they are there, probably a past stocking experiment that everyone has forgotten about. The fish are small but generally aggressive. When I say small, it is truly like brook trout fishing on a tiny Smoky Mountain stream. Lots of 5-7 inch fish but much larger starts getting into the trophy category. Most people would find this boring when there are 3 pound smallmouth just down the road, but knowing that this is my stream keeps me coming back. Eventually, I'll probably find out that someone else is fishing there as well. In the meantime, I'll keep it on my list of sacred places. When I find another fisherman, I'll hope it is one of their sacred places as well.






Thursday, December 29, 2016

Busy Is Good: Looking Back on 2016

In any normal year, a low number of posts would be a bad sign for my time on the water. For 2016, the lack of posts has actually been the result of more time on the water. Busy is good if you ask me. Busy is better when it involves setting a new personal record for days on the water in one year. My goal for next year is to pass 200 days on the water. That includes fishing and guiding just to be clear.

While 2016 was a phenomenal year for me as far as guiding goes, the focus of this post is on my own fishing adventures. While I'll throw in a tease or two from my work, check out Trout Zone Anglers and the blog there for a complete year end summary of the guiding for the year. That post should be up in a day or two.

My own fishing for the year started off in early January. One of my favorite days on the water that month was spent in the Smokies. No big surprise there I know. The day was particularly memorable because of the nice brown trout I found. Late in the month, I would spend some time fishing for brook trout with the idea of trying to catch one each month of the year. That worthy goal would sadly not be met, but hopefully I'll have plenty more years to try it.


February was an unusually slow month for me. I didn't get out much although the local farm ponds did keep me from going crazy, and the chance to solve an interesting fishing riddle was as much fun as anything. Being a leap year, we had an extra day available and I made the most of it to keep my brook trout streak going. Ironically, I kept the streak going for the two toughest months of the year before it fell by the wayside.


March was more or less a normal month and included the beginning of my spring trips down to the Hiwassee that I try to squeeze in every year. The change of pace this year included my increasing trips down to the Clinch River. Some nice fish were caught and I began to appreciate this unique tailwater more and more.



April saw the fishing action pick up significantly. In addition to trout, smallmouth bass were becoming quite active. A new favorite trip was born that featured stocked trout in the upper reaches (that we never actually caught) and smallmouth and musky throughout the rest of the trip. I was fishing with my buddy David Perry. With both of us spending so much time guiding, trips together have been fewer as of late, but this is a spring trip that I hope to do again many times.


I hit the jackpot in May when I was able to fish one of those cloudy days that threatens rain. The bugs poured off. The trout rose. The angler was happy. In prior years, I tended to hit these great days when I was guiding, and that is a good time to guide. I'm always super happy when I can show someone a legitimate hatch in the Smokies, but I like to fish it myself as well on occasion.


Somewhere in late spring or early summer, I found myself the owner of a smartphone due to the generosity of a friend. If that hadn't of happened, I'm sure I would still be enjoying my old flip phone. however, since I did have a smartphone finally, I decided to embrace everything about it and started using Instagram. If you haven't been there yet, there are a lot more pictures there then you will find here including a lot from my guide trips as well as my own fishing excursions. Be sure to follow me there as well as on Facebook!

June found me chasing smallmouth harder than ever. In between guiding a lot, I also found some time to float the Caney Fork River with friends Jayson and Pat for Jayson's bachelor party. That turned into one of the best trips of the whole year. We caught and landed both good numbers and some really nice fish in terms of size. I got my first big brown trout of the year on that float. Here is the groom Jayson with one of his twenty inchers and net man Pat...


July was hot, but the river continued to fish very well. In fact, it just kept getting better as the summer wore on. Smallmouth bass were also active and I made a trip I've been thinking about for years. My friend Mark Brown from Chota and I met up for a truly epic adventure. I saw my first live rattlesnake on the Cumberland Plateau ever on that trip and was so surprised I forgot to get a picture. In between bee stings, rattlesnakes, and copperheads, we did manage to find some great smallmouth.


In August, I started things out with more big backcountry smallmouth bass. By this point, the Caney Fork was fishing so obviously well that it was hard to keep me away. I was spending more time on the river than anyone really deserves to spend fishing. It began to pay off finally with some great brown trout, culminating in my personal best brown trout from the Caney Fork River. I caught the fish while sight fishing with a midge and after locating it a couple of days prior on a guide trip. There are some perks to guiding other than just spending time outside every day and one of those is locating great fish!


In September, I did another summer trip I've been considering for a few years. It turns out that it was as scary as I had anticipated and then some, but it was nice to do it once in my life at least. From now on, that will be a winter only trip.


October and November were both great months, but the high points of the year had already passed from a fishing perspective. The one exception to that was a trip with my cousins to camp in the Smokies that was one of the best of the year. We fished all over, caught some nice brook trout, and relaxed. I still caught plenty of big fish and that continued into December with a special brown trout on the Clinch River.




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Before the Big Burn

The wildfire that affected portions of the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg is already receding into memory for most people. Unfortunately, for those more directly affected, it will take a lot longer for things to be normal again. While the people who tragically lost homes and businesses and even loved ones have suffered the most, the landscape also suffered in the short term.

Portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park above Gatlinburg will probably be quite different for some time to come. These are the areas where the fire burned the hottest on exposed ridge tops where the wind conspired to do the most damage. Thankfully, portions of the streams that we all know and love, while affected, are mostly not as damaged. There is damage, and the hardest part will simply be in waiting to see when we'll be allowed to fish these waters again, but overall it appears that the streams were spared the brunt of this fire. Until then, we can only remember the good times that once were.

One of the more popular brook trout streams in the Park is near the fire's origin. This is a stream that I had the good fortune of fishing with my cousins back in early November. The air was already hazy from the burns over in North Carolina, but we still enjoyed the opportunity to get out on the water and enjoy the late season warmth. Some of the most beautiful fish you will ever find are brook trout in their fall dress. Here are a few photos from our day on the water. Hopefully these jewels survived and will continue to do so as they have for many years. For more on this trip, check out this full trip report I did over on the Little River Outfitters message board.











Friday, March 04, 2016

Using the Extra Day


Starting a new personal challenge can be difficult, especially if you virtually quit before starting. Back in January, I announced my goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Then I proceeded to quit fishing for several weeks or at least something close to that.

My trip to California probably had something to do with that, but also there were extenuating circumstances. Here on the Cumberland Plateau, high water dominated through February. In the Smokies, frequent bouts of cold weather gave the trout a severe case of lock jaw. Not that I'm opposed to fishing in tough conditions, mind you, but I had gotten a little soft. Beyond that, I spent much more time hiking here close to home than I normally do. Hiking and exploring just for the joy of getting outside is a great way to stay in shape for the upcoming fishing season. Unfortunately it doesn't help me catch fish.

And so I woke up one morning and noticed the calendar barreling towards March at an alarming rate. My brook trout challenge was about to die, almost before starting. Thankfully, Fate had already intervened ahead of time by designating this as a leap year. When I saw that extra day on the calendar for February, I knew it meant I had to get out and catch a brook trout. That is how I found myself headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past Monday. The goal was to catch brook trout on Monday and then look for spring hatches on Tuesday.

Responsibilities closer to home kept my in Crossville until 11:00 a.m. or so, but then I was heading towards the mountains. A new 2016 fishing license was in hand (yes, it is that time again). My usual quick stop by Little River Outfitters was nearly skipped because of the late hour and the fact that my brook trout challenge was facing failure. In the end, I decided to stop by to say hello to the guys working there. This quick stop helped me to relax a bit and not take the brook trout challenge too seriously, important stuff when you only have a handful of hours left to keep the streak alive. Fishing relaxed will always turn out better than fishing stressed.

Driving up the mountain, I intended to fish road side. Smokemont was the destination for the night's camping, and I knew where a few brookies were on my way there. Normally I'll head up high before starting, but on this day I didn't go quite as far as normal. Last December, on a guide trip, I had an angler miss what I was certain was a colorful brook trout from a plunge pool with a big back eddy. That fish was the one I was hoping for.

Before I knew it I had my waders on and looked at the rods I had brought with me. Which one to use? The tube containing my Orvis Superfine Glass rod (7'6" 4 weight) jumped out at me so I put it together and attached a Hydros reel loaded with 4 weight line. To this I added a black Elk Hair Caddis on the end of a 5x leader in size #16 and dropped a small bead head nymph off the bend of the dry fly hook using 6x tippet. With my fishing pack in tow along with a camera, I finally had everything together and headed to my spot. The sun was still on the water. This time of year that is generally a good thing.


I warmed up by fishing a couple of pools below the place I had pinned my hopes on. By the time I slid into position just across from the back eddy, my casts were going approximately where they should, and I felt as confident as one could when fishing against the clock. Two drifts around the back eddy resulted in absolutely nothing, but then the fish helped me by betraying its presence. Rising to some minuscule hatch just behind the large boulder that created the safe haven, it didn't eat fast enough to avoid detection. A glimpse of bright orange fins told me this was indeed the fish I was looking for. My next cast was perfect, about 10 inches above the fish. It turned and followed. I saw its mouth open and close and knew it had taken the dropper. All that was left was to not screw up and lose this pretty brook trout. Mission accomplished.


After enjoying the elation of keeping my streak intact, I went looking for a few more trout before heading over the ridge to camp. Over the next hour, I was surprised by another six or seven trout, about 50/50 rainbow to brook trout. My surprise was not because of the beautiful and unseasonably warm day, but because the water was frigid like snow melt. Turns out it was snow melt, but the fish were still ready to eat after a cold winter. Some of them even ate dry flies!





Most of the fish involved some form of spotting before catching and most were spotted because I saw them rise first. Spring is definitely coming, but as the afternoon wore on it was hard to remember that. The temperature started dropping as cold air came down from the snowpack just above, and I decided to head on to camp with enough daylight to fish some in the lower elevations.

Using the extra day helped keep my short brook trout streak alive. Going into the warm months should help extend the streak now. I have two of the toughest months out of the way and improving conditions ahead.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January Brook Trout


As the calendar turned from 2015 to 2016, I began to think about fishing goals for the new year. I'm not a resolution kind of a guy because why wait until the calendar changes to get things on track? However, from a fishing perspective, it is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same thing each time I get out on the water. With that in mind, I've set a goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Originally I even contemplated doing it using dry flies only or maybe Tenkara, but for now those ideas are on hold.

Still, when I decided to head up to the mountains this past Sunday, I knew the early morning hours would be spent chasing brown trout. After having such a good day the previous Sunday, I figured it was too good an opportunity to ignore. I still had that monster to track down and land. For some reason that fish was nowhere to be seen. After doing a lot of scouting and a little bit of casting, all I had to show for it was 3-4 half hearted chases and one fired up fish that couldn't find the hook. The time had come to move on to plan B.

Before heading to one of my favorite brook trout streams, I rolled into Townsend to warm up and chat with the guys at Little River Outfitters. A short stop turned into a longer one as the nice warm shop was hard to leave. I knew that I might not get back to the mountains much again in January though so I eventually forced myself back out into the cold to go find those brook trout.

When I lived in Colorado, winter time streamer fishing on Boulder Creek right in the middle of the town of Boulder was one of my favorite things to do. I could get out for an hour or two, walk the ice along the banks, and maybe even catch a trout or two. Often I would be surprised by nice brook trout that hammered the streamer so I knew that they loved streamers. If you know me this is probably shocking information, but I actually have not fished streamers for brook trout in the Smokies, until this past Sunday that is.

As it turns out, the native brook trout of the Smokies like streamers as well although water temperatures in 30s meant that the hits were few and far between. I did get this beautiful fish on just the second or third cast which meant I could relax the rest of the time and not worry as much about catching trout.


Able to enjoy myself, I spent more time looking around than fishing after catching that trout. My camera provided another avenue of enjoyment. Here are a few of the stream shots. Notice the dusting of snow on this cold January day.




Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Trout Zone's 2015 Year in Review

With the end of the year comes the usual "Year in Review" posts proliferating on your favorite fly fishing blogs. Mine is no exception. This is a long running tradition that I try* to accomplish every year, not for my readers but for myself. Not everyone is able to enjoy the adventures that I experience on a yearly basis, and reliving those moments reminds me of how blessed I truly am.

If you are interested in catching up on some previous years' posts, here are a couple of my favorites.

2014 Year in Review

2011: Quality Fishing


Just looking over those two posts reminded me of the great times I've had. I'm also reminded of the tough times. Checking the archives reminded me that I did not do a year in review for 2013. That probably has something to do with a transition back to TN from Colorado and career change. Regardless of how exciting that can be, it also comes with a lot of stress and difficulty. Thankfully, 2015 has been a very good year, both for the second year of my new venture as a fly fishing guide, and also for my own fly fishing and exploring opportunities.

Early in the year, I had one of those memorable days of streamer fishing that every streamer junkie dreams about. As it turns out, that would be a precursor of things to come.

As the winter continued, the early pleasant weather of December and January gave way to some of the nastiest winter weather. Not one but two ice storms pounded the Cumberland Plateau. In between the crazy weather, I did manage to enjoy some time on the Hiwassee and experienced first-hand how successful the delayed harvest has become.


Once the ice hit, we were knocked out of business for a while. With electricity (and Internet) out for 10 days, I returned to the days of the pioneers. Turns out that is not necessarily a bad thing! I got to bed early every night (what else was I going to do?), building up strength that was then spent cleaning up from the general devastation. We're still seeing and hearing limbs coming down from the ice storm.


As we rolled into March, some of the biggest news of the year happened, at least if you were a Smoky Mountain fisherman: Lynn Camp Prong was opened after a multi-year closure to restore the native southern Appalachia brook trout. There are still way too many people fishing that stream for my taste, but another year or so should fix that as people get it out of their systems and move back to trying other equally good (or arguably better) waters.

Also in March, I added a new state to my list of places fished. A pleasant trip down to South Carolina to see my cousin gave us time to catch up and get some much needed spring fishing in. Tennessee was still trying to catch up from the cold weather and our spring hatches were a bit delayed. In South Carolina, I found both bugs and rising trout although most fish were caught subsurface.

Shortly thereafter, I managed to sneak away for a day of brook trout fishing in the Smokies. This turned out to be one of my favorite days of fishing for the year. Admittedly, I do have a few of those. Another was soon to come in fact.


Squeezing a fishing and camping trip around a guide trip, I managed to fish more new water (I did that a LOT in 2015!). This time it was a trip over to the North Carolina side of the Park. Not only did I get in some streamer fishing (there's that theme again!), but I hiked up a stream that I had wanted to fish hard for a while and had a banner day.


Guide trips were in full swing by the end of April and we were seeing hatches complete with rising trout nearly every day. Not just a few bugs here and there, but lots of bugs across all of the streams fished. Important lessons were learned in the process as the fish become just selective enough that you actually needed to have more or less the right bug on the end of your line.

May continued with more of the same great fishing and catching. Two highlights in particular stand out for that month. The first was a float trip with my dad down the Caney Fork. We spent a considerable amount of time teaching him to both cast and to set the hook, but once that was accomplished things went quite well. Late in the month, around guide trips and other things that kept me busy overall, I had a banner day fishing for smallmouth on a Cumberland Plateau stream that yielded my largest small stream smallie to date.


June was busy enough with my guiding that it tied for the month with the second fewest blog posts. The guiding went quite well, however, with a Father's Day guided float trip seeing a big trout landed on the Caney Fork.

In July, we received a much needed shot in the arm with rain finally falling after an extended period of low flows in the mountains. This cool deluge brought down stream temperatures, boosted flows, and got the fish interested in feeding heavily again. One of the highlights of the year guiding was having a return client nail a big brown trout on a terrestrial in the Smokies. We were both really happy about that!

The streamer theme for the year really took off in early August. A change of plans had my cousin and his father-in-law throwing streamers on high water on the Caney. We found some willing trout and some big ones at that! This fish tied for my largest of the year although I think my Yellowstone trout took the top honors for several reasons.


Speaking of Yellowstone, the last two weeks of September were dedicated to a long anticipated fly fishing trip to Yellowstone. I camped and fished until I was tired and ready to go home. In fact, I still owe you some posts on my trip there! The best day of the whole trip from a catching standpoint happened early, on the second day in fact. It began with epic fishing for cutthroat trout and finished with the big brown trout that I had travelled all that way to catch.


I returned from Yellowstone to a busy guide schedule in the peak of the fall fishing season. This was a great October for fishing across middle and east Tennessee. Float trips on the Caney saw some of the lowest numbers of the season but we still saw quality trout including this big rainbow. Fly fishing in the mountains was excellent. Fish were rising to dry flies well but also taking patterns like my Isonychia Soft Hackle like there was no tomorrow. The fall colors were as good as I can ever remember.


This good fishing continued into November and then December, almost like fall had never ended. The leaves were off the trees but the fish kept eating like it was October. In fact, the largest fish caught on a guide trip this year came in early December in the Smokies. This is actually a very good time to target large brown trout in the Smokies, but we admittedly got lucky since we were not sight fishing to this bad boy. What a great big brown trout!

With the holiday season came rain. Lots and lots of rain. In fact, I unfortunately had to cancel guide trips this week with high water dominating in the mountains. Better to cancel a trip though then to take someone's money and spend the whole day looking for fishable water or at least that's my opinion.

In between guide trips, I still found a few fish for myself to catch as well!


As we move into the near year of 2016, I'm excited to see what is in store for me, Trout Zone Anglers, and fishing across middle and east Tennessee. I'm currently taking bookings well into spring 2016 so if you are hoping to spend a day on the water with me in 2016, book the trip soon. I can tailor a day on the water to suit your goals. If the adventures I had in 2015 look like something you would like to experience, then email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884 to book your day on the water.


*Note that try only corresponds with actual achievement some of the time.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Giveaway Winners

First of all, thank you to everyone who participated in this year's Christmas giveaways. It was fun coming up with some creative items, and I would especially like to thank Jayson Alexander for contributing his artwork to the giveaway. If you need someone to do some graphic design work for you, or want to commission a great piece of art, contact Jayson for more info via email at jaysonalexander4@gmail.com. In addition, if you are interested in a canvass print of the photograph I'm giving away, let me know via email and we'll discuss the particulars.

Finally, what you have all waited for. First, the winner of giveaway one featuring this fine work of art.


Using the random number generator and ranking everyone based on the order I received your emails, the winner is.....Will Neblett! Congratulations Will and Merry Christmas from the Trout Zone.

Second, the winner of giveaway number two featuring an 11x14 canvass print of a beautiful southern Appalachian brook trout.


Again, using a random number generator following the procedure outlined above, the winner is....Don Tummons! Congratulations Don and Merry Christmas from the Trout Zone.

Finally, the last giveaway was something that any fly fisher can always use. In fact, you probably can never have too many....flies. That's right, the lucky winner of this giveaway gets two dozen of my favorite subsurface patterns for fishing in the Park.


Using a random number generator again, the lucky winner for this giveaway is....Travis Williams! Congratulations Travis and Merry Christmas from the Trout Zone.

That wraps up the Christmas 2015 giveaways. I want to thank everyone who entered as well as those who helped spread the word. Coming up in early 2016 will be some more great giveaways that I know you will not want to miss. In fact, the best will only be available to those who are subscribers to the Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter. Subscribe below to make sure you do not miss out.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas 2015 Giveaway Number Two

The first giveaway has generated some good feedback and hopeful people entering for the unique artwork. The next item up for the giveaway is a recently featured "Photo of the Month." A lot of people seemed to like this shot so I had it printed on an 11x14 canvass for this year's Christmas giveaway. Here is the finished product ready to be sent to you.

Brook Trout Picture for Christmas Giveaway

This picture is ready to hang near your tying desk, in your office, or anywhere else that you would like. The fish was caught in October of this year on a blue line in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a true southern strain brook trout dressed in its finest colors. Love chasing brook trout? Then this picture is for you!

The winner for all of these contests will be drawn on Christmas Eve and announced here on the Trout Zone at that time. Winners will also be contacted via email.

To enter, please send an email to TheTroutZoneContests@gmail.com and use "Giveaway Two" as the email subject line. Simply tell me in the email why you would like this unique photograph and where you plan to display it at. A winner will be drawn by a random number generator on Christmas Eve day. Shipping included to continental US.

Be sure to share this with all of your friends as well! There is still more to come so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The El Nino Effect



Fly fishing in the Smokies during the winter months us generally a hit or miss proposition. Some years are better than others for winter fishing while others are downright tough. Last winter, for example, and the winter before were both cold with warm weather a rarity. This year is shaping up to possibly be the exact opposite. Most likely we have El Nino to thank for it.

Generally, El Nino years result in more warm stretches which helps to keep overall water temperatures elevated compared to winter norms. The quality of fishing is directly correlated to water temperatures. That is not to say that fish cannot be caught in cold water. On the contrary, the fish still need to eat but their instinct to feed is triggered by environmental conditions, especially abundant food. When it is very cold, most fish will not move far to seek out food. In cold months this equates to a flurry of activity in the warmest part of the day when a few midges, winter stoneflies, and perhaps some caddis flies all make an appearance.

Another important factor involving water temperature is the temperature trends. Last week, we saw an excellent example of this. The water temperatures were running between 42 and 44 degrees. Conventional wisdom would suggest that fishing would be slow under such conditions, but on the contrary we had a fairly good day for winter with one lucky angler catching a trophy brown trout by Smoky Mountain standards and everyone, including a first time fly fisherman, catching at least some fish. Why was the fishing good on this particular day? The temperature trend.

You see, the previous day saw the water temperature get up to around 43 degrees (as recorded on Little River at the Park boundary just outside Townsend). However, warm overnight temperatures kept the water temperature from falling. That meant that the next morning, instead of starting at 39-41 degrees after the expected night time temperature drop, we were already starting at the previous day's high temperature. The fish responded enthusiastically both to the improving conditions and to our flies.

This winter should see good fishing more often than not. El Nino will bring more warm weather to the region than we saw the last two winters. One of the best parts about winter fishing is having the water to yourself. Sure, beautiful and unseasonably warm weekends are going to have some people out enjoying nature, but for the most part you can find your own piece of water even on the weekends. Can you fish on a weekday? If so then expect to have it more or less to yourself.

The only possibly fly in the ointment is the potential for high water. We will probably have to deal with high water on several occasions over the next few months, but then that is part of winter fishing anyways, at least in these parts.



I plan on taking full advantage of the El Nino Effect this year and get out throughout January and February even on some small streams if possible.  Today would have been a great day to be on the water if I hadn't of been busy. Water temperatures on Little River are in the mid 50s which is more like you would expect in October. I'll most likely get out a day or two this upcoming week. Also, I'm hoping to fish for brook trout a little more this upcoming year. Okay, maybe a lot more.

My goal for the next year is to catch a brook trout a month. I'm hoping to accomplish this on a dry fly to make it even better but will not be above using a dropper if the fish aren't looking up. I might even do it on one of my new Tenkara rods to add another level of novelty. Don't worry though. I'll still be out chasing the big browns on occasion as well!

So, in summary, I expect good fishing to happen more often than not in the Smokies this winter. There will definitely be some cold snaps and probably even some frozen precipitation, but there will be some great fishing on occasion as well. We also probably have a better than average chance of starting the spring hatches early this year so stay tuned for more on that.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Goodbye Fall

Just like that, fall is nearly over. The majority of the leaves have already fallen. Today's high water in the Smokies is going to clean the streams out. The early spawning brown trout's efforts were most likely in vain, although time will tell how high the water does get. We still do not have any true winter weather in the immediate future although certainly by Thanksgiving we'll experience much colder temperatures.

The thing I will miss the most about fall is the brilliant fall foliage we enjoyed this year. Of course I will not miss all of the leaf viewers that came with them. Winter is a very close second in the running for my favorite season and a big piece of that is the solitude that can be found during the cold months.

To celebrate the beautiful fall season we experienced, here are a few of my favorite fall color shots. Some I have already shared here while others are showing up for the first time on this blog. I'll be sharing some more over the next days and weeks.