Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown
Showing posts with label Oconaluftee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oconaluftee. Show all posts

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Autumn Getaway

Don't ever become a guide so you can fish more. If you've never heard that saying before, now you have. As a guide, you are on the water every day, fishing in a sense. You just aren't actually holding the rod. In many ways, you actually become a better angler by not fishing all the time, because you spend all day describing how to do it right. On the other hand, it would assumedly be easy to lose the passion if you're doing something every day. That is one thing for which I count myself very fortunate. I still love both my job (guiding) and fishing on my days off. Still, I have to find some way to keep things interesting. If I've already floated the Caney Fork River 75 times for the calendar year, I probably won't float the exact same section doing the exact same thing on my off day. 

There are many solutions to keeping it interesting. Most of them revolve around pushing myself into new experiences as an angler. One is to experiment with flies and presentation, something I constantly do on my days off. On a recent guides' day off, I ripped streamers so hard all day that my stripping arm was my tired than my casting arm. Seriously. I saw some really big fish too and will be back to do it again. Another solution is to chase new species, explore new water, or fish rarely fished waters that still have that "shiny new toy" feel.

This past fall, in early October, a calendar anomaly opened up a short window to camp and fish in early October. Every year, I take a trip in early to mid November, so this was going to be a bonus trip. It is exceedingly rare that I get multiple days in a row off in October without scheduling it that way on purpose. As one of my busiest months, I tend to guide my way through my favorite time of year, with very little "me" time to go fishing for myself. And that's okay. My bank account appreciates it come the middle of January. Still, when back to back days opened up, I jumped at the opportunity. Wonder of wonders, one of my favorite campsites was available at Smokemont Campground, and it was booked just as fast as I could enter my payment information.

Shortly before the trip, I checked with some fishing buddies to see if anyone wanted to join. I've noticed that is much harder once all your fishing friends have young families, a point I'm also at. Still, I finally got one bite and we made plans to hit a favorite piece of water, albeit one I've only hit once or twice. This would be my first time through in the fall. 

We started hiking in fairly early. It was cool enough out that I kind of wanted a jacket but knew the hike would warm me up too much. So, I just trusted my long sleeves to be enough and we headed up the trail. I did wear my Patagonia ultralight wading pants that I bought several years ago. It was too warm for hiking in full chest waders, but I didn't want to get hypothermia either. These were originally bought for backpacking waders, but I occasionally wear them for non backpacking scenarios as well. They kept me from completely overheating, but I was still glad to finally step into the cool stream at the end of our hike. There is always a transition in spring and fall where wet wading is most comfortable mid and late in the day, but the morning hours are just a little on the cool side. That isn't a problem for front country trips, but when you hike in, it is a pain in the rear to carry multiple wading setups for different times of the day. So you just make do as much as possible.


When we got in the stream, I was rigged with a dry/dropper and had high expectations. With a quick rainbow and then a brown, I thought the day was about to bust wide open. Instead, however, the fish were about like what I normally expect on Deep Creek. In other words, they would eat if you did everything just right, but any misstep or bad cast sent them running. The ultra low water didn't help. The ongoing drought conditions in the area had flows even lower than usual for an already dry time of year. Still, we found just enough fish to keep things interesting. Then, finally, as the day warmed a little, the fish really started to turn on.

Wild Smoky Mountain brown trout on a dry fly

Wild rainbow trout in the Smokies


A high overcast delayed the best bite later than we had expected, but things eventually got going. At this point, we were both catching fish. Dry flies and nymphs were both producing. Eventually, some streamers were even tossed to great effect. It was one of those magical days in the mountains. The autumn colors while not quite peak, were good enough to add significant value to the trip for me.

Autumn colors in the Great Smoky Mountains

A couple of the rainbows were more memorable than the rest. While all fish are beautiful, some just stick out in my memory for one reason or another. The first one that really caught my attention had nothing to do with size. In fact, it was on the smaller end of the spectrum for the day. The neat thing about this fish was how dark it was. Occasionally, I catch fish that are super dark. Invariable, and this fish was no exception, they come out of very dark holes or from underneath rocks. I have edited this picture to actually lighten things up a little if that tells you anything. 

Dark wild rainbow trout in the Smokies


The other memorable rainbow was a big surprise because it ate the dry fly. Not that fish on dries is surprising, of course, but when you've caught the vast majority of fish on the dropper for hours, and then a quality fish slurps the dry, it surprises you each time. The fish fought very well, but upon landing it, I can't say with 100% confidence that it is a wild fish. It might be, of course, and that is even likely. However, the line between stocked and wild on this drainage is hazy at best. Most of the fish are small enough and vibrant enough to tell, but with larger fish, I definitely start to have some questions. 

Backcountry rainbow trout in the Smokies


Late in the trip, as we were getting ready to hike out, we found some nicer fish. Not the true monsters that we knew inhabited the stream, but solid brown trout that would make anyone's day. Then, just after catching back to back brown trout, I found one more gorgeous rainbow trout on a dry fly. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nothing could beat this day in the mountains, or so I thought. 

Wild brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beautiful wild rainbow trout on a dry fly in the Smokies

More wild brown trout in the Smokies

Day one fish of the day quality wild brown trout in the Smokies


We got out fairly late, and eventually I made it back to camp and got some supper together. I was missing my family a little and almost drove home that evening. I decided it would be foolish to take down camp just to get home near midnight. I would be much happier and feel better if I got up and headed home in the morning. Such decisions can make or break a fishing trip, I just didn't realize it at the time. After eating chili and tortillas, I hit the sack. I slept well in the cool autumn night air and woke up refreshed.

I got camp broken down quickly and had my thoughts set on home when I thought of a favorite pool nearby. Deciding that it would be silly to drive this far without fishing it, I decided for a quick stop. No more than an hour, I thought to myself. 

Wow! What an hour. In that hour, I caught several fish in the 16-19 inch range and a 22.5 inch fish as the largest of the session. It was easily my best hour long fishing experience in the Smokies for brown trout ever. Not necessarily my best day ever, but right up there in that category as well. All of which just goes to show, you don't know if you don't go. Best of all, I still got home much earlier than originally planned or anticipated. Talk about the best of both worlds!

Big wild hen brown trout in the fall in the Great Smoky Mountains


As a guide, we are often faced with less than stellar conditions. Only rarely are things bad enough that we have to cancel a trip. On some borderline days, I'll find myself saying to the client that exact some phrase, or they'll say it to me when we decide to stick to our plans. If you aren't getting out there, you'll never know how fishing might have been. In 2024, focus on getting out more often. You never know what you might be missing out on by skipping a day on the water.

Sorry for the heavy editing on these pictures, but some of my favorite spots are pretty recognizable. I hope you'll understand that I don't want a bunch of people in "my" spot next time I'm there...

Big wild buck brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

Big wild brown trout in the Smokies in October during prespawn fishing


Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Quick Getaway

Fishing trips are few and far between these days, at least the kind where I get to hold the fly rod and do the catching. One amazing perk of life as a fly fishing guide is getting to be on the water every day. However, your own personal fishing time usually suffers. This year, I'll fish even less than usual since we have a little one on the way. Last week, I enjoyed what will probably be the last overnight fishing trip until fall at the earliest. It was a much needed getaway to get me excited about the guide season that is now in full swing. 

Spring Hatches

The first hatches of spring have commenced. Quill gordon and blue quill mayflies are hatching well most days and provided excellent dry fly fishing on the Oconaluftee River. On the first day, in particular, my friend and fellow guide Pat Tully and I took our time seeking out risers in the afternoon. The hatch was a bit slow to get started with very cool overnight temperatures. Once it started though, we found rising trout the rest of the day until quitting for the evening. 

Blue quills have the edge in numbers, but where quill gordon mayflies hatch in enough numbers, the trout get excited about them. That said, we caught a lot more rising trout that we targeted with smaller patterns instead of larger. In addition to the mayflies, we are seeing good numbers of early brown stoneflies, little black stoneflies, and little black caddis. Midges hatch prolifically every day as well.

Fishing the Oconaluftee

I enjoyed this river all three days, but really focused on it the first and last day of my trip. The surprising part of the trip was how poorly certain sections fished. That is typical of early season fishing, however, and probably has a lot to do with the fact that the wild rainbows are largely busy spawning right now. Thankfully, the brown trout were looking up by afternoon every day and we caught enough to keep busy. Here are a couple of pictures from my time on the Oconaluftee. 



Fishing Noland Creek

One thing I have become much more intentional about the last few years is trying new and different things. That is how I stay interested and enjoy fly fishing even while my career means I'm on the water every day. This has been a huge benefit to me over the last few years. I've got to explore more and further, and fishing new water is always a blast. 

On this trip, I was debating fishing Deep Creek which is a long time personal favorite. When it came time to head over there, I even stopped by the parking area at the trailhead. However, I decided to continue my policy of trying new places to fish at least once per trip. This led me on a short drive down the Road to Nowhere to fish Noland Creek. 


Now, this wasn't the first time I've fished Noland Creek. I had fished there before, but always down towards Fontana Lake. I've caught some nice fish down that way as well as seeing some big bear tracks along the lake shore. Anyway, this trip would be my first time venturing upstream from the Road to Nowhere.

When I got to the parking lot, I took my time rigging up. No one else was there, so I didn't need to rush to find that perfect place to fish. After checking and double checking to make sure I had packed my light lunch, I headed down the trail. It really didn't take too long before I just couldn't help it anymore and had to duck in and start fishing. This is one of the prettiest streams and was just the perfect size to fish. The fish were not large, but they were willing for the most part. Here is one of the larger rainbows. Notice all the spots. 


Over the next few hours, I caught and released 30 or more wild rainbow trout. Supposedly there are some brown trout in Noland Creek as well, but I never found any. The rainbows were absolutely stunning. Since we are right around the spawn, they are colored up about as well as you'll ever find them. This one had fewer spots but a stunning red stripe.


One rainbow even had some "cutthroat" markings that suggested something other than pure rainbow trout in its lineage. You see that on most Smokies streams from time to time. Way back in the day, hatcheries were sending all types of trout all over the place. Official stocking records don't ever show cutthroat being stocked in the Smokies, but some of the fish certainly appear to have a few cutthroat trout genes. This fish looked a lot like cutthroat and had almost no spotting but had the red slash under the jaw like a cuttbow.



The fishing was fairly simple, with a Parachute Adams or Pheasant Tail nymph doing most of the damage. While I caught good numbers overall, I still had to work just a little. By the time I fished, ate some lunch, and caught a few more fish, I was getting tired. I decided to walk out before it got too late. Surprisingly, there were several cars in the parking area with at least a few people now fishing close to the road. Still, this seems to be a generally underutilized stream overall. 

A Good Trip

Overall, this was an excellent trip and a nice quick escape before I'm slammed with guide trips. I'll probably end up with one or two more days to fish if I choose to do so this spring, otherwise I'll be busy for a good long while before I get out to fish again. 

Instead of fishing, I'll be thinking about past and future fishing trips. Coming up soon, I'll try to share the next installment from our Glacier trip. The last full day in Glacier is next, then it is on to the fishing part of the trip!






Sunday, March 16, 2014

Smokemont

While it requires a bit more of a drive then the Tennessee side of the Smokies, I always enjoy my trips over to places like Smokemont and Deep Creek.  Perhaps this is because the vast majority of my trips to the North Carolina side of the Park have happened with friends.  Outdoor adventures are almost always better when you can share them with someone else.

Some of my friends who are still in the education field were on Spring Break.  After a few phone calls and text messages, everyone agreed that a camping trip would be nice for a couple of nights.  It's not the same epic type of trip as our Spring Break trips of old, such as to the Everglades or Grand Canyon, but sometimes a couple of days to relax are better for the soul.

Naturally I took along my two favorite toys, a camera and a fly rod.  The fishing was just starting to heat up over on that side of the Park.  I did not exactly catch a ton of fish, but all were nice healthy brown trout so I wasn't complaining.  The hatches were still nonexistent there the first week of March other than the Little Black Caddis.  Things should be much different by now with the fish starting to respond to the increase in available food.



While I did enjoy the fishing, the trip was mostly about time with friends.  We went on a short hike up the trail above Smokemont along the Bradley Fork which was the first time I've walked up above the campground.  The water is beautiful up there! I'll definitely have to return later in the year for another adventure over there to fish the Bradley Fork a bit more.  I've fished the majority of the major streams on the North Carolina side as well as some smaller tributaries at least a few times each, but for some reason I keep ignoring this stream.  Doesn't this water just beg to be fished though?


All in all it was a great chance to catch up with friends, spend a bunch of time nursing a campfire, and even take a few pictures.



Interested in learning to fish in the Smokies and looking for a guide?  Contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com to discuss setting up a trip.  

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!