Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label David Knapp Fly Fishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Knapp Fly Fishing. Show all posts

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fishing For Fun

Anyone who has fished the Smokies knows that you don't come here to catch big fish.  Yes, there are big browns around, even some true monsters, but few people ever see them much less catch them.  The rainbows, on the other hand, provide the bulk of the entertainment unless you travel up high in elevation searching for brookies.  This year, I've been privileged to catch some really nice rainbows.  In fact, within the last month I've caught personal bests for the year twice!

The first one was 12 inches almost exactly.  I know, that doesn't sound like a very large rainbow.  Everything here is relative.  On the Caney Fork which I also frequent, a 12 inch rainbow is normal, one of the standard put and take rainbows that are constantly being dumped in to keep the catch and keep crowd happy.  In the mountains, well let's just say it doesn't happen every day.  That's why I was so surprised when I caught an even larger trout just last week.

The story actually begins the day before with me waking up at an unearthly hour to head over to Little River Outfitters for a couple of days working in the shop.  As I headed out of the house and down the mountain towards Knoxville, I started contemplating my options for fishing after work.  Each week, I've attempted to scratch a different itch.  Once or twice I've chased brookies up high, and once I even made the dreaded drive into Cades Cove to fish Abrams Creek, not because it is the best place to fish, but more for old time's sake.  I used to fish it often many years ago.  Lately I just can't stomach the traffic getting there.

By the time I got to work, I was still trying to decide where to fish, but did have it nailed down to one of two stretches on Little River.  The evenings are arriving earlier than ever with the changing seasons and I didn't want to waste time driving up the mountain for brookies or hiking up high above Elkmont.  Fast forward a few hours and it is nearly time to get off of work.  I've made a major strategic decision regarding my evening fishing.  Normally I'll get to the stream and evaluate what is happening stream side before determining how I want to fish.  Without rising trout and an obvious hatch, I'll usually go with a nymph rig of some sort to maximize my success.  On this particular Thursday, I decided that I just wanted to have fun.

Right now you're probably scratching your head.  Isn't all fishing about having fun you ask?  Yes, but there is fun because I'm catching fish and then there is fun because I enjoy how I'm fishing.  The two often go hand in hand but not always.  For my fun on this day, I decided to fish a dry fly.  While I hoped that would be enough, I was still hedging my bets by dropping a small bead head behind the dry.

On my way up Little River, my car just sort of eased itself off at the first place I was thinking about fishing so I took that as a sign that I should fish there instead of heading further upstream.  My preparation was fairly simple and before I knew it I was down on the stream casting.  There were some small trout rising in the pool in front of me but they seemed unusually wise for their size.  Moving up into the pocket water, I soon found more willing candidates.


The rainbows on Little River are gorgeous.  This time of year their large pink stripes seem to stand out more than ever, like they are dressing up for the fall season along with the browns and brookies.  Colorful trees around me made the moment even better.


Moving up the creek, I found good numbers of willing trout, although nothing of any size.  The dry fly was a big orange Elk Hair Caddis I tie that mimics the big fall caddis that we have in the Smokies.  The dropper was a #16 Zebra Midge.  Both caught fish, although the larger fish did seem to have a preference for the dropper.  The leaves continued to awe me with their colors as well so my camera saw a fair amount of action.


Climbing out of the river before it got too dark, I was soon back at the car.  Instead of breaking down my rod, I just left everything strung up to fish the next morning on my way in to work.  After a pleasant evening in camp at Elkmont relaxing, I hit the sack a bit early and before I knew it morning had arrived.  Throwing all my gear in the car, I was all packed and ready to fish before I knew it.  Noticing the dry/dropper rig from the previous evening, I decided to leave it on not knowing what a great choice that would end up being.

There is a pool, somewhere on Little River, that is a favorite of mine.  This is more due to the fact that you can see into it so well than anything.  It may get fished more than any other pool on the entire river so the fish are often skittish.  If you arrive first thing in the morning though the fish can be caught with a healthy combination of luck and skill.

With limited time before I had to arrive at work, I started in the middle of the pool and worked my way towards the head.  Before long I was admiring a seven inch rainbow and was pretty content with my morning.  By the time I had tricked another fish, slightly smaller at six inches, I was getting concerned about the time.  A quick check revealed that I still had twenty minutes to fish so I moved all the way to the head of the pool and started working the bubble line with my offering.

When the dry darted under and the line came tight, I quickly realized it was a nice fish.  Expecting the golden hues of a brown trout's side, I was surprised to see a big pink stripe.  Thankful I had a net with me, I quickly worked the fish away from all obstacles and into open water.  When the fish finally gave up the fight and allowed me to slip the net under it, I was one happy fisherman!


The nice rainbow definitely made my morning and measured between 13 and 14 inches.  Not the largest rainbow I've caught in the Park, but easily in the top 5 for wild rainbows I've caught in the Smokies, the trout was a perfect way to start my morning.  I still have a nagging suspicion that if I had been fishing my usual deep nymph rig the fish would never have been caught.  I guess it is good to just go out and fish for fun sometimes instead of taking things too seriously.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flopping Fish

Over the years, I've had so many people make observations about the fish pictures I take.  "How do you get the fish to hold still?" is one of the most common questions I hear.  Generally, you have to have the camera ready very quickly after lifting the fish out of the water.  Have your buddy compose the shot first and take the picture as soon as the fish is in place (there's a reason a lot of the best pictures have water dripping off the fish).  Snap 2-3 very quickly and one will usually turn out.  Then get that fish back in the water ASAP.  Done correctly, a fish should never be out of the water more than 10 seconds and even that is on the long side.  Ideally this is done with two people of course.  If you have to take self timer shots, get a BIG net and keep that fish in the water until the last possible moment.  The last thing you want to do is kill a fish that you intend to release.

And now for the whole point of this post, I wanted to make sure you all realize that not all fish are cooperative, I thought I would share a favorite brookie shot I just came across from a couple of years ago.  Actually, I have a whole collection of these "action" shots. Maybe I'll do an expanded post showing them another time and you can all laugh at my (and other anglers') facial expressions as I realize the fish is headed somewhere else.  For now, here is one of many anti-picture brook trout.  At least the colors are still beautiful!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Watauga Morning


On my recent trip to upper east Tennessee, I fished the South Holston and Watauga rivers as well as a high elevation freestone stream.  Of the three streams I fished, the Watauga was the easiest by far.  The fish are less sophisticated than on the South Holston and would eat most any nymph I drifted through their living room.

I only fished the Watauga for a few hours in the morning but probably caught 30 or 40 trout during that time.  None were large but all were in great shape.  Some of the browns I caught looked like they were wild.  For that matter some of the rainbows did as well although I'm not sure how many wild rainbows are in that river.  Once the clouds started to break and the sun peaked through, the fishing tapered off a bit but was still very solid.

The only downside of this trip is that now I'm wishing I lived closer to these fine streams so I could fish them more often.

Here is one of the browns I caught on the Watauga that is a strong candidate for prettiest fish I've caught this year.  Just look at those spots!!!


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Stonefly Shucks

It may just be me, but it seems like the Golden stones were a little late this year.  I was seeing shucks here and there in June but it wasn't until the last 2-3 weeks that good numbers have appeared on stream side rocks up in the Smokies.  In case you were wondering, the fish do seem to recognize them, I'm just not saying in what form.  Go find out for yourself....


Monday, July 28, 2014

The Gorge

When my cousin Nathan came up for several days of fly fishing, I knew we would have a great time.  The first day of smallmouth fishing was fun and the Caney Fork float produced that nice brown I'm always looking for.  Next up on our list was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hopefully a mid to high elevation stream that had good numbers of rainbow and brook trout.


Arriving in the afternoon at our campsite, we hurried to set up the tent and stash our sleeping pads and sleeping bags before hitting the water.  Not wanting to fish too long, we stayed close to camp, walking no more than a mile before we started fishing.  We each caught a few fish, and I took some pictures before heading out to go try out a new restaurant in Townsend for supper, the Monte Real Mexican Restaurant.  Turns out the food was good! We enjoyed it knowing that the menu was camp food for the next day and a half.

After a good night's sleep, we were up and ready to fish hard all day.  Our goal was to return to a gorge we had fished together a few years ago.  Sure enough, it was just as amazing as we remembered.  This particular stretch of water has both rainbows and brookies and is among the most rugged stretches of water in the Park.  Numerous times we reached places where continuing on meant boosting each other to climb over the huge boulders.  Not for the faint of heart nor for the weak, this stretch of water should never be tackled solo for obvious safety reasons, but the fishing is so worth it.

The rainbows here are thick and never vanish completely, but the higher you go the more brook trout you can find.  I caught a nice one early on, and on a dry fly at that!


Nathan has a soft spot for brookies and was doing his share to catch a bunch.  After catching one fish in particular and shooting a couple of quick pictures, he gently released it in the shallows at the stream's edge.  We watched it rest on the bottom for probably 30 seconds before it took off again.  Naturally I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to shoot a few pictures...


In between the brookies, the rainbows kept us more than busy.  While none were large, they were plentiful and eager to hit our flies.  Enough fish kept hitting the dry to keep us from going to straight nymphs but most were hitting the dropper.  In the low clear water we could often watch the fish materialize off of the bottom to come up and swirl on the little bead head trailing behind the dry fly.


The stream is beautiful which is part of the reason I keep coming back.  The fish are the other part of course.  Between those two things, the visiting angler most be extremely careful.  To spend too much time on one section means getting stranded in this long gorge overnight, not a fun idea.


Since there were two of us, I spent quite a bit of time with my camera.  This is something that is harder to do when you are the only one fishing.  I tend to get so focused on my fishing that I forgot to enjoy the sights around me, but when I'm sitting back to watch a friend fish, getting out the camera just makes sense.  In this case, it allowed me to get two back to back shots that I think turned out well.



The fish just kept coming to hand and the farther we went the better the fishing got.


Photo by Nathan Stanaway

Not too far from where we would climb out and hit the trail back, I had a very nice fish hit and somehow managed to keep it on the line.  My best fish of the day turned out to be a brookie, and I couldn't have been happier!

Photo by Nathan Stanaway

The hike out was all down hill so we made good time and were soon back at camp for a relaxing evening around the fire.  This trip will be one that I remember for a long time. It's always great to get out with my cousin Nathan!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Float for Me

Guide's day off trips don't happen as often as I would like.  Of course, helping others catch fish is always pretty awesome some I'm not complaining.  I guess you could say that I'm simply pointing out  that being the one handling the fly rod is nice on occasion.  Last week I had a short vacation.  My cousin Nathan came up to fish with me for a few days.  We started the week fishing for smallmouth, followed that up with a trout float on the Caney, and finished up with some awesome trout fishing over in the Smokies on a day that was all about sheer numbers.  In other words, I had an incredible week.

The smallmouth trip was a lot of fun, but neither of us hauled a camera along so there is no photo evidence.  I guess that means I can inflate the size of the fish we caught.  Really it was a standard smallmouth wade trip with some nice fish caught but nothing to write home about, the kind of comfortable every day fishing that scratches the itch but leaves you wanting a little more.

Day two started out much the same with the main difference being that we were floating in the drifter instead of wading.  The generation schedule on the Caney has been a little strange lately.  The Corps of Engineers can't seem to decide what schedule is the best so each float is determined the evening before after a consultation of the following day's generation schedule.  We figured that we could sleep in a little and still make it in plenty of time to catch falling water.


We dumped the boat and were into fish before I had really gone anywhere.  There's nothing like those willing hatchery fish waiting at the ramp to get the skunk off so everyone in the boat can relax and focus on the task at hand.  I was at the oars and Nathan was wearing out the fish.  By the time we got around the first corner, I had turned the boat sidewise in the soft current so we could both fish.  Rowing and fishing at the same time presents a minor challenge but nothing that cannot be overcome.  It wasn't too long before I had caught a couple as well and decided to just focus on rowing while Nathan fished.  He quickly got several nice brook trout as well as a few rainbows but the nice browns were eluding him.




Eventually he offered to take a turn rowing and I assured him that he could take over at a certain point.  I was hoping he would catch a nice fish first but eventually we got to a spot I was dying to fish, and I let him take over rowing duties.

Sure enough, two casts later (seriously, I had barely even got to the front of the boat) something big came up and inhaled the hopper I was trying out.  Fighting the fish on one hand and telling Nathan where to row on the other kept me busy but soon the fish was in the net and we could all relax.  Nathan took over camera duty while I enjoyed the nice brown trout.




Soon we took off again, and I continued to catch fish on the dropper under the hopper.  Nathan eventually figured out how to row and fish as well and started catching some nice fish including his brown for the slam.


Not too long after that we made it to the take out just as the rising water caught up with us.  I was glad that we had finished before the water came up too much.  Nathan was getting pretty tired by the end.  The river can get awfully hot without any shade and a hot summer sun beating down.  We were soon on our way back home to get ready for the Smokies adventure starting the next morning!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Smokies Tips and Strategies: Part 2

If you read my last Tips and Strategies article, then you remember that I focused on the issue of stealth but not from the usual perspective.  My emphasis was on becoming a better caster and I argued that the ability to cast further would generally help you catch more fish.  Additionally, I also mentioned the idea of line control as being essential to success.

For this article, I want to focus a little more on line control.  As mentioned in the previous article, stealth has several components.  Being sneaky includes things like wearing colors that blend in (I wear camo most of the time), hiding behind rocks, sneaking up on trout from directly downstream, and in general doing your best to not be seen.  Of course, casting further means that you are able to deliver the flies to the fish before it sees you, but on many of our small streams, there are enough currents that casting further can just as easily become a nightmare.  That brings us to line control.

Line control is partly a casting issue but also even more important once the line lands on the water.  Let's address a couple of different situations.  First, scenarios where you have been able to sneak up on the fish and are fishing in close, and then later I'll discuss those times that you are able to cast further to avoid spooking the trout.

Sneaking up on fish is always an ideal scenario.  If you can get close without spooking the trout, do it before trying to cast further.  However, many anglers get close but then fail to seal the deal because of poor line control.  For example, let's say you made a 15 foot cast up and across stream.  As soon as your dry fly hits, you get about one second of good drift but then are affected by drag and the fly goes skittering downstream or worse yet it gets pulled under as it motorboats its way across the water.

Solution? Lift that rod tip.  Our standard style of Smokies fishing is called "high sticking" for a good reason.  Many people wonder why that fly rod needs to be held so high in the air.  It is to keep all the excess line off of the water.  I understand that your arm will get tired.  Allow that arm to drop just a little and you'll probably quit catching trout.  In addition to keeping that rod arm up high, a lot of anglers also forget to strip in excess line as the fly drifts downstream.  Remember to do everything in your power to keep as much line off the water as possible.  In fact, when I'm fishing in close with the "high stick" style, I'll often have maybe an inch or two of tippet in the water before the fly.  That's it.  Anymore and the conflicting currents will adversely affect your drift.

Finally, when high sticking, keep the rod tip downstream of the fly/indicator.  This last one is crucial. In this method, you are almost leading the flies downstream, yet without actually moving them any faster than the water.  Your rod tip should track the flies downstream.  If you don't keep that rod moving with the water you will end up with drag, even if it is almost unnoticeable.  Remember, when you set your hook, always sweep downstream and low to the water with the rod tip.  That will keep you from ending up tangled in the overhanging trees.  If your rod is already tracking downstream, this setting motion is easy because it is just a sped up extension of what you are already doing.

Now, what if you are casting a bit further?  Obviously you can't hold 30 feet of fly line up off the water to avoid drag.  Line control again becomes a function of both casting as well as what to do once it hits the water.  In your cast, consider learning some specialty casts like the reach cast (helps to lay out line up or downstream as necessary to extend your drifts) and the tuck cast (helps your flies hit the water before the line) to buy some drift time.

Once the flies are on/in the water, your ability to mend line is what will keep you catching fish.  In the Smokies, fish will often hit just as soon as the flies hit the water, but on the larger pools and runs, a long drift can sometimes get you onto fish that you would otherwise miss.  Mending line is as much a part of line control as anything.  If you are unfamiliar with mending, I highly suggest checking out some of the good online videos on the subject.  The concept is pretty basic and once you see it I think it will make a lot of sense.  Remember that mending does not always happen upstream.  Use mending as a tool to keep your flies drifting naturally and thus you may end up mending up or downstream depending on the current you are trying to deal with.

Finally, get creative.  For example, when you have the ability to cast a bit further, don't be afraid to lay some of your line on the rocks.  That helps keep it off of the water where drag may be introduced to your flies.  When you can't see around a rock to watch your fly, look at your leader or fly line for an indication that a fish has taken your fly.  There have been many times I have tossed a dry fly behind a rock and then watched for the telltale twitch in my leader.  Sure enough, most of the time there is a nice trout on the other end.

Next up on Tips and Strategies, I'll address some fly selection issues.  Until then, get out on the water and work on line control.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Native Brook Trout

Several days of adventure are behind me after my cousin came up to visit and do some fishing.  We waded Cumberland Plateau streams for smallmouth (forgot our cameras), floated the Caney (remembered cameras and nailed a nice brown on a hopper), and then camped for a couple of nights in the Smokies.  While in the Park, we caught a ridiculous number of trout but no monsters.  The highlight of the camping trip was fishing a steep stream full of rainbows and brook trout.  Here's a sample...


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Not Every Day

"Can you handle a really rough stream? Like climbing over boulders and scrambling over logs?"  When the potential client answered in the affirmative, I decided to take a chance.  As a guide, safety always comes first.  Oh, sure, when I'm out fishing on my own I've been known to occasionally cut corners in the safety department.  I've taken some really hard falls also.  Getting into those tough to access streams is sometimes worth it although not always.

For this particular guide trip I decided to try a stream that is tough to access but not terribly difficult to navigate once you are in the stream bed.  Just hope it doesn't storm upstream.  Getting out includes a bushwhack and mountain climbing if you try in the wrong spot, maybe even if you try in the right spot.

The other detail for this particular trip is that my client would be a first time fly fisherman.  As with all guide trips, I never know for sure what to expect but with beginners that big question mark looms a little larger.  Some people take to the sport like a fish takes to water and others are more like Frog's Fanny meeting up with water.  Of course, the majority end up being somewhere between these two extremes.  Only the rarest of individuals can pick up a fly rod and start casting the rod with one hand, tending the line with the other, throwing mends in the line when necessary, setting the hook as quickly as required, and in general doing all of the little things that add up to fish caught.


When we arrived stream side, accessing the water was our first challenge.  After a long walk we got to the spot where we would jump in and start fishing upstream.  I gave a quick explanation of the mechanics of fly casting, and gave Stephen the fly rod.  Within about ten casts, with only a couple of suggestions, he was casting.  I showed him about holding the line with his other hand and he immediately started casting like he had done it his whole life.

Moving up the stream he started catching fish here and there, sometimes several per pool.  The first fish of the day was a gorgeous brook trout.


Later, another pool was good for a Smoky Mountain double.  Seriously, I've fished the Park a lot and had this happen only a couple of times.  This guy was on fire.


Eventually the day was over, but not before Stephen impressed me with how quickly he took to the sport.  There are very few beginners out there who can legitimately say they caught 25 or 30 trout on their first day of fly fishing.


The scenery was great as well.  The Rhododendron is past its peak at low elevations but good in the mid to high elevations right now.


It was a pleasure having Stephen out on the water for a day of fly fishing.  I wish him the best as he continues in this new hobby.

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies, please contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884 or see TroutZoneAnglers.com for more information.