Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Brown Trout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brown Trout. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

When You Just Need More Weight

As a fly fishing guide, there are lots of little tips and tricks I get to pass on to my clients. It would be nearly impossible to compile those into one resource unfortunately. Okay, so maybe not impossible, but it would take me a while to think about it while I'm sitting at home writing. Most of these things have a way of coming up during the natural flow of a day on the water. That is what guides should do, offer advice on how to improve, or at least on different ways to do things. A guided trip should be as much a chance to improve as an angler as it is a chance to catch lots of fish. Those two things generally go hand in hand. 

Anyway, these little tips often come up in the natural flow of a guided trip. One that comes up quite often is the idea of getting your flies down to the fish. One of my favorite guiding moments happens when teaching nymphing strategies, either for the Nymphing Class at Little River Outfitters, or just on a regular guided trip. What usually happens is something like this. 

We are fishing nymphs, either under a strike indicator or high sticking (tight lining/euro nymphing) and not catching any fish. At some point, I suggest that we add some split shot. Sometimes there is even already some shot on the line. However, it sometimes just isn't enough. The split shot needs to be heavy enough to get the flies down. Depending on stream flow, depth, flies used, and technique, you might need anywhere from one #8 split shot to a string of #1 or even heavier shot. Sometimes just one addition works. Other times it can take two or three. Either way, the best part happens when the first cast is made after the correct amount of shot is added. Almost invariably, the angler will catch a fish. That is a much more effective lesson than simply telling someone they should add more shot if they aren't catching fish. 

Of course, if you add too much shot, you'll be hanging on the bottom continually. Thus, a good rule of thumb is to add shot until you're constantly hanging the bottom. Then, take one off and you should be about right. You want to be ticking the bottom some but not losing flies.

The funny thing about tips and tricks is that sometimes you have to remind yourself about them. Yesterday, after a morning guided trip, I had a little time to kill before heading back home. Last week, on a guided trip, I had come across a couple of nice brown trout that seemed willing to eat dry flies. In fact, we missed one of them on a dry fly that day. I had been wanting to see those fish up close and had already devoted one quick stop to try and catch one to no avail. Yesterday seemed like a good opportunity. 

I got to the chosen spot and waded right in. Drifting a dry fly through the run produced exactly zero takes, so I changed tactics and tied on a nymph rig involving a small pheasant tail nymph and a small hare's ear nymph on 6x tippet. To this, I added two #4 split shot. For the depth and current, that seemed about right since I had small flies and fine tippet. A New Zealand Indicator finished the rig. 

For the next five minutes, I got many drifts through what I thought was the sweet spot. There were exactly zero strikes. Knowing how many fish this pool typically contains, I was a bit shocked. Surely something would want to eat my nymphs! I was just about to give up when it occurred to me that I might not be as deep as I had assumed. Deciding to get to the bottom of things so to speak, I added a #1 shot and now felt confident of getting down. 

On the very next cast, I had a quick hit from an eight inch rainbow that just as quickly released itself. That was enough, however, to convince me to try another five minutes of casts. In fact, it only took about three more casts before the indicator dove convincingly yet again. This time, I could tell there was some heft to the fish. In fact, it didn't want to move where I wanted it to at all!

Babying the 6x tippet, I took plenty of time fighting this beautiful brown trout. Every time I thought it was about whipped, it surged back into the depths. Finally, after a couple of downstream runs that prompted me to follow, I got it close and with the head up, quickly scooped with my net. 

Large Great Smoky Mountains National Park brown trout


This was probably one of the larger brown trout I will catch this year in the Smokies, possibly even the largest. I've had plenty of years where this would be my best Great Smoky Mountain brown trout. Not bad for fifteen minutes or so of fishing and just about as much time fiddling with my rigging. Sometimes you just need more weight. I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but for some reason this lesson always gets me. Anyway, next time you aren't finding success with nymphs, try adding some weight. You just might be surprised...

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Quick Getaway

Fishing trips are few and far between these days, at least the kind where I get to hold the fly rod and do the catching. One amazing perk of life as a fly fishing guide is getting to be on the water every day. However, your own personal fishing time usually suffers. This year, I'll fish even less than usual since we have a little one on the way. Last week, I enjoyed what will probably be the last overnight fishing trip until fall at the earliest. It was a much needed getaway to get me excited about the guide season that is now in full swing. 

Spring Hatches

The first hatches of spring have commenced. Quill gordon and blue quill mayflies are hatching well most days and provided excellent dry fly fishing on the Oconaluftee River. On the first day, in particular, my friend and fellow guide Pat Tully and I took our time seeking out risers in the afternoon. The hatch was a bit slow to get started with very cool overnight temperatures. Once it started though, we found rising trout the rest of the day until quitting for the evening. 

Blue quills have the edge in numbers, but where quill gordon mayflies hatch in enough numbers, the trout get excited about them. That said, we caught a lot more rising trout that we targeted with smaller patterns instead of larger. In addition to the mayflies, we are seeing good numbers of early brown stoneflies, little black stoneflies, and little black caddis. Midges hatch prolifically every day as well.

Fishing the Oconaluftee

I enjoyed this river all three days, but really focused on it the first and last day of my trip. The surprising part of the trip was how poorly certain sections fished. That is typical of early season fishing, however, and probably has a lot to do with the fact that the wild rainbows are largely busy spawning right now. Thankfully, the brown trout were looking up by afternoon every day and we caught enough to keep busy. Here are a couple of pictures from my time on the Oconaluftee. 



Fishing Noland Creek

One thing I have become much more intentional about the last few years is trying new and different things. That is how I stay interested and enjoy fly fishing even while my career means I'm on the water every day. This has been a huge benefit to me over the last few years. I've got to explore more and further, and fishing new water is always a blast. 

On this trip, I was debating fishing Deep Creek which is a long time personal favorite. When it came time to head over there, I even stopped by the parking area at the trailhead. However, I decided to continue my policy of trying new places to fish at least once per trip. This led me on a short drive down the Road to Nowhere to fish Noland Creek. 


Now, this wasn't the first time I've fished Noland Creek. I had fished there before, but always down towards Fontana Lake. I've caught some nice fish down that way as well as seeing some big bear tracks along the lake shore. Anyway, this trip would be my first time venturing upstream from the Road to Nowhere.

When I got to the parking lot, I took my time rigging up. No one else was there, so I didn't need to rush to find that perfect place to fish. After checking and double checking to make sure I had packed my light lunch, I headed down the trail. It really didn't take too long before I just couldn't help it anymore and had to duck in and start fishing. This is one of the prettiest streams and was just the perfect size to fish. The fish were not large, but they were willing for the most part. Here is one of the larger rainbows. Notice all the spots. 


Over the next few hours, I caught and released 30 or more wild rainbow trout. Supposedly there are some brown trout in Noland Creek as well, but I never found any. The rainbows were absolutely stunning. Since we are right around the spawn, they are colored up about as well as you'll ever find them. This one had fewer spots but a stunning red stripe.


One rainbow even had some "cutthroat" markings that suggested something other than pure rainbow trout in its lineage. You see that on most Smokies streams from time to time. Way back in the day, hatcheries were sending all types of trout all over the place. Official stocking records don't ever show cutthroat being stocked in the Smokies, but some of the fish certainly appear to have a few cutthroat trout genes. This fish looked a lot like cutthroat and had almost no spotting but had the red slash under the jaw like a cuttbow.



The fishing was fairly simple, with a Parachute Adams or Pheasant Tail nymph doing most of the damage. While I caught good numbers overall, I still had to work just a little. By the time I fished, ate some lunch, and caught a few more fish, I was getting tired. I decided to walk out before it got too late. Surprisingly, there were several cars in the parking area with at least a few people now fishing close to the road. Still, this seems to be a generally underutilized stream overall. 

A Good Trip

Overall, this was an excellent trip and a nice quick escape before I'm slammed with guide trips. I'll probably end up with one or two more days to fish if I choose to do so this spring, otherwise I'll be busy for a good long while before I get out to fish again. 

Instead of fishing, I'll be thinking about past and future fishing trips. Coming up soon, I'll try to share the next installment from our Glacier trip. The last full day in Glacier is next, then it is on to the fishing part of the trip!






Friday, January 15, 2021

When the Fish Are Where They Should Be

A big part of guiding is knowing where to find fish. Of course, it also helps to know what those fish will eat once you find them. However, if you can't find fish, then it won't do you any good to have the right flies. Some days are easier than others, of course. On those days, the fish are where they should be. You know what I mean. Those obvious spots that hold fish more often than not are popular with lots of anglers for a good reason. Sometimes, those spots aren't quite as obvious. Nevertheless, if you know the water well, the fish are still where they should be. 

Yesterday, I was able to get out and fish a river that I haven't been on as much as I would like lately. This lack of fishing is mostly because I've been busy with non fishing things. This is the time of year that I'm able to catch up on things that get neglected through a long and busy guiding season after all. Still, it was good to get out and the weather was about as pleasant as you can ask for this time of year.

My buddy John came along to fish and help rowing a little. We started while the generators were still running. John wanted to try his streamer setup with some newly tied streamers. Those proved enticing to some skipjack but at this point, the trout eluded us. As soon as the water cut off, we started slowly drifting down the river with what we thought were the right flies fished in the right places. And we drifted, and drifted, and so on and so forth. Fish were occasionally rising so we knew there were some around. We weren't sure how many, but some fish is better than no fish. Amazingly, we were much farther down than we had wanted to be without a bite and it was time to change. I suggested a possible fly I was considering, and John said he was thinking the same thing.

I anchored for a minute while he changed his rig and then started drifting again. Not too far down the river, we were coming into a run that has historically held plenty of fish but has been slow the last few years. I positioned the boat and suggested he switch to the right side of the boat. A short drift later, his indicator went down and we were into our first trout of the day. When he almost immediately got another bite in the same spot, I started thinking that I should probably change flies as well. 

By the time we got to the next big run, I had switched up flies as well. With the boat in the perfect spot, I decided to anchor for a bit so we could both fish. The wind was blowing strong so we had to work a little at casting and mending. Once the drift was started, we could extend it by throwing more line into the drift with the rod tip. Keeping just enough slack is tricky in this situation. If you get too much, then setting the hook is nearly impossible. Not enough and you'll end up with immediate drag. 

Finally, after several solid drifts, my indicator shot under and when I set the hook, I knew it wasn't a little stocker rainbow. After a strong fight, a healthy brown trout can to hand in the 14 inch range. I took a couple of closeups because the fish had incredible blue spotting behind the eye. After a few more drifts without another bite, I pulled the anchor and we started down the river. A few bites came as we moved through the tailout of the pool, and then we moved on down to the next spot.



The next little run was where things started to look predictable. I again maneuvered the boat into position and suggested John try a spot to our left. After a short drift, just when I was thinking that maybe there weren't fish there, the indicator shot down. We quickly netted the rainbow and on the very next cast, he had another bite. The fish were where they should be.

That pattern then continued on down the river. In fact, several of his fish came after I said something like, "You should have a hit any second." Those are the sorts of things guides love. This wasn't a paid trip, of course, but it always gives you confidence. Clients always think you're a magician when you predict bites a second before it happens. There really is no magic here, though. The fish are simply where they should be.

To learn where the fish should be, it is necessary that you spend a ridiculous amount of time on the water. This knowledge is not something that happens overnight. Often, these things can change year by year. Yesterday, I was noticing how much the river has changed over the last few months and also how it is similar to the usual river we all know and enjoy. Features change, fish move, but they also are where you would expect.

The best fish of the day was near the end of a stretch that had produced a few fish already. We were nearing the end of one of the better pools. I suggested to John to get a little closer to the far bank. He dropped his fly into position. The mend set up the right drift and soon the indicator was diving. When he set the hook, the fish seemed a little more solid. It came mostly right to the boat though. When he lifted its head, the fish saw the boat and went ballistic. We came close to losing this beauty in the resulting fight, but somehow everything held. We had to pull over for a quick picture of this fish before heading on down the river towards the takeout ramp.



Thursday, December 24, 2020

Great Smoky Mountain Brown Trout Extravaganza

Recently, I posted about fishing for post spawn Smoky Mountain brown trout. The first fish of the day was a good one, but as I alluded to in my previous post, this wasn't the end of the day. In fact, it was just the beginning of one of the best days of fishing I've ever had in the Smokies. As you know if you've followed this blog for any length of time, brown trout are right up there with my favorite fish to target, whether its on the fly or otherwise. I also have a real soft spot for brook trout, but in the winter, my thoughts turn to brown trout. 

December through February has always been exceptionally kind to me when it comes to brown trout. I've caught my largest brown trout during those months and also had my largest Smoky Mountain brown trout caught in that time frame. The low sun angle means lower light, and I prefer to target cloudy days to further enhance that benefit. Rainy or snowy days are best, but are also an exercise in persistence and perseverance. Fishing in cold rain is not for everyone, and on some days I don't last very long, but the results are hard to argue with. 

A few years back, my wife and I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Of course, fishing was a part of the trip along with hiking, photography, and general sight seeing. One thing I did in particular was to make time to fish with my friend Bryan Allison to learn some new techniques that would help me become a more well rounded angler and guide. Bryan is an excellent guide covering a variety of waters in Montana and offering some unique trip options that are difficult to find. You can visit his site here

On our trip, I wanted specifically to work on some trout jigging techniques that he has mastered and are deadly on trout in a variety of waters. Fast forward to now, and you'll find me with a couple of very nice ultralight spinning rods loaded with 4 pound test that rarely if ever see any action. I bought them to be able to offer the option on guided trips, and occasionally mess around with them, but in general I prefer catching fish on a fly rod. 


Large male brown trout in the Smokies


On my recent trip to the Smokies, after catching such a nice brown trout very early in the day on my fly rod, I decided to experiment with the things I had learned from Bryan. My day was already made with that quality brown, so it was time to practice some different techniques. One thing he had taught me was how to use marabou jigs. I figured that was as good of a thing to try as any, so I quickly tied one on and started working it carefully. One huge bonus of using the spinning rod is that you can mostly stay out of the water. That is probably the biggest reason that I try this method more in the winter than at any other time of the year. On really cold days, it keeps me up on the bank, and hopefully away from potential swimming events. 


Smoky Mountain brown trout


It wouldn't take very long to get things going with the marabou jig. Shortly after nailing my first fish on the fly rod, a golden flash blew up my jig and I was fighting another quality fish. And another, and another, and..........well, you get the idea. The fish were keyed in and ready to chase. Every once in a while the stars align and everything comes together for a great day of catching. Of course, every day is a great day of fishing, but the two aren't always synonymous with each other.

 

Healthy brown trout

Nice catch and release brown trout


This was really an ideal day to streamer fish, because you want to hit it when the fish are fired up. However, with the falling temperatures and snow starting to fall, I just decided to stick with the trout jigging and stay out of the water as much as possible. The spinning rod was a good way to mostly keep my hands warmer as well. Since I wasn't handling the fly line every cast, I wasn't getting my hands as wet which translated to warmer hands. I still got them plenty wet often enough though. Some quick fish pictures seemed like a good idea to help me remember the epic day that was developing. One other benefit to staying out of the water is that you aren't endangering the redds with their precious cargo of brown trout eggs. Remember to avoid walking in sand and gravel areas in the tailouts of runs and pools. Fish often spawn in these areas and those eggs won't hatch for at least another month most likely. 


Big brown trout spots

Small female brown trout


After that first stop which produced three or four quality brown trout, I moved on up the river. In almost every spot I stopped I found fish. Interestingly, they were all falling into one of three size categories. I've been discussing the lack of truly large fish with my friends lately. Little River seems to be in between big fish cycles. As with most things in nature, numbers of giant brown trout seems to be rather cyclical. Right now, we appear to be on the downside of a cycle. I've seen good numbers of fish up to 18 inches or so, with a few fish pushing on to the 22-23 inch range, but some of the giants of past years don't seem as plentiful. Quite a few of my friends have noticed a similar trend. 

On this particular day, I was catching a lot of fish in the 10-17 inch range. The big fish just seemed completely missing in action. When the fishing catching is this good, you normally expect to at least see a few larger trout. I decided to double down and really work some areas that historically hold large brown trout. Yet, it continued to be the same story. Plenty of fish, but no monsters.

I was working up one favorite run and had already caught some fish. In fact, I had some nice browns fighting over my offering at one point. It was just one of those days. Working on up past where I normally see the larger fish, I decided to work on up to the head. This time of year, the fish tend to stay farther back in pools, but it was worth a shot. 

As I crept along, I spotted a brown laying on the bottom just upstream. I managed a decent cast and bounced the jig past the fish. Once, twice, three times, it was still as a statue. Suspecting that the fish already knew I was there, I threw one more cast well upstream and began a slow retrieve back past the fish. That was just too much. The fish bolted upstream and out of sight. At no more than a foot long, it wasn't a big fish, but I hate spooking fish ahead of me as they usually alert everything else to my presence. I almost gave up and turned around right there, but something drove me on. 

Maneuvering carefully into position, I cast almost straight across. I got one good bounce with the rod tip and something heavy slammed the jig on the drop. Immediately worried about the 4 pound test line, I hoped my knots were good. The drag was set just loose enough while the flex of the ultralight rod absorbed the head shakes. Soon, I slid a gorgeous post spawn female brown into the waiting net. She just about filled up my big Brodin net and pushed the tape to right at 20 inches. 


Big female brown trout in the Smokies


She was lean after the spawn and clearly needed some good meals before winter really set in. I was careful to keep her in the water except for a couple of seconds for a couple of quick pictures. The big net is really handy for these moments. You can rest the fish in the water in between shots, and not risk keeping them out of their element for more than 3-4 seconds at a time. Careful catch and release methods are essential to the preservation of these fisheries as fishing pressure continues to increase every year. If you can't accomplish this, then you should probably avoid fishing for these fish. 

The good news about all of these fish is that they can also be caught on a fly rod if you don't want to use a spinning rod. In fact, much of the year, a fly rod is a better tool. However, if you are looking for a way to fish in the winter without getting too wet, then give trout jigging a try. Whether you are fishing in the Smokies or on the Clinch or Caney Fork, this technique works. 

One more look at the big female brown trout before release

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Post Spawn Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

The fall brown trout spawn has recently wrapped up for another year. Things seemed a bit later than usual, although there were fish spawning by the first or second week of November. This is a time of year to use extra care while wading and fishing. Spawning fish should be allowed to do their thing in peace. After the fact, it is essential that anglers avoid wading on the redds. Doing so will crush the eggs that were deposited there and severely impact the next generation. They already have enough challenges in reproducing. 

After the spawn is over, the fish feed heavily as we move into the winter months. The fish are trying to regain body mass after the rigors of spawning. This can be some of the most exciting fishing of the year but also perhaps some of the most miserable. That is because the weather often leaves a lot to be desired.

Last week, I had a free day and decided to go fishing for myself. The day started out perfectly and just got better from there. The sky was threatening snow, and snow days have been some incredible producers for me in the past. The temperature started in the low 40s and fell throughout the day. 

The first caught fish of the day was one I spotted on my second or third stop. I was looking as much as fishing at this point. However, when I noticed a hefty brown trout holding near the back of a quality run, I couldn't resist fishing. 

I had been walking and looking without a rod. This is a sure way to guarantee that you actually spend time looking, not fishing. After spotting the fish, I took the time to walk back to the car and rig up appropriately. A big black wooly bugger seemed like the right idea, and I added a worm as a dropper. Winter fish really like both of those flies for whatever reason. 

Back on the water, I took a minute to find my fish again. Sure enough, it was still hanging out in the same general area. I noticed that it ate something drifting by and started to feel the excitement surge. This was a feeding fish and feeding fish are catchable fish. Clambering down the bank took some doing. I dealt with a bum ankle for part of November and wasn't interested in aggravating the high ankle sprain again. Thankfully, each step on the slick leaves held, and I was soon standing on the stream bank. Sneaking upstream along the bank, I reached the point where I would begin my stalk. 

The fish was sitting in a nearly perfect spot, not too far above a large mid stream boulder. Cover like this can make or break a stalk of a big brown. In my case, the fish never knew I was coming because of the ability to sneak in behind the rock. Once I arrived in position, it was time to actually execute. This is NOT the moment to rush. Do everything right, and you catch the fish. It is that simple most of the time. Rushing is probably the quickest way I know to blow a good fish. I've done it many times in fact...

My leader was quite long, enabling me to keep the fish from seeing the fly line. I was using a 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon. The extra reach was going to be critical to keeping the leader and line from getting pulled through the riffle below the run before the fish had time to find the flies. Working out the leader and then some line, I false cast a couple of times to judge the distance. Then I slung all the flies in the riffle below me. I like to water load these casts. It helps to guarantee where the flies are going on the presentation cast. 

Taking a deep breath, I knew that it was time. I quickly made a casting stroke under some low hanging branches and the flies landed a few feet upstream of the fish. My flies were perfectly visible in the clear water. I watched as the brown trout slid to his left and ate the wooly bugger. With just a slight hesitation to let him close his mouth, I gave a strong hookset and couldn't believe when the fly stuck. Some days you just get lucky. I'm always leery of first cast fish, but if they are this quality, then I'm glad to get skunked the rest of the day. On this day, however, things would only get better...

The fight was relatively quick. The flex in the 10' rod allowed me to push the fish hard on the 4x tippet. In what seemed like no time, I had the fish in the net and ready for a couple of pictures. The main reason I carry a large net is to keep fish healthy in between pictures, and I wasn't taking chances with such a gorgeous brown trout. Just a quick lift and snap, and I had the memory. 

While I didn't know it at the time, this would be the first of many fine brown trout on the day. More about that next time... In that moment, though, I just sat down on the bank and took it all in. Big brown trout are always a treat and this one was a beauty. 

Little River post spawn brown trout


Monday, March 02, 2020

Flipping A Switch

There is never a dull moment when you are fishing as long as you approach each trip with a learning mindset. Some days the action is fast and furious. Often, I'll stick with what is working and simply try to catch as many fish as I can. Other times, I'll start experimenting. When the fishing is good is a great time to find out what will and also what won't work. Of course, when the fishing gets tough, you find out what truly works. Magic flies or techniques are few and far between, so most people keep them close under their hat when they discover such a thing.

Many days of fishing progress predictably with hot and cold stretches as fish shift through their daily cycle. This cycle changes month to month, season to season. In fact, it often changes from day to day.

The average day in the mountains depends a lot on the time of year. For example, during the summer, the best fishing is often early and late in the day with the fish taking a break during the hotter hours of midday. The bright sun overhead probably doesn't help either. In the cool of morning, both trout and the bugs they feed on are active. During the spring, the best fishing is often in the middle of the day. Additional factors can often wreak havoc on these norms, however.

Last week, on a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains, we were reminded about the natural rhythm and how sensitive it often is. Our day started with mostly sunny skies. Occasional clouds did not stick around long. The bright sunlight allowed the water temperature to begin climbing. This time of year, that almost guarantees bugs. Fish moved up into the faster riffles and heads of pools as they fed on nymphs that were rapidly preparing to hatch. By around 11:00 am, some adults were beginning to hatch and fish responded enthusiastically.


About that same time, the wind started to pick up and the sky filled with clouds. Around 12:30 pm, the wind shifted rapidly and temperatures started to plummet. What had been a promising hatch dried up entirely by 1:30 pm with the last fish taken on a dry fly at about 1:15 pm. The abrupt change in water temperature made all the difference in the world. It was like flipping a switch. One minute we were casting to risers and the next our day was effectively over.

If the water temperature had kept rising, in other words, if the cold front didn't pass, the clouds in and of themselves were not an issue. In fact, some of my best spring dry fly fishing happens on lousy weather days with clouds or even rain. That said, once a cold front passes and the water temperatures start dropping, bugs usually shut down along with the fish, although not always.

That "not always" is what keeps it interesting. Blue winged olives come to mind as a bug that loves lousy weather days. Interestingly, a big cold front early in the fall can have the opposite effect, setting off a feeding frenzy.

Sometimes, the switch gets flipped but it is more like a gradually dying campfire flicker instead of a lightbulb going off. One of my best days ever fishing in the Park was in May quite a few years ago. I had hiked in a long ways, earning myself solitude and good fishing in the process. The rainbows, browns, and even a brook trout or two were greedy. By the end of the day, I had caught 70 trout, all on dry flies. By the end of the day, I was probably working a little too hard, wanting to hit that nice round number. Regardless, things just sort of slowed down. I remember getting hung up on several numbers, 65 for example was hard to get past. That said, the fishing slowed down and finally quit. Number 70 almost didn't happen, but one suicidal brook trout just couldn't help itself.

That was a strange day, not bad, just strange. It was the day I knew it was going to be good fishing. That may not seem too odd, but I also knew I was going to see a bear. Up until then, I had never seen one while fishing. It happened too. Go check out the full story via the link above.

On the very best days, it seems you can do no wrong as an angler. Those days are rare, however, and should be full savored when they do happen to come around. The rest of the time, be prepared for that switch too flip. It could go from poor fishing to excellent, or it could be the other way. Whatever happens though, don't stop learning...

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Video: Big Brown Trout on Deep Creek

Sight Fishing For a Big Brown Trout on Deep Creek

At the tail end of my backpacking trip to Deep Creek, an opportunity for redemption presented itself. I had hooked and lost this big brown trout just over a year prior to this trip. The full story of finding and catching this big Deep Creek brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the link above. You can also find links in that post to the rest of this backpacking trip tale. Here is the edited video from my buddy John of the big brown trout I caught on Deep Creek in April 2019. 





Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Something Good Always Happens On Deep Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Update: Find the video HERE.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fly Fishing The Bend Around Bumgardner Ridge on Deep Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smokies fly fishing on Deep Creek

Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing on Deep Creek

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

Deep Creek brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

To be continued...


Friday, April 19, 2019

First Full Day of Fly Fishing on Deep Creek

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

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

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

Big red spots on a Deep Creek brown trout

Deep Creek fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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

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

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

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




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

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




Read Part One of our Deep Creek Trip HERE.

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone on a Cold Rainy Day

If I had to pick one river that draws me back to Yellowstone National Park time and again it would be the Gibbon. Primarily featuring gorgeous meadow water, the Gibbon River also has some canyon sections, water falls, lake run fish, and huge resident brown trout. The Gibbon River is also a stream facing significant challenges and unfortunately may not long be a stream worth fishing. Despite those challenges, fly fishing the Gibbon River still provides some of my favorite fly fishing in Yellowstone. In my most recent Yellowstone trip, I had a chance to spend a little time on this wonderful stream. Before that story, here is a bit about fly fishing the Gibbon River as well as challenges facing this incredibly unique fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Lower Meadows

The Gibbon River can be split into several distinct sections. The lowest and probably most famous water is from Madison Junction upstream to Gibbon Falls. This section hosts tremendous numbers of large rainbow and brown trout from Hebgen Lake from fall through early spring of each year. The brown trout head upstream from the lake through the Madison River on a spawning journey that eventually finds them in either the Firehole River or the Gibbon River. Rainbow trout move into the system as well for the same reasons. While many anglers make the journey to Yellowstone in October to fish for these incredible trout, I prefer fishing areas upstream from this section simply for the challenge that they present.

Fly fishing the Gibbon River Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls - ©2018 David Knapp Photography

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Canyon and Gibbon Meadows

The next section of the Gibbon River is the canyon from Gibbon Falls upstream to Gibbon Meadows. This canyon section provides some great fishing both early and late in the season. Fish are not very large on average although a few larger fish are present. In Gibbon Meadows, the river slows down and meanders slowly across a wide landscape. A few large trout may be found here, but few anglers are up to the challenge of stalking them.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Elk Park to Grebe Lake

Upstream from Gibbon Meadows is another short canyon stretch which ends near Norris in another meadow section. Elk Park provides more meandering meadow water and is also some of my favorite water on the river. Meandering behind the Norris Geyser Basin, the Gibbon leaves the road for a couple of miles before returning and providing easy access near Norris Campground. If you want to fly fish the Gibbon River in its upper reaches, stay at this campground. Above Norris, the Gibbon enters another canyon leading upstream to Virginia Cascades. Above this scenic waterfall is another beautiful little meadow known as Virginia Meadows. This water previously had some fantastic fishing for wild brook trout although I've also caught cuttbows here with more rainbow heritage than cutthroat. Those fish are no longer there, however.

Above Virginia Meadows, the river and its tributaries flow through heavy brush as it descends from Grebe Wolf, and Ice Lakes. This entire section was recently treated by the National Park Service. While well intentioned, the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department is following shaky science at best with their efforts on the Gibbon River.

Gibbon River Restoration Efforts

Restoring native species is an admirable endeavor under most scenarios. Unfortunately, the National Park Service is following a rather broad definition of "restoration" for restoring the upper Gibbon River. According to their own environmental assessment in the planning stages, the upper Gibbon River never contained west slope cutthroat trout nor did it contain grayling. Unfortunately, the National Park Service has decided to prioritize one invasive over another. Long term, the plan calls for the total elimination of "non-native" species all the way downstream to Gibbon Falls. That means that my favorite stream will no longer be worthy of a visit. 

Why? I travel to Yellowstone to fish for the wild brown trout of the Gibbon upstream of Gibbon Falls. In particular, the water around Norris Geyser Basin is specially suited to these beautiful fish. Once they are eliminated and replaced with cutthroat, this stream will be full of an inferior fish and one that is not even native. If it was a true native species restoration, I would have nothing to say even if I did not like losing the wild browns. Since it is not a true restoration, I have no problem saying that I think this is a worthless project that will ruin an amazing fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River for Large Resident Brown Trout

While everyone else is thinking about fishing the lower Gibbon River for lake run fish, I like hunting the giant brown trout that inhabit the upper watershed from Gibbon Falls upstream to Virginia Cascades. These fish are finicky, spooky, and everything else that you would want from large challenging trout. On my most recent trip to Yellowstone, I was able to spend a bit of time on this, my favorite river in Yellowstone.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River on a Cold Rainy Day

Nasty weather always seems to bring out the aggression in brown trout. This is often the case on the Gibbon River. Under normal sunny weather, fish will tuck up under overhanging undercut banks and in any other piece of shade they can find. These brown trout did not get large by being stupid. However, under cloudy skies and rain or snow, these fish come out to hunt. Truth be told, my favorite time for fly fishing the Gibbon River is mid summer on a bright sunny day. Knowing that the fish are tucked up under those undercuts helps immensely in locating them. However, you just cannot beat a good stormy day to get the fish on the feed. 

On our trip to Yellowstone National Park, the weather took a turn for the worse within our first couple of days. Unseasonably cool weather prevailed, eventually producing the first good snowfall of the season at higher elevations. More on that in a future blog post. Somehow, my wife kindly agreed to let me fly fish the Gibbon River in this nasty weather. The rain wasn't falling when we started, but soon a cold fine rain began to soak our rain jackets. I knew I was on borrowed time since I did not want to make my wife miserable. Thus, I focused on some of the best and also most accessible water near Norris. 

Fishing through this section, things started out rather slow. In time I found out why. The National Park Service restoration efforts had been ongoing and many of the stream's trout appeared to be missing. In their place were pasty pellet head west-slope cutthroat straight from a hatchery somewhere. The brook trout were lacking compared with other visits to this stream. I'm still unclear on whether fish are being mechanically removed (via electroshocking) or what is going on through this section. 

Eventually, the YNP fisheries hopes to completely remove non-natives from this section according to my last information. I'm seriously hoping that they instead allow the brown, rainbow, and brook trout to coexist with the cutthroat. This is a contrived fishery after all and the Park Service should not be favoring one invasive over another. 

With the slow start, I knew I had two choices: either move faster to cover more water in my search for brown trout or slow down and really pick apart the water. When fishing this type of water, the worst thing you can typically do is to move too fast. Thus, I found myself slowing down. Often, this is a part of the process for me. As a Great Smoky Mountains angler and fly fishing guide, I'm accustomed to moving fast. Therefore, I always need to change my mindset and approach when fishing other water. This normally takes me an hour or so. 

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Success!!!

Finally, as I was working into some of the best water I would fish on this trip, it happened. I had cast up above a deep bend pool and allowed my fly to nearly dead drift deep into the slot at the head of the undercut. A couple of twitches kept it from snagging the bottom. Suddenly, my line simply stopped. When I set the hook, I fully expected to be stuck to a large pile of weeds on the bottom of the stream. That first head shake told me otherwise. My amazing wife grabbed the net and went for the fish. Because of the heavy tippets I use for this fishing, it didn't take long before I maneuvered the fish to the bank and she slipped the net under my largest brown trout of the trip. While not as large as some I have caught on this stream, it was still an amazing fish.

Large brown trout caught while fly fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park
Gibbon River Brown Trout - ©2018 Leah Knapp

I fished a bit longer, catching a few more solid brown trout. However, it was getting colder and the rain heavier. My lovely wife was no longer having fun and that meant it was time to stop. 

Observations on the Gibbon River From My Trip

As I mentioned above, the Gibbon River was simply not the same stream as before. Fish numbers and size were down significantly. I do not know if the National Park Service has modified their approach on this stream. Perhaps they are attempting to mechanically remove the majority of fish in an effort to avoid using poison on such a large stream. Perhaps the change in regulations is hurting this stream. Unfortunately, in conjunction with their new management strategy, the National Park Service removed all limits on "non-native" fish in this section. That does not extend to the non-native cutthroat, clearly demonstrating the hypocrisy of the Yellowstone National Park administration in managing this formerly incredible trout stream. 

If this bothers you as well, I encourage you to contact both the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department as well as the overall Park administration. The Gibbon River will probably not be a good reason to visit Yellowstone National Park in the future unless things change. Before the removal efforts, myself and many others would travel there just to fish this stream. Now, I'm planning vacations to other destinations. There are still amazing places in Yellowstone, and I will be highlighting some of these from my trip this summer in future blog posts.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Summer Brown Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read just a few of my blog posts and you will quickly ascertain that brown trout are one of my absolute favorite species to target on the fly rod. Given the opportunity, I would just about rather fish for brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than any other species anywhere else. That said, you won't find me being picky either. I get a lot of joy out of the little seven inch rainbow trout that are a lot more common in the Smokies and catching native southern Appalachian brook trout might be my next favorite thing to catching big browns. On some days I would probably even say the brook trout are my favorite thing.

Fishing in the summer for big brown trout in the Smokies is probably about the best time to catch one, at least in the course of simply going out and fishing and lucking into one. Fall through spring is a better time to specifically and intentionally target these fish as they are easier to spot during those months, but in the summer they are just as likely if not more so to eat a fly.

This summer has been one of the better ones for fishing the Great Smoky Mountains in recent memory. Normal to often below normal temperatures combined with a wet summer has made the current conditions good to excellent. The effects of the drought of 2016 are finally showing in larger fish sizes now in 2018 as well. Overall, this has been and will continue to be an incredible year for fishing in the Smokies.

I have long said that the most important part of catching big trout, especially in the Smokies, is time put in on the water. The people who catch the most fish and especially the largest fish are the ones who spend the most time out on the water. When it comes to stalking large brown trout in the Smokies, there is no substitute for experience. This year, one of my regular customers and good friend Greg Hall has made it a point to spend a significant amount of time in the Smokies. We have been fishing a day in the Park nearly every month this year except for January and it is really showing with the fish he is catching. The last two trips in particular have been amazing.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how hard we worked for these fish, but in all honesty both of them were relatively easy to catch. Both came in the course of simply covering water which is probably the best strategy this time of year.

summer big brown trout Great Smoky Mountains National Park

big brown trout in summer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The last trip in particular was special because I was able to get in on the action as well. I asked Greg if he had anywhere to be or if he wanted to fish late. I was thinking about fishing for an hour or so for myself and told him we would just extend our trip time and I would start fishing at the conclusion of the usual "guide" portion of the trip. He readily agreed to more time on the water which set the stage for me to get in on the good brown trout fishing in the Smokies this summer.

When he landed his brute, it was already late in the day. I guided him for a bit longer, but soon it was time for both of us to fish. Leap frogging up the river, we started nailing fish through the fast pocket water. By the time we reached the top of the first section of fast pocket water, I was already to double digits for numbers and was hoping the nice pools at the top would produce a good fish for me.

The first good pool was surprisingly slow. The second and third proved much better. I took the top pool and left the bottom one for Greg who started pulling out nice big wild rainbow trout one after another. I got one rainbow and then had an extended drought. Knowing how good the water was, I continued to slowly dissect the pool, fishing every inch thoroughly. Finally, right at the very top in some faster current, it happened. The indicator shot down and I was hooked up with what felt like a freight train on the 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon, perhaps one of the finest rods for fishing in the Smokies I might add. Up and down the pool we went before the fish finally allowed me to guide it into the shallows and my waiting net.


This was probably the only time this summer that I'll really be able to target big brown trout in the Smokies. The next time I can get away and fish will be in the fall. Winter will allow a lot more time on the water for me hopefully.

As far as techniques and tactics for chasing these big brown trout in the Smokies, I high stick with nymphs and sunken terrestrials more than anything in the warm months. In the water, I just drop the terrestrials and maybe add some streamers as well. Learning the subtle nuances of high sticking (Euro nymphing for you modern anglers) is an art form with over 100 years of history here in the Southern Appalachians. There is simply no substitute for time on the water in gaining these skills and a fly fishing guide will shorten the learning curve immensely. That said, get out and practice if you want to catch these beauties and most of all, have fun!!!