Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Cumberland Mountain State Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cumberland Mountain State Park. Show all posts

Monday, January 11, 2016

First Tenkara Trout for 2016

As the calendar rolled over from December into January, a host of things prevented me from getting out on the water much other than one guide trip in the Smokies last week. The guide trip went well. Despite cold water, we found a few trout willing to eat our flies. As a guide, I often enjoy putting people on fish nearly as much (maybe more?!?) as catching them for myself, so that trip was great for many reasons. However, it was time to catch some for myself.

My buddy Tyler was free to fish for a short time and the air temperature was low enough that I didn't want to be out long. We met up at Cumberland Mountain State Park for a quick trip to get that first trout for 2016. I had the Tenkara rods along and Tyler was intrigued enough to want to fish with them as well. We strung a couple of them up with the usual offering we give to these stocked trout and it was not too long before Tyler struck first.

Rainbow trout caught with Tenkara

Shortly after, I found some willing fish for myself. This beautiful rainbow gave the Tenkara rod a good workout. The colors were very good for a recently stocked fish. The fins were all in good shape as well. The fish used in the winter stocking program are generally in excellent condition so someone is doing a top notch job at the hatchery.

First rainbow trout of 2016 caught on a Tenkara USA Amago rod

The best part of the trip was when Tyler caught a yellow perch. That was a first for him. I've only caught a handful in my life. His was quite possibly the prettiest I've seen with vibrant colors. Great way to start the new year!

Yellow perch at Cumberland Mountain State Park


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Time in the Woods at Cumberland Mountain State Park

Growing up in Crossville, Tennessee, trips to Cumberland Mountain State Park were frequent. We would often hike around the lake or even tackle some of the longer trails that the park offers. In fact, it was the very first place I ever went fishing at the age of maybe 5 or so. I've come a long ways in my career as a fisherman since the days of a red and white bobber and night crawlers but still enjoy heading over to Cumberland Mountain State Park to fish or even just to hike whenever I get the chance.

A couple of days ago, I made the short drive over and after rigging up a 4 weight, headed down the trail. These trips are not so much about fishing, but of course, as a good angler, I must carry a rod. On most trips, I make it a good distance down the trail before I start to slow down enough to notice my surroundings. This trip was no different. Trailside flowers eventually got my attention enough to stop and dig out the camera.

Flowers along the trail in Cumberland Mountain State Park

Moving on, I contemplated a favorite fishing spot, but seeing it grown up with weeds decided to skip it until colder weather when Mr. No Shoulders would hopefully not be around. Later, the trail dipped down close to the water and there were enough bass and panfish cruising to get me interested. A couple of fish as well as several rejections later, I moved on. Again, my camera was brought out. By this time I had slowed down enough to notice many things around me and enjoy them for what they are. Sadly, life moves along quickly enough that sometimes these small blessings go unnoticed. Time in the woods usually corrects that problem.

The hemlock and pine trees grow tall in Cumberland Mountain State Park

Along with a camera stop, I also observed the water enough to spot a good sized sunfish. Getting it to eat the fly was not difficult, and my camera was then employed in a quick shot of the nice redear sunfish.

Redear sunfish from Byrd Lake at Cumberland Mountain State Park

By now I had caught just about all of the fish I really wanted or needed to catch and my eye increasingly wandered across and through the forest. Where I had caught the fish looked just like a jungle although, to be fair and for full disclosure, I've never actually been to a jungle.

Far upper end of Byrd Lake and Cumberland Mountain State Park


 The flowers are around all spring, summer, and fall if you know where to look.

Flowers along the trail in Cumberland Mountain State Park

Flowers along the trail in Cumberland Mountain State Park

Like all good times, this one had to end so I headed down the trail and back to my car. Living close to Cumberland Mountain State Park means I can go back again soon though.

Trail around Byrd Lake and Cumberland Mountain State Park

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.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Local Trout Update

Yesterday, I took a brief scouting trip.  The goal was to see if TWRA had stocked any trout at Cumberland Mountain State Park.  Each year, the small lake is one of many winter stocking sites to provide a seasonal trout fishery.  With the tentative stocking date already past, I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least take a walk with my fly rod.

The trip didn't last long.  Either the trout were not stocked or they did not know how to behave like trout.  I didn't spot the first rise.  Normally those fresh stockers will rise well most of the winter so it looks like the fish may be delayed this year if we are lucky.

Where does luck come in?  Well, in the process of exploring the lake, I heard what sounded like an awful lot of water below the dam.  Upon closer investigation, I discovered that the drain seems to be open.  Now, I'm not sure why, but it seems like every year or two the lake is drained for some reason or another.  If that is what is happening right now, we may not even get the winter stocking at all.  So, there goes all the luck out the window....maybe.


At least there are still a few bluegill around and willing to play.  I managed a few like this one and one small bass that flopped off before I could manage a picture.


Also discouraging was the widespread algae coating the lake bottom.  Runoff from the golf course has been altering the lake for years now to the point that I'm wondering how it is affecting the fish population.  This lake used to put out some slab sized panfish and nice bass up to 8 or so pounds.  The last few years, I just can't find any fish over 2 or 3 pounds and even those seem to be few and far between.

Currently I'm looking into the possibility that the Park is illegally polluting their own lake with fertilizer rich runoff from the golf course. As of right now I'm not sure about all the regulations on such things, but the situation is getting bad enough that something needs to be done so I guess I'll be doing some legwork over the next few days.  More on that later if anything comes of it...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Mix

Have you ever been in the grocery store salad section and noticed how many types of salad mixes there are?  The one that always makes me wonder is called a "spring mix," but for some reason it is available year round.  Maybe there are just a bunch of confused plants somewhere.  As it turns out, my favorite spring mix is not the salad, but the mix of fish available this time of year in some of my warm water ponds and lakes.

Two good options exist nearby that are stocked with trout during the winter.  That means that as the waters warm, I can go on a trout trip and also scratch a bluegill itch while I'm at it or the other way around if that's what I'm feeling for that particular trip.  Anyway, this past Thursday it was a trout trip first of all.

Back at my local state park, I found the creek's waters even calmer than before, same thing with the lake for that matter.  So pictures of the reflections I found along the banks and shoreline were back on the agenda.


The midge hatch that was barely happening on my last trip has progressed nicely.  In fact, after brushing off one insect it occurred to me that I probably should have checked to see if it was actually a midge or a mosquito.  I'm hoping midge on this one, but I guess it is close to that time of year.

Anyway, so the fish were rising to a pretty decent midge hatch, but I wanted to watch them chase down my fly.  Since they are still relatively fresh stockers, I knew that I could count on them to chase whatever I tossed at them.  The bead head Simi Seal Leech was put back to work.  My success on this particular trip was tempered by much clearer and lower water than before, and I was glad that I had brought a 4 weight instead of the 5 weight I used on the last trip.


Just to be clear, I'm definitely not complaining at all.  Just stating the fact that I didn't catch as many trout as the last trip.  Of course, the locals are still hard at it, each person trying to catch their limit that I'm sure will be headed home for dinner.  To be fair, it is better that these particular trout are caught and consumed.  In another 3 months the water temperatures will be getting a bit warm for trout.  I've spooked trout in the summer that have run way up into the little tributaries and are gasping for cooler water near small springs.  We are talking about streams that are a couple inches deep and maybe 2 feet across.

In the meantime, the fish will continue to take on more natural coloration.  By May, the rainbows will be downright beautiful, at least the ones that are left.  After that, it is a shame that they have to die in the heat.  There are some BIG mayflies that hatch later in the year in the creek.  Imagine if there were 20 inch browns and rainbows in there.

By the time I decided I had entertained the rainbow trout enough, I started wanting to catch some bluegill.  No problem! I just needed to hike down to the lake and look for some sunny spots.  Along the way I paused for more pictures, then continued my hike.



As I hiked around the lake, I kept one eye on the trail and the other on the water.  The bluegill are grouped up right now, mostly in warmer sunny shallow spots.  They will be spreading out more and more over the next few weeks as they feed heavily right up until the spawn.  I finally found my fish and had a blast catching a few.


Each good fishing story has at least one tale about the one that got away.  I'll keep this brief, but will say that I never actually saw the fish so it could have been a true giant.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  The fish hit on the second strip after I had cast to a down tree along the shore.  I thought I saw a shadow racing after the fly but that could be my imagination.  The fish ran hard so it could have been a big 'gill using it's body to fight or it may have been an early season bass.  Either way the 4 weight couldn't turn the fish and the fly came loose shortly after.  At least I know where to go back and try again.

By this time, the sun was getting low, and I was getting both tired and hungry.  Heading back to my car, I was pleased with another successful outing and glad that I didn't have far to drive back home.  I'm sure I'll be back here again soon!




Saturday, March 08, 2014

Hike and Fish

As I mentioned in my last post, I always am keeping my eye out for opportunities to combine hiking and fishing.  Hiking helps me focus on my surroundings a bit better.  While fishing, I tend to get so caught up on what is happening on the water that I forget to notice the scenery.  The hiking allows me to enjoy the best of both worlds.  Wandering through the woods with a camera over my shoulder and a fly rod in hand is my favorite way to get out in nature.

A favorite local destination is Cumberland Mountain State Park.  In the winter, Byrd Lake is the recipient of quite a few rainbow trout.  As we move into spring, the trout that have managed to elude the catch and fry crowd start to color up and look more healthy.  After all, trout weren't meant to live their lives in concrete lined runs.  They quickly begin eating more natural food and can usually be found rising to midges in late winter.

Even though I've walked this lake since I was a little kid, I never know what I might find so the camera must come along.  On this particular day, it was first employed in photographing some of the trout I was catching.  One of my favorite patterns for stocked trout is the bead head Simi Seal Leech.  Incredibly easy to tie, it also happens to hold up pretty well to a good chewing.  This picture gives you a good view of this pattern.


The magic that encourages me to carry a camera happened at the upper end of the lake where the creek is still flowing.  Here the waters of the creek were so smooth and calm that the forest above was perfectly reflected.



This stream can contain trout as the fish move up out of the lake.  The casting is tight though and because of heavy silting over the years, wading is not advised.


The rest of my hike was uneventful other than catching a few small bluegill.  It is great to see the warm water species starting to get active.  That is always a sure fire sign that spring is about to arrive!