Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Showing posts with label Crossville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crossville. Show all posts

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Boulder Garden

Smallmouth on the Cumberland Plateau are coming on strong now. Our weather is always a bit cooler than down in the lowlands so the local fish are not as far along as fish down around Knoxville and Chattanooga. However, with the recent hot dry weather, fishing has improved rapidly and it is time to get out and enjoy the remote creeks and rivers.

This past Sunday, after cooking a Mothers' Day breakfast for my mom, I took off for an afternoon of visiting a local favorite. This stream is remote and flows through some of the most rugged terrain in Cumberland County. The plan was to explore a stretch I fish a fair amount and have even guided on occasionally.

Driving through the country side, I noticed that we are transitioning rapidly to late spring/early summer flowers.

Photograph or painting?

Later, along the stream, I saw that spring favorites like the Pinkster Azalea were just about finished although a few held on in shady spots.

The last few blooms on the Pinkster Azalea were beautiful.

When I started fishing, it became apparent that the rock bass were hungry since I caught several right away. In the past, I would usually take this as a sign that the smallmouth were not feeding very well, but I persevered and kept progressing upstream. 


Supposedly some musky have been stocked on this local creek so I carried two rods: a four weight rigged with a small Clouser for the smallmouth and a seven weight with a wire bite guard and much larger fly for the possibility of a musky. Most of the water in this stretch is too shallow to be considered prime musky water but I did probe the depths of a few seriously deep pools but to no avail. Either the musky were stocked in a different section or they weren't showing themselves on this day.

The insect life along the river was intriguing on this particular trip. I did not find any golden stonefly shucks yet but the Isonychias (Slate Drakes) are hatching in good numbers based on the shucks. A dun sitting on a rock stuck around to have its picture taken so I shot a few before moving along.


The smallmouth started to get active though. As I moved farther away from the access point, the action improved rapidly but of course no surprise there. Towards the top end of the section I like to fish is what I can best describe as a huge boulder garden. Just below the boulder garden lies two fantastic pools where I have seen nice smallmouth in the past. Happy to have already caught a few smallmouth, I was surprised to see a big fish (for this stream) race over to crush my Clouser shortly after it hit the water. Last summer I spooked this fish a few times but never could seal the deal. On this day, things just worked out. The four weight rod got a serious and unexpected workout, but soon I was admiring a gorgeous fish.


Not long after, another nice fish came out of the same hole.


Those two fish ensured that this would be a memorable trip, but I decided to push my luck a little. The Boulder Garden is a section of river that flows under a high cliff face that drops huge chunks or rock into the river. Looking towards it from either up or downstream, it appears that the creek just vanishes into the rocks.


One other time, I had scouted a line across the boulders part way through, but since I was feeling lucky, I decided to brave the snakes and other dangers to maneuver through this whole section. Nervously hoping I wouldn't come across a rattler or copperhead, I moved painstakingly through and across the rocks, looking over, under, and around all obstacles before stepping or reaching out with my hand. Finally, I was through! A whole new stretch of water opened before me, flowing away into the depths of wilderness. 

Few people ever see this stretch, and I guarantee that the fish are some of the most unpressured in the area. The fishing was accordingly very easy. I spotted a nice bass holding near the head of a pool. One cast, three quick strips, and it was fish on. This must be what it was like to fish these streams 200 years ago. In addition to the fishing, I had to document my progress. The camera was employed in taking some shots of the beautiful scenery. Looking upstream, the water beckoned to further exploration, but that would have to wait for another day.

The shadows were growing longer, and I don't like pushing my luck on these remote waters. If you head out too late, I guarantee you will find more snakes and other critters. Lots of fresh hog tracks lined the stream, and I didn't care to spook a herd of those either.

Back at the car, I got the usual strange looks from the locals at the swimming hole as I wandered out of the woods in camo carrying two fly rods. This time, however, I was spared the usual question of "Are there trout in here?"

My Boulder Garden adventure is hopefully the first of many. I'm excited to see what other adventures are in store for me there!


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Closeup

This week is shaping up to be just about perfect. I'll be taking some time to spend with friends and also fish for myself. I don't get that luxury as often now that I'm guiding. Today I kicked things off with my first local smallmouth trip of 2015. The trip was incredible in so many ways. Until I digest it a bit further and actually take the time to write about it, here is a closeup of one from today that is my best fish to date from this creek.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Spring on the Cumberland Plateau

Spring is my second favorite time of year, only barely edged out by my top favorite, fall. Yes, I love the transition seasons although summer and fall are both great as well. Summer gets a little hot and muggy and of course winter produces some slower fishing at times (although not always), but all of the seasons have their own charm. This year, spring has been glorious.

Starting out cool and wet in March and early April, we have finally transitioned into late spring. Bass are on the beds along with bluegill and shellcracker, at least up here on the Plateau. In the mountains, early spring hatches of dark colored bugs have given way to the lighter shades of summer. Most of the trees have finally leafed out although some are still getting going in that department.

One of my favorite things about spring and fall is being able to hike comfortably without experiencing the extreme temperatures of the other two seasons. Last Saturday I headed to a favorite local hike. Brady Mountain has a segment of the Cumberland Trail that climbs steeply from a trailhead on highway 68 until reaching the higher elevations on top of the mountain.

While the steepness of the mountain side can make the hike a daunting challenge, the solitude and views gained from the top make it a worth while hike. In the spring, wildflowers reign. The late afternoon sunlight filtering through the fresh green of spring made for some beautiful sights in the woods. Here are some pictures from my hike this past weekend.









Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Hungry Late Winter Bass

So yesterday I realized that I was getting more than a little tired of the cabin fever, as in tired enough to do something about it. So naturally I strung up a 5 weight St. Croix Legend Ultra that has been a favorite rod for over 10 years and headed to a nearby lake that I love to fish in the spring (video).

As some of you  probably know by now, I am fond of smaller patterns for bluegill and crappie, smaller than most other people are fishing in fact. Specifically, like my friend Bill Trussell over at Fishing Through Life knows, I tie and fish a LOT of Simi Seal Leeches. Black is my favorite color although other colors work great as well. For this trip, I tied on a black #12 Simi Seal leech with a bead head before leaving the house so I could focus all my time on fishing once I arrived at the lake.

When I got there, a decent amount of ice and slush still existed on the lake's surface. Despite the warming trend of the past couple of days, the lakes are still very cold and holding on to the ice. Admittedly, I was a bit concerned about the fishing prospects. Ice on the surface didn't seem like a positive thing for the fishing but since I was already there I wasn't going to leave without casting a little bit at least.

The heavy fog that kept rolling through the area made for some beautiful scenes. As the assumption that the fishing would be slow took hold, I started to gain more interest in documenting the scenery. It may be a stretch of the imagination, but can anyone else see a giant butterfly in the picture below? Or maybe it is an angel, I'm not sure.



Eventually I got back to fishing with the plan to fish for a few minutes and then head home. What I was really looking for was some early season crappie. Usually you can start catching them on this particular body of water by the first of March. Since this year was unusually cold, I didn't have a lot of faith in finding any but knew where to cast in case they were around.

On the second cast to a very good drop off that normally has some fish hanging around, I looked down just before pulling my fly out of the water at the end of the retrieve. You can probably imagine how surprised I was when I noticed a shadow behind the little leech pattern. I stopped and let the fly start to drop past the fishes nose. That did the trick! It opened its mouth and inhaled the fly.



My surprise was even greater when, after hooking the fish, it finally came to the surface and I realized it was not a crappie or a bluegill but a little bass. That made my day. I was happy enough to be satisfied with one fish. After all, I probably had only fished for 15-20 minutes, taken a few pictures of the landscape, and caught a bass. How much better could it get?

The fog had rolled back some while I was fishing, so after releasing the fish, I took another picture or two. Maybe 4 or 5 more casts were made but I knew that it was time to head home. The trip was a success, and it is a poor sport who demands more from the water than one deserves. I had already been blessed beyond my expectations and figured that it wasn't a good time to get selfish.


Today we have some rain moving in or else I would be out there again. Maybe we'll get a break in the rain that is long enough for me to get back out there. I know there are some monster fish in that lake and today is probably as good a day as any to try and catch one. They are probably hungry after such a long cold winter...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ice Storm 2015: Abbreviated Version

Just a heads up to those of you who have noticed a lack of posts but we are in the midst of the ice storm of the century here in Crossville or at least something like that. Power is out across the county so I just came in town to get internet where power was finally restored sometime yesterday. We have numerous power poles and lines down on our road and the yard looks like a tree company pruned all our trees and then forgot to clean up but otherwise we are doing great. Thankfully we have both a gas fireplace and a wood stove so we are warm. The gas hot water heater is a life saver as I really appreciate my nice hot showers.

Anyway, I won't be checking here as much nor will I be able to check my email very consistently until we get power and phone service back up so please be patient if you do not get an immediate response when contacting me about a guided trip. I'll be back in to check email sometime in the next couple of days if we don't get back up and running and possibly as early as tonight.

Until then, please be patient and know that I will be back soon!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Winter Storm Warning

Here in Tennessee, we are under a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service. I'm excited as we really haven't experienced much "winter" other than cold temperatures so far this year. I love snow and really any frozen precipitation although I would rather avoid freezing rain as that tends to cause the power to go out once trees start falling on the power lines. Anyway, tomorrow should be a fun day. I will be out and about with my camera enjoying the white goodness!

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Country Evenings

There is nothing like watching the sun slowly sink out of sight while surrounded by the sights and sounds of the country. The past two evenings have been a tremendous blessing to me.

Last evening, at the end of jogging four miles, I got back home just as the sky exploded with color. As I had been running, I noticed the high clouds streaming in and thought that we had the perfect setup for a good sunset. Thankfully, the best was saved until I was home and could grab my camera.





This evening I enjoyed a short one mile walk instead of more vigorous exercise. Instead of the aerial display in the sky, the rich evening light was a treat to watch as it lit up the barns, fences, and even cows, especially since I had brought my camera on this walk.






I'm so glad that I live out in the country. It just doesn't get much better!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Early Winter Sunsets


As far as I can tell, one of the chief disadvantages of winter is the early sunsets. Cold weather is great as far as I'm concerned, and I enjoy ice and snow. The weather tends to be gray and even drizzly more often which provides great fishing. Really, I cannot find too many things wrong with winter.

I know that a lot of you will probably want to get on my case for my appreciation of winter and especially the cold weather and that's fine. I'm just glad that so many people dislike the cold months. The fewer people who get outside the more I can feel like I have it to myself. 

Selfishly, this is probably the main reason I like winter. The colder and nastier it is out the fewer people I have to compete with for fishing, and less people also means I am more likely to get uncluttered pictures. In the summer, especially in high traffic tourist areas like the Smokies, I have to often wait and wait and then wait some more for people to get out of my pictures. Winter brings a pleasant change of pace where I can pretty much show up, take my pictures, and then leave for the next spot.

The one silver lining to the short days is that the sun is in the sweet spot for more time both in the morning and the afternoon. I'm talking about that time when the sun has sunk to just above the horizon or perhaps has just made its first appearance for the day. The golden hour of light is a photographers dream.

In winter, that warm light lasts longer and seems even richer than normal. My obvious appreciation of winter may bias me here, but I think that the trajectory of the sun this time of year keeps it close to the horizon longer without actually sinking behind and out of sight.

The result is some of the best sunsets you will find anywhere. If you want to see a great sunset, winter is one of the best times to do so. The air is usually clearer and cleaner so the colors are brighter. Landscapes bask in the glow of the late afternoon winter sun.

Almost daily I promise myself that I'll start getting up early and heading back out in the afternoons to catch that light, but usually I'm doing good to just get the late afternoon version. Still, the sun blesses me with some nice opportunities to photograph the sunset. Maybe I'll get up for the sunrise tomorrow...



Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Full to the Brim

As has been the case for the last several months, we continue to receive a lot more rain than we probably need meaning I hike more than I fish now.  The widespread moderate rainfall this past weekend caused the most recent in a long string of high water events.  Here on the Cumberland Plateau, we have minimal soil.  In some places, the underlying sandstone is completely exposed.  All of this means that when it rains, there is not a lot of soil to soak up all that moisture and it runs off quickly.

This last rain event was not as bad as the one in early December.  Here is a picture from December 6.


When I returned the other day, the water was definitely still high but I could safely maneuver up the rocks on the right side of the above picture for a better upstream shot this time.  As you can see, it is full to the brim, but not as dangerous as the previous time I was there. Unfortunately, it was enough rain that I had to cancel a guide trip, something that is really tough to do financially this time of year. Safety is always a priority, however, and should be when dealing with the streams of the Smokies.



Here are a few more shots from my trip on Saturday.  I've been fortunate enough to get out in the woods several times over the last few days and intend to continue to do so as I work back into good backpacking shape for the spring fishing season!





I still wish that this little stream was capable of holding trout. What a fantastic opportunity it would be for me and so close to home! Unfortunately, in the summer it gets very low and also too warm to support trout.

Check out more of my previous trips to this beautiful little stream.  It just keeps producing incredible photo opportunities for me!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Drained Lake

Earlier this week, I was over on the south side of town and decided to make a run by Cumberland Mountain State Park.  The rumor that the lake was to be drained had me wondering if it was empty yet as well as wanting to figure out why they were draining it this time.  My first glimpse confirmed that it was drained.  I've seen it drained several times over the years and this one was as low as I have ever seen the lake.  As it turns out, that is a good thing.

For many years, in fact for basically my whole life, I have been enjoying this Tennessee state park.  Byrd lake, while not large, provides decent fishing as well as a great environment for seeing birds and even some good wildflowers in the spring.  More often than not, when I just want to get out of the house, I'll head over to Cumberland Mountain SP and enjoy a walk around the lake.  For most of my life, there has been a footbridge over the lake at the boat dock.  On the other side a trail extends up into the woods to the swimming pool.  Additional trails loop around the lake and the footbridge provided an important cutoff to keep the walk from being too long.  Imagine my shock when the bridge was gone.  Here is a shot from the first time I saw the bridge missing.

Despite high water, the bridge is very obviously missing...

On Tuesday, after taking some pictures of the lake, I stopped by the Park office to see if anyone was around who could tell me the details of what was going on.  Sure enough, I was lucky enough to catch one of the rangers in the office.  Monica Johnson has been working at Cumberland Mountain State Park for several years and kindly answered all of my questions and even a few I didn't know I had.

Looking up the lake from the boat dock. 

Looking down the lake from the boat dock. Check out that structure on the left!

First and most importantly, the lake should be brought back up to full pool sometime around the end of March or in April.  The exact time depends on when they complete their work.  They are hoping to rebuild the footbridge across the lake. Yes, that is GREAT news!

Local trout anglers have been inquiring if the trout stocking will happen and according to Ranger Johnson, the stocking is tentatively planned for sometime in February.  This all depends on the progress of the bridge building project of course, but once the supports are set in the lake bottom, the overall lake level can be brought up somewhat which should allow the yearly stocking of rainbow trout.  If fish are stocked in February, we will have at least 3.5 months of fishing before things get too warm.

As a fisherman, I find the low lake level fascinating.  It allows you to examine a lot of great underwater structure and plan future fishing trips.  I have identified some good drop offs that I plan to fish with sinking lines sometime in the summer.

There is the dam. See how low it is? 

While I was getting my questions answered, I also asked about some rumors that have been going around in regards to privatizing the Park.  Depending on who you were talking to, the plan was for the Park to become a private entity charging for any type of entry.  Naturally, those of us who have been enjoying this Park our whole lives were not happy to hear about that.  Ranger Johnson informed me that they are currently exploring the possibility of having certain aspects of the Park privatized.  A good example of that is the General Store at Fall Creek Falls.  In other words, the overall Park will still be there and those of us who enjoy hiking will still be able to hike.  The Park itself will still be a State Park but some things might be run by a concessionaire, much like many of the amenities in Yellowstone National Park or many of our other great National Parks.  Theoretically it should allow for better services and allow the Park to focus on improving the visitor experience.

Considering that our state parks are free here in Tennessee, I think this is a reasonable tradeoff instead of instituting an entrance fee.  As with most parks (both state and national), our state parks are generally understaffed and underfunded and each park is doing a remarkable job considering the resources they have available.

This brings me to the last item which is how you can help.  As I just mentioned, state parks are generally short on both funding and staffing which makes it difficult to keep up with everything that needs to be done.  Helping out is quite simple.  All you need to do is stop by your local state park and let them know that you would like to volunteer.  You will need to fill out a volunteer form and then they will put you to work.  I'm planning on doing some trail work here at my local state park in the coming weeks.  With a considerable amount of free time in the cold months as a fly fishing guide, I have plenty of time to help out and give back to a local park that has provided countless hours of enjoyment throughout my life.  If you appreciate your local park, I recommend finding the time to help out as well.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Be Prepared

One of the most important lessons any fisherman can learn is to always be prepared.  As a fly fisherman, it is easy to take this to the extreme.  This is why we have boxes and boxes of flies that we rarely if ever fish, instead opting for the same old Parachute Adams or Yellow Stimulator.  Of course, when you are always prepared, you can effectively fish any hatch that comes your way.

I've had to learn this lesson the hard way more and more than once I might add.  On a recent float with David Perry, I showed up prepared to toss streamers the whole way.  On the spur of the moment I tossed a 5 weight in the boat just in case.  Of course, when we found fish rising to midges I remembered that my midge box was back in the car.  Oops.  One good thing did come of this trip.  At some point we rigged that 5 weight up with a bead head nymph and one of those pinch on indicators. Then, at the end of the day, I just kept the whole thing rigged and ready.

Well, I fished that rig a few times over the last week or so.  I caught some panfish at Cumberland Mountain State Park, and a nice big delayed harvest rainbow on the Tellico.  All of this was done in between the episodes of high water.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I'm heading down to Chattanooga for a few hours and as I'm driving along, I remembered reading something about a delayed harvest stream right along my route! Can things get any better?  Well, yes and that is where being prepared comes in.  I had that rod still rigged and ready to go.  It didn't take me too long to figure out that I should probably just stop and do a quick investigation.



Fifteen minutes later, I had landed 3-4 rainbow trout and was back on the road after one of the better detours I've ever taken while out driving.  Never even got my feet wet either.  That rod is still in my car.  In fact, I'm contemplating a trip over to Cumberland Mountain State Park again this afternoon and if I make it over there, it is always better to be prepared.  Of course, I might end up just taking the camera for a walk which is great as well, but if I see trout rising, I guarantee I'll be ready.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Water, Water and More Water


The last few months have been an excruciating roller coaster of hope that repeatedly ends up dashed in rain swollen creeks and rivers.  My local tailwater has seen high water forever.  Granted, the fishing has still been okay, but for those of us who enjoy wading at least as much as floating, the situation has now become dire.  This weekend featured the first low water in a long time, and of course I was too busy to make it down.  Oh, and it also rained this weekend.

Yes, the rain is the culprit.  Knowing how some of my friends out in California have been parched for years, it seems just a little selfish to complain about rain.  Seriously though, every time the river gets to the point that we can have some low water, it rains again.  Every. Single. Time.  So, I'll continue to enjoy my fresh air in other ways.

This weekend, a quick outing to a nearby creek helped me to at least get out of the house.  I'm not sure if it was that good for me.  Seeing all that water flowing downhill towards the upper Caney Fork drainage confirmed what I had been afraid of: now we'll be lucky to be able to wade by Christmas.




So, I'm back to hoping that it doesn't rain for a couple of weeks and thinking about other places to fish.  Up in the Smokies, the brown trout have finished their spawn so they should be feeding well over the next few weeks.  I've got musky on the brain as well and may have to get out there and chase them within the next week or two.  Fishing must go on, even if it isn't where I had hoped...