Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold
Showing posts with label GSMNP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GSMNP. Show all posts

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Morning Rays

One of my favorite things about camping is getting out on the water early in the morning. Getting to enjoy a stream without competing for space is a luxury normally reserved for winter time when the fish may or may not be awake. However, those willing to get out early or stay very late can sometimes have the stream to themselves. Being the only person on planet earth blessed with this view was special to say the least.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Terrestrial Fishing for Big Brown Trout

'Tis the season for terrestrials and quality brown trout. I just saw another report with a similar theme from my friend Ben Smith over at Arizona Wanderings. He found big brown trout that were eating cicadas which is always guaranteed to be fun. Here in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina, the annual cicadas are on but not in enough numbers to consistently get the fish interested. No, we have inchworms, ants, and beetles to get our fish interested.

I've already experienced some good terrestrial fishing this year, both as a guide and an angler. Inchworms and ants provide good fishing starting in May and continuing through the summer. Fish get accustomed to looking for these delicacies. In June, Japanese Beetle season commences and the fish will eat a well placed beetle imitation.

Yesterday, we were fortunate enough to experience some of everything during my guide trip with Kirk. The day started fishing beetles and ants to high elevation rainbow and brook trout. During this time, we found some quality fish and the takes were always something special. Here are a couple of the rewards for stealth and accurate fly placement.

brook trout caught on a beetle

rainbow trout that ate a beetle

A beautiful brook trout rests after the release

Speaking of stealth, fish were spooking even before we could get into casting range at times. I recommend doing everything in your power to be stealthy right now. Wear camo shirts, get down and crawl on your hands and knees, make longer casts wherever possible, and most of all, know that you normally only get one shot so make the first cast count.

As the number of landed rainbows and brookies continued to climb, Kirk and I started a discussion about whether or not to go looking for a nice brown trout to round out the day. Finally, we got to a good spot to get out of the stream and decided that we should go looking for a brown trout. I reminded him that the numbers of fish wouldn't be as high, but there was always the chance for a nicer trout of maybe 12 inches.

When we started fishing at our next destination, the creek was flowing at a perfect level to hunt quality fish. Early on, we missed a good 10-12 inch brown and had another couple of hits, but it took a while to catch the first fish which ended up being a little rainbow of perhaps 5 inches, definitely not the big fish we were hoping for.

Moving on up the creek, I paused to discuss strategy if we should happen to hook a big fish and explained how to beach a large brown without injuring it. Most importantly, when beaching a fish, make sure that it is on a firm but level surface and that the surface is WET. Other than that, beaching is an acceptable method for landing a large trout but remember to hurry to get the fish back in the water.

Shortly after, we got to a deep plunge that was well shaded. I pointed to the best spot and Kirk executed a great cast. After a second, the indicator plunged. I turned to ask if it was a rock or a fish and he was already in the process of saying, "That's a big fish!"

As soon as the fish came up and rolled, my face grew as serious as his was. He was fishing my new Orvis Superfine Glass rod (7' 6" 4 weight) and had the advantage of a very forgiving tip in the fight against the quality brown trout. We had to follow the fish downstream through two sets of rapids before Kirk saw a window of opportunity and quickly gained control of the head of the fish and slid it onto a flat spot with a small pool. I pounced just as the fly popped lose and secured the big brown trout for a quick picture.

A big brown trout caught on a terrestrial in the Great Smoky Mountains

I think both of us will dream about this fish, reliving the moment it came up and rolled and our mouths' both dropped open. Fish like this are more common than most people realize in some of our streams, but catching them is anything but common. In fact, a fish like this is often earned over many years of trial and error.

Oh, I forgot to mention. It ate a sunken ant that I tie. Those ants are like candy to the trout as I have written about before. Check out that link for how I like to rig my ants for catching quality fish in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Days like this are special to me as a guide. Naturally I cannot guarantee catching a nice fish. In fact, if I had people catching them all the time, you would see a lot more pictures here of big fish. It is very satisfying though to have a plan come together and a nice fish hooked and landed.

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please contact me, fly fishing guide David Knapp, via call or text at (931) 261-1884 or via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.

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.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

What Does It Mean?

Today I faced a really tough dilemma. All along, I had been planning to fish and in the Smokies no less. When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., the first thing I noticed was the flashes of light illuminating my bedroom. A crash of thunder followed the optical display. My first movement was to turn off the blasted alarm. The second was to reach for my iPad to check the radar. Rain everywhere with more on the way dampened my enthusiasm for crawling out of the comfortable bed.

The internal struggle was intense, and I almost succumbed to more sleep. Then visions of big brown trout chasing streamers started dancing in my head, and I knew it was time to get going.There was no way I could sleep knowing that this might be the best fishing day of the summer in the Smokies. Score one point for my theory that fishermen are some of the world's greatest optimists.

Rain was falling steadily as I loaded the few things that weren't already in my car. A cooler contained lunch and a couple of Gatorades. I also took along the waders with the assumption that it would be cool enough to wear them and they might help me stay dry.

After a quick stop at Little River Outfitters to pick up the new Tennessee Guide License and a couple of fly tying items, I headed on into the Park. Despite several follows at my first stop, I didn't manage to hook up and was soon headed on up the river. At the second spot, I did have at least one flash and the third produced a good solid tug. Somehow all the fish were missing the hook though. My curiosity had been simmering all this time and finally got the better of me. I headed over the ridge to the NC side to see how conditions were over there.

The rain had long since turned into a steady soaking rain, just the thing we've been waiting for here in the Great Smoky Mountains. My first stop produced a really nice rainbow. I would have kept fishing on further upstream but noticed the herd of elk before I stumbled dangerously close. I backed off from this first brush with danger and headed back to the Moose Magnet. Apparently it works on elk also. It was right about the time I got back to my car that I heard the first rumble.

At the next top, I heard another one, far away to the south or at least that's what it sounded like. Then it was quiet, and I assumed that meant I should go fishing. By this time, I had soaked one rain jacket, switched to another while the first one dried, and then switched back to the first again. In other words, the rain was much more than what qualifies as light but something short of tropical downpour status.

Scrambling along the thick stream-side vegetation, I paused to ponder poison ivy and was hit with the realization that it seemed to be a lot thicker this year. After trampling around through a lot of it today, I'll probably be fortunate if I don't end up with the miserable stuff.

Anyway, so here I am thinking about poison ivy, standing in the middle of a drenching rainstorm with one of my favorite pools just ahead of me. Jumping into the stream, I decided it was probably safer out in the water. At least the poison ivy couldn't get to me out there.

Working along the pool, I was almost to the top when it happened. Out of the hazy water, a dark shadow materialized under the hopper that was doubling as a strike indicator. I barely had time to think no way to myself before it inhaled the Chernobyl. Yeah!

Then came the shocker, if you will pardon the pun. Right as I leaned down to grab the fish, as my hand slipped under the beautiful rainbow trout's body, a bright flash flickered across the sky followed almost immediately by a thunderclap that would have caused me to levitate out of the river if I hadn't seen the flash first. The timing was absolutely crazy. It has to mean something, right? But what?

The fish gods weren't angry or else I wouldn't have caught that fish, or at least that's what I assume. Maybe it was just Mother Nature reminding me to not take anything for granted. Either way, I've never felt so relaxed after a close call with lightning. I actually just shrugged and decided to keep on fishing. After all, it was far enough back to the car that I was probably just as likely to get struck walking back as to keep on fishing.

In hind sight, it occurs to me that the lightning and thunder were the last for the day. It rained quite a bit longer, but no more lightning. In fact, by the time that I decided to leave soggy North Carolina behind, Tennessee had turned sunny. The low hanging clouds burned off and left a beautiful day in their wake.

Back on Little River, I managed another small rainbow, but somehow my heart wasn't in it. The day had already been amazing, and I decided to not push my luck. I know enough to quit while I'm ahead. The drive down Little River road was just about the slowest you will ever see me drive. The tranquility of the Park had worked her magic, and I was revived and rejuvenated again. Back out in the real world, the hurry didn't come back until I was well along on the Interstate. I guess I already need another lightning strike to put things back in perspective.

Do you have any other ideas for what the random lightning strike means? I want to hear them.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Relief On the Way

The extended dry spell may be coming to an end. I won't get too excited until the rain actually falls since a lot of rainy forecasts lately have not panned out. Nevertheless, I'm cautiously optimistic that we are about to turn the corner towards wetter and better times. If you are looking to fish the Park, remember that fishing can improve drastically whenever the river spikes up. Just be careful for rapidly rising water and flash floods. Lightning is always a concern as well.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cataloochee Return

This year I have easily set a new personal record for most visits to Cataloochee in a single year.  Last weekend I traveled to Asheville to visit some friends.  On Saturday afternoon we made the drive over to Cataloochee.  They had never been and I wanted to show them the elk and the historic buildings, not to mention the overall scenery.  Here are a few shots from The Return.












Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Trending Colder

Today is cold, windy, and a bit damp.  Sounds like perfect weather for staying home, tying some flies and maybe having a hot beverage to help keep warm.  I'll be tying some musky flies for a trip I'm hoping to do within the next week.  Stay tuned for more on that!

As I peruse the area stream flow gauges, I see that Little River is down into the low 40s for water temperature.  The flows are actually very good, but with the trend towards colder weather I'm willing to bet that the fish are a little off today.  Earlier I received a report that Newfound Gap Road is temporarily closed due to snow and ice so don't think about driving over the ridge today.  The colder weather should hold on for a few days but by next weekend we should see decent conditions for fishing again.

Area tailwaters are running high across the region so check the generation schedule before heading out to fish.  A good alternative to the wild trout streams are the delayed harvest streams.  Even when it gets cold these streams fish reasonably well.  That is because the larger stocked trout still have to at least maintain their body weight.

Last Thursday I did some exploring around the Tellico area and found a good number of rainbows.  I caught several 10-14 inch fish on Wooly Buggers and Pheasant Tail nymphs and one that was a bit nicer.  The colors on this fish were simply incredible!  Don't be afraid to impart some action to the small streamers but the nymphs should be fished dead drift under an indicator (this can work for the wooly buggers as well).




Sunday, November 23, 2014

Strange Happenings or Cataloochee: Part 2

On most of my camping trips I like to document the camp a little with my camera.  Sometimes I just snap a few shots of the overall setup and other times I go to great lengths to get shots of everything that makes up camp life.  Fire shots in particular seem to get me snapping more pictures than I intend.  Fire is just so mesmerizing that I'll often shoot 50 or more pictures before I think, "Oh man I can't fill up my memory card with fire pictures!"

Last month in Cataloochee, I found myself taking the obligatory camp shots but not really dealing with the fire thing on the first evening.  My cousin would not show up until the next day and a campfire is generally best when it is shared with someone else.  My fishing plans for the next day included a stream I had never fished but wanted to give a fair shot so I did a quick supper before hurrying to bed.

While I was still thinking about supper, I got the camera out and, as light was quickly dwindling, quickly got a few shots that included my tent and the overall setup.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at the pictures on the computer that I realized that something was a little off.  The first one seemed fine, but then something strange appeared in the next couple of images...




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big Creek

While I generally feel like I know the Smokies pretty well, there are still several places in the Park I haven't fished.  Okay, there are a lot of places I haven't fished.  After all, with hundreds of miles of fishable water, the problem is one of time and accessibility.  The more accessible water is what I normally fish because I am usually low on time.  One place that takes a bit of effort to get to is Big Creek.


I chose the "miles of gravel road" route for my recent exploration.  Having only passed that entrance of the Smokies once before, I was in for a treat.  The stream reminded me a lot of other Smokies streams like the Middle Prong of Little River or perhaps even Little River proper above Elkmont, but what a wonderful little stream!  No, I didn't catch any monsters or for that matter even all that many fish, but fishing a new stream is always a great experience.  Each pocket, pool, and run provides the little surprises that always come with discovery.


One large pool had a deep section off to the side with a gentle current running through.  The surprising lack of conflicting currents meant that the cast was actually pretty straight forward.  The trout were obviously holding just under the surface and were rising consistently.  My third cast resulted in a fish.  In another pool, I surprised myself by setting the hook.  The dry had slowly sunk and I'm still not sure if I actually saw the fish or perhaps subconsciously my brain registered the swirl that was the fish taking right in the heavy current.  Either way, when I set the hook the fish was as surprised as I was.  Of course, these little surprises happen on my home waters as well, but there it lacks that new feeling.


Most surprising of all perhaps were the large pools.  Having never been there but always hoping to see it, I climbed out of the gorge right where the stream tumbles out, climbing straight up the side of what felt an awful lot like a cliff, and hit the trail upstream to the Midnight Hole.  It was as beautiful as the pictures I had seen and even larger than I realized.  My last fishing memory for the day was made on this pool.


Trout are everywhere in that pool, but were relatively tough to fool.  It wasn't until I noticed some rises against the far bank that things began to work out.  Checking for trees behind me, I was soon casting the big orange Elk Hair Caddis to the boulders across from me.  A nice trout ate and I managed to keep it on throughout the fight.


As much as I enjoyed fishing at Big Creek, I was actually on my way over to Cataloochee for 2 nights of camping and with luck would make it over there before dark to fish a little more.  Soon I was hustling back down the trail, but already knew that I would be back again, even if it is a little out of the way.




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.