Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

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

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.





Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Before the Big Burn

The wildfire that affected portions of the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg is already receding into memory for most people. Unfortunately, for those more directly affected, it will take a lot longer for things to be normal again. While the people who tragically lost homes and businesses and even loved ones have suffered the most, the landscape also suffered in the short term.

Portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park above Gatlinburg will probably be quite different for some time to come. These are the areas where the fire burned the hottest on exposed ridge tops where the wind conspired to do the most damage. Thankfully, portions of the streams that we all know and love, while affected, are mostly not as damaged. There is damage, and the hardest part will simply be in waiting to see when we'll be allowed to fish these waters again, but overall it appears that the streams were spared the brunt of this fire. Until then, we can only remember the good times that once were.

One of the more popular brook trout streams in the Park is near the fire's origin. This is a stream that I had the good fortune of fishing with my cousins back in early November. The air was already hazy from the burns over in North Carolina, but we still enjoyed the opportunity to get out on the water and enjoy the late season warmth. Some of the most beautiful fish you will ever find are brook trout in their fall dress. Here are a few photos from our day on the water. Hopefully these jewels survived and will continue to do so as they have for many years. For more on this trip, check out this full trip report I did over on the Little River Outfitters message board.











Friday, December 04, 2015

Still Out There

There are still fall colors out there for those willing to look around a bit. I took this shot over in the Smokies this past Tuesday. More on the fishing later of course. I'm just impressed that such great colors can still be found...


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

As we take a day to be thankful, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read my blog. I have been blessed beyond measure this year and appreciate all of you who have contributed through your friendship and kind words.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Peak of Fall Brings Great Fishing


This is my favorite season, but every year fall seems to be here and gone all at once. This past weekend featured the best fall colors we have had in a while depending on where you were. This week, a cold front passed through bringing some rain and lots of wind. The rain was fine, but I'm sure the wind was a nightmare if you were a leaf stuck on a tree. Lots of those have been spotted crashing  falling to the ground. The yard is now in desperate need of a rake and a few hours of my time.

All of this has created some tough conditions in the Smokies if you are a fisher person. Leaves in the water make for some difficult drifts. Thankfully, the worst of the 'leaves in the water' routine should be over in the next day or two and may already be. Not that the leaves have magically vanished, but they should be settling out of the current. That means to be careful of seemingly harmless leaf piles. People have been known to be swallowed up in those things.

On the brighter side, the fishing has been very good to excellent. Fish are eating dry flies of all sizes. Stick with large orange ones if you like like big bugs, while small ones of the olive variety should do well if you enjoy matching the smaller bugs of fall. The variety has been better than usual so have plenty of other patterns with you as well.

If you enjoy throwing streamers, you can even find some fish that way. In fact, just a couple of days ago I had one of my better streamer days ever in the Park in terms of fish spotted. Lots of those fish missed the hook however. Still it was a great day to be out and get some time in on the water for myself.

One of the best things about fall is the opportunity for sight fishing. Creep along the banks slowly and watch for trout. If you can see the fish without spooking it, then you have a great chance at hooking it with a good cast.

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of showing Don Armstrong some of my favorite places on Little River. He quickly picked up on the high stick techniques that are so important to success here. An orange Elk Hair Caddis in size #12 with a Mr. Sleepy (my Isonychia soft hackle pattern) underneath proved deadly with about 50% of the fish on top and the rest on the soft hackle.

The highlight of the day was when I spotted a nice fish under the current at the head of a large pool. Carefully showing Don where to cast, he maneuvered into position and made a great cast on the very first shot. The fish rose to the dry fly and we were soon admiring one of the prettiest wild rainbows you will ever see. Great fish Don!



While the end of the fall colors often signals a change to colder weather, this will not be the case this year. Next week, high temperatures are forecast to be well into the 60s and even lower 70s. This should bring the dry fly bite roaring back so plan on getting out to experience a late Indian summer this year.

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip, please contact me (David Knapp) at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884. Thanks!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Here Comes Fall

Fall colors in Tennessee


Just like that, summer is over. Earlier this week, I saw a graph of the streamflow on Little River that went back several years. I noticed that, basically every year, we end up with the lowest water of the year in September. That is normal. Thankfully it looks like we are just about out of the woods.

Some rain fell across the Park yesterday and more should fall both today through Saturday. Amounts are not overly impressive, at least not yet. As low as the streams were getting though anything will help. Best of all we will see highs in the 60s and 70s and lows down well into the 50s for this next week. An early cool snap to kick off the fall season will get both fish and fishermen in the mood for the great fishing coming up over the next two months.

In the meantime, after guide trips through next Wednesday, I'm off for the land of Yellowstone. I have always dreamed of a trip taken in the autumn, and while I would love to stay all the way to the closing weekend for fishing in early November, I'll instead be heading back to Tennessee to take people fishing through our own fantastic fall fishing season. Don't worry, I'll be getting out to fish for myself a lot as well.

If you haven't booked your guide trip for fall, don't wait too much longer. Prime dates are filling fast and I'm booked solid until October 14. Call/text me at (931) 261-1884 or email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com to book. The fishing should be good through at least the end of October and quite possibly well into November depending on how soon we get the first major cold snap.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

September Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter

Fall in the Smokies


If you have not received yours via email (or forgot to open it up), never fear. You can click here to see the most recent Trout Zone Anglers newsletter. There is an article with some photography tips that you won't see anywhere else, at least not right now. In the future I may tweak it some and publish it here. You can get an idea for how I go about taking pictures and hopefully gain something useful to improve your photography skills. Also, there is information on fall hatches in the Smokies as well as tailwater fishing across middle and east Tennessee with an emphasis on the Caney Fork River.

Haven't signed up for the newsletter yet? You can do so below to make sure you don't miss out on any great content, tips, or secret fishing spots!


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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Almost There

Are we there yet? If you've road tripped before you have either uttered these words or answered the query. In my case, as I mentioned a few weeks back, I'm getting antsy for autumn. Every time I see leaves with changing colors, I get a familiar surge of excitement.

Today, even with air temps in town pushing 90 degrees (shoot, even here at the house it got up to 84), there was something different. I'm sure the calendar turning the page helped at least on some vague psychological level, but the days are noticeably shorter. The sun is setting around 15 minutes earlier than the latest evenings in mid June but there are other indicators as well.

A dry frontal passage sometime this past Thursday ushered in slightly cooler temperatures, and much more importantly, at least in my book, drier air. In fact, one of the things that excites me about fall is the dry airs, crisp cool evenings, and yes, camping and fishing trips complete with cheerful campfires. And colored up trout.

It would be my favorite season even without the fishing, at least that is the story I'm sticking to. Fired up brookies and browns are hard to beat though. On some of my favorite drainages up in the Smokies, the fish are already starting to get that look and have been for the last 3-4 weeks. The signs will only grow stronger through this month and into September. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy sights like this that reminds me we are almost there.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Never Too Soon


Only another 2.5-3 months and my favorite season will have arrived. Yes, it is never too soon to start thinking about fall. Every year, we start seeing some leaves changing colors in the middle of the summer. In fact, last summer, I was already looking ahead to fall by late June. This year, I've been dreaming of the cool dry months of fall ever since May arrived with warm weather and the humidity of summer. Now, I'm starting to see those changing colors. Too bad the main event is still so far out.

This time of year is special too though. One can never fish too many small streams for gorgeous wild trout and what better time of year than the warm months of summer? The high elevation brook trout streams are fishing well right now, finally replenished with some much needed rainfall over the last week or so with more on the way.

The fish in those high elevation streams are happy and more or less easy to catch. Obviously, if you ask me, I'll tell you that having a fly fishing guide will help and what better way to spend a day than with someone who can help you learn more skills to take your fly fishing game to another level? Here is one of many beautiful brook trout caught on a guide trip this past week which saw several more anglers learn the skills they needed to be highly successful in the Great Smoky Mountains National park.



Those cloudy rainy days can be phenomenal if you happen to be there to enjoy them. The low hanging clouds hug the ridges and ride the air currents up and over the peaks that together form the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The fish like the low light associated with those cloudy rainy days. Just be careful if there is any lightning in the area and don't get surprised like I did.  And don't get too caught up with the fishing. The scenery is worth enjoying as well.


Monday, December 08, 2014

The Slam or Cataloochee: Part 3

Each fishing trip has its own beauty and memories.  Some trips are rooted in the familiarity of a favorite stretch of stream while other trips are memorable as the first trip to a stream or section of water.  This year I have been making an effort to break out of my normal fishing routines, and I admit it can be hard.  The great thing about water you fish regularly is that you know what to do without thinking too hard.  On new water, it is possible to overthink the situation even though you know deep down that you should approach it the same as all of the other area freestone streams.

During my camping trip to Cataloochee, after a restful night that wasn't as scary as it could have been, I was determined to fish some new water.  That's relatively easy for me to do in Cataloochee since I have not fished there as much as some drainages closer to home.  The methods would be pretty similar though so I still had that comfortable familiarity with just enough newness to keep things interesting.

The stream I chose to fish was like a lot of the North Carolina side streams.  There was a distinct lack of large pools. Instead, a distinct emphasis on flat glides of pocket water that can be a little tricky to find fish in were the norm.  Early on a cracked the code of where to find fish.  That's important as it allows the fisherman to focus only on prime water while discounting large sections of stream.  In the spring, summer, fall, and winter, fish will move to different areas to hold, rest, and eat depending on factors such as streamflow, time of day, hatches, water temperature and the list could go on and on.  On this trip, the fish were in the middle to rear of the pockets and small runs but were holding tight to structure which could be as simple as a small rock.


A dry/dropper rig seemed appropriate for this type of water.  An October Caddis dry worked great on top with a little bead head nymph I'm working on picked up it's share of fish.  I was fishing a 9' 5 weight Helios rod with a leader around 8 feet long.

Not long into my excursion, I caught a brook trout and then another.  According to the Park's distribution maps they weren't supposed to be this low.  That's one thing I love about Cataloochee: you can find brookies throughout the whole valley.


Moving on up the stream, I began catching enough rainbows to keep things interesting.  The fishing was neither as good as I had hoped nor bad enough to cause me to bail on this stream and find another spot to fish.  That's probably actually a good thing.  Those rare days were everything works and every fish eats can spoil a fly fisher if they come along too often.  Instead, days that hint at the possibility of fantastic fishing are what keeps bringing me back for seconds and thirds.  Returning to recreate those magical perfect days rarely yields as good a time as one remembers, and this applies in most areas of life.  When you do find a stream that is a little bit of a tease, you can go back and have a good time regardless. If it doesn't perform like an all-star, you can just accept that it fished about as you remembered.  On the other hand, if it fishes better than anything you have sampled in a while, you can be satisfied that your intuition paid off.




Eventually, I found a few more brook trout and even one small brown trout followed quickly by a tiny young of the year brown.  None of the larger browns were around and interested in playing on this particular day, yet another reason to return I might add.


As the sun slowly shifted past noon, I started thinking about hiking out.  By 3 it was time to go.  My cousin and his wife were supposed to be joining me, and I wanted to get back before they arrived in camp.  The hike out proved that I had covered around a mile of stream in approximately 6 hours.  Next time I'll hike farther before I start, but at least I can now say I've fished that particular stream.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Already?

After an early declaration of fall, I'm also ready to make an early announcement for winter.  At least the early fall announcement was merely a few days early.  Unfortunately or fortunately depending on who you are, this winter business is starting more than a month earlier than the official start on December 21.  In case you need some convincing, here are some pictures from our 3 inches of snow on November 1.  Oh, and this next week will feature another cold Canadian airmass with highs struggling to get much out of the 30s by late week.  Is winter really here or just a strange fall?  Only time will tell.  Regardless, I'm still plotting on taking some late season fishing trips.

Yep, 3 inches exactly. 


The snow was wind driven, sticking to the sides of the trees for a beautiful effect. 


This tomato looks like it is wearing a white hat.  It just needs eyes and a mouth! 


Needless to say, the peppers were a little shocked. 


A few hearty trees were still holding on to their green outfits. 


There is nothing better than a silent forest after a snow fall.   


Fall, meet winter. 


This tree had a lot of snow stuck on the windward side. 


I found a leaf that had stuck itself into the snow on the deck railing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall High Water

Historically, fall is the driest season here in middle and east Tennessee.  In fact, October is the driest month climatologically speaking.  More often than not, however, we usually see at least one good high water event in the fall season.  The worst ones are when it blows out the spawn up in the Smokies.  The wild brown and brook trout need all the help they can get, and a serious high water event can practically wipe out an entire age class.

This year we got lucky.  I'm sure my clients who had trips cancelled would be glad to argue that point, but the fish will definitely be in good shape this year for the spawn.  With some areas receiving over 5 inches of rain, area creeks, streams, and rivers were really rolling by the middle of this week.  Little River peaked at over 8 feet on the Townsend gauge which is in the vicinity of flood stage.  When normal this time of year is under 2 feet, you can imagine that we are talking about a lot of water.

With all the streams blown out and unfishable, I decided that a drive up to Clear Creek would be a great idea.  The chance to see both the fall colors and the high water was just too tempting.  Sure enough, the river was higher than I have ever seen it, although to be fair I don't normally drive up there to look at high water.  Still, the normally tranquil stream was up in the trees and generally looking quite dangerous.  The colors were nice as well.  We are very close to peak colors here in the Cumberland Plateau and should see the best of fall during the next 2 weeks.  Some spots have already reached their peak but there are still plenty of colorful trees to enjoy.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Early Fall

Even though the official start of fall is still a few days away, I'm ready to announce the beginning of fall.  Actually I've been ready since July.  The number of colorful leaves I've been finding on stream-side rocks has been steady since late July if not even earlier.  The unusual cold snaps we had this summer may have contributed to that, or perhaps it was the abnormally dry conditions we had early on.  Regardless, those splashes of color were definitely a couple of months ahead and perhaps as many as three.

Now the weather feels like fall so I'm not waiting.  In fact, I'm heading out to camp this very weekend in celebration of the new season.  Announcing the start of fall a bit early is nice as it allows one to enjoy fall weather before anyone else.  Mother Nature is giving me a healthy dose of cooperation.  Here at the house on the Cumberland Plateau, we haven't seen 70 degrees at all today.  Combine that with a dry airmass and bluebird skies and you have fall.

By next week, around the time fall is officially starting, even cooler temperatures may be surging into the area.  An early fall sounds just about perfect to me just as long as it does not also bring an early winter.  A fall that lasts until late November would be awesome!  I only hope that we get an excellent peak color season as some years are definitely better than others.

Oh, and just so you know I wasn't joking, here are some pictures from the past few months.  Okay, I lied.  Fall actually started even earlier.  This first one is from June.  Next come a few from July, then of course a couple from August.  The last one should be recognizable from my post on last weekend's excursion to Cataloochee.









Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Bronzebacks

Most off days lately have resulted in some great exploration.  The Cumberland Plateau area is blessed with more great water than one could reasonably expect to fish in a lifetime although that isn't keeping me from trying.  The local smallmouth are eager to hit surface bugs which is probably part of the draw.

Here are a couple from last week.



The stream has a fairly decent flow for this time of year although we could still use a little rain.  One of the things I'm noticing more and more as I look for good shots with the camera is that fall is on its way.  Yes, I know some of you don't want to hear about that yet.  Seriously though, there are colorful leaves everywhere I look.  Fall is coming soon!