Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Dry Flies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dry Flies. Show all posts

Monday, March 02, 2020

Flipping A Switch

There is never a dull moment when you are fishing as long as you approach each trip with a learning mindset. Some days the action is fast and furious. Often, I'll stick with what is working and simply try to catch as many fish as I can. Other times, I'll start experimenting. When the fishing is good is a great time to find out what will and also what won't work. Of course, when the fishing gets tough, you find out what truly works. Magic flies or techniques are few and far between, so most people keep them close under their hat when they discover such a thing.

Many days of fishing progress predictably with hot and cold stretches as fish shift through their daily cycle. This cycle changes month to month, season to season. In fact, it often changes from day to day.

The average day in the mountains depends a lot on the time of year. For example, during the summer, the best fishing is often early and late in the day with the fish taking a break during the hotter hours of midday. The bright sun overhead probably doesn't help either. In the cool of morning, both trout and the bugs they feed on are active. During the spring, the best fishing is often in the middle of the day. Additional factors can often wreak havoc on these norms, however.

Last week, on a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains, we were reminded about the natural rhythm and how sensitive it often is. Our day started with mostly sunny skies. Occasional clouds did not stick around long. The bright sunlight allowed the water temperature to begin climbing. This time of year, that almost guarantees bugs. Fish moved up into the faster riffles and heads of pools as they fed on nymphs that were rapidly preparing to hatch. By around 11:00 am, some adults were beginning to hatch and fish responded enthusiastically.


About that same time, the wind started to pick up and the sky filled with clouds. Around 12:30 pm, the wind shifted rapidly and temperatures started to plummet. What had been a promising hatch dried up entirely by 1:30 pm with the last fish taken on a dry fly at about 1:15 pm. The abrupt change in water temperature made all the difference in the world. It was like flipping a switch. One minute we were casting to risers and the next our day was effectively over.

If the water temperature had kept rising, in other words, if the cold front didn't pass, the clouds in and of themselves were not an issue. In fact, some of my best spring dry fly fishing happens on lousy weather days with clouds or even rain. That said, once a cold front passes and the water temperatures start dropping, bugs usually shut down along with the fish, although not always.

That "not always" is what keeps it interesting. Blue winged olives come to mind as a bug that loves lousy weather days. Interestingly, a big cold front early in the fall can have the opposite effect, setting off a feeding frenzy.

Sometimes, the switch gets flipped but it is more like a gradually dying campfire flicker instead of a lightbulb going off. One of my best days ever fishing in the Park was in May quite a few years ago. I had hiked in a long ways, earning myself solitude and good fishing in the process. The rainbows, browns, and even a brook trout or two were greedy. By the end of the day, I had caught 70 trout, all on dry flies. By the end of the day, I was probably working a little too hard, wanting to hit that nice round number. Regardless, things just sort of slowed down. I remember getting hung up on several numbers, 65 for example was hard to get past. That said, the fishing slowed down and finally quit. Number 70 almost didn't happen, but one suicidal brook trout just couldn't help itself.

That was a strange day, not bad, just strange. It was the day I knew it was going to be good fishing. That may not seem too odd, but I also knew I was going to see a bear. Up until then, I had never seen one while fishing. It happened too. Go check out the full story via the link above.

On the very best days, it seems you can do no wrong as an angler. Those days are rare, however, and should be full savored when they do happen to come around. The rest of the time, be prepared for that switch too flip. It could go from poor fishing to excellent, or it could be the other way. Whatever happens though, don't stop learning...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brook Trout in Fall Dress

Smoky Mountain brook trout in fall colors

Some days you just want to catch brook trout. For me, those days occur with frequency although not so often as others probably experience. Normally I would have spent a couple of days dedicated to fishing for brook trout in late September when the fish are on the feed as they prepare for the rigors of the spawn, the weather is still pleasant, in other words the fishing is perfect. This year, I had to suffer through a trip to Yellowstone during late September and then had to make up for it by fishing for brook trout in October during the best of the fall colors. I know, life is tough.

Originally, the day had tentatively been planned as a muskie fishing expedition but through a series of unfortunate circumstances, those plans fell through. Option two appealed to me for a short time before I quickly jumped to option three, fishing for brook trout.


The stream involved a bit of a walk as do most quality brook trout waters. Thankfully the time passed quickly talking with a friend who was able to join me for the day. We were soon walking past water that looked increasingly fishy. Before long, the pressure was too great and we jumped in to start fishing.

Smoky Mountain brook trout stream

Things started off slowly and I don't mean that in the normal sense. We were catching fish, but only small ones. In fact, I think I caught my smallest fish of the year several times over. The young of the year brook trout were voracious, but eventually persistence paid off and some of their elder brethren succumbed to our offerings.

brook trout

At least two or three spots had spawning fish doing their thing and we left them alone. Fishing to spawners is not advisable on wild or native trout streams. Those are the future of the fishery and should be left alone to do their thing. Those that weren't actively spawning kept us more than occupied.

brook trout

brook trout

The better fish were dressed up in full fall dress. I'm not sure if there is a fish more beautiful than a colored up brook trout or spec as the locals call them. Over the course of the day, we both caught good numbers of fish. I was using my favorite small stream rod, an old Orvis Superfine Tight Loop. The rod is eight feet long and throws a four weight line, flexing clear to the handle when you get a feisty fish on the end of your line.

At the beginning, I chose a Black Elk Hair Caddis and dropped a #16 caddis pupa behind. The dropper seemed to do its best work on the smaller fish while the best fish of the day mostly had a preference for the dry (but not all). I have no idea how many I caught, but I do know that two separate holes were both good for 5 fish apiece so you know the fishing was pretty good. By the end, both flies were chewed up to the point of retirement.

Smoky Mountain brook trout

The fish were not the only things dressed in their fall best. Many of the trees are reaching the fall color peak right now.

Fall color

Eventually the day drew to a close. We made the hike back down amid lengthening shadows and cooling temperatures. I was heading for Elkmont Campground for the night so I could get up and fish again the next day. As it turns out, the next day would be great as well, but that is a story for another time.

Want to fish for brook trout in the Smokies? Contact me about a guided fly fishing trip at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com

Monday, April 13, 2015

Active at Sunset

Yesterday, after helping at Little River Outfitters with day two of their beginner fly fishing school, I headed back into the Park for a couple of quick adventures. I'll tell about the other one later. For now, I'm still remembering the evening hatch with satisfaction.

With the sun sinking below the ridge line, the river was left in the shade of a warm spring evening. The bugs were becoming more active. Working up through first one pool and then some pocket water,  I managed a small wild rainbow that just happened to be one of the coolest takes I've seen in a while. My outfit of choice was again the Sage Accel 904-4 that I've been enjoying lately. A #12 Parachute Adams with a bead head nymph of my own devising as the dropper completed the rig.

Instead of coming up to hit the suspended nymph like I would have expected, the rainbow shot all the way from the bottom to the surface to inhale the dry fly without any hesitation. I was peering over the top of a rock and watched as the trout came all the way from the bottom in 4 feet or so of water. After releasing that beautiful little fish of maybe 6 inches, I headed on up to the next pool while noting how slippery the rocks were for so early in the season.

Soon the stream would be shrouded in darkness, but at this magical moment as the sun was setting, bugs were hatching and the trout were happy. Some small fish, mostly warpaint shiners, were hitting the surface, but I was interested in larger quarry. Finally positioning myself at the bottom of the next pool, I took a moment to look all around.


There was a flicker of movement under the fast current near the tailout, and I noticed what appeared to be a quality fish moving back and forth as it fed on whatever was coming by in the drift. Without hesitating, I dropped the flies about 3 feet above the trout and watched in satisfaction as it came off the bottom to inhale the dry fly.

The fish was much larger than most rainbows in the Smokies, so I played it carefully out of the heavier current. Somehow I kept it from plunging into the rapids below and soon had it close enough for a quick picture. Slipping out the hook, I cradled it for a moment before it swam strongly away, hopefully to be caught another day.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why I Love the Gunnison River

A nice Gunnison Gorge brown trout I caught back in 2009. Photo by Trevor Smart.

Those of you who have read my blog for a few years know that I love the Gunnison River. My favorite stretch is the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge but even the freestone water above Blue Mesa Reservoir is awesome.

Now, there is a great short film out that highlights why this river is so awesome. Check out my video post on Wide Open Spaces (WOS) to see this river. Here is just a quick teaser: all the big fish were caught on dry flies!

Also, please help me out with my freelance writing by clicking on the "share" buttons on the article (not the ones on the video but the ones on the WOS page just under the featured image at the top) and sharing them on your social media. Thank you for the help and support. Enjoy the video!