Photo of the Month: Night at Timber Creek

Photo of the Month: Night at Timber Creek
Showing posts with label Brook Trout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brook Trout. Show all posts

Monday, January 23, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day Three: Rain, Sight Seeing at Sprague Lake, and Fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park

While this was only our third full day in Colorado, a theme would begin to emerge that would eventually really become a serious problem. Rain. Still, we were early enough into our trip that we weren't concerned, other than trying to figure out how to keep the little one entertained and happy. There was plenty of time for the weather to return to the clear sunny days with seasonably warm temperatures we were hoping for. 

Morning In Camp

Thankfully, our morning started out pleasant enough. The clouds were spilling over the divide, suggesting that the majority of Trail Ridge Road was probably socked in with fog, clouds, and perhaps even rain. Still, some early sun slanted in to camp and warmed things just enough that a light jacket was all we needed. 

Little bit enjoyed exploring around camp a little more than she had been able to thus far. We examined rocks, sticks, flowers, and of course any wild critters brave enough to stick around. This meant mostly small things like birds, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. While these smaller versions of the pictures don't do the scene justice, one of my favorite pictures from this day was of her interacting with a group of magpies. 

Black-billed magpie in Rocky Mountain National Park at Moraine Park Campground
"Black-billed Magpie at Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park" 2022 David Knapp Photography


We had been walking slowly down the road from our campsite, learning to identify flowers and other goodies, when this flock of magpies flew in. Notorious for foraging anywhere people have been dropping things, these birds were constantly around the campground along with the jays. In other words, when getting ready to eat, we had to keep a close eye on both the little rodents (chipmunks, etc) and also the sky for potential robbers. The little one began walking slowly towards the nearest bird. Ultimately, she got much closer than I would ever have been able to before they finally flew off. It is amazing to me how wild critters seem to know that small children are not a threat. 

Approaching a black-billed magpie in Moraine Park Campground
"Approaching a Black-billed Magpie" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Taking flight when the little human gets too close
"Taking Flight" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Back at our campsite, we also enjoyed some other wild critters. These little guys were pretty bold, but not so bold as at some future campsites. Still, we had to keep a general eye on them to make sure they didn't get in our car, tent, or food.


Chipmunk in Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Chipmunk" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel in Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park
"Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel" ©2022 David Knapp Photography

Nap Time and Lunch

Not long after this exploring episode, light rain began to move in. Not wanting to all get chilled down and sick this early in our trip, we decided some car time might be appropriate. After driving clear across the country, this wasn't the plan little bit wanted to hear about. However, with assurances of some interesting things to see, she relented to a drive. We had some ulterior motives as it was about nap time. A longer drive seemed appropriate, so we set off up the Old Fall River Road. That was quite the experience in our small Toyota Corolla. The potholes and ruts were worse than I remembered, but of course it had been a long time ago. 

We hit fog and clouds partway up, so there were NO views to be had up high. Eventually, we made it to the top and started driving back down towards camp on Trail Ridge Road. The fog was impressive, but we were glad to have additional days ahead of us to return and enjoy the views that were absent on this day. Thankfully, light rain and fog seemed the perfect recipe to help the little one sleep. 

Eventually, we headed in to Estes Park were I wanted to enjoy some pizza that I remembered being excellent. Poppy's Pizza and Grill still had some great offerings. The hot pizza was way better than trying to picnic out in the cold rain. 

Fly Fishing the Big Thompson in Moraine Park

After a delicious lunch, we needed to figure out how to kill some time in the afternoon. One of the big treats for me on trips out west involves fishing water types that I don't have back home here in Tennessee. At the very top of my list of places to experience on these trips is meadow streams that contain brown trout. Not only do these meadow streams provide ideal habitat for one of my favorite fish, but they contain structure that is very different from our mountain streams and lowland tailwaters here in Tennessee. Undercut banks are a joy to fish, so I was hoping to hit at least two streams in Rocky Mountain National Park that contained this type of water.

Both the Big Thompson River flowing through Moraine Park and the headwaters of the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley offer meandering meadow sections with undercut banks. Both of these streams are chock full of wild brown trout along with the occasional brook trout among other possible species. My target is brown trout, of course. 

My preferred method to fish these streams involves looking for reaction bites from the resident trout. While my tactics are a bit unusual, the results are normally stellar. On this rainy day, I knew that my usual techniques were not necessarily perfect, but sometimes you just want to fish how you want to fish. 

As it turns out, with the weather that was moving in and out, I would have been better off with a light rod and some blue-winged olive imitations. I started off well enough, catching several fine brown trout on my unorthodox methods. However, once the bugs started, the fish really just wanted the little olives and I started wishing I had brought more flies with me. The large flies I was using still picked up the occasional fish, but I also knew I was missing a lot of fish.

Big Thompson River Moraine Park brown trout
"Big Thompson River in Moraine Park brown trout" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Two bend pools in particular convinced me that my methods were about through for the day. I saw the first couple of rises as I crept up towards the pool. By the time I was in position, 4-5 fish were rising steadily and my large fly briefly put them down. However, the draw of so much food soon brought them back up. They were rising amongst the splashes from my larger fly, simultaneously dodging my offerings while also feeding on the natural olives. The next pool was even crazier with 8-10 fish rising. 

Big Thompson River Moraine Park
"Big Thompson River in Moraine Park Meadow Stream" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


I had already fished about an hour and the rain was starting again, so I decided it was time to head back to the car. The family had been out enjoying the meadow as well, but with the rain starting, they had already started back. It was in everyone's best interest to call it on fishing this day. I had found a few great fish before the hatch really got going. Time to head on to the next adventure...

Sprague Lake Scenery and Brook Trout

With a steady drizzle setting in, we didn't want to head back to camp yet. Our only option there for staying dry was to crawl into our small tent. It was way too early in the day to do that. So we turned the car towards Sprague Lake on the Bear Lake Road. I remembered something from a previous trip I hoped would still be accurate.

When we arrived, the rain had eased off to just some very light mist. With a full winter snowsuit to put on the little one and rain coats for ourselves, we decided to brave the weather for a few minutes. I grabbed my camera, hoping my memory was accurate. 

Fog and clouds at Sprague Lake
"Foggy Day at Sprague Lake" ©2022 David Knapp Photography


Sure enough. In the inlet stream to Sprague Lake were numerous large brook trout. They were there to spawn, and while I wasn't interested in targeting these fish with a fly rod, I was interested in getting some neat pictures if possible. I generally recommend leaving spawning fish alone from an angling perspective. While I won't get into all the reasons here, let's just say that a camera feels a lot more sporting. Here are a couple of the better shots I got.

Brook trout at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
©2022 David Knapp Photography

Spawning brook trout at Sprague Lake
©2022 David Knapp Photography


It didn't take long for the drizzle to start again. We decided to head back to camp and get supper early. A huge benefit of our particular campsite were the thick pine trees growing over our picnic table area. They were keeping a large portion of our table dry, so we were able to enjoy supper while staying dry. With everything so damp, we headed to bed early. The next day was moving day and we needed some energy! We hoped for clear skies and moderating temperatures on the morrow...

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...

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

This year, I am thankful for so many things. Good friends, family, health, and of course, the great outdoors that always gives me more than I deserve. Of course, I am thankful for trout, char, and all those other fishy favorites. I'm thankful for the blessings God has showered upon me and my family, and that includes each and every one of you. Thank you for your friendship and thank you for supporting me as a fly fishing guide. Every day I feel so blessed to be out in nature doing what I love. Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Thanksgiving brook trout


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...

Check out day 3 HERE.

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...


Thursday, September 02, 2021

New Great Smoky Mountains Brook Trout Video

So, as you probably suspected from the lack of posts lately, I've been pretty busy. My last two fishing trips that likely would have produced a blog post were both last week, but I've been sitting on them both. The reason being that I got a new toy: a GoPro. Yep, I finally caved and got one. So far it has been a lot of fun as long as I quickly learned its shortcomings and avoided them. The most obvious that I've figured out is that it doesn't focus well up close. That is how it gets such great wild angle footage along with sharp video throughout the depth of field. Somewhere it had to suffer and apparently that is in closeups. Not that it does badly, mind you, but I have to be careful how close I hold it when taking a fish picture or video.

Anyway, I went all out and got a chest mount and a few other goodies for it. Last week, I made the first serious fishing trip while hauling this whole contraption around. It was a day of learning, tweaking, trying new things, and tweaking some more. Eventually, I got enough good footage to try my hand at another YouTube video. That produced its own set of learning opportunities. 

This time around, I played with some color corrections. Some of which turned out really well, some of which, well, the lighting was really funny. Seriously. Regardless, I had a lot of fun and enjoyed trying something new out. While this won't be how I always do my fishing trips from now on (seriously, who wants to spend their whole time just trying to get a good video), I'll definitely be hauling it along from time to time and trying new things. I hope to continue to improve on my videos. While I'll probably never be anywhere close to some of the great film makers in the sport of fly fishing, it is still something fun to play with and learn about. 

So, for my first film with the new GoPro, I want to share "Backcountry Brookies in the Smokies" with you. You can watch it on my Trout Zone Anglers YouTube channel, of course. While you're there, please give me a follow. You can also try watching it in the viewer below. If possible, watch the 4k version for best quality. I hope you enjoy!



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.