Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

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

Monday, July 26, 2021

An Argument For Catch and Release

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you probably noticed a period where I blogged about the guided trips I do. However, over time, I realized that I didn't want this blog to become part of my "job," and decided to diligently keep those two things separate. Thus, you have been left with the occasional post about my fishing and anything else that strikes my fancy. Yes, some things are at least motivated by experiences guiding, but for the most part I just use this blog to tell my fishing stories. That was my original motive for starting the blog after all, and what better reason to blog than because I want to remember my fishing trips?

Still, the occasional fishing story from guiding sneaks its way in here. The most recent big guiding event was special enough to merit a place here. However, I want to use it to advocate for something I feel very strongly about: catch and release. When I started guiding, I decided right away that my own personal catch and release ethic would also be part of my business. Trout Zone Anglers is strictly catch and release. End of story. You're more than welcome to write and tell me why I'm so wrong. I've had prospective clients that went elsewhere looking for a guide. In fact, I recommend that they do so if they want to keep fish. You can't pay me enough to take you fishing to harvest a fish. 

Part of this is simple economics. If I let every person who I take fishing keep a limit, all of my good fishing holes would be cleaned out in a hurry. I'm not the world's best guide I'm sure, but my clients tend to catch enough fish to put a dent in the population. If everyone out there was keeping their catch, we would be very low on fish in a hurry. I've noticed that fish populations seem a bit decreased anyway right now in the Smokies, so the last thing they need is additional stressors on their numbers.

Another part of this is also simple. I believe that releasing my catch is the best way to pay forward the moment of awe and beauty that happens every time I connect with a trout. Every fish I put back is a fish that some other angler can appreciate and enjoy, and hopefully, will choose to also release so that, eventually, I might get to enjoy the same fish again myself. 

This brings me to the last piece. I enjoy catching big trout. I really despise seeing big fish on stringers (I honestly believe it is selfish so go ahead and roast me), but I also hate to see small trout being taken because those are the ones that will become big trout someday one way or another. On rivers that I fish like the Caney Fork and Clinch, there are good numbers of fish right up to the top of the protected length range but very few over. Instead of catching lots of fish between 14 and 19 inches, I personally think it would be even better to catch lots of fish between 14 and 24 inches or larger. A minimum size limit on brown trout of 30 inches would gain my instant support. There are rivers and places that have such regulations, and there are reasons they have a tremendous following.

A few days ago, I was able to enjoy first hand the benefits of catch and release. Up until recently, the largest trout that I had ever had a client land was 25.5" and it was a brown trout on the Clinch River. That fish was caught by my good friend and client, Chuck Traylor (#bigfishchuck) on a #20 barbless midge on 6x tippet. We were in the drift boat when the magic happened, and I'll never forget that massive hen brown trout. 

Clinch River Trophy Brown trout
Angler Chuck Traylor with a 25.5" trophy Clinch River brown trout. ©2019 David Knapp Photography


The saying goes something along the lines of lightning never strikes twice, but in my case it did. Fast forward in time to just a few days ago, over a year and a half from Chuck's big trout, and you'll find me yet again drifting down the Clinch River. 

My client this particular day was Bill Cash, an excellent angler from the northeast who is on a mission to fish all of the 50 Best Tailwaters. If you don't have that book yet, then check it out by the way. The Clinch River was going to be number 25 on his quest. By some stroke of fortune on my end, I got the call to share the river with him. Some anglers don't really need guides, but they enjoy having someone show them the ropes and shorten the learning curve on new water. Right away, I figured out that Bill was one of those anglers. His casting was very good and fish fighting skills were on point. He would need those skills early on this day. 

We hadn't been drifting very long when the indicator twitched then briefly dipped. He set the hook, but for some reason it didn't stick. That turned out to be a very good thing. Seriously though, when was the last time you were thankful for missing a fish? Not too often I'm guessing. After the recast, we drifted a very short distance downstream when the indicator went down convincingly. This time, there was some weight on the other end. 

Having guided for quite a few years and fished even longer on the Clinch, I was expecting a standard operating model. That would be a rainbow trout somewhere in the 15-18 inch range and probably hot. The fish would likely jump or at least roll on the surface. Initially, things seemed to progress right on schedule. The fish made a hard run from right to left across the front of the boat. I noticed right away that Bill was keeping appropriate side pressure and letting the fish run when it wanted to. Things got interesting, however, when he absolutely could not turn the fish.

When I asked about the fish, he said it was a pretty good fish, probably 18-20 inches. That's a good way to start the day. Then he said something that had me wondering. "It is a brown trout." Okay, so not what I was expecting after all. A brown trout would explain the digging for the bottom and head shakes, however.  Eventually, the fish made it close enough to the boat for me to get a glimpse. I was convinced of the brown trout diagnosis and also began to think the fish might be a little larger, maybe in the 22" range. 

With 6x tippet to both flies and our largest offering a #18 midge, I advised him to not push the fish too hard. The water was ice cold and well oxygenated from the early morning generation pulse. This fish was going to be fine. At this point, Bill was totally focused and putting on a clinic when it comes to fighting large trout. Low side pressure and pushing the 6x to just short of the breaking point was a recipe for success. 

When the fish started a hard upstream run, I realized we would have to pursue. Getting the oars going, we gave chase. This fish eventually took us up and down but apparently it wanted to stay on its home turf and never went too far up or downstream. A couple of times it got dangerously close to some logs, but by some miracle, it stayed out of the structure for us. 

The fish came boat side but was staying deep. I contemplated deep netting the fish, something I've done on big brown trout before. When I stuck the big Fishpond boat net in the water near the fish, I realized something important. The fish was at least as long as the 25" opening on my net hoop. A mistake trying to dredge the fish up with the net would almost guarantee losing this monster. We were going to have to get the big trout's head up before making the scoop. 

Again, out of an abundance of caution, Bill asked if he needed to put more pressure on the fish. I reassured him that he was fine. Any more pressure and that fish was going to be gone. Finally, the fish began wearing down. Another blistering run back downstream got us closer and closer to landing the beast. Finally, the big trout began coming to the surface. Bill was putting enough pressure on the fish that I was nervous. Still, we had to get this fish up somehow. When it rolled near the boat, I was ready or so I thought. What I hadn't counted on was how big this fish was. Even larger than it had looked at depth, this fish was a true fish of a lifetime. The net barely contained the big hen brown trout. I quickly handed the net off to Bill and asked him to keep the trout's head submerged while I got the boat situated. Then we ascertained the situation and got the necessary pictures. 

When we put the trout on the tape, it stretched to 27.25", a true monster and the largest I've had the good fortune to see on my boat so far. The pictures were done quickly, and within about 10 seconds we had the fish back in the cold water. I had jumped out of the boat as soon as the anchor was down and wasn't taking any chances on the health of this fish. We kept her cradled upright and revived her carefully. Finally, with several powerful thrusts of her tail, she sped off back to the depths. 

Then we just sat there and soaked up the moment. Both of us realized that we had reached the pinnacle of the day early. This big brown trout would almost certainly be the largest fish of the day. Once we started fishing again, we began drifting though the same area where the big brown trout had been caught. On our second pass through this area, I noticed a dark shadow shoot under the boat and settle into a large depression not far away. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was the big brown trout that we had released well across the river and upstream. She was back almost exactly where we had caught her already which told me she was going to be fine. 

The rest of the day featured good fishing although it was largely anticlimactic. We caught plenty of rainbow trout up to about 19 inches with the smallest being around 13 inches. No more browns showed up though. Interestingly, a lot of brown trout were stocked early this year. I saw them leaving the river by the stringer load. I don't know what in the world people are going to do with a bunch of 7 inch trout. Personally, I would rather see them stay in the river. We had just witnessed what the Clinch River is capable of producing if the fish are just left in the river to grow. Most of our tailwaters could be full of 16-24 inch trout if people would just release their catch. I for one wish that more anglers would choose this strategy with the long term goal of catching more and larger trout. 

The moment this point was driven home was when I texted Chuck a picture of the big fish later in the day. Not too long after, he responded by mentioning that he thought it was the same trout he had caught a year and a half ago. If so, the fish had grown by 1.75 inches. That is pretty good for such a large brown trout. When they are younger, they can grow much faster. These old big fish grown much heavier but the length doesn't come as quickly. 

When I got home, I checked up on what Chuck had told me. Sure enough, by comparing the spotting on both fish, I realized this was the exact same trout that Chuck had caught before. If he hadn't of released his catch a year and a half ago, then Bill and I wouldn't have had this amazing experience. Thankfully, Bill also released this magnificent fish. I just hope that any other anglers who happen across this fish will do the same thing. Maybe, just maybe, in another couple of years we'll catch her again, and she'll be 30 inches the next time. 

Trophy Brown trout on the Clinch River
Angler Bill Cash with a 27.25" trophy brown trout on the Clinch River. ©2021 David Knapp Photography



Sunday, January 24, 2021

All It Takes Is One

Most anglers I know like to catch fish when they go fishing. There are more than a few I know that like to catch a lot of fish or even better, a lot of big fish. Then there are the anglers that are content with just a fish. On hard days of fishing, one fish can make or break a trip. As a guide, you generally hope to knock a fish out early because it helps everyone loosen up. When anglers get uptight, they don't fish as well. In fact, I've had at least a few tough days on the water where I knew it was just time to give it up and quit. Not guiding, rather just fishing for myself that is.

I've had many great days in terms of numbers. Occasionally I've even been blessed to enjoy days with good numbers of big fish. Most days, however, tend to feature either one or the other. Head hunting is something that I rather enjoy, but it also comes with the general understanding that there probably won't be a lot of fish caught. Some of the best days are the ones that kind of sneak up on you, however.

Cinch or Grinch?

Last week, I was fishing with my friend and fellow guide, Travis Williams. We had already been on the water a while and things were generally slow. Travis had managed a handful of tugs early on a streamer. We had also seen an indicator dive a handful of times, but we're never sure if it was on fish or the bottom. By mid afternoon, things were starting to look like a typical Grinch day. If you've fished the Clinch very much, you know what I'm talking about. 

The wind had picked up even though the forecast had promised calm winds. One given on the Clinch is wind. In fact, my general rule of thumb is to take whatever wind forecast the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Morristown gives for the vicinity of the Clinch and double it. That will get you at least in the rough ball park of the expected winds. Still, I haven't figured out a rule for a calm wind forecast. Based on our experience Friday, you can probably still count on at least ten mile per hour breezes.

With the wind blowing, I was no longer able to both row and fish. We had spotted a couple of fish rising over a shoal so I dropped the anchor. With the boat stabilized in the falling water, I moved to the back of the boat and we both fished for a while. In fact, I even caught a fish. This typical Clinch rainbow ate a small #22 midge pattern I had been drowning under a slightly larger midge with a New Zealand Indicator holding everything up. The fish pulled hard and generally gave a full account of itself, and I was content. All it takes is one, right? On a Grinch day that is definitely the case. 

Glad to not be skunked, I was about to pull the anchor to row Travis on down the river in search of a fish for him. Right before I pulled it up, Travis said, "There's another rise!" This fish was just barely within casting range. Travis was fishing a new 10' 5 weight Orvis Recon and that thing could really lay it out there. With him in the front of the boat raining casts down on the working trout, I moved back to the rear brace again and threw my flies well upstream of where he was fishing as an afterthought. On the second cast, the indicator dove but I was late to the party. With no resistance, I slung the flies back thinking there was no way the fish would eat again. 

A Big Trophy Clinch River Rainbow Trout Encounter

I guess we'll never know if it was the same fish, a different fish, or if the first plunge of the indicator was even a trout. Either way, when I set this time, there was actually a fish on the end of the line. As I quickly gained line, I expected the usual Clinch slot fish in the 16" range. Not too far out from the boat, the fish got a touch heavier. By the time it got really close and finally realized it was actually hooked, I still hadn't gotten a good look. The fish was staying too deep. That should have been a clue.

The increasingly heavy trout made a u-turn and headed back out to sea, er, the river bank. Mere feet from the bank in the same vicinity as the trout Travis had been hoping to catch, the fish finally came up and broke water. As it rolled, I suddenly realized I was dealing with something a lot larger than my previous guess. Things got pretty serious at that point. Travis rolled up his line to get out of the way and also grabbed the net. 

Somewhere in all the commotion, the fish rubbed me around either a rock or a stick or log. Not much later, it did the same thing again. Each time, I was certain the fish would be gone. You see, I was expecting most of my fish on the smaller midge. That fly was tethered to the other fly via a small section of 6x fluorocarbon. Great for fooling fish, mind you, but not so good for landing them if they get smart. However, once the fish finally came to hand, we discovered it was actually on the larger midge on much more secure 5x fluorocarbon.

The fish absolutely did not want anything to do with the boat, but eventually I got the head up  and Travis made quick work of him with the big boat net. We took a couple of pictures. This might have been my largest Clinch River rainbow trout. Measuring in at 22", the big kype jawed male was a stunner and a true Clinch River trophy. Eventually, with luck, I'll probably find one bigger yet. But for now, I was happy to have landed such a special fish and was done fishing for the day. Really, all it takes is one, but it helps when that one is such a special fish.

Trophy Clinch River rainbow trout

Big rainbow trout on the Clinch River
Pictures courtesy of Travis Williams, ©2021


A Word On Catch and Release on the Clinch River

A big reason this fish was so special is that the protected length range in effect on this river does wonders at protecting fish in the 14-20" range. However, as soon as fish eclipse the 20" mark, they often leave the river on a stringer. While we see lots of fish in the 16-19" range as a result, we don't see fish over 20" nearly as often. Unfortunately, many people don't realize that this is a limited resource and thus choose to harvest these beautiful big fish. While not illegal, it is incredibly short sighted. 

All of our tailwaters here in Tennessee could greatly benefit from more anglers releasing their catch. If you enjoy catching lots of fish and especially lots of big fish, consider that a trophy like that has been in the river for a minimum of 5 or 6 years. Every fish you harvest is one more fish that will never grow to be a monster. I've seen people wishing that our rivers produced 15 or 20 pound brown trout. They can and would, but only if people keep releasing everything they catch under that size. These big trout are a product of several years of growing in our rivers, but they must be released to swim and grow another day. 

Please, if you enjoy fishing our rivers and streams here in Tennessee for trout, consider practicing strict catch and release. It is not worth killing a big beautiful wild or holdover trout. Yes, it is your right, but better fishing starts with anglers making better choices. With increasing numbers of anglers on our rivers creating pressure like never before, it will be up to us anglers to self regulate and do what is best for the river and the fish. 


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Monday, September 09, 2019

My Favorite Season

This post could be all pictures and my point would be sufficiently made. I'm going to make a feeble effort to put some of it into words, however. As a fly fishing guide, my perspective on seasons has changed over the years. If you asked me when the best time to fish was seven or eight years ago, my answer would have been quick and to the point: fall. Now, I will usually get around to answering fall, but sometimes by a circuitous route full of explanations. That is because, for me, the best time of the year to fish is also my favorite time to fish.

Now, not to wax too philosophical or anything, but everyone's definition of the best fishing of the year differs quite widely. This probably all goes back to the rather old explanation of the stages of becoming a fisherman. It goes something like this. First you want to catch a fish, then you want to catch a lot of fish. Next you want to catch a big fish, then you want to catch a lot of big fish. When the whole process comes full circle, an angler should like going fishing for the sake of going fishing or something like that. As a guide, I quickly figured out that people who wanted to know when the best time to fish were generally sincere. The problem with the question of "when is the best time to go fishing?" lies within the perspective of the one asking the question.

Afraid of rambling too much and people getting bored of listening, I've attempted to put my answer into a concise few words. Still, I'm afraid I haven't done a very good job. What starts as "well, spring is probably the best time on most area waters based on overall flows, consistent daily insect emergences, and the fact that fish haven't been pounded all year, but I personally like fall because I like the fall colors," usually quickly descends into lots of side explanations.

The proper answer to the question of "when is the best time to go fishing in Tennessee?" or "when is the best time to fly fish in the Smokies?" is probably more along the lines of a return question. I like to ask people what they view as good fishing. Is it lots of fish or some big fish? Is it having the stream to yourself? Many times, we quickly determine that they don't even know what good fishing consists of. This isn't to knock the people asking the question, it just means that most of us have some vague idea of what fly fishing nirvana would be, but when it comes down to it, we really can't put it into words.

At some point, I'll return and explain why I think winter is the best season, why I think spring is the best season, and why I think summer is the best season. And it's true, all of those seasons are the best, depending on your perspective.

Where you live might influence your opinion a bit, so let's make sure and establish the fact that I live in Tennessee and regularly fish both the wild streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which also happens to be my favorite place to fish) as well as the great tailwater trout streams found in middle and east Tennessee. You should also know that solitude on the stream is very important to me and factors into my preferences in ranking my favorite season to fish. Although smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, stripers, musky, and a few other species are fun and I fish and guide for them from time to time, trout are what led me to fly fishing and trout are what keeps me interested in the sport. Thus, colorful fish and clean cold water with plenty of oxygen are important to me as well. Finally, if you asked me what my favorite season is, never mind whether the fishing was good or not, my answer would be fall. The fall colors are my favorite thing about fall, so really I'm looking at a rather narrow window for the peak of my favorite season.

All of that said, let's define fall more broadly. I don't care if we stick with astronomical fall which begins at the fall equinox and ends at the winter solstice, or if we go with meteorological fall which runs September 1st through the end of November. Good fishing occurs throughout these time periods for those who know where to look. Since things are still usually hot right now, let's go with astronomical fall which this years runs from September 23 to December 21. That encompasses some of my favorite fishing of the year. Here's why.

First of all, as already mentioned, is the fall colors. Every year, I eagerly watch for the first colorful leaves. This usually happen in June, not because fall is imminent, but because some leaf got too dried out somehow and fell off the tree. As summer continues, these early hints of the coming change of season become more frequent. By late October and early November, the colors are peaking. While this can lead to much frustration for anglers if you are on stream during a windy day, the colors provide a glorious backdrop for what I already view as a rather artistic sport.

Speaking of fall colors, late September through the first two weeks of October will feature brook and brown trout getting colored up and fired up for the spawn. Both of these species are becoming more aggressive and eating heartily in preparation for the rigors of the spawning season. Brook trout in the Smokies are normally spawning by mid October although you can probably find some spawning well into November depending on where you look. Brown trout usually start around the same time although you can often find a few stragglers spawning in the mountains even in early December. These fish should be strictly left alone during the spawn and anglers should avoid walking through areas where they are active. The next generation of trout depends on good stream side manners from anglers during this time of year. Fish staging to spawn can still be caught, and fish that have finished spawning can also be caught.

Since the dry fly fishing is usually great in fall, this leaves open a lot of possibilities. I generally gravitate towards streams with some browns but more rainbows. The rainbows are usually vibrantly colored this time of year and are feeding as hard as ever with winter coming on. Brook trout are especially gorgeous this time of year. If you can catch them before or just after the spawn, you will see arguably the most stunning colors of any fish in the southern Appalachians. Of course, brook trout love dry flies which doesn't hurt my opinion of them at all.

Another reason I appreciate fishing in the fall is that I don't appreciate the summer heat. Fall brings cool relief as well as a welcome drop in humidity. Tennessee can get miserably humid any time of the year, but fall is most likely to be dry with pleasant sunny days and crisp nights. This makes it perfect for another favorite activity, camping, which I generally try to do at least a few times every year but almost always every fall. A good campfire on a chilly fall evening is one of the great pleasures of life.

One small side note here, fall is also a great time for catching stripers, rock fish, whatever you want to call them. I don't do it often, but this is probably my most consistent season for finding large ones on the fly, mostly because I haven't had time the rest of the year, but also because there are some advantages to this season which I won't go into here. Regardless of the reasons, a great big tug on the end of the line is fun on occasion.

Interestingly, my favorite fishing season and my favorite season in general evolved almost in unison. That could be because of the early success I had fishing in the fall. I remember one trip early in my fly fishing career. Just a couple of months prior, I had learned how to high stick nymphs without a strike indicator from the legendary Walter Babb on a half day guided trip. To this day that remains some of the best money I've ever spent on this sport. Anyway, I had been applying my lessons. It was November and I had hiked well upstream above Elkmont. I still remember very clearly that I was fishing a #16 Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear nymph and a couple of split shot on my still favorite old Orvis Superfine Tight Loop. I didn't catch any big fish, but I did catch lots of fish. At that point in my fly fishing career, it was a big deal. The rainbows were all where they should have been and they would all eat a well presented fly. In the years since, other great moments on the water have come and gone, but my love for fall fishing definitely got a big boost on that day in November.

By this point, you might have noticed that I still haven't said that the fishing is the best in the fall. I said it's my favorite. Some people will want a straight answer and my answer is this; for me, the best fishing is in the fall, because there is more to fishing than catching fish. That said, the fishing is usually anywhere from good to excellent as well. Low water can add a wrinkle to this equation, but for experienced anglers, low water isn't all bad either. Later, I'll elaborate on why the other seasons are the best, but for now, let's finish with saying that fall is my favorite. So what's your favorite and why?

If you need a few more reasons why fall is the best, here is a small selection. If you want to fish with me during the fall or any other time of year, feel free to visit Trout Zone Anglers to learn more about guided trips.





Thursday, January 05, 2017

2016 Guide Trip Highlights

As I am trying to keep this blog mainly about my own personal fishing excursions, please check out Trout Zone Anglers and the blog there for the Year in Review posts on guided fly fishing trips. Specifically, here is the Smoky Mountain guide trips in review. The tailwaters were fishing very well this past year. The Caney Fork was about as good as it gets last year, or at least it was if you were a regular on the river and knew the tricks. Here are the 2016 tailwater trips in review featuring more big trout than anyone deserves to see in one year. It was a glorious year indeed!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Meat Eater Brown Trout on the Clinch River

This past Friday, I had made tentative plans to fish on the Hiwassee. By Thursday evening, I was having second thoughts. The Clinch River was my second choice so plans were changed. The forecast high temperature was 41 degrees which is not bad by winter fishing standards.

When I got up on Friday morning, I was excited to get going. My last trip to the Clinch had been very memorable, and I was hoping for a good encore. The drive over set the stage for what would turn out as a very cold day. The sky had a solid gray mass of clouds from one horizon to the other. The sunny skies that were forecast never materialized which kept our temperatures from reaching the forecasted highs. When I got to the river, it was 28 degrees. Not the coldest I've fished in, mind you, but cold when you aren't mentally prepared for the occasion.

The water was still running from the generators when I arrived at the Clinch River, so I took a brisk walk up and down the river. My scouting trip upstream was successful, and I headed back to the car to rig up. Big fish, including some nice brown trout, had been located and there was no time to lose!

At the car, I looked at a couple of options and settled on my 9' 5 weight Orvis Helios fly rod. A dry fly with a tungsten bead head midge dropper seemed appropriate. The fish I had noticed were eating and the likely food of choice was midge larva or pupa. This is probably my favorite sight fishing rig for large trout on tailwaters. The dry fly makes a perfect subtle strike indicator, while the midge is a food organism that is prevalent on all tailwaters and most freestone streams as well for that matter (hint hint).

Walking up to where I had found the fish, I arrived as the water started dropping out from the generation. Fish were moving back and forth, enjoying the bounty of the river while there was still enough flow to keep them active. It took three casts before a nice rainbow trout took the midge. The fight was over quickly. Even though I was fishing 6x tippet, the Rio Fluoroflex Plus held just fine. I took a quick picture and short video clip of the release, and then it was time to fish again.

Despite persistence, I eventually gave up on finding more willing fish. Besides, the wind had started blowing which left a chop on the surface of the water that was nearly impossible to see through. I headed downstream to a section where, although I had not spotted fish there earlier, I was confident that the fish were there.

Sure enough, when I started walking slowly through the section, I saw nice brown trout holding in deeper pockets and runs throughout the section. In all honesty, a deeper dropper would probably have been more effective, but it was still below freezing and my fingers were doing good just to cast the fly rod. Every few casts, I would have to chip ice out of the line guides or dip the rod tip in the water to thaw them out. In other words, classic winter fishing. Here in Tennessee, we only get to enjoy this type of fishing a handful of times each winter. The great thing about living here is that there are plenty of warmer days throughout the winter which are comfortable enough to fish without a jacket.

Despite my early confidence, the fish didn't find my midges irresistible. I did miss one or two large brown trout due to operator error. In other words, I didn't set the hook effectively. I'll blame the cold weather.

By this time, other sections of the river were starting to call me, so I started the trek back to the car. Along the way, I fished a few choice runs. I was about to reel it in and just walk back when I saw a nice fish in a shallow riffle feeding heavily. Then I noticed another. Both fish were tucked into slightly deeper pockets and were moving quickly back and forth as they fed on midges. I cast at each one in turn and ended up spooking both. Right as I made my last cast, the indicator (I had switched rigs at this point) twitched and I set the hook...on a monster.

The little three inch trout darted this way and that. I was about to simply lift the fish out of the water too unhook it when a shadow came up behind with jaws open. The little fish ran this way and that trying to avoid its fate. Without even thinking, I dropped the rod tip so the fish had room to finish their uneven duel. It didn't take long. The large fish crowded the little rainbow up into the shallowest part of the riffle before eating it.

I waited enough time for the brown trout to secure its prize before giving tension to the line again. The fish simply sat down on the bottom of the riffle and would not budge. I've had this happen before. Usually it turns into a tug of war where the larger fish eventually spits out the smaller one or gets snagged on a trailing fly. On this particular fishing trip, I was in for a curveball.

Slowly I worked the fish up to the surface and started sneaking closer with the net out. I was hoping to net both fish at the same time. Suddenly, as I snuck closer, something slipped and I saw the little trout escape the large brown trout's mouth. The surprise was that the line was still heavy. When I gave a little pressure, the big fish took off. My midge was securely stuck in the corner of his mouth. That was a new one for me.

I worked my way downstream, following the heavy brown trout until I was within range with my net and quickly scooped. My accidental and brief foray into bait fishing on the Clinch River was quite successful if I do say so myself!

Brown trout on Clinch River Tennessee

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Clinch River Float Trip

The Clinch River continues to fish well and produce quality trout. This fishing is not for everyone as it requires the ability to cast fairly well and manage your line, however those who are willing to work hard on this beautiful tailwaters will be rewarded with some large trout.

Recently, I had the good fortune to float the Clinch with Chris and Eddie and already know this will be a river I'll return to many times. Small flies, light tippet, large trout, it doesn't get any better. The majority of fish were caught on my own midge patterns although some nymphs worked as well.

Both guys caught some really nice trout but Eddie took top honors for big fish of the day. He played it well and kept his composure through several head shaking runs by the nice rainbow. Here are a few fish from out day on the water.





Monday, April 11, 2016

Fishing the Clinch River

This might be the year of the Clinch River, or at least for me anyway. I've now fished it twice within the last four days and that after not fishing it since, well, I can't exactly remember the last time I was down there but it has been a while. Based on the fishing last Friday I'll be down there a lot more. Based on the fishing today it might be a while before I'm back. Let me explain a little further.

Last week, with the nice weather, I've been contemplating fishing a little for myself. With the spring hatches in the Smokies has come a flurry of guide work. That is all well and good, but I do like to at least occasionally fish a little for myself as well. After a steady dose of the beautiful but small wild trout that are found in the Great Smoky Mountains, I was ready for some fish that were larger and more difficult. The Clinch offers both in great abundance.

The idea had been bouncing around in my brain for a while when my old fishing buddy, Trevor, checked in to see if I was available to fish on Friday. Amazingly enough I actually had a free day. Plans were originally made to fish the Caney Fork, but a last minute change of plans had us headed to the Clinch.

When we arrived at the usual Millers Island access, I was shocked to only find a couple of other cars in the parking lot. This place gets packed so to say the lack of people was a blessing is an understatement. We started with the usual midge rig that is so effective on this river. I quickly caught a little rainbow and later another. Trevor got into a hot streak in a good spot. Eventually I snuck in close enough to snag a fish or two myself out of his run when he got tangled momentarily and couldn't fish.

For the most part it was slow. The one high point of the morning was when Trevor got a solid 16-17" rainbow that was all colored up. Some of the fish spawn this time of year so their colors are usually extra vibrant. The real event had yet to happen for me though.

We moved well down the river to a spot near the town of Clinton. Having never fished there, I trusted Trevor's directions and judgement which included a lengthy walk. As we were walking along the river, the occasional rise would prompt me to ask if we should start fishing, but he kept telling me to keep going. Finally, just when I thought we had embarked upon a true death march, he announced that we had arrived at our destination. I looked around and almost immediately noticed a rise downstream just a few yards. Bugs were in the air including caddis and craneflies which prompted me to switch to the tried and true dry/dropper rig with a caddis pupa as the dropper.

In reality, this was my favorite Smoky Mountain rig, something that should never work on the educated trout of the Clinch. On the other hand, sometimes you just never know. On probably my second or third cast with the new setup, the dry fly shot under, and I was hooked up with a solid fish. This fish was strong and acrobatic, giving my four weight fly rod a better workout than it has seen in quite some time. Trevor soon had his net out with an offer of assistance which I gladly accepted.

Nice Clinch River rainbow trout

Soon I was admiring a great Clinch River rainbow trout, the first of many more to come. In fact, I continued to catch trout up and down that section of river, working my way across towards the far bank and back. While I know that I shouldn't expect the same from the Clinch every time I fish there, it was enough to tempt me back for several more times in the near future even if some of them turn out to be far less exciting in terms of fish catching. In fact, I say that after a very slow day on the water.

Today's plans were made just a couple of days ago. The forecast had been calling for partly cloudy skies although a chance for some wind was cause for mild concern. When I arrived to meet my friend John who had kindly offered to show me some of his favorite water, things were looking good. The river had a little bit of chop but nothing too intense. We were soon rigged up and ready to fish with small dark nymphs and midges, in other words, traditional Clinch fare.

After slowly getting in the water to fish, I proceeded to cast and mend, and mend, and cast again. Over and over, but without that nice motivation of a diving indicator and heavy trout on the other end of the line. Finally, one suicidal trout nailed the nymph which broke the monotony, but otherwise the day was slow. John eventually ended up with a fish as well, but we more or less agreed that the fish were not feeding. The weather was rapidly deteriorating and we both like to think that played a significant role in the lack of fish to hand. The wind was soon approaching gale force and when the rain started like stinging needles, we waded out and trooped back to the vehicle.

Despite the lack of large numbers of fish, the company was good, and I kind of like having challenging days because it keeps me interested. Problem solving is good for the mind and is one of my favorite parts about fly fishing. I guess that's the math teacher in me. The Clinch River promises many more days of both large trout and good problem solving opportunities so I'll be back again and again over the next few weeks.

Clinch River Rainbow Trout

Looking for a guided fly fishing trip on the Clinch River? Visit our guide site, Trout Zone Anglers, to learn more about booking your trip.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Midge Fishing

Rescheduling a trip is always frustrating, mostly because you are looking forward to hitting the water and then something goes wrong.  In the case of the trip Chad scheduled, the Caney Fork was rising quickly when we originally planned to do our trip.  We rescheduled and then waited.  As Sunday approached it was painfully obvious that we would either have to reschedule again or change the game plan.  Thankfully Chad was flexible, and since his main goals were to learn to fish midges more effectively and possibly some other good tailwater techniques, we decided that the Clinch would work just as well.

When we arrived at the river, things were just reaching a good fishable level after the morning generation and we started up high. Finding open water was easier than I would normally expect on a pretty Sunday in April.  The Clinch is known as a "bring your own rock" type of river but on this day we were able to find water without too much trouble.  The bright sun and quickly falling water meant that we would be looking for deeper runs and holes with current moving through them.

Working across one good area resulted in spotting a few fish and one missed strike, but other than that things were looking slow.  We changed flies early and often and kept moving, looking for willing fish.  Finally we got into a spot I like that has a nice riffle dropping away into a nice run.  Trout were moving around on the bottom feeding as evidenced by the occasional flash we could see as the fish turned to eat the meal of the day.

With the greater depth, we changed to an indicator rig with a tiny #24 midge pupa on the bottom.  Chad was soon working the hole like an expert, polishing his mending skills to get perfect drag free drifts.  It didn't take too many drifts until the indicator dove and the fight was on!  He soon had the first fish in the net for a quick picture and then it was back to work the hole some more.


I had spotted a much nicer rainbow feeding on the far side of the hole but it required a fairly difficult presentation.  The flies and indicator had to be thrown over the strong current of the riffle and into the softer water on the other side.  Next, the angler would need to throw a huge mend to get a clean drift down to the fish with more small mends throughout the drift.  Chad was up to the challenge and after a few good casts, the indicator dove again.  This was a much nicer trout and soon Chad was admiring his new personal best trout on the fly rod!



Both trout showed a preference for the tiny midge pupa.  It won't be too long before they start taking Sulfur nymphs with regularity and they are probably already starting to key on them on the lower river.

We finished with another hour of covering some more techniques and working on distance casting when we found some large rainbows rising in a nice flat further down the river.  Chad was a pleasure to guide and I'm sure he will be putting his new skills to work to catch some more tailwater trout in the near future!

If I can help you with a guided trip, please contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.