Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth
Showing posts with label Little River. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Little River. Show all posts

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Post Spawn Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

The fall brown trout spawn has recently wrapped up for another year. Things seemed a bit later than usual, although there were fish spawning by the first or second week of November. This is a time of year to use extra care while wading and fishing. Spawning fish should be allowed to do their thing in peace. After the fact, it is essential that anglers avoid wading on the redds. Doing so will crush the eggs that were deposited there and severely impact the next generation. They already have enough challenges in reproducing. 

After the spawn is over, the fish feed heavily as we move into the winter months. The fish are trying to regain body mass after the rigors of spawning. This can be some of the most exciting fishing of the year but also perhaps some of the most miserable. That is because the weather often leaves a lot to be desired.

Last week, I had a free day and decided to go fishing for myself. The day started out perfectly and just got better from there. The sky was threatening snow, and snow days have been some incredible producers for me in the past. The temperature started in the low 40s and fell throughout the day. 

The first caught fish of the day was one I spotted on my second or third stop. I was looking as much as fishing at this point. However, when I noticed a hefty brown trout holding near the back of a quality run, I couldn't resist fishing. 

I had been walking and looking without a rod. This is a sure way to guarantee that you actually spend time looking, not fishing. After spotting the fish, I took the time to walk back to the car and rig up appropriately. A big black wooly bugger seemed like the right idea, and I added a worm as a dropper. Winter fish really like both of those flies for whatever reason. 

Back on the water, I took a minute to find my fish again. Sure enough, it was still hanging out in the same general area. I noticed that it ate something drifting by and started to feel the excitement surge. This was a feeding fish and feeding fish are catchable fish. Clambering down the bank took some doing. I dealt with a bum ankle for part of November and wasn't interested in aggravating the high ankle sprain again. Thankfully, each step on the slick leaves held, and I was soon standing on the stream bank. Sneaking upstream along the bank, I reached the point where I would begin my stalk. 

The fish was sitting in a nearly perfect spot, not too far above a large mid stream boulder. Cover like this can make or break a stalk of a big brown. In my case, the fish never knew I was coming because of the ability to sneak in behind the rock. Once I arrived in position, it was time to actually execute. This is NOT the moment to rush. Do everything right, and you catch the fish. It is that simple most of the time. Rushing is probably the quickest way I know to blow a good fish. I've done it many times in fact...

My leader was quite long, enabling me to keep the fish from seeing the fly line. I was using a 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon. The extra reach was going to be critical to keeping the leader and line from getting pulled through the riffle below the run before the fish had time to find the flies. Working out the leader and then some line, I false cast a couple of times to judge the distance. Then I slung all the flies in the riffle below me. I like to water load these casts. It helps to guarantee where the flies are going on the presentation cast. 

Taking a deep breath, I knew that it was time. I quickly made a casting stroke under some low hanging branches and the flies landed a few feet upstream of the fish. My flies were perfectly visible in the clear water. I watched as the brown trout slid to his left and ate the wooly bugger. With just a slight hesitation to let him close his mouth, I gave a strong hookset and couldn't believe when the fly stuck. Some days you just get lucky. I'm always leery of first cast fish, but if they are this quality, then I'm glad to get skunked the rest of the day. On this day, however, things would only get better...

The fight was relatively quick. The flex in the 10' rod allowed me to push the fish hard on the 4x tippet. In what seemed like no time, I had the fish in the net and ready for a couple of pictures. The main reason I carry a large net is to keep fish healthy in between pictures, and I wasn't taking chances with such a gorgeous brown trout. Just a quick lift and snap, and I had the memory. 

While I didn't know it at the time, this would be the first of many fine brown trout on the day. More about that next time... In that moment, though, I just sat down on the bank and took it all in. Big brown trout are always a treat and this one was a beauty. 

Little River post spawn brown trout


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Stealth Mode: Light and Shadows

The original idea of "Stealth Mode" was created for an article I did in the Little River Journal quite a few years ago. Yesterday, while on a guide trip, something happened that is quite common, yet it struck me in a special way. It reminded me of the original premise of Stealth Mode and so I decided to expand on that original idea.

There are a multitude of opinions and ideas about the importance of stealth in fly fishing. Probably more accurately, I should say there are lots of opinions and ideas about the importance of different elements of stealth, such as whether clothing color matters. Thus, for this article, I'm going to mention up front that I'm writing mostly from the perspective of fly fishing in the Smokies. Furthermore, I'm quite interested in differing opinions or ideas because I can always learn more, so please leave a comment if you have similar or other ideas on the subject!

The moment that motivated this particular "Light and Shadows" version of Stealth Mode happened when my client and I were faced with a choice: cross the creek where I normally do, or continue working up the bank we were already on. I had already mentioned to him that we should cross when I looked upstream and noticed the distinct difference. The far (east) bank was lit up by the late afternoon sun slanting in from the southwest. The near (west) bank was shaded by the overhanging trees and rhododendron. Plenty of light was coming through increasingly bare branches, but there was definitely a LOT more light on the other bank. If we moved up that side of the creek, we would practically be glowing. Not a good way to approach fish if you ask me! 


Fly fishing from the shady bank on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains


So, I mentioned our options to him, and we decided to stay on the near side of the stream. Turns out it was a good decision as we caught a fish shortly just upstream. If we had been on the other bank, I'm not so certain that a caught fish would have been the result. In fact, based on all the fish that I had seen spooking out ahead of us in the seasonally low water of fall, I doubt we would have caught any fish in that pool. 

I should take a minute to add a caveat. This advice applies more than anything to flatter water such as the long pool we were approaching when this moment happened. In broken pocket water, you can often get much closer to the fish, especially as long as you stay relatively low. The fast water helps hide your approach. That said, we continued on up around the bend on the shady side of the stream, and I think it helped us out. The difference between the two banks was at times striking and at other times less obvious, but staying in the shadows is generally a good idea in the Smokies.



In addition to considering which side is sunny or shady, you should also consider your own shadow. As we moved upstream, the late day sun was slanting across the river from our left. At times, our shadows were falling across the stream in the direction we wanted to fish. Sending a big dark shadow over a pool is as good a way to spook fish as anything I know. Instead, fish from further back. In fact, it would probably be better to cross over and fish from the sunny bank instead of casting a shadow across the pool. 

So, next time you are out fly fishing, consider being stealthy as more than just sneaking up behind boulders and crawling on the ground to approach a fish. Consider the light and how you interact with it. That consideration could make or break your fishing trip. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

On a Roll

One of my favorite things about winter is time off from work. Not that I mind guiding, of course, but it is nice to get a little fishing in for myself on occasion. Lately I've been privileged to spend more time on the water than I deserve including trips on tailwaters like the Caney Fork and South Holston as well as fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The best thing about this streak of fishing trips is that they have all been successful. Now, success can be a difficult thing to understand. Defining success becomes even harder when multiple anglers all have their input, so let me explain my idea of success when I'm the one holding the fly rod. Success is, first and foremost, spending time out in nature. Catching a fish would be nice as well. After all, I'm out fishing for more than just the scenery. That said, I don't need huge numbers these days. I don't really even need big fish although those are always nice. Secretly, most anglers hope for big fish so they can wow their friends with stories of their fishing prowess. I don't know about wowing others, but I will say once again that big fish are nice to see.

The thing about big fish, though, is that they get kind of stressful. When you have a big fish on the end of the line, all of your nerves and muscles bunch up. In the end, it can take days to unwind from a particularly hefty specimen. Needless to say, catching too many wall hangers could take its toll.

The absolute best fish to catch are those that are larger than normal, but not so large as to cause you to completely lose your mind. Larger than normal because, let's admit, they look good in the picture if you are into that sort of thing. I take pictures to help me remember the fish later. I'm starting to realize that my good memory may not last forever, but hopefully those pictures will help jog my memories if it comes to that.

Over the last two or three weeks, I've been blessed to catch four of those memorable fish. On each fishing trip, only a handful of fish were caught. On at least one, I know for sure that the memorable fish was the only fish. Somehow that helps those memories become a little clearer. The hazy memories usually come from the days where I quit counting how many 18+ inch fish I caught oddly enough.

Anyway, so as I was saying, I've been on a bit of a roll lately, and I'll gladly take it. Any serious angler knows that luck can turn suddenly, so it is usually wise to ride a winning streak hard. The first good fish came from up in the Smokies, the next two from a couple of tailwaters, and the last one was back in the Smokies again. Let me tell you about that last one.

It happened this past Thursday. A weather system had moved through Wednesday night into Thursday morning dropping snow in the higher elevations. The morning after the storm was cloudy, and I hoped it would stay that way. Fishing for brown trout is always tough, but clouds do give an angler an edge even if it is a flimsy one at best. My usual early morning responsibilities evaporated and I was suddenly free to head for the mountains earlier than I anticipated.

I was not too far down Interstate 40 when I noticed the breaks in the clouds to my east; definitely not a good sign for chasing brown trout. The openings in the clouds became more defined as I got closer to Knoxville, but mercifully started to fill back in by the time I was passing the Knoxville airport.

My intended short stop at Little River Outfitters stretched longer than I wanted but that was my own fault. They have set up a tying table to tie flies for worthy causes. When Daniel told me I could tie the first fly, it was an opportunity I could not pass up. I quickly cranked out a bead head Pheasant Tail nymph, something I'll probably do each time I visit now. This is definitely a fun idea so check it out when you are in the shop next time!

Finally, after grabbing some white tying thread (there is a hint there about my streamers, but of course not about where that color is being fished), I finally said my good byes and headed into the Park. It was a cold blustery day. The white on the hills above town told me that snow had fallen in the higher elevations and probably still was in places. The clouds were just thick enough to give me some motivation, but the cold day was giving me second thoughts. Just getting out to see the mountains was enjoyable enough. Of course, I wouldn't be writing this story if I just drove around looking at the water. By now it should be obvious that I did indeed go fishing.

My streamer rod was still rigged up from my last tailwater float. While that combo probably would have worked, I decided to change flies. At the last second, inspiration struck and I tied on a sculpin pattern to the short leader at the end of my full sinking line. That is always a good idea if brown trout are around as long as the water you are fishing also contains sculpins. The second run I fished produced two really good hard tugs, but neither fish found the hook apparently. The first hit was particularly gratifying as I watched the fish come flying out of calm water to chase the streamer.

Moving slowly down the river, I fished another couple of runs without any hits. One of those was a particularly good spot where I had caught my first fish of 2017. When it didn't produce, I decided to go looking elsewhere. Still more or less uninspired as to where I wanted to fish, I decided to just explore. That is almost always a recipe for success in my experience.

Early in my exploration I found quite a few fish. In fact, I had more brown trout chasing streamers than I can recall on just about any other fishing trip. Still, the fish either wouldn't commit or couldn't find the hook. Both problems left me searching for that one fish. There is probably a good metaphor there as well, but I don't feel like unpacking it tonight.

Finally, I remembered where I caught the nice fish that had started this whole string of good luck a couple of weeks back. The beauty of catch and release is the chance to go and see if old friends are home so that is what I did.

Remember exactly where the last fish had come from helped a lot. I worked my way into the run very cautiously, knowing that it is far too easy to blow a nice fish. A couple of drive by flashes from smaller fish got me excited. When I finally threw to that one spot, I strongly suspected I would be seeing that nice golden flash again. Sure enough, the brown charged, swirled once, then twice before knocking the streamer silly. It was all I could do to not pull the fly out with a massive hook set. Instead, I started twitching the fly like I imagined a disoriented sculpin would be doing. Miraculously, it worked. Seriously.

When it all comes together, and I should point out that this is not the norm, I'm left wondering: why can't I get myself together and do everything right all the other times? When a nice fish is in the net however, I leave the wondering until after taking pictures and generally admiring the fish. They deserve my respect which looks like a very fast picture and quick release. The fish posed beautifully and then I was left to wonder about why everything worked this time. Somehow I couldn't quite make sense of everything, but was left to realize that I'm definitely on a roll and better enjoy it while it lasts. A streak like this won't last forever. In fact, the clouds broke just after catching this fish and the streamer bite went dead in a hurry. For now, I'll be watching the forecast waiting for another cloudy day.


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Found Fly Box

While guiding on Little River yesterday, I came across a rather nice and well-stocked fly box that some unlucky angler had lost. If you have lost a fly box recently, please contact me via email and describe both the box and its contents, and I'll be glad to get it back to you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Slow Days

One of the benefits (and probably curses too) of writing about fly fishing is that you choose what to share. Have a bad day on the water? No problem. Just don't tell the masses. Just share those good days. However, anglers of all skill levels still have slow days, and being a writer doesn't magically make you immune to bad luck, poor conditions, and the least discussed but probably most prevalent operator error.

Once you have been fishing for over 25 years and fly fishing for 20+, there are also self-inflicted slow days. Take my recent musky floats for example. I have now spent two full and long fishless days, happily casting a heavy rod with gigantic flies all in the hopes of catching a fish larger than any of the trout I have ever caught and with far more teeth. Simply removing the fly can be a dangerous game where losing fingers is a distinct possibility. When I say self-inflicted, I mostly mean that I chose to go on those musky floats, but of course there is also the angle where throwing flies at these monsters is not the easiest way to go about catching them. Then again, that is at least 77.7% the point.

Same thing with fly fishing in the Smokies. I've been around these creeks and small rivers long enough to have a good idea on how to scare up a few fish when necessary. So on those days where I hit the water and stubbornly stick to my streamers, you could say the slow fishing is self-inflicted. Some days are just the result of the fact that I don't know it all yet. Those are the days that keep me coming back again and again.

Have you ever noticed how slow days do one of two things? Either they make you feel like you are slowly losing your sanity as you beat the water into a froth trying to drum up a trout or two, or else they cause you to slow down and appreciate some of the additional benefits to getting outside.

Two weeks ago or thereabouts, I took a full day off to take myself fishing. Even as a guide who spends a lot of time on the water, I'm still excited to go fishing for my own enjoyment. This day was no different. The spawn was mostly wrapped up with a straggling pair here and there. The brown trout were definitely hungry and aggressive, a combination I would take every day if possible.

Rain the night before had bumped up the water levels to something just short of perfect for streamer fishing, but higher than I would prefer for good nymph or dry fly presentations. In other words, I had an excuse ready to go in case I didn't catch many fish.

A super secret streamer came out along with a large nymph, both ending up in tandem on the end of my leader. I hit the water full of anticipation. Several large fish had been located over the last few weeks, and I just knew that it was the right day to catch them. The first spot got me thoroughly warmed up with several aggressively chasing fish. One in particular even graced the end of my line and paused just long enough for a picture. Always document that first fish, assuming you want photographs. You never know when you'll catch another. 

Brown Trout on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Moving up to an area where I had spotted a large fish two weeks prior, I was disappointed without even getting so much as a follow. Same thing with the next spot. Finally, the third spot produced follow, after follow, after follow...I think you get the point. Some good eats too, but I missed every single one of them. Yep, bloggers and guides have bad days also.

On my way back to the car after this third stop, I noticed something. Fall had not quite passed by. One little maple tree was still valiantly holding on. This was just the soothing distraction I needed as my expectations were taking a thorough beating. 

Fall colors provided by a maple tree in the Great Smoky Mountains

The next spot or two produced some more heart stopping hits, but sadly with the same results. This was just not my day. And so, as has happened many times before and I'm sure will happen again, I approached the end of the day thankful for one fish. 

With the light fading fast and the fish somehow missing my hook, I took a drive down Little River and over to Tremont (Middle Prong of Little River). The scenery was perfect, the roads were nearly empty, and I made an interesting discovery: Middle Prong was flowing much higher than Little River. Unsure of the significance of such a discovery, I nevertheless drove as far as I could up this popular little stream until the light simply grew too dim. My last stop required a final picture. If you have fished here, then you know how high the water really was.

Tremont and the Middle Prong of Little River

The funny thing about slow days is that you learn something about yourself as an angler on these days. Some of my friends will pack it in after a couple of slow hours, while others will go to what they know will catch fish. For me, slow days are my time to experiment, constantly tinkering and looking for that edge. Guide trips are different, of course, with success for many people measured in the number of fish caught. Under those circumstances, I always have a game plan ready that will maximize the odds of catching fish. Some days, when I can only take the lack of catching for so long, I'll kick into gear and ask myself how I would get a client into fish. That usually gets me catching again if I'm not too stubborn to listen...

Monday, November 09, 2015

Goodbye Fall

Just like that, fall is nearly over. The majority of the leaves have already fallen. Today's high water in the Smokies is going to clean the streams out. The early spawning brown trout's efforts were most likely in vain, although time will tell how high the water does get. We still do not have any true winter weather in the immediate future although certainly by Thanksgiving we'll experience much colder temperatures.

The thing I will miss the most about fall is the brilliant fall foliage we enjoyed this year. Of course I will not miss all of the leaf viewers that came with them. Winter is a very close second in the running for my favorite season and a big piece of that is the solitude that can be found during the cold months.

To celebrate the beautiful fall season we experienced, here are a few of my favorite fall color shots. Some I have already shared here while others are showing up for the first time on this blog. I'll be sharing some more over the next days and weeks.








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.


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).




Monday, December 01, 2014

Directions

Directions are essential to fly fishing.  Being able to follow even the most vague of directions can net a large reward.  You know the kind. Go 3 miles past the first pullout and park in that pullout overlooking the big pool with a large boulder on the far bank.  Walk upstream 300 yards and start fishing there.  Of course, there are other kinds of directions as well.

Recently, while fishing with my buddy Joe, it occurred to me how important individual rocks and logs are on the stream.  We were watching two large browns in a pool and trying to keep the hand gestures to a minimum so as not to spook them.  See that reddish brown rock that is really flat? About halfway across and slightly upstream?  Those types of directions can be confusing at first, but as you start to really see the bottom of a trout stream, those directions make more and more sense.

Just the other day I came across the ideal direction rock, one that is easy to pick out and isolated enough so as not to be confusing.  What made the view even better was the more subtle direction rock also included in the picture.  If you were standing with me looking at this run, I'll bet you could pick out the nice bright quartz rock.  Just below it is a strip of reddish brown bedrock.  Using the quartz to help locate the bedrock makes the whole process much easier.  Such are the directions you might receive on a trout stream.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Evening Escape

Evening trips are accounting for the majority of my fishing, either after guiding all day or after getting off at Little River Outfitters on Thursdays.  That works out great because the fishing is generally best early and late right now although depending on the stream and daily weather conditions it can be good throughout the day.

The majority of the hatches are happening late and include small caddis, the Giant Autumn Sedges, some Isonychias, and some as yet unidentified mayflies that are bright pink or orange in color.  A few Yellow Quills have also been spotted and the midges are both prolific and an all day affair.  All of this adds up for healthy and happy fish that are usually willing to eat something.

Last week I got out for a few hours in the afternoon after a half day morning guide trip.  The fishing was very good for overall numbers.  An Isonychia soft hackle was getting it done for me although other flies caught a few as well.

Perhaps the best part of the whole afternoon was that moment when I was fishing my way through a nice stretch of pocket water and got a whiff of grapes.  Seriously, grapes.  I actually ignored my nose at first but then the smell was so strong that I knew I wasn't imagining things.  Turning around, I found a rock wall covered in Muscadines.  Delicious!

A bit later, I found a rather interesting brown trout.  It is not the easiest to discern in this photograph, but the fish had some scars around it that appeared to be from tippet/leader material where the fish rolled itself around the line a few times as the angler was fighting it.


The evening light was perfect for pictures.  Although I spent a lot more time fishing than capturing images, a few I did take turned out okay.


These evening escapes are a great way to unwind at the end of the day.  You can be sure that the next time I'm in the Smokies, you can find me out on the water in the evening somewhere.

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.









Friday, June 20, 2014

Tracks

Checking tracks is nearly automatic for me at this point.  No matter where I am, tracks are at minimum an interesting curiosity.  On some days, the ability to "read sign" can make the difference between catching a few fish and catching a bunch.

Yesterday, my friend Nathan and I were on a popular stream but far enough from the trailhead that we thought it was at least possible we were on fresh water.  The few small rainbows that did eat our flies had has questioning that premise.  A few indistinct tracks had us both questioning openly whether that section had been fished.  When I found some water drops drying on top of a rock where none could naturally have splashed, I knew someone else had waded through in the last few hours.  Right where the tracks ended, I caught a nice fish.

Further up the stream, before we hit the spot where we would jump out and start our hike back, I found some more tracks.  Fresh ones.  Big ones.  Tracks that had me glancing all around and even up in the trees.  After all, we were no more than a half mile from the scene of my tent fiasco from a few years ago.


Thankfully it wasn't as spooky as finding a half eaten elk carcass in a remote Arizona canyon years ago.  Hiking cross country in lion country will keep a person on their toes.  Last night, we never did run across the bear.  The best excitement (other than catching fish of course) was when we jumped a small group of hogs in the waning light on the hike out.  A couple of them were big, real big.  They also wanted nothing to do with us.  That was just fine by me...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BRRRRR

The frost this morning appeared as promised, but thankfully it doesn't seem to have hurt anything too badly.  We don't have too much green around here yet.  The trout streams are probably having a much tougher time of it.  Take a look at this temperature graph from Little River just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Talk about falling water temperatures...that is a continuous drop of close to 15 degrees, and a drop from the highest recent temperature of more than 15 degrees.  I would be willing to bet that the fish might be lethargic to start things off today simply because of the drastic change.  Fish don't like huge fluctuations in temperature or water levels very much and will normally take a bit of time to adjust.  The good news is that the general direction of the water temperature is most important.  We should see temperatures begin to increase shortly as the stream receives full sun exposure throughout the day.  Once that temperature starts to rise, then the fish will be happier for sure.

In other news, it looks like I might get out on the water.  The Caney Fork is showing a 5 hour window without generation so someone clearly needs to go investigate to see how things are on the river.  Hopefully I'll have good news!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Too Busy Fishing

Fishing and other outdoor adventures have been front and center for the last few days.  Last week I did a trip to the Smokies, a hike, a local trip for winter stocked trout, and a trip to a local pond to check out the panfish population.  This week I spent the last few days with friends camping at Smokemont.  I'm happy to report that the local brown trout population on the North Carolina side of the Park is healthy.

Over on the Tennessee side, the spring mayfly, caddis, and stoneflies have all started.  The hatch will continue to increase in intensity over the next several days so this is a good time to start thinking about a fly fishing trip in the Smokies!

I will try to get some specific trip reports and stories up over the next few days so check back for more soon!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

March is the Month

I've caught many nice browns over the years.  March and April have been particularly kind to me when it comes to catching big browns in the Smokies.  Here is one really nice brown from Little River from March a couple of years ago.


The best part about this fish?  I didn't actually catch it.  Well, not exactly anyway.  For those that have not read the story, go back a couple of years in time and check out this old blog post.   It is one of the crazier fishing stories I've ever been a participant in.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Brush Up On Your Skills

A new page has been added to Trout Zone Anglers.  This one is a page of useful links.  Right now, I have provided links to several articles I wrote a few years ago for the Little River Journal.  Depending on your mood, you can brush up on your skills, read fishing tails, or perhaps get inspired to journey further afield in your search for that untouched gem of a trout stream.  Just don't explore this page unless you have some time on your hands.  You will get the most out of each story if you can take the time to enjoy the read.

Also, if you have a page that you think would be useful for my readers and clients and would like to have a link on the Trout Zone Anglers' page, please contact me and let me know why I should include your page.

Monday, February 03, 2014

There She Goes

If you enjoy fishing tailwaters, I hope you made it to the Caney or are swinging by today.  Just like that, we get a good rain and everything is blowing out.  I'm guessing the generators come on tomorrow but we might, if we are extremely lucky, get one more day out of the recent lack of precipitation.  Here is a streamflow chart for the Collins River, a tributary of the upper Caney Fork at Great Falls Reservoir.


Spikes like that are not what any of us want to see, but I'm sure it is probably better to be getting all this cold water now.  The fish will appreciate it by late summer and so will the fishermen.  Great Falls lake is showing forecast releases somewhere north of 10,000 cfs.  I'm sure we can all guess what that will do to Center Hill dam and the Caney Fork tailwater.  It looks like two generators around the clock for a while again.

On a more positive note, the rain has cleared out the Smokies streams of ice.  The ice buildup should be a thing of the past unless we get some more extremely cold weather.  Now it is time to start thinking about the spring hatches.  Head over to the fishing report on my new guide site to see a fly I like tying for the Quill Gordon hatches.  For the Blue Quills and Quill Gordons, it is also hard to beat an appropriately sized Parachute Adams. I've had fish doing backflips (literal ones mind you) to eat that fly all day.  For a really picky fish, I'm a big fan of Comparaduns and Sparkle Duns.  Whatever pattern you decide to tie, just make sure you have plenty.  When the fishing is really on, you can never have too many flies.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

First Fish of 2014

What a great way to start the year! Even though I still have boxes and stuff scattered all around from my move back to TN, I knew that I couldn't wait on visiting the Smokies any longer.  After an early morning, I made it to Townsend and stopped for a while at Little River Outfitters to chat with Byron and Daniel.  As always we had a great time talking about a little of everything.  Eventually the pull of the streams was too strong, and I headed out of town and into the Park.

Driving slowly up Little River, I stopped at several likely pools.  At one stop, I spotted a nice 18" brown sitting right by the bank.  After several casts to judge the drift, I got a good one in there and the fish came over for a look.  Thinking it had taken the fly, I set the hook.  The fish moved back the other direction casually and would not be fooled into a second look.  Oh well!

Several times, fish came charging out to inspect my large offerings, but each time refused at the last second.  I was beginning to think that my day would be done without catching anything, and of course sometimes that does happen this time of year when you are chasing big fish.

I was running low on water by this time with both Nalgene bottles almost empty.  A quick run up to a good spring seemed like the logical solution and would enable me to check out Middle Prong.  The very first hole I hit had a great surprise.  As I was slowly working the pool, a fish came up and ate.  I just barely felt the soft hit but set the hook and was soon staring in surprise at a very nice rainbow of about 14 inches.  Probably it had swam up from the stocked water in Townsend, but it looked healthy and even wild so I'm not entirely certain.

Later, after filling up on water, I was working my way back downstream and stopped at a very nice pool that I know holds good fish on occasion.  The rain was falling by this time and it was getting close to sunset.  The low light conditions were perfect for brown trout to be out hunting.  I worked the top half of the pool thoroughly and then moved down to the back.  Pitching a careful cast out between two trees, I started my retrieve when I saw the golden flash.  Feeling nothing, I continued the retrieve.  On the second pass, the fish made a solid grab.  After a solid battle, I was holding my first Smokies brown trout of 2014, a beautiful 17 inch fish.  Because of the rain, my camera was staying dry in the car, but I still have my memories which sometimes are better.

That fish was another first for me as well: it was the first brown trout I've caught on Middle Prong.  I've seen plenty of them but never actually caught one until this trip.  Not a bad way to start the year and not a bad first brown for me on Middle Prong!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Smokies Interlude

Part of my plans for Christmas break naturally involved fishing.  However, most of the break was planned for me with family time taking precedence over everything else.  The one small trip I allowed myself was a one day interlude to the rest of my vacation.  Even though conditions were not ideal, I still was happy to visit the Smokies.

Last Thursday, I finalized plans to meet my friend Travis in the Park.  My goal was to get there early, before the sun was on the water, and throw streamers for a while.  He would join me later.  As it turned out, he had the best game plan.  The fish really did not become active until later in the morning as the sun warmed the water just a bit.  Fish will feed in very cold water so it can still be worth getting out during the cold months, contrary to popular opinion.  However, the water temperature's direction is very important.  Even a small increase in water temps can get the trout moving around and active.  The sun warmed the water just enough that we started to see fish up and moving around.

One pool in particular has a good population of trout that are normally willing to eat a well-presented fly.  We all rigged up with nymphs and spread out along the stream.  I worked my way up a small side channel while my friends Travis and Buzz thoroughly worked the pool.


After fishing my little stretch of water, I moved back down to discover that, other than small rainbows, they had not had much catching going on.  Since I had not caught anything, small rainbows sounded better than nothing.  I attached a strike indicator and started working the pool.  A few drifts later the indicator dove, and I found a small rainbow on the end of my line!

There's nothing like getting that first fish out of the way.  Able to relax since the skunk was no longer a possibility, I tossed the double nymph rig a bit longer before changing back to a streamer.  In the winter, when the streams are so cold, I prefer the faster paced method of fishing streamers as opposed to staring at an indicator while my fingers freeze.

Continuing upstream, I found a pool that I know holds some nice fish but one that I've never had much luck in.  This trip would end that.  Just a few casts into my systematic search for trout, a flash indicated a brown in hot pursuit.  The fish abruptly turned away, but I thought I might still have a chance.  Two casts later the fish rose off the bottom again and hammered the streamer.  The heavy tippet allowed me to keep the fight short.  Soon I was releasing the brown back to his pool.  Not a bad last trout for 2013!



Later, I headed in to Townsend for lunch and to stop by and see the crew at Little River Outfitters.  After chatting with Daniel for a while and looking at all the remodeling changes that have been happening, I stumbled upon the fly tying clearance bin.  This has been and, after this trip, continues to be a huge drain on my finances.  I mean, who can pass up a great deal?  I hit the jackpot on this trip when I found a LOT of tiny hooks on sale, perfect for midge and BWO patterns.  I'll be tying small flies in anticipation of the tailwater fishing this upcoming year.  If you tie and stop by LRO, make sure you check out the sales bin.  Your wallet might not appreciate it but think of all the money you will save with some of the super deals you can find there!

Monday, March 18, 2013

High and Cold

Spring in east Tennessee, Quill Gordons, Blue Quills, Black and Brown Stoneflies, rising trout....and don't forget the daffodils and everything else that combines to make this one of the best times of the year.  Conventional wisdom says that the bugs should be hatching around the first of March give or take a week.  By mid-month things should be pretty awesome, in a normal year that is.

The new norm is, well, anything but normal.  Last year the bugs were hatching a full month ahead of schedule in early February.  Shoot, I even had a day in mid-February that was so warm that it was NOT prime fishing unless you arrived early in the morning.  By noon the hatches were over.  Fast forward a year and a warm and very wet winter has been followed by a cool and wet spring, make that cold and wet.

My initial fears of arriving after the peak hatches were soon replaced by fears of no hatches.  In the end the actual conditions were somewhere in the middle but closer to the latter extreme.  My first day in the Park was last Tuesday, March 12.  While driving into Townsend, a text brought a call from my buddy Josh Pheiffer who was heading into the Park to fish.  After arranging where to meet, we were soon on the stream and looking for trout.


In a couple of hours of fishing, we saw a handful of fish with the best being a 15-16 inch brown that I fished for but never even remotely interested in my offerings.  I also missed a healthy brown on a big Parachute Adams but that was it.  The water was cold, high, and clear which made things a bit tricky.  Finally we parted ways for the evening with my dad and myself heading back to Townsend for the night.

Photo by David H. Knapp

The next morning brought back the excitement at being in the mountains.  I knew that Wednesday would be the toughest day in the Park but was dead set on making the most of my time there.  My dad was just along to hang out.  It was great having him along to chat with and made the long fishless periods go much quicker.  By mid-afternoon, the waters had warmed from frigid (upper 30s) to very cold (low 40s).  I wasn't particularly hopeful and had decided to just fish streamers.


My new 5 weight was rigged with a small white streamer like I fish out here on the local creeks.  My seven weight was rigged with fast sinking line and a much larger streamer.  I was covering my bases size-wise but was dedicated to fishing streamers on this day.

Finally, in a pool recommended by my friend and Smokies big fish guru Joe McGroom, I spotted a rise.  Huh???  The sun had not been out much, nevertheless, a few bugs were hatching here and there and soon I spotted a very nice brown rising to the snack.  The two isolated rises did not deter me from my original intent and I was soon probing the depths with the seven weight.

Gradually I worked out more and more line.  Casting was tricky with all the trees and high bank behind me.  However, I finally got something resembling a rhythm down.  Two false casts with a vigorous double haul would land the streamer on the far side of the current.  Three quick mends while throwing out more line soon had the fly swimming properly downstream and across.  On one of these drifts, something slammed the streamer.  Finally, a fish, I thought.

Fighting the fish through the heavy current, I soon had a nice glimpse and was thrilled.  Not a bad first fish of the year in the Smokies!!!  My dad graciously came over and took the camera from me to document this beautiful brown trout.  I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face.

Photo by David H. Knapp 

Photo by David H. Knapp

Something about catching a nice fish like this makes me appreciate my surroundings even more.  Instead of immediately fishing even harder to catch another, I took a breather and used my camera to help me remember that moment.  The water continued to roll past.  I noticed a single large boulder across the stream facing the onslaught of water and was impressed at the forces it had to withstand to still be there at the head of this pool.  Many Smokies pools are completely different this spring as a result of the high water this past winter.


Eventually, I felt like fishing some more.  Further up river, I came to a nice undercut bank with deep soft water next to it.  I just new there had to be a fish somewhere in there.  The soft water reminded me that I was still carrying a 5 weight in addition to the heavier rod.  I set the 7 weight down and started jigging the little streamer along the bank.  The second cast produced a spirited strike and soon I was admiring my second Smokies trout of 2013, a colorful 8 inch brown.

Again, I paused to enjoy the beauty around me.  On some trips, I almost wish that I could just photograph while someone else fishes, almost.  There is something rewarding to me about not only coming into such close contact with nature by fishing, but also photographing the experience for rememberance later.


My day was becoming better by the moment.  While landing the last fish I had noticed mayflies crawling out along the bank and quickly drying their wings.  The cold weather had slowed down the hatches but not stopped them altogether.  The little brown I had caught was obviously along that bank to eat the nymphs migrating to the bank to hatch.  I paused to wonder whether a nymph pattern would have fooled the fish as well, coming to the conclusion that, yes, it probably would have worked just fine.




The day was beginning to draw to a conclusion, but I had one or two more pools on my mind.  Heading upriver even further, I soon came to the last pool of the day.  Just one more, I thought to myself.  By this time, I had changed over to a big dark articulated fly.  The second hook was cut off at the bend to remain legal in Park waters.  Slinging the fly across the current and beginning the retrieve, I felt a tug after the first strip.  An especially hungry brown had grabbed the fly, and I was excited again.  What a way to end the day.

Soon I had my third and final brown for the day to hand.  My dad again graciously took pictures, and I slipped the hook out and watched the fish swim away.

Photo by David H. Knapp

Photo by David H. Knapp

Considering the water conditions, I think it was a pretty amazing day on the water.  Besides, the highlight of the trip for me was just seeing so many friends and family in Tennessee and visiting the Smoky Mountains.  Catching fish was just icing on the cake.

The final day of my Smokies excursion would bring yet another great experience, but more on that later.  Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures of the streams.