Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

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

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Finding Motivation


For someone who loves to fish, finding motivation is not normally a difficult task. This has been anything but a normal spring, though. In fact, while the weather outside says it is spring, we are still waiting for the calendar to catch up. I have been busy with some graduate coursework in Outdoor Education which means that my fishing time has suffered. Last week was busy with guide trips and so I intended to use a free day or two this week to catch up on school work.

My plans began to change on Monday. The predicted rain was no longer predicted, or at least not in the intensity and volume of earlier predictions. My morning responsibilities were cancelled, and then my buddy Pat Tully sent a text Monday afternoon that provided the last jolt of motivation. The message simply read, "Hey are you fishing the Park tomorrow I'm getting off work at 1030."

After yet another weather forecast consultation that went a little deeper than the usual glance at the reports, I made the decision to go for it. My excitement was quickly growing. The way things are shaping up, I may not have too many opportunities to fish a hatch this spring. I was hoping that everything would work out for bugs and rising trout.

The next morning, I woke up naturally at a ridiculously early hour and was immediately wide awake. Funny how hard it is to get up normally except when fishing is involved. Thankfully that extends to guiding which means that I've found the one career I can actually get up early to go to work for. I grabbed my gear, threw together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and was soon on the road. Just enough time was available to stop at Little River Outfitters and pick up some streamer hooks.

My next stop was the famed Wye. Thankfully the swimmers and sunbathers were not out yet. Give it another month or two if you want to catch that hatch. I rigged up a streamer rod and wandered up and down the river searching for a big brown. Before long, Pat showed up and I decided to get more serious about things. Rigging a nymph rod and a dry fly rod, I was prepared for any eventuality.

We talked things over and agreed that mayflies and rising trout were at the top of the agenda for the day. With a plan in place, we headed up river to find the bugs and hopefully risers. We didn't have to look very hard.


The very first pool I wanted to look at had rising trout. Upon closer inspection we saw that the trout were rising to a bounty of Blue Quills that were drifting down before flying off. Despite my initial confidence, the trout were smarter than either of us. I missed one fish and between the two of us, the rest of the fish spooked or otherwise disappeared. Neither of us was too concerned since we had a lot of good pools still to explore.

Pat chose the next spot and it proved a good one with more bugs and rising trout. I had the first shot in our first pool so it was Pat's turn to take the first cast at the second stop. He snuck into position and started figuring out what turned out to be a tricky drift. Lots of mending and several casts later, he got the fly in front of a fish and had the first trout of the day hooked.


The excitement put down the rest of the trout. We wanted to check some other spots still, so instead of waiting for the fish to come back up, the decision was made to move on again. The next spot turned out to be the jackpot.

As we drove slowly by, Pat announced that trout were definitely rising. I quickly eased the car into a nearby pulloff and we grabbed our gear. Soon I was sneaking into position and started casting. With so many risers, I wanted to cast everywhere at once. Knowing better, I tried to cast at specific fish and soon that strategy paid off. My first trout was of the brown variety, and I was a happy angler.

We took turns for the next hour, catching trout after trout. The fish weren't really picky as long as you were throwing a small dark mayfly that roughly imitated the Blue Quills that were hatching steadily. The trout didn't seem as locked in on the occasional Quill Gordon for whatever reason, but we didn't care. Rising trout are only frustrating when you cannot figure out what to feed them. Happy to have rising trout feeding with abandon, I was having as much fun as you can have with a fly rod.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully 





Eventually, the weather turned nasty. We fished in the rain for a while and caught some nice fish. Hunger won when the hatch started to peter out and the fish were mostly done rising.

After an extended lunch break, we hit it again as the rain started to become more spotty. I started carrying both the dry fly rod and the streamer rod. A few more fish would fall for the dry fly, but the last highlight of the day belonged to the streamer rod.

I recently purchased an Orvis Recon 9' 6 weight with a sink tip line for streamer fishing. You can never have too many streamer rods. Anyway, I wanted to catch a fish on this new rod for myself Clients had already caught a few, so clearly the rod had some good mojo, but I wanted to catch one as well. Tied to the end of a short stout leader was an olive sculpin pattern that I like.

We were about done with the day when I decided to throw into one last pool. I had to climb down the large rock wall that lined the stream, and my back casts went over the road above. When Pat warned me of an approaching car, I quickly quit casting and my fly fell 15 feet in front of me. As I hurried to gain control by stripping line in, a hungry brown rocketed off the bottom and hammered the fly as it swam past. Laughing as I netted the fish, I knew when to accept a gift trout. The day was done. I was happy with one last fish and glad I had allowed myself to take a day off to fish.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Isonychia bicolor

As we head into the heat of summer, Smoky Mountain anglers should begin adjusting to the changing conditions. The banner hatches of April and early May are giving way to the yellow and cream insects of summer. Most anyone who regularly fishes in the Park can tell you that yellow is the color to fish this time of year. There is of course, as with most things, an exception and a significant one at that.

The Isonychia bicolor (Slate Drakes) mayfly is arguably as important as the famed Yellow Sallies that everyone is trying to match. The interesting thing about this hatch is that, at least in many places, the nymph is the only important stage that fishermen need concern themselves with. One very notable exception to this is the Hiwassee River where the duns emerge mid stream and fishing from a drift boat can produce excellent action during the hatch. However, on the mountain streams, Isonychias generally crawl out onto the rocks in and around the stream and hatch out of the water. That means the fish rarely see a dun and the spinner falls are only rarely important, at least during legal fishing hours.

Earlier this week, I found large quantities of shucks on one of my local smallmouth bass streams and eventually a gorgeous dun that was still sitting on the rock it hatched on. Here, you can see the shucks where the nymphs crawled out of the water to hatch. The second picture is a newly hatched dun.

Isonychia Bicolor or Slate Drake nymphal shucks

Slate Drake or Isonychia Bicolor Dun Adult

These are large bugs, often a size #8 or #10 and the fish react accordingly. In the Smokies, trout will often take a nymph imitation when nothing else is seeming to work. In fact, one of the better brown trout I caught last summer ate my own Isonychia pattern.

Smokies big brown trout

If you don't have your own secret pattern, a Prince nymph does a reasonably decent job at imitating these bugs as well as a variety of commercially available Isonychia nymphs that you should be able to find at your local fly shop. Want to take a stab at my favorite, an Isonychia Soft Hackle? Here is a picture and a recipe.

David Knapp's Isonychia Soft Hackle


David Knapp's Isonychia Soft Hackle


Hook: #8-#12 TMC 5262 or 3671 (I use mostly #10-#12)
Weight: .020 Lead-free wire
Thread: Black 8/0
Tail: Brown hackle fibers
Body: Several strands of peacock fibers, twisted together for durability
Rib/Gills: Gray ostrich herl
Back/Stripe: Pearl or silver Flashabou or small pearl tinsel
Hackle: Speckled Brown Soft Hackle Hen Saddle patch feather (2-3 turns)

Tying directions: Add wire first and then start thread and cover the wire with a thread base. Tie in tail and then flash. Tie in ostrich and then peacock herl. Wind peacock herl forward, adding more if you need it to get a nice full body. Tie off. For added durability, wind thread back and forth over body several times. The thread will bite into the herl and should be mostly invisible but it will help hold the body together once fish start chewing on it. Next, palmer the ostrich herl forward and tie off. Pull flash strip over back and tie off behind the head. Finally, tie in soft hackle feather, wrap 2-3 turns depending on how thick the fibers are, and tie off. Whip finish and add a small drop of glue to the head and you are done!

How to fish

When fishing an Isonychia nymph pattern, you need to understand the naturals. The nymph is an active swimmer. This means that your normal dead drift is fine, but if that isn't working, try changing it up by adding a jigging motion with your rod tip or swinging the fly at the end of each drift. Some of the best trout that I've caught in the Smokies have come on an Isonychia nymph pattern so try one out this summer on the Little River or other larger Park stream and see if you agree that this is one of the most important hatches of the summer. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Be Bug Aware


Today, while out guiding, I had an experience that reinforced the importance of really paying attention to what is going on while you are out on the water if you want to be successful fly fishing. We were fishing Little River through some fantastic mayfly weather. You know the type: cloudy, cool, and wet at times. With rain gear on we were staying pretty dry, but as might be expected the bugs were struggling to get off of the water which meant that the trout were feasting heavily.

When we first got to the edge of the water, I knotted on a #16 Sulfur Parachute. With a few sulfurs on the water, that seemed like an obvious choice. Within a couple of casts the first fish ate and was quickly landed and released. We then moved up just a little in the pool to cast to more risers. A few fish hit but somehow missed the hook, and after another 10 minutes we realized that the number of strikes had dwindled even though the fish were still eating something.

Putting my face down to the water didn't help much other than to confirm there were microscopic midges, but I was convinced the fish weren't eating those for the most part. The takes were too boisterous. Squinting a little, I saw some little bugs. Blue-winged olives were hatching. Using the larger sulfur to help find the little bug seemed like a smart strategy so I added 6x tippet to the bend of the hook on the #16 and added a tiny #20 Parachute BWO dry fly. Immediately we were back in business. This went on for several fish and culminated in the largest fish of the day, a wild rainbow that easily went 12 inches which is a nice fish for the Park.

Jack with a beautiful wild rainbow.

However, shortly after the big rainbow, the hits became few and far between again. We moved to another pool and again quickly caught a fish on the combo rig we had been fishing, but after several refusals on both the BWO and the sulfur, it was clear that we needed to make a change. The fish were rising vigorously and it was apparent why when we simply glanced around. Big yellow pale evening duns were hatching, and because of the rain were having a hard time getting airborne. A quick adjustment had us back in fish in a short time that culminated in a healthy 10-11 inch brown as the last fish of the day. However, this story would have been over by the end of the second paragraph above if we had not made adjustments. Instead, we figured out what the fish wanted and played the game.

If you are seeing fish rising but getting refusals, take time to sit back and watch. This is where a guide can really help since they can focus on figuring out what the fish are eating while you focus on watching your flies. If you do not want to hire a guide, then just stop casting and watch the fish for a bit. Put your face down near the water, look in the air around you. Eventually something will click and you will pull out the right fly and be into fish again. Don't stick with a fly just because it worked last time. Every fish is a new puzzle and that is one of the things that makes this sport beautiful. If it was too easy we would all give up soon.