Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

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

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Pivotal Moments

Each angler has a growth timeline, and everyone's is different. Most likely, the pattern is not linear, but rather includes growth in fits and starts and maybe even some regression. For example, you probably weren't a proficient caster when you first started into the sport. Over time, you learned a basic cast, then maybe something fancier like a reach cast, parachute cast, steeple cast, well, you get the idea. There is a lot of growth that happens as a fly angler if you are spending much time doing it. 


The Beginning

Most of us started our journey of growth with that first trout on a fly rod. I remember mine just like it was yesterday. My dad had taken me fishing in the Smokies and I was trying my best to figure out how to catch a trout. The shiners were easy, and I had caught plenty of those. Same for the chub and other small minnows. What I wanted was a real, honest to goodness trout. 

We were fishing the lower end of Anthony Creek or the upper end of Abrams Creek depending on your definitions. I generally consider Anthony Creek to be the main stream in the upper part of Cades Cove before the water goes underground and Abrams Creek to be the downstream portion where it reemerges at several large springs. We were fishing just below the road crossing on Sparks Lane. A small cuttbank had helped scour a deeper hole in the creek where the water turned hard. At the bottom, I saw what looked like a rainbow trout. 

Sure enough, after tying on a small nymph, I got the cast angle right and the fly drifted down to the fish. Immediately, the trout inhaled the fly, and I set the hook. Soon, I was holding my first wild rainbow trout. That moment is something I enjoy reliving again and again as a fly fishing guide. Watching people start the journey as a fly angler is one of the treats of my job. Then again, the whole job is more or less a treat.

 

First Nice Brown Trout

I also remember my first quality brown trout in the Smokies. Not too long after that memorable rainbow, I was back fishing in the Smokies again. My dad was kind enough to take me fishing even though he wasn't himself fishing. These trips were a big treat, and contributed greatly to me being the angler I am today. Without those early trips, I probably would never have become a fly angler, much less been able to make it a career. 

Anyway, it was late in the day. My dad was tired and had stayed up at the car to probably catch a snooze while I wandered down through the woods to the bank of Little River. A perfect run had a big rapid dumping in from above. The big pocket where the rapid dumped in was separated from the main pool, but it looked fishy. I could just imagine the big trout waiting for me there. 

At that point in my angling career, I still was nowhere close to proficient with nymphs. Nowadays, that is probably what I would have been fishing. Thankfully, perhaps, because a big dry fly is what grabbed the attention of the big brown trout. I had tied on a big yellow Stimulator. High sticking it across the first currents and letting it dance across the surface, a big golden blur swirled on it. Once, twice, three times. Surely this fish wasn't going to keep coming back to my fly. And yet it did. One more time was one too many for the fish. 

Down into the big pool went the big fish with me in pursuit. When I finally landed it, I looked around, hoping my dad might appear with a camera. No such luck happened, and I carefully slid the hook out and released the quality trout. The fish was probably 16 inches or so. Nowhere close to the largest I've ever hooked, this was still memorable as the first really nice trout I caught on a fly rod.


First Quality Smokies Rainbow Trout

My first big wild rainbow in the Smokies was also memorable. So was the second. Eventually, some of the big fish you catch over the years start to blur together. However, for me at least, some of those early ones were pivotal moments that gave me the motivation to stick with it. They were evidence that I was slowly but surely figuring things out. 

The first big wild rainbow trout in the Smokies came on Abrams Creek. The late evening hatches and spinner falls are legendary. I found myself there late one day and was fishing over some rising trout. They wouldn't take what I was throwing. About that time, I noticed bugs skittering up and down just above the water's surface. Occasionally, one would bounce all the way down to the water before flying up again. Now I know that I was witnessing egg laying activity. At the time, I just knew I had to mimic the action of the real bugs. 

Extending my rod tip as far out as possible, I bounced it carefully up and down, making my dry fly dance just like the naturals. Sure enough, a big trout leaped and inhaled my fly. The 14 inch wild rainbow was big for the Smokies. I was sure that I was onto something. Catching another couple of fish with a similar technique had me genuinely excited. However, it was a very specific technique with a very specific application. What about when the fish weren't looking for egg layers? 

The second quality rainbow sort of snuck up on me. It was in the fall, and I was fishing a favorite pocket water stretch of Little River. To this day, I still like that section, probably because of the style of water which matches my preferred style of fishing. Regardless, water levels were at a normal fall low and a dry fly seemed appropriate. I had tied some October caddis and had one on the end of my leader as I prospected my way upstream. The take was rather nonchalant, but the fight was anything but. The 15 inch wild rainbow trout gave both me and my fly rod a real workout. I think a couple of cars stopped and took pictures of the fight, but I was too focused to be sure of that part. When that fish came to the net, I had my second wild rainbow over 12 inches ever. 

This second big rainbow was a pivotal moment because I had caught the fish on a rather lengthy cast compared to my usual high sticking. Normally not as successful with longer casts, this moment convinced me that it was possible to catch fish on longer casts. The line management skills necessary would come with practice. 


Fishing With A Guide

My first time fishing with a guide really propelled me forward in my fly fishing journey. In fact, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that one of the all time biggest contributors to my fly fishing education and growth was thanks to the famous Walter Babb. I wanted to learn to high stick nymphs without an indicator. Today, the buzzword is euro nymphing. Back when I learned, we didn't have fancy indicator tippet, but the techniques are similar. However, the local technique is something that evolved separately, first using a long cane pole and a fixed length line, then eventually a fly rod.

The general idea is to lead the flies through the water without dragging them. When your leader or tippet ticks or straightens out, you have a bite. There are other things like a tuck cast that help make this all come together, but really it isn't too difficult. However, I was having a hard time figuring everything out. The instruction from a professional guide made all the difference in the world, and my catch rates very quickly went through the roof.

My skills in the Smokies were really coming into their own, but there was still a lot of water out there to learn. Tailwaters, smallmouth, and of course trout streams and rivers out west. My horizons were about to expand in a big way and that would further my growth as an angler. 


Sometimes Failure Produces Growth

Interestingly, one of the next major growth moments for me happened almost by accident. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time leads to growth even when you don't catch any fish. This episode happened at Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. After reading about this famous tailwater in Fly Fisherman many years ago, I just had to fish there. When a year off in college took me to Arizona, I knew my opportunity had come. 

I stopped at one of the local fly shops, talked to the person there, and ended up buying some zebra midges. They explained how to fish them, and I headed out to the walk and wade access. In the end, I couldn't buy a trout. The big water of the Colorado both humbled and intimidated me at the time. So, I walked away with some new flies, and a memory of a beautiful river I hope to fish again someday. 

Fast forward a few months, and you would find me standing on the banks of Tennessee's Caney Fork River. As I was thinking about what to fish with, I remembered that somebody had said that Caney Fork was a good midge fishery. Remembering those zebra midges, I dug through my boxes and attached one on a dropper below my dry fly. Amazingly, every fish I cast to ate the zebra midge. To say it was an eye opener would be an understatement. That day on the Caney and that tough day on the Colorado combined to interest me in midge fishing. Now, I fish them year round and am still learning a lot about them each time I go. 

My midge fishing has evolved continuously from that day. I've caught fish all over the western US on midges. Of course, my home rivers also fish well with them. Even in the Smokies, I fish midge patterns when the going gets tough.


Ability is the Sum of Experience and Knowledge

As an angler, there have since been many other learning moments. I'll never forget my first time in a drift boat, with many others to follow. Good friends along the way have helped to mold the angler that I am today. At the end of the day, an angler's ability is the sum of their experience and knowledge with maybe a little luck thrown in for good measure. Certainly some of my favorite catches over the years were the result of luck to some extent. At least being in the right place at the right time, but ability still is an important component. 

Sometimes, an angler can get in their own way too. I've lost a good many fish over the years. There were fish that I shouldn't have lost. Some were my own fault, probably many in fact. Other times, the fish simply won. Still, a good angler minimizes those times through their vast catalogue of experiences. Other battles won and lost. Other big fish played on light tippets, or maybe other big fish on heavy streamers. 

Sometimes even the little guys teach us valuable lessons. I once fished for a 6 inch rainbow in the Smokies for a good 45 minutes without catching it, mostly because I love sight fishing. Still, I learned a lot about what wasn't working on that particular fish. Those big fish are the ones that keep us coming back. I often tell other anglers, both clients and also friends and family, that to land big fish, you usually have to lose a few to figure out how to fight them properly. You can be coached up to a point, yet if guiding has taught me anything, you can be told exactly what is about to happen and still do the wrong thing.


Losing the Bull Trout of a Lifetime

Last summer, on our western road trip, chasing bull trout was part of the goal. I had done my homework. The knowledge piece seemed to be there, but I needed to gain the experience part firsthand. When I hooked and fought a bull trout for probably a minute or more the first day of fishing, I thought I had it made. Seconds later, the fly simply pulled out. 

In retrospect, there were at least a couple of things I did wrong as well as a few I did right. First, I was fishing the heaviest tippet I thought I could get away with. That was smart. Turns out the tippet was the least of my worries. This big mean fish didn't care whether I had tied the fly on with rope. Bull trout are generally going to eat or they aren't. If a bull trout is in the mood to feed, I'm of the opinion that just about anything will work based on my very limited experience. 

Another thing I did right was to bring as much pressure to bear on the fish when it headed for a big log jam. The big fish turned at the last possible second. Another couple of feet and the fish was undoubtedly gone. Unfortunately, I took that lesson and pushed it too far. 

With the fish in open water, I started trying to end the fight immediately. I had my seven weight doubled up. The fish was no more than 15 feet away now. Suddenly, the line simply went limp. In the end, I using too much pressure when it wasn't necessary and ripped the fly out of the bull trout's mouth. I had lost the bull trout of a lifetime up to that point. That isn't saying much since I had never caught one, but the fish was definitely at least a two footer. A really nice fish that I would be thrilled with any day.


Redemption: Lessons Learned and Lessons Applied

A few days later, I finally landed the big bull trout I was looking for. There was chaos in the moment, yet, somehow I did everything mostly correct. At least, I did enough right to land the fish. There were still some stupid mistakes that thankfully didn't cost me. Looking back, I can learn even from those, however. 

The interesting thing about landing a bull trout is the quiet confidence it gave me back on my home waters. You wouldn't think that those things are related. However, losing that big fish on the first day really settled an old lesson once and for all, at least I hope. Knowing exactly how hard to push the fish without losing it is a tough lesson to learn. I'm 99.9% certain I'll eventually have to learn it again. If not on trout, then on some powerful ocean dwelling fish perhaps. 

Still, when I fish the Clinch River now, I find myself far more relaxed and unconcerned when fishing light tippets and small flies. Not that I never lose trout, mind you, but the fish is often more responsible than I am. The funny thing is that my bull trout lesson was on heavy tippet, yet, the real lesson learned was to not panic in the middle of a fight. 

The first bull trout I hooked ended in too much pressure. Often, as an angler, I found that my lost fish come when I panic and do something that I would otherwise know not to do. In other words, fish are lost when you aren't thinking clearly. To land a fish, any fish really but especially big fish, you need to be singularly focused. Blocking out everything but the task before you is tough in our world today. With so many things competing for our time and attention, tossing all the distraction aside and fighting a trout is easier said than done. 

Landing that big bull trout helped me loosen up. For some reason, it was another significant turning point in my fishing career. Now, I don't put as much pressure on myself. More importantly, I don't beat myself up when I lose fish as much as I used to. Let's face it, none of us likes to lose a trout. Yet, putting that moment into the big scheme of things, a lost trout really isn't too important. And that's coming from a guide who knows that landed big fish can be the difference in a big tip or not. Still, at the end of the day, it is just a trout and just a tip. Once you put those things into the proper perspective, you will fish more effortlessly. Not completely effortlessly, just more effortlessly. And each new growth experience will make that a little bit more true. 


Next Growth Moment

The funny thing about those pivotal moments in life, be it in fly fishing or otherwise, you never know when one is about to sneak up on you. In hindsight, they seem pretty obvious, but sometimes it takes a few days at least and often months or even years to realize the significance. The next growth moment could very well sneak up on me. In fact, I've had a couple of moments on the water lately that might end up being important down the road. Right now, I'm still digesting them. Those moments could just be a small blip on the radar. On the other hand, maybe ten years from now I'll write another article like this one and they will be cited as a pivotal moment of growth. 

So what have been your pivotal moments of growth as a fly angler?


Monday, July 26, 2021

An Argument For Catch and Release

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you probably noticed a period where I blogged about the guided trips I do. However, over time, I realized that I didn't want this blog to become part of my "job," and decided to diligently keep those two things separate. Thus, you have been left with the occasional post about my fishing and anything else that strikes my fancy. Yes, some things are at least motivated by experiences guiding, but for the most part I just use this blog to tell my fishing stories. That was my original motive for starting the blog after all, and what better reason to blog than because I want to remember my fishing trips?

Still, the occasional fishing story from guiding sneaks its way in here. The most recent big guiding event was special enough to merit a place here. However, I want to use it to advocate for something I feel very strongly about: catch and release. When I started guiding, I decided right away that my own personal catch and release ethic would also be part of my business. Trout Zone Anglers is strictly catch and release. End of story. You're more than welcome to write and tell me why I'm so wrong. I've had prospective clients that went elsewhere looking for a guide. In fact, I recommend that they do so if they want to keep fish. You can't pay me enough to take you fishing to harvest a fish. 

Part of this is simple economics. If I let every person who I take fishing keep a limit, all of my good fishing holes would be cleaned out in a hurry. I'm not the world's best guide I'm sure, but my clients tend to catch enough fish to put a dent in the population. If everyone out there was keeping their catch, we would be very low on fish in a hurry. I've noticed that fish populations seem a bit decreased anyway right now in the Smokies, so the last thing they need is additional stressors on their numbers.

Another part of this is also simple. I believe that releasing my catch is the best way to pay forward the moment of awe and beauty that happens every time I connect with a trout. Every fish I put back is a fish that some other angler can appreciate and enjoy, and hopefully, will choose to also release so that, eventually, I might get to enjoy the same fish again myself. 

This brings me to the last piece. I enjoy catching big trout. I really despise seeing big fish on stringers (I honestly believe it is selfish so go ahead and roast me), but I also hate to see small trout being taken because those are the ones that will become big trout someday one way or another. On rivers that I fish like the Caney Fork and Clinch, there are good numbers of fish right up to the top of the protected length range but very few over. Instead of catching lots of fish between 14 and 19 inches, I personally think it would be even better to catch lots of fish between 14 and 24 inches or larger. A minimum size limit on brown trout of 30 inches would gain my instant support. There are rivers and places that have such regulations, and there are reasons they have a tremendous following.

A few days ago, I was able to enjoy first hand the benefits of catch and release. Up until recently, the largest trout that I had ever had a client land was 25.5" and it was a brown trout on the Clinch River. That fish was caught by my good friend and client, Chuck Traylor (#bigfishchuck) on a #20 barbless midge on 6x tippet. We were in the drift boat when the magic happened, and I'll never forget that massive hen brown trout. 

Clinch River Trophy Brown trout
Angler Chuck Traylor with a 25.5" trophy Clinch River brown trout. ©2019 David Knapp Photography


The saying goes something along the lines of lightning never strikes twice, but in my case it did. Fast forward in time to just a few days ago, over a year and a half from Chuck's big trout, and you'll find me yet again drifting down the Clinch River. 

My client this particular day was Bill Cash, an excellent angler from the northeast who is on a mission to fish all of the 50 Best Tailwaters. If you don't have that book yet, then check it out by the way. The Clinch River was going to be number 25 on his quest. By some stroke of fortune on my end, I got the call to share the river with him. Some anglers don't really need guides, but they enjoy having someone show them the ropes and shorten the learning curve on new water. Right away, I figured out that Bill was one of those anglers. His casting was very good and fish fighting skills were on point. He would need those skills early on this day. 

We hadn't been drifting very long when the indicator twitched then briefly dipped. He set the hook, but for some reason it didn't stick. That turned out to be a very good thing. Seriously though, when was the last time you were thankful for missing a fish? Not too often I'm guessing. After the recast, we drifted a very short distance downstream when the indicator went down convincingly. This time, there was some weight on the other end. 

Having guided for quite a few years and fished even longer on the Clinch, I was expecting a standard operating model. That would be a rainbow trout somewhere in the 15-18 inch range and probably hot. The fish would likely jump or at least roll on the surface. Initially, things seemed to progress right on schedule. The fish made a hard run from right to left across the front of the boat. I noticed right away that Bill was keeping appropriate side pressure and letting the fish run when it wanted to. Things got interesting, however, when he absolutely could not turn the fish.

When I asked about the fish, he said it was a pretty good fish, probably 18-20 inches. That's a good way to start the day. Then he said something that had me wondering. "It is a brown trout." Okay, so not what I was expecting after all. A brown trout would explain the digging for the bottom and head shakes, however.  Eventually, the fish made it close enough to the boat for me to get a glimpse. I was convinced of the brown trout diagnosis and also began to think the fish might be a little larger, maybe in the 22" range. 

With 6x tippet to both flies and our largest offering a #18 midge, I advised him to not push the fish too hard. The water was ice cold and well oxygenated from the early morning generation pulse. This fish was going to be fine. At this point, Bill was totally focused and putting on a clinic when it comes to fighting large trout. Low side pressure and pushing the 6x to just short of the breaking point was a recipe for success. 

When the fish started a hard upstream run, I realized we would have to pursue. Getting the oars going, we gave chase. This fish eventually took us up and down but apparently it wanted to stay on its home turf and never went too far up or downstream. A couple of times it got dangerously close to some logs, but by some miracle, it stayed out of the structure for us. 

The fish came boat side but was staying deep. I contemplated deep netting the fish, something I've done on big brown trout before. When I stuck the big Fishpond boat net in the water near the fish, I realized something important. The fish was at least as long as the 25" opening on my net hoop. A mistake trying to dredge the fish up with the net would almost guarantee losing this monster. We were going to have to get the big trout's head up before making the scoop. 

Again, out of an abundance of caution, Bill asked if he needed to put more pressure on the fish. I reassured him that he was fine. Any more pressure and that fish was going to be gone. Finally, the fish began wearing down. Another blistering run back downstream got us closer and closer to landing the beast. Finally, the big trout began coming to the surface. Bill was putting enough pressure on the fish that I was nervous. Still, we had to get this fish up somehow. When it rolled near the boat, I was ready or so I thought. What I hadn't counted on was how big this fish was. Even larger than it had looked at depth, this fish was a true fish of a lifetime. The net barely contained the big hen brown trout. I quickly handed the net off to Bill and asked him to keep the trout's head submerged while I got the boat situated. Then we ascertained the situation and got the necessary pictures. 

When we put the trout on the tape, it stretched to 27.25", a true monster and the largest I've had the good fortune to see on my boat so far. The pictures were done quickly, and within about 10 seconds we had the fish back in the cold water. I had jumped out of the boat as soon as the anchor was down and wasn't taking any chances on the health of this fish. We kept her cradled upright and revived her carefully. Finally, with several powerful thrusts of her tail, she sped off back to the depths. 

Then we just sat there and soaked up the moment. Both of us realized that we had reached the pinnacle of the day early. This big brown trout would almost certainly be the largest fish of the day. Once we started fishing again, we began drifting though the same area where the big brown trout had been caught. On our second pass through this area, I noticed a dark shadow shoot under the boat and settle into a large depression not far away. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was the big brown trout that we had released well across the river and upstream. She was back almost exactly where we had caught her already which told me she was going to be fine. 

The rest of the day featured good fishing although it was largely anticlimactic. We caught plenty of rainbow trout up to about 19 inches with the smallest being around 13 inches. No more browns showed up though. Interestingly, a lot of brown trout were stocked early this year. I saw them leaving the river by the stringer load. I don't know what in the world people are going to do with a bunch of 7 inch trout. Personally, I would rather see them stay in the river. We had just witnessed what the Clinch River is capable of producing if the fish are just left in the river to grow. Most of our tailwaters could be full of 16-24 inch trout if people would just release their catch. I for one wish that more anglers would choose this strategy with the long term goal of catching more and larger trout. 

The moment this point was driven home was when I texted Chuck a picture of the big fish later in the day. Not too long after, he responded by mentioning that he thought it was the same trout he had caught a year and a half ago. If so, the fish had grown by 1.75 inches. That is pretty good for such a large brown trout. When they are younger, they can grow much faster. These old big fish grown much heavier but the length doesn't come as quickly. 

When I got home, I checked up on what Chuck had told me. Sure enough, by comparing the spotting on both fish, I realized this was the exact same trout that Chuck had caught before. If he hadn't of released his catch a year and a half ago, then Bill and I wouldn't have had this amazing experience. Thankfully, Bill also released this magnificent fish. I just hope that any other anglers who happen across this fish will do the same thing. Maybe, just maybe, in another couple of years we'll catch her again, and she'll be 30 inches the next time. 

Trophy Brown trout on the Clinch River
Angler Bill Cash with a 27.25" trophy brown trout on the Clinch River. ©2021 David Knapp Photography



Thursday, May 01, 2014

Last Chance


Being a tailwater fisherman can be a roller coaster from joy to disappointment and back again.  Hours are spent poring over forecast rain amounts, then analyzing actual rainfall totals during and after a precipitation event.  If you live out west then you might spend your winters checking out the latest Snotel information to see how the snowpack is coming along.  Long term generation guidance is also consulted on a regular basis, all in an effort to figure out when your favorite tailwater might be fishable.  Of course, in a dry year, all of this becomes unnecessary as anglers enjoy the rare opportunity to fish whenever and wherever they desire.

Over the past few weeks, I've been checking the generation schedules daily, sometimes even multiple times a day.  I guess I'm just optimistic.  Maybe the schedule will change for the better, and of course, eventually it did.  Unfortunately, the theme this year is that low flows signal the next round of heavy rain.  Streams here on the Plateau shot up from around 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to over 15,000 cfs over the last few days.  One stream went from 70 cfs to over 3,500 cfs. That's a lot of water no matter where you live, and when you consider that 3,500 cfs is approximately the amount of water that one generator releases at a time on my favorite tailwater, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that many days of generation are on the horizon.  All that water here on the Plateau eventually drains into the valleys on either side and into either Tennessee Valley Authority or Corps of Engineers controlled dam systems.

As the major weather system this week started to really get cranking, my nearest tailwater finally cut back on the generation.  I planned to fish Monday morning, but early day storms were already rolling in and prompting the first local tornado warning of the year.  My fishing trip became a storm chasing trip, and I was stuck waiting for the next opportunity.  Tuesday morning was shot as well, and Wednesday was the last day of low flows, my last chance to get on the water.

My friend Tyler, who has quickly become addicted to fly fishing, had never fished a tailwater before.  I explained that the water would be cold but that people had been known to wet wade there before.  He was all for it so we planned on when and where to meet.  Wednesday morning couldn't come soon enough for me, and before long I had scarfed down a quick breakfast, made a sandwich, loaded my gear, and headed out the door.  Tyler was on time and we were soon headed for the river.

Muddy water...

Upon arriving, I headed straight for a favorite run that requires less wading than some spots.  After all, I knew Tyler was excited but if he didn't have to freeze then all the better.  Driving along the river, the first thing we noticed was mud thick enough to walk all the way across the river on.  On second glance, we realized it wasn't quite that bad but we definitely weren't going to fish in the slop.  Back up the river we headed to the clear water just below the dam.  Several other anglers were already crowded in the best spots (for easy wading that is), and I was concerned that Tyler was going to be stuck getting soaked and cold.

One possibility remained and we headed down to a favorite spot of mine.  Another angler was fishing just upstream but otherwise we had the water to ourselves.  Showing Tyler a rising trout and explaining the process of mending and fly placement, I started downstream to get some fishing of my own in.  Just as I was getting my own rod ready to cast, Tyler yelled as he hooked the first trout of the day.  It turned out to be his first brown trout so I brought the net and camera for a quick picture.  As I made my way back down the river he hooked another, and another, and so on and so forth.  In fact, he soon lost track of how many he had caught.


I found a nice hole and started catching a few of my own, and then more, until I was catching fish after fish as well.  Over the next two hours, we never ventured far.  Tyler didn't have to wade deeply to fish, and I was having some of the best midge fishing I've had in a long time.  Both of us quickly lost count of how many fish we caught and even had several doubles as the fish were almost racing each other to get to our flies.



Now that tailwater is pushing a lot of water down the river as the lake continues to rise.  We'll be lucky if it is fishable anytime in the next two weeks and if we get more rain it will take a lot longer than that.  A more realistic prediction is a minimum of 3 weeks but we'll have to wait and see what happens.  When it does drop again, I'll be back looking for another fantastic day on the water.

Oh, and I should mention that Tyler forgot to be cold.  He was catching so many fish he didn't even notice the 50 degree water flowing around his legs.  His comment to me was, "Knapp, you've created a monster!"  Yep, tailwaters can be fun, and I'll look forward to getting on one again.  Hopefully it will be sooner instead of later...

On our way home, we stopped to chase some bass, and I had my best bass day on this particular lake ever, but more on that a bit later.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Quick Report: Guide's Day Off


So I'm running low on time today so I'll keep this as brief as possible.  The last two days, the Caney Fork had a couple of windows with no generation for all of us wade fisherman.  That didn't last long as today they are running water all day again, but it was nice to get out while I could.

With no trips scheduled on Wednesday and of course wanting to see how the river is fishing, I took off and timed it so I would arrive just as the water was falling out enough to get in the river and fish.  It didn't take long for me to see some MASSIVE fish busting on the surface or at least so it appeared. My first thought was, "Oh no, the stripers are already here. Too bad for the trout!"  After getting a glimpse of fins and tails breaking the surface, I soon concluded that it wasn't stripers and started to wonder what in the world was going on.

Eventually I discovered the commotion was made by spawning Bigmouth Buffalo.  I'm not entirely convinced that there weren't some carp in the mix as well but let's just say I was in awe.  I've always heard about these fish but never run into them in large numbers on the upper river and by the time I see them on the lower river later in the year, they are very tightlipped.

Running my nymph/midge rig through the deeper water eventually resulted in a hookup.  Wow! These things can pull!!!  My arm is still sore.  After catching a couple on the midge, yeah, that's right, I said a MIDGE on 6x no less, I was worn out and decided to go looking for trout.


That's a size 22 gray midge

The net opening is 16" x 22" for reference and this was not the largest I caught...

In some deeper water downstream I started catching some rainbows with regularity and had a large trout, probably a brown, break me off with just a couple of good headshakes.  The trout were showing a preference for the nymphs which was interesting.  I never did get around to fishing a dry/dropper rig  but they probably would have eaten the Zebra Midge fished that way.  Late in the day I even found a skipjack for a rather unusual slam of rainbow and brown trout, buffalo, and skipjack.  Fun trip for sure!

Fresh hatchery 'bow

Deeper water was the ticket...

The good news is that the midge hatches are getting stronger and the fish are responding.  The Buffalo are in the river as well and can definitely provide some entertainment if you've never hooked one.

This brown fought twice his size and had me convinced a big fish was on for a while.

Yep, spring is definitely here when the dogwoods start blooming!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Midge Fishing

Rescheduling a trip is always frustrating, mostly because you are looking forward to hitting the water and then something goes wrong.  In the case of the trip Chad scheduled, the Caney Fork was rising quickly when we originally planned to do our trip.  We rescheduled and then waited.  As Sunday approached it was painfully obvious that we would either have to reschedule again or change the game plan.  Thankfully Chad was flexible, and since his main goals were to learn to fish midges more effectively and possibly some other good tailwater techniques, we decided that the Clinch would work just as well.

When we arrived at the river, things were just reaching a good fishable level after the morning generation and we started up high. Finding open water was easier than I would normally expect on a pretty Sunday in April.  The Clinch is known as a "bring your own rock" type of river but on this day we were able to find water without too much trouble.  The bright sun and quickly falling water meant that we would be looking for deeper runs and holes with current moving through them.

Working across one good area resulted in spotting a few fish and one missed strike, but other than that things were looking slow.  We changed flies early and often and kept moving, looking for willing fish.  Finally we got into a spot I like that has a nice riffle dropping away into a nice run.  Trout were moving around on the bottom feeding as evidenced by the occasional flash we could see as the fish turned to eat the meal of the day.

With the greater depth, we changed to an indicator rig with a tiny #24 midge pupa on the bottom.  Chad was soon working the hole like an expert, polishing his mending skills to get perfect drag free drifts.  It didn't take too many drifts until the indicator dove and the fight was on!  He soon had the first fish in the net for a quick picture and then it was back to work the hole some more.


I had spotted a much nicer rainbow feeding on the far side of the hole but it required a fairly difficult presentation.  The flies and indicator had to be thrown over the strong current of the riffle and into the softer water on the other side.  Next, the angler would need to throw a huge mend to get a clean drift down to the fish with more small mends throughout the drift.  Chad was up to the challenge and after a few good casts, the indicator dove again.  This was a much nicer trout and soon Chad was admiring his new personal best trout on the fly rod!



Both trout showed a preference for the tiny midge pupa.  It won't be too long before they start taking Sulfur nymphs with regularity and they are probably already starting to key on them on the lower river.

We finished with another hour of covering some more techniques and working on distance casting when we found some large rainbows rising in a nice flat further down the river.  Chad was a pleasure to guide and I'm sure he will be putting his new skills to work to catch some more tailwater trout in the near future!

If I can help you with a guided trip, please contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Silver Ribbons and Red Stripes

As my last day in Colorado rapidly approaches, I was wondering if I could squeeze one last day of fishing in.  A short hike combined with fishing seemed ideal.  South Boulder Creek (SBC) just below Gross Reservoir is the perfect place for this type of trip so off we headed for another adventure.  The stream was still running ice free thanks to the recent warmer weather.  The winds that brought the warmer temperatures had me concerned but were forecast to die down in the afternoon.

Reaching the parking lot and seeing only two other cars, I quickly rigged up with a small caddis pupa and a Zebra Midge.  A small pinch-on indicator above seemed appropriate and then we hit the trail down.  As the stream came into view, I was amazed out how much ice had melted since my trip last Wednesday.  Of course, the first section you see gets a lot of sun exposure so that explained the lack of ice.

Staying high above the creek, we turned downstream. I was heading for a section of nice pools that should hold plenty of fish in the winter.  Looking back upstream, I paused to take in the beauty.  The stream looked like silver ribbons running down over the rocks as the afternoon sun through light across the bottom of the canyon.


Eager to fish, I quickly continued downstream.  The pool where I had caught several fish last week already had another angler in it, but the pool just below didn't.  After several drifts with only one small rainbow striking and missing the hook, I decided to continue downstream.

The next pool was another favorite.  Last fall I spotted a 16 inch brown spawning in the back of it so I suspected that there were good fish somewhere nearby.  The fish were holding tight to structure and under the fastest water in the deep holes so my luck was not the best...yet.  As I fished, my girlfriend had fun with her camera.  I'm fishing somewhere here...

Photo by Catherine McGrath

I really like how this stream shot came out that she took. Notice that in this more shaded section the ice was still holding on along the edges.

Photo by Catherine McGrath

As I fished up around the bend, a nice slow pool looked like the perfect hiding spot for a trout in the winter.  I tossed the flies and indicator in and then crouched behind a boulder to keep from spooking the fish.  The indicator swirled around a couple of times before being pulled under.  I set the hook and was happy to discover that I had finally hooked a fish!  The rainbows here are incredibly beautiful.  They all have these magnificent red stripes down their sides, even the little guys.  It can be hard to believe that some of the stocked specimens I have caught in my life are even in the same family as these wild rainbows.


With that first fish out of the way, I now wanted to catch one or two more before calling it a day.  The next pool upstream seemed like just the place to do that.  As I fished, I had lost track of where my girlfriend had gone with her camera.  It turns out she was getting some more cool shots that I can't get on my own.

Photo by Catherine McGrath

Right after this shot, on the next cast, I tossed my fly over next to the boulder against the far bank.  There just had to be a trout under that rock.  Sure enough, the indicator dove and I quickly realized that the fish I was now fighting was in a different class from the first trout.  As the fish ran around the small pool, I just let it run and tire itself against the spring of the rod.  I didn't have a net and was taking no last second chances on losing this beautiful trout.

After a couple of pictures, I released my new personal best rainbow from SBC.  Even on a day when the flows are low, a few fish can be caught and a good time had.

Photo by Catherine McGrath

This fish was the perfect way to end my last fishing excursion here in Colorado for this trip.  I was thankful for the two fish that had graced the end of my line.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Colorado Outing


Even though I've moved back to Tennessee, I still love fishing in Colorado.  Yesterday I made it out to the stream to battle the wind and hopefully find a few fish.  Initially I was thinking of hitting Boulder Creek, but at the last second I decided to make a run over the mountain so to speak and fish South Boulder Creek instead.  I'm glad I did.

When I arrived at the trailhead, I could see glimpses of the stream below and the most obvious feature was a distinct lack of snow and ice on the pools.  Looking good so far!  When I got down to the water after a short walk, I tied on a streamer to bounce around a couple of pools.  When absolutely nothing seemed interested, I quickly changed over to a two fly rig consisting of a mysis shrimp pattern and a small midge.  A little stick on indicator a couple of feet up completed the rig, and I got back to casting again.  It only took 3-4 casts before the indicator hesitated.  When I set, I saw a flash but missed the connection.  Thankful that the fish were at least interested, I worked the pool a bit more before heading on downstream to some new water.  

I came to a favorite pool that reminds me a LOT of a pool in the Smokies on Lynn Camp Prong.  The water flows through both holes in an almost identical fashion and it just so happens that it makes for some very tough drifts.  I was fishing in hiking boots so repositioning across the creek wasn't an option.  Thankfully, since it is winter, several fish were stacked in a slow back eddy on my side of the pool.  Several drifts around that eddy and 3 fish later, I was pretty happy about how things were going.




The wind was becoming increasingly annoying however.  It was blowing straight down the canyon in fits and bursts that made casting frustrating from time to time.  After another pool and another trout, I decided that it wasn't worth fighting any longer and headed back towards town.  


Stopping by Boulder Creek, I made a few half hearted casts with a streamer for old time's sake but there was very little open water.  That should be changing in the next few days thankfully with highs forecast to be in the 50s and even 60s for the next week or so.  I'm hoping to get another chance to wet a line while I'm here in Colorado, but the big news is that all my paperwork is back to the NPS for my Commercial Use permit to guide in the Great Smoky Mountains.  I'm predicting that late next week into next weekend will see some fantastic fishing in the Park.  More on that over at the fishing report on Trout Zone Anglers.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Caney!!!

Now that I'm blessed with tailwaters full of large wild trout, I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed fishing on the Caney Fork.  Those little stockers with rubbery fins rubbed raw by the concrete abode they call home for the first portion of their life can provide a lot more fun than I remembered.  My first venture onto the river this year finally happened on Wednesday morning.  Anticipation and excitement woke me up around 5:30.  Not too long after I was on my way.

Driving west through early morning light as the sun slowly edged higher behind me, I had a chance to recall other trips to the river.  I remembered when I first started fishing the river and discovered that the browns in an undisclosed area had a fondness for terrestrials.  Next I remembered that I had not had much luck in that area for many years now.  Past float trips were recalled with equal fondness and before I knew it I was exiting I-40 and rolling past Happy Hollow.  Crowds of early arrivals encouraged me to keep going in my search for fresh water.

The dam was conscientiously checked and also dismissed, again due to crowds.  Finally my car led me over the dam and down to Lancaster.  Only one car was there ahead of me.  I got out and chatted a bit with the two guys getting ready to fish.  Its always a pleasure meeting new people on the river.  I wished them luck as they headed down.  Remembering the forecast high of 96 degrees, I decided to wet wade, something I have rarely if ever done on the Caney unless floating.  Best decision of the day...

I decided to rig up by the water.  Normally I do this so I can first check if there is any obvious hatch situation going on.  Enough trout were dimpling the surface that a dry/dropper rig seemed a logical choice.  My long-time favorite Caney Fork rig has been a Parachute Adams with a midge dropped behind it anywhere from 1-2 feet.  Just like that I was ready to fish!

My casts unfurled so nicely that I even thought to myself, what nice casts today!  I'm rarely if ever conceited, I promise, but you know those days when you find yourself in the zone without even really trying?  Well this was one of them for me.  I haven't fished enough lately so my casting arm was fresh and....oh yeah, this isn't a professional sports report, just a fishing story.

Anyway, so here was my little #16 or #18 Parachute Adams floating high with a midge hanging temptingly below when a little brown trout swam by and noticed breakfast.  That was fish number one. The fish were all up in the riffles so I soon moved there until the sun was on the water.  About the time the sun hit I happened to look upstream.  The view was so beautiful that I just paused and absorbed the scene, until I remembered my camera that is.  What perfectly calm water!


The mist was thick for a while, but as you can see above the sun soon burned it off.  After catching 7-8 of the little stocker browns, I arrived at the stage of I wonder what the fish won't eat?  Several nymphs and streamers were attempted but the fish clearly wanted midges and not much else.  About this time, a boat drifted by, and I got to talk to another angler.  A couple of other fishermen in 2-3 hours of fishing is not bad!

I wandered down the river utilizing a favorite technique for long drifts while wading.  My reward was a fat rainbow that looked pretty healthy!



Getting bored, I decided to head back to the car and explore some more of the river.  Down at Betty's Island it didn't seem as if much was going on but the crowds were still at Happy Hollow, until I realized that there really weren't any crowds.  The number of people actually on the water did not compare to the number of cars in the lot.  This pleasant discovery encouraged me to fish at Happy for a while and I'm glad I did.  In addition to some freshly stocked browns, I also discovered brookies and some more 'bows.  A couple of the browns were a bit larger in the 12"-14" category and fought like fish larger than they were.




By the time I started thinking about home, I had caught more than my fair share of fish.  I was starting to get hungry and thought about the nice air conditioning back home.  That did it and I headed back up to the car.

Tomorrow I'm headed back.  Expect another report.  Next week?  The Smokies, and some smallmouth, and maybe even musky.  Stay tuned for more!!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

How It's Done

For the past several weeks, plans were in place to go fishing this weekend.  I had been trying to fish with Juan Ramirez from over at the Hopper Juan for a few months now, but getting our schedules to align was proving difficult.  This weekend would be different....until I got sick.  Not wanting to put the trip off, I was really hoping that I would get well.  Just in time, my fever broke on Thursday, and I was feeling significantly better by Saturday.

Sunday morning I was up bright and early to spend a few hours on the Arkansas River in Pueblo chasing those big rainbows.  Smooth sailing down the Interstate with only light traffic had me on time to meet Juan in Colorado Springs where he guides out of.  After a quick transfer of my stuff to his car, we were continuing south.

In the two trips I have made to the Arkansas thus far, I only fished in the vicinity of the Nature Center.  Juan wanted to show me some new water so we headed just upstream to the Valco Parking lot.  After paying for our parking, we started to rig up.  Only minutes later, a ranger showed up checking cars.  I was amazed at how aggressively they patrol this lot.  My recommendation is to NOT try and skip paying as you will get caught and it was worth the money to fish that stream.

Heading down to the stream, we worked our way up the river until we passed most of the other anglers and found some open water for ourselves.  We both rigged up and were soon plying the cold waters in search of trout.  Some days start off quickly while others take a while to get on the board so to speak.  The only trout we noticed was one swirling on something downstream but nothing was eating our flies.

Photo by Juan Ramirez

Moving on up the river, we came to a perfect spot.  Two pools close together that would allow both of us some space to operate.  That's when Juan started to put on a clinic and show everyone nearby how it's done.  After catching a couple of nice rainbows, he insisted that I try his hole.  First I asked what the fish were eating.  After downsizing my fly significantly, I stepped up.  First cast, BAM!!! Chuckling a bit at how easy it was, I moved back down to my original pool.  I wanted to find out if it was the spot or the fly.  Two drifts later I hooked up and that's when I was convinced that fishing with a guide is not a bad idea.  I can be lazy and let them figure out what the fish are eating!



We both wore out our respective holes.  I found two nice fish including a colored up male that was around 18 inches as well as a super fat silver rainbow that was a bit shorter.  Eventually, we had either stuck or spooked most of the fish close by and got the itch to explore some more.

Photo by Juan Ramirez

 Photo by Juan Ramirez

Photo by Juan Ramirez

Moving up the river, we came upon another nice pool.  All of the work done to improve the stream habitat is paying off in a big way.  The fish have tons of good holding water and are utilizing it to really grow big!  In the new pool, I started working some submerged boulders while Juan hit the top.  Soon he was hooked up again.  The fish were really colored nicely and a few redds on the river explained the bright colors.

Juan found a nice fish up above me about the same time I snagged my rig on one of the underwater rocks and broke off.  I sat down to tie on some new flies, but also worked the camera whenever Juan would hook a good fish.





What happened next was awesome.  A kid fishing across the river had just broke off a big fish a bit earlier.  Juan cast a tiny #26 emerger into the head of the pool when a big rainbow came up and sipped it off the top (there's a whole story there as well but I'll leave that one for Juan to tell, but trust me...its a good one).  He was now attached to a rather hefty trout that took him up and down the pool, always in close pursuit.  Eventually, the fish tired and he was able to get the net under it.  As he was removing his fly, he discovered another stuck in the fish.  It was the fly the kid had just lost which was confirmed when the kid came around to our side of the river on the way downstream to see.  I got out my camera and had a great time shooting pictures of this amazing fish.  Soon it slipped back into the current, ready for another lucky angler to find some day.





That fish was the high point of the trip, and soon we were getting tired as well as hungry.  We decided to call it a day after walking back to the car and finding people in basically every hole.  It had been a great trip, and I look forward to getting out on the water with Juan again sometime!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fishing The Zebra Midge


Hands down the best tailwater fly here in Tennessee for me over the last year and a half, the Zebra Midge is one of the easiest flies to tie and also one of the easiest to fish. I fish it quite often and mention it many of my fishing reports both here and over on the LRO board. People often ask me exactly how I fish it so I decided it was time to address this question. I'm sure different people have different preferences and many different methods will work with this fly so don't just stick to the method I'm about to share.

First, it is important to understand exactly what the Zebra Midge represents. The last section of an excellent article, "Midge Tactics for Tailwater Trout", gives an good explanation on the life cycle of midges. The Zebra Midge is designed primarily to imitate a midge pupa ascending to surface to emerge. Thus, it is most effective to use when you see fish feeding up high in the water column. You will often see rises which are actually trout taking the pupa just under the surface as the bugs drift upwards. Occasionally, fish will break the surface as they pursue the tiny insects.

Whenever you see the fish feeding like this, it is time to try the Zebra Midge. Some type of strike indicator is generally very helpful with this type of fishing. I personally use a dry fly such as a parachute Adams because I feel it gives the fish another option and I'm always surprised at how often nice fish will take the dry. After you tie on the dry, use anywhere from 6-24 inches of 6x or 7x tippet and tie it to the bend of the dry fly. The height should be determined by how near to the surface the majority of the fish seem to be feeding. It also important to remember two other things about the length of the dropper. First, fish will move upwards to take the fly so when in doubt, go shorter. Also, the longer the dropper, the more takes you will miss. I generally start with my dropper at around 12-16 inches.

Now that you are rigged up and ready to fish, you need to find some fish. This rig will work to fish the water blind but you will be a lot more successful casting to specific fish or specific holding lies whenever possible. I like to locate a fish before casting. When you cast to the fish, you want the dropper to land up current of the dry or indicator to make it easy to detect the strike. Sometimes the take will be subtle. In fact, fish will often take the dropper without moving the indicator. This brings up my favorite method. When you find a specific fish working, cast above the fish and watch the fish closely as the indicator/dry nears the vicinity of the fish. Any side to side movement or quick darting to the side will mean that the fish likely took your fly. Often, fish will see the fly as it is passing and dart downstream. WAIT TO SET THE HOOK until the fish makes a sudden turn to face back into the current or to the side. The turn will indicate that the fish has taken the fly. This nice brown moved a couple of feet to the side to take the Zebra Midge...


Finally, once you have hooked the fish, be very gentle. When using light tippets, it is easy to break off the fish if you use too much pressure. However, don't overplay the fish. With practice, 6x tippet will take a lot more abuse than most people think, allowing you to land the fish without exhausting it.

Fishing this fly can be a lot of fun. You will quite possibly catch more and better fish, particularly on waters where midges are a predominant food source. You might even be surprised at some of the fish that will eat this fly, I know I was when this nice bass ate mine...
This is a very simple fly to tie, but if you need help on tying the Zebra Midge, check out this video that I shared on YouTube. I also go over some specifics on fishing this pattern in the video.