Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Showing posts with label Cataloochee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cataloochee. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Camping in Cataloochee

Bees Balm along Rough Fork in Cataloochee Valley
Bees Balm along Rough Fork in Cataloochee Valley

Some of my favorite experiences in the Smokies over the years have involved camping trips with a healthy dose of fishing thrown in for good measure. When some time was freed up a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a last minute run to the Park for my first camping trip in quite a long time. The destination was Cataloochee Valley, one of the places where elk are again roaming wild in the Park after their successful reintroduction several years ago. The elk are just one of the reasons I love camping in Cataloochee although I must say that they have increased the crowds there a lot.

When people ask me where my favorite place to fish is, I always have to pause and think. Little River would probably be at the top of that list, but the rest would shake out differently each time depending on the day and my mood. Cataloochee always deserves a place near the top of that list. The reasons are much more complicated than great fishing and in fact if fishing was the main goal, I probably would not choose Cataloochee for a trip. The fishing is just about as good as anywhere else in the Park but certainly not better. The remote nature means there is more water available per fisherman which is beginning to come closer to the truth of why I love Cataloochee.

For my most recent trip, I decided to take the scenic route and drove in from Big Creek which is a good enough fishery in its own right. On the drive over, I stopped to sample a couple of small tributaries ranging from very tiny to just barely fishable. I was happy to discover brook trout just where they were supposed to be although getting a fly to these fish was challenging to say the least.

Continuing my drive, I arrived at the campground and quickly ate my lunch. I headed back out to fish again and stayed close to camp. In a couple of hours of fishing, I didn't catch anything particularly noteworthy or memorable but did experience one of those moments that seems to always happen and make my trips to Cataloochee exciting.

I was headed down to the creek and was close to bushwhacking but had found a faint path to follow. When the sound of water grew louder, I looked up and realized the path I was following dipped under a bridge. A flicker of movement soon materialized into a doe which stared back with little apparent fear. A brief moment of anxiety over whether she had a fawn close by caused me to quietly talk to her while moving slowly around to give her plenty of room. She watched with big dark eyes but soon couldn't stand the close encounter any longer and bounded off through the rhododendron. The same rhododendron that would take me hours to navigate I might add. I watched as she contorted her body in each jump to slip between the branches and was amazed at the body control she was displaying. The moment was fleeting, and soon I was staring at an empty spot where she had disappeared.

That is why I like Cataloochee. Special things always seem to happen there. Being a good fisherman, I was there to fish as well. It was time to quit staring at the brush and try to catch some trout. As it turns out, the fishing was good just like I remembered it being. Could I have caught just as many fish closer to home? Probably, but it was nice not competing with other anglers and don't even get me started on all the swimmers and tubers on Little River right now.

The fish seemed keyed in to terrestrials with the best action being on inchworm imitations and beetles. Caddis were also out and about and a caddis pupa was like candy to these fish. In fact, on day two, the caddis pupa worked even better than the terrestrials for the most part.

Soon enough, my time came to an end, and I had to head back home to the responsibilities of life. I was refreshed from my time camping in Cataloochee and ready for the six straight days of guiding fly anglers the next week.

Here is my stay at Cataloochee in pictures, which to me does a better job at capturing the essence of the fishing there than words ever can.

Cataloochee brook trout closeup
Brook trout from a high elevation tributary 

A tributary of a tributary to Cataloochee Creek
Tight quarters but willing brook trout 

Rainbow trout were eating terrestrials in Cataloochee Creek
Green Weenies were on the menu

Cataloochee Creek in Cataloochee Valley
Cataloochee Creek is a gentle, largely low-gradient stream. 

Rainbow trout were eating beetles on Rough Fork in Cataloochee Valley
The trout liked beetles as well... 

Brook trout liked beetles too in Cataloochee
...including the brook trout...

Even this little brown trout ate a beetle in Cataloochee
...and this little brown trout. 

Bees balm in Cataloochee Valley along Rough Fork
Bees Balm was seemingly everywhere... 

Bees balm close up in Cataloochee Valley along Rough Fork
...providing bursts of color upon the stream banks. 

Morning rays on Cataloochee Creek
Morning in Cataloochee breaks forth on Cataloochee Creek in blinding shafts of light.

Rainbow Trout from Palmer Creek in Cataloochee Valley
Some of the rainbows were nice sized. 

Rhododendron blooms along Palmer Creek in Cataloochee Valley
There were even a few rhododendron still blooming along the streams.

For now I'll have to wait, but I'll be eagerly looking forward to my next adventure camping in Cataloochee.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Visiting Cataloochee With Someone Who Used To Live There

Cataloochee Valley is one of my favorite places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The out of the way valley sees plenty of visitors who mostly come to see the elk that the National Park Service has reintroduced there, but the history of the valley is fascinating as well. As in many other parts of the Park, Cataloochee was a thriving community before the Park was created and those living within the boundaries of the newly created Park were forced to move.

This video is of someone who lived in the valley early in life. Hattie Caldwell Davis shares her memories from the valley and this video from www.smokiesinformation.org will help you look at Cataloochee in a whole different way next time you visit. For anyone who loves the Smokies, this is a must watch!

© GSMA 2012. All rights reserved.

Next time I'm camping there, I'll have to make the hike up the Rough Fork trail. The house up there is one I have not visited yet. If you have never visited Cataloochee, don't forget your fly rod. The fishing there is pretty good also!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cataloochee Return

This year I have easily set a new personal record for most visits to Cataloochee in a single year.  Last weekend I traveled to Asheville to visit some friends.  On Saturday afternoon we made the drive over to Cataloochee.  They had never been and I wanted to show them the elk and the historic buildings, not to mention the overall scenery.  Here are a few shots from The Return.












Monday, December 08, 2014

The Slam or Cataloochee: Part 3

Each fishing trip has its own beauty and memories.  Some trips are rooted in the familiarity of a favorite stretch of stream while other trips are memorable as the first trip to a stream or section of water.  This year I have been making an effort to break out of my normal fishing routines, and I admit it can be hard.  The great thing about water you fish regularly is that you know what to do without thinking too hard.  On new water, it is possible to overthink the situation even though you know deep down that you should approach it the same as all of the other area freestone streams.

During my camping trip to Cataloochee, after a restful night that wasn't as scary as it could have been, I was determined to fish some new water.  That's relatively easy for me to do in Cataloochee since I have not fished there as much as some drainages closer to home.  The methods would be pretty similar though so I still had that comfortable familiarity with just enough newness to keep things interesting.

The stream I chose to fish was like a lot of the North Carolina side streams.  There was a distinct lack of large pools. Instead, a distinct emphasis on flat glides of pocket water that can be a little tricky to find fish in were the norm.  Early on a cracked the code of where to find fish.  That's important as it allows the fisherman to focus only on prime water while discounting large sections of stream.  In the spring, summer, fall, and winter, fish will move to different areas to hold, rest, and eat depending on factors such as streamflow, time of day, hatches, water temperature and the list could go on and on.  On this trip, the fish were in the middle to rear of the pockets and small runs but were holding tight to structure which could be as simple as a small rock.


A dry/dropper rig seemed appropriate for this type of water.  An October Caddis dry worked great on top with a little bead head nymph I'm working on picked up it's share of fish.  I was fishing a 9' 5 weight Helios rod with a leader around 8 feet long.

Not long into my excursion, I caught a brook trout and then another.  According to the Park's distribution maps they weren't supposed to be this low.  That's one thing I love about Cataloochee: you can find brookies throughout the whole valley.


Moving on up the stream, I began catching enough rainbows to keep things interesting.  The fishing was neither as good as I had hoped nor bad enough to cause me to bail on this stream and find another spot to fish.  That's probably actually a good thing.  Those rare days were everything works and every fish eats can spoil a fly fisher if they come along too often.  Instead, days that hint at the possibility of fantastic fishing are what keeps bringing me back for seconds and thirds.  Returning to recreate those magical perfect days rarely yields as good a time as one remembers, and this applies in most areas of life.  When you do find a stream that is a little bit of a tease, you can go back and have a good time regardless. If it doesn't perform like an all-star, you can just accept that it fished about as you remembered.  On the other hand, if it fishes better than anything you have sampled in a while, you can be satisfied that your intuition paid off.




Eventually, I found a few more brook trout and even one small brown trout followed quickly by a tiny young of the year brown.  None of the larger browns were around and interested in playing on this particular day, yet another reason to return I might add.


As the sun slowly shifted past noon, I started thinking about hiking out.  By 3 it was time to go.  My cousin and his wife were supposed to be joining me, and I wanted to get back before they arrived in camp.  The hike out proved that I had covered around a mile of stream in approximately 6 hours.  Next time I'll hike farther before I start, but at least I can now say I've fished that particular stream.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Strange Happenings or Cataloochee: Part 2

On most of my camping trips I like to document the camp a little with my camera.  Sometimes I just snap a few shots of the overall setup and other times I go to great lengths to get shots of everything that makes up camp life.  Fire shots in particular seem to get me snapping more pictures than I intend.  Fire is just so mesmerizing that I'll often shoot 50 or more pictures before I think, "Oh man I can't fill up my memory card with fire pictures!"

Last month in Cataloochee, I found myself taking the obligatory camp shots but not really dealing with the fire thing on the first evening.  My cousin would not show up until the next day and a campfire is generally best when it is shared with someone else.  My fishing plans for the next day included a stream I had never fished but wanted to give a fair shot so I did a quick supper before hurrying to bed.

While I was still thinking about supper, I got the camera out and, as light was quickly dwindling, quickly got a few shots that included my tent and the overall setup.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at the pictures on the computer that I realized that something was a little off.  The first one seemed fine, but then something strange appeared in the next couple of images...




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cataloochee: Part 1

The trip to Big Creek was actually more of a break on my trip to Cataloochee.  Of course, I had planned it in such a way that I got to Big Creek early in the day.  Exploring new water is frustrating when you are limited to just an hour or two so I kept the whole day wide open.  By mid afternoon, the thought of getting camp set up before dark had me back on the road.

Driving from Big Creek to Cataloochee is always an adventure.  These gravel roads seemingly go on and on indefinitely.  Then, just about the time you are wondering if you will ever get there, you start noticing some familiar landmarks.  As it turned out, I not only made it there in time to set up camp before dark, I also had enough daylight left to catch some fish.

There is one pool in particular that I love to fish, mostly because it is easy to access and can be fished effectively without putting on any wading gear.  Never mind exactly where because I would rather not have others fishing there.  Selfish I know.

I still had a large orange October Caddis pattern tied on and stuck with that.  Why change when a fly has been catching so many fish right?  Starting out about halfway up the pool, I started covering the water carefully.  The fish were there, I was sure of that, but for some reason or another, I wasn't even getting any looks.  By the time I started casting in the fast water at the head of the run, I had lost a considerable amount of hope for this spot, but then on the 2nd cast to the fast water there was a subtle swirl and the fly disappeared.

When I set the hook, chaos ensued.  These chunky rainbows were both larger and stronger than I expected.  Soon after catching the first, I caught another, and then another.  All from the same little seam at the head of the pool.  That spot was good for 5 nice rainbows in a matter of maybe 7 or 8 minutes.  As soon as the action died down I quit for the day.  I was already feeling a little greedy after pulling enough trout out that the nearby tourists were taking notice and figured that it would be better to just let the other fish take the rest of the day off.



Back at camp, I got some supper together and settled in for a relaxing evening, not realizing that some strange things were about to happen...

Don't forget to sign up for the Trout Zone newsletter. You can do so using the form below.  Your email address will only be used to send out the newsletter which will contain fishing reports, tips and tricks, photography, and occasional special offers and giveaways.


Newsletter Signup

* indicates required

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Early Fall

Even though the official start of fall is still a few days away, I'm ready to announce the beginning of fall.  Actually I've been ready since July.  The number of colorful leaves I've been finding on stream-side rocks has been steady since late July if not even earlier.  The unusual cold snaps we had this summer may have contributed to that, or perhaps it was the abnormally dry conditions we had early on.  Regardless, those splashes of color were definitely a couple of months ahead and perhaps as many as three.

Now the weather feels like fall so I'm not waiting.  In fact, I'm heading out to camp this very weekend in celebration of the new season.  Announcing the start of fall a bit early is nice as it allows one to enjoy fall weather before anyone else.  Mother Nature is giving me a healthy dose of cooperation.  Here at the house on the Cumberland Plateau, we haven't seen 70 degrees at all today.  Combine that with a dry airmass and bluebird skies and you have fall.

By next week, around the time fall is officially starting, even cooler temperatures may be surging into the area.  An early fall sounds just about perfect to me just as long as it does not also bring an early winter.  A fall that lasts until late November would be awesome!  I only hope that we get an excellent peak color season as some years are definitely better than others.

Oh, and just so you know I wasn't joking, here are some pictures from the past few months.  Okay, I lied.  Fall actually started even earlier.  This first one is from June.  Next come a few from July, then of course a couple from August.  The last one should be recognizable from my post on last weekend's excursion to Cataloochee.









Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Picture Report

Sometimes, my favorite trips do not involve fishing.  Okay, maybe I should have said occasionally or even rarely, but it does happen.  This past weekend involved a trip to Asheville for a cousin's wedding.  I promised myself to be good and leave the fishing gear at home, but when an opportunity to sneak off to Cataloochee presented itself, I was thankful that at least the camera was with me.  Despite being one of my favorite places in the Park, I have only been there a handful of times.  Clearly I need more time to explore in the Park (as well as gas money, etc), but when I do get the opportunity I always jump on it.

While most of the tourists were there to look at the elk, I was there more for the scenery and just to get outside.  Of course, you can't go to Cataloochee without taking at least one elk picture.  This big guy had been bugling a short time before.  However, as you can see, he soon calmed down and decided to relax a bit.


Just across the road, the Caldwell house kept me busy for a bit.  How many different ways can you take pictures of one house?  I found at least a few...






Any trip to the Smokies would be incomplete without walking a few stretches of stream just to look for fish.  There were plenty of fish feeding in the pool just upstream from the shot above (as always), but the rest of my scouting turned up no large fish as I am always hoping for.  Of course, that's probably a good thing.  Without a fly rod in tow, it is always tough finding big fish that are in a catchable state of mind.





Reminders of the rapidly approaching fall were definitely around.  Fall flowers are blooming everywhere here at home and even in the mountains.  The brightly colored leaves are my favorite though.


On the way in, the clouds obscured the valley.  On the way out, they had lifted just enough to give that good Smoky Mountains look.