Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

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

Monday, March 02, 2020

Flipping A Switch

There is never a dull moment when you are fishing as long as you approach each trip with a learning mindset. Some days the action is fast and furious. Often, I'll stick with what is working and simply try to catch as many fish as I can. Other times, I'll start experimenting. When the fishing is good is a great time to find out what will and also what won't work. Of course, when the fishing gets tough, you find out what truly works. Magic flies or techniques are few and far between, so most people keep them close under their hat when they discover such a thing.

Many days of fishing progress predictably with hot and cold stretches as fish shift through their daily cycle. This cycle changes month to month, season to season. In fact, it often changes from day to day.

The average day in the mountains depends a lot on the time of year. For example, during the summer, the best fishing is often early and late in the day with the fish taking a break during the hotter hours of midday. The bright sun overhead probably doesn't help either. In the cool of morning, both trout and the bugs they feed on are active. During the spring, the best fishing is often in the middle of the day. Additional factors can often wreak havoc on these norms, however.

Last week, on a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains, we were reminded about the natural rhythm and how sensitive it often is. Our day started with mostly sunny skies. Occasional clouds did not stick around long. The bright sunlight allowed the water temperature to begin climbing. This time of year, that almost guarantees bugs. Fish moved up into the faster riffles and heads of pools as they fed on nymphs that were rapidly preparing to hatch. By around 11:00 am, some adults were beginning to hatch and fish responded enthusiastically.


About that same time, the wind started to pick up and the sky filled with clouds. Around 12:30 pm, the wind shifted rapidly and temperatures started to plummet. What had been a promising hatch dried up entirely by 1:30 pm with the last fish taken on a dry fly at about 1:15 pm. The abrupt change in water temperature made all the difference in the world. It was like flipping a switch. One minute we were casting to risers and the next our day was effectively over.

If the water temperature had kept rising, in other words, if the cold front didn't pass, the clouds in and of themselves were not an issue. In fact, some of my best spring dry fly fishing happens on lousy weather days with clouds or even rain. That said, once a cold front passes and the water temperatures start dropping, bugs usually shut down along with the fish, although not always.

That "not always" is what keeps it interesting. Blue winged olives come to mind as a bug that loves lousy weather days. Interestingly, a big cold front early in the fall can have the opposite effect, setting off a feeding frenzy.

Sometimes, the switch gets flipped but it is more like a gradually dying campfire flicker instead of a lightbulb going off. One of my best days ever fishing in the Park was in May quite a few years ago. I had hiked in a long ways, earning myself solitude and good fishing in the process. The rainbows, browns, and even a brook trout or two were greedy. By the end of the day, I had caught 70 trout, all on dry flies. By the end of the day, I was probably working a little too hard, wanting to hit that nice round number. Regardless, things just sort of slowed down. I remember getting hung up on several numbers, 65 for example was hard to get past. That said, the fishing slowed down and finally quit. Number 70 almost didn't happen, but one suicidal brook trout just couldn't help itself.

That was a strange day, not bad, just strange. It was the day I knew it was going to be good fishing. That may not seem too odd, but I also knew I was going to see a bear. Up until then, I had never seen one while fishing. It happened too. Go check out the full story via the link above.

On the very best days, it seems you can do no wrong as an angler. Those days are rare, however, and should be full savored when they do happen to come around. The rest of the time, be prepared for that switch too flip. It could go from poor fishing to excellent, or it could be the other way. Whatever happens though, don't stop learning...

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fly Fishing The Bend Around Bumgardner Ridge on Deep Creek

The Bend. Bumgardner Ridge. The stuff of legend. This is remote Smoky Mountain fishing at its finest. Inaccessible water that rarely gets fished, this is just what everyone is looking for. It also happens to be some of the toughest water I have ever fished, and it is about as remote as you can get. Our day started a bit earlier than the previous day. We would need to walk about three miles back down the trail before reaching our entry point for the day's fishing. Breakfast was quickly cooked and eaten, lunches were stowed in our day packs, and we hit the trail.

On the hike down, I kept getting distracted by the wildflowers. The day was about as perfect as can be for an early spring hike. Many wildflowers were spotted on this trip, but as the focus was on fishing, I eventually pulled myself away and kept moving down the trail. I took quite a few pictures of the flowers, but most don't do them justice. These two will probably make you think that everything blooming was purple which isn't true. They just happened to be two of the better shots I got. By the way, explain to me why those violets are called "Blue" if you can. They look purple to me and my eye doctor assures me that I am not color blind.

Great Smoky Mountain Dwarf Crested Iris along Deep Creek
"Dwarf Crested Iris" ©2019 David Knapp Photography

Great Smoky Mountain Common Blue Violets along Deep Creek
"Common Blue Violets" ©2019 David Knapp Photoraphy

When we reached campsite #60, we also reached the access point for our fishing marathon. The bend around Bumgardner Ridge features a lot of high gradient water and this starts immediately above this backcountry campsite. In fact, we were almost tempted to bail on this fishing trip before we made it more than a hundred yards. The water was still on the high side from lots of recent rainfall. This made moving back and forth across the stream challenging at best.

We weren't catching fish at a lightning pace either. Because this water is close to a backcountry campsite, the first few hundred yards assumedly receives a fair amount of fishing pressure. As we moved higher up the drainage, we began to feel like we were truly on remote waters. The trail here loops far back from the stream as it crosses Bumgardner Ridge. Thus, once we entered this section, we were committed to make it through or have to wade all the way back down to our starting point.

Fish started to show up, although not in huge numbers. We caught one here and one there, but never several in one spot. More than anything, this was a product of heavy water that was borderline for fishing in many spots. Some of the better pocket water was simply too fast and turbulent. Here, my buddy John fishes one pocket next to a rapid. Once the water drops a bit more, what was then heavy water will turn into the best fishing water in this section. Overall, I think this section would fish better in the summer or even fall.

Smokies fly fishing on Deep Creek

Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing on Deep Creek

Moving on up the river, we came to several gorgeous pools. There were probably 4 or 5 excellent pools in this whole stretch. In other words, a LOT of wading and a LOT of work for a few prime fishing spots. We persevered, however, and were rewarded with some beautiful wild rainbow and brown trout. This is the Great Smoky Mountains backcountry, and the real reward here is a pristine and remote environment where you won't see another angler all day. This seems to be increasingly hard to find these days. For this reason, the fishing was great even while the catching was a little slow.

Deep Creek brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

By mid day, the fish were looking up and we kept switching between nymph rigs and dry/dropper rigs depending on the water type. As much as possible we stuck with the dry fly setups. A seriously good hatch never really materialized on this trip, but there were enough bugs around to get the attention of the trout. John got several dry fly eats in this hole, for example.

In the Great Smoky Mountains on Deep Creek, we find the Orvis 10' 3 weight rod in its natural habitat



An angler on Deep Creek in the Smokies hooks a nice trout and gets the rod bent

John was fishing an Orvis Superfine rod which was perfect for dry flies on this type of water. I had brought an Orvis 10' 3 weight Recon which not only fishes dry flies very well, but is also perfect for high sticking nymphs as anglers have done in the Smokies for a 100 years. Back in the day it was done with a long cane pole, and today we use modern graphite fly rods, but otherwise the techniques are still nearly identical. The long rod is used to run heavily weighted nymphs through deep dark runs where trout like to hide and the result is truly amazing.

There are many fish in these creeks and an angler who is effective at high sticking will find lots of those trout. While similar to the newer techniques known collectively as "euro nymphing," high sticking still has its own distinct flavor. For example, on this trip I left the sighter or indicator tippet at home. Split shot is used in addition to weighted flies. There are other subtle differences, but in reality euro nymphing is a new spin on an old method we have been using for a long time here in east Tennessee.



Even in the high water, stealth was important. We were able to get closer than usual, but still made sure to stay low and sneak up on the trout. The fish in the Smokies are some of the spookiest I've ever fished for. If I could share one piece of knowledge with visiting anglers, it would be to focus on stealth. Dress to blend in with your surroundings, stay low, and think like a predator. Stalk the trout you are after.

By late afternoon, we were both getting tired. This had turned into one of the longest and hardest days of fishing I've ever had in the Smokies, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. This was a long time goal of mine, and I'm thrilled to have finally made it to fly fish around the bend below Bumgardner Ridge. We had taken some very specific observations early that morning on the hike in and now we got out of the creek a bit short of the accepted exit point for this stretch which is directly across from Bridge Creek. We climbed out before that and were glad that we did. Both of us were tired and that is when accidents usually start to happen. Better to quit and fish another day than to push on and get injured.

Back in camp that evening, we discussed the next day. Our original itinerary involved moving upstream to a couple more camps over the next two nights, finally exiting to Newfound Gap Road on Monday. The last weather report we got called for rain and storms on Sunday as well as a good chance of rain on Saturday. We knew the fishing would get tough if we stayed and decided that hiking out the following morning would be the best plan. Neither of us was dying to stay holed up in a tent while it rained or, even worse, stormed all day. This proved to be an excellent decision but we wouldn't know how good until the next day.

Deep Creek is one of my favorite fly fishing destinations in the Smokies. While I don't always catch as many trout as on other streams of the Smokies, something good always happens. On this trip, it was beginning to look like the "something good" for this trip was fulfilling my longtime goal of fishing around Bumgardner Ridge, but we still had the hike out.

To be continued...


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

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.


Friday, January 06, 2017

New Year, New Fish

My goal for 2017 from a fishing perspective is to get out on the water a lot more. With 180 days on the water for 2016, that is a lofty goal. That is especially true because, as much as I love fishing, there are other things I truly enjoy that call for dedicated time as well. Things like hiking, climbing, and photography all compete to take up my time. So, with big goals for 2017, I knew I had to get an early jump. After fishing for the first four days of the new year, I would say I'm off to a good start.

The highlight of the young year happened no more than five minutes into my fishing for the year. I'm not sure whether that is a good sign or a bad one. Occurrences like that have been known to throw one's luck either way, so only time will tell if it is a good omen. The story of my first fish of 2017 actually goes back a ways.

There is a New Years Day gathering that I had been hoping to attend for a while. It is not an official group putting on the event, but that is probably part of the charm. Bigsur had been doing this for the last four years and the plan was bigger and better than ever for year five. While my plan involved a lot of fishing and less socializing, I still wanted to drop in on what is really a terrific event.

I made it up to the meeting place at Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area right about the time that all the preparations were completed. Food was ready and the crowd was ready for fun and fellowship. I saw a lot of friends that I've made over the years. Still, the plan was to fish, and by the time my buddy Jayson showed up, I was throwing on waders and rigging rods.

One thing I had noticed while prowling around the gathering was a fancy award plaque made by the famous Duckypaddler. Imagining how it would look above my tying desk, I started dreaming of big brown trout on the end of my line.

As I was rigging up, I put together a normal nymphing setup on my five weight Orvis Helios rod and was debating what to do with the seven weight. I noticed some random tin boxes and decided to see what goodies they were holding. My smallmouth bass flies of course! A Tequeely jumped right out and asserted itself so I tied it on the streamer rod and was ready to go.

Down on the stream, I intended to fish one particular hole before driving further up river to search for more fish. I made a cast or two in the back of the hole before hurrying up to the head. My goal was a serious of textbook perfect ambush points on the far bank. In other words, I was hitting prime brown trout water. I wish I could say I was a genius who knew that these trout love Tequeely flies, or that I knew that this brown trout was sitting right behind the bedrock ledge, but in all honesty, I just got lucky. I waded in, slapped a few casts across the river, bounced the fly around a little, and a big brown blur hammered the fly.

On the seven weight rod with 2x fluorocarbon tippet, the fight wasn't much, but I was just as glad to get that fish in the net in a hurry. Nice brown trout don't come along every day in the Smokies, and I'm not sure my nerves would have been happy fighting the fish for an extended amount of time.



I quickly setup my cellphone for a self timer picture by leaning it against the base of a tree on the bank. The fish calmly finned in my big Brodin Coho Ghost Net in between the two shots I took to make certain of a good picture. Then I took one or two in my hand in the water and it was already time to say good bye. A new year and a new fish had only taken five or ten minutes. Either I used up a TON of dumb luck way too early in the year, or I was simply meant to wear the famous Herb's Welding Shop Hat. That link includes pictures of this famous trophy by the way among other things...

I got even more suspicious about the implications for my luck after I only caught one other fish the entire rest of the day, but perhaps I'm too suspicious. The good news is that I fished again in the Smokies on Tuesday and caught some trout, so clearly there is still some good luck left. In fact, if one can believe Bigsur, winning this award guarantees all kinds of good luck in the new year. I hope he is right because a fisherman can always use a little more good luck!

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!

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Good Hatch

Smoky Mountain Rainbow Trout


Fly fishing is a science or an art form depending on who you talk to. Many, including myself, will even gladly label it as both. The true pinnacle of both the science and the art is found in match the hatch dry fly fishing. Most good fly anglers have a favorite hatch, especially those who are blessed to reside in a region with rich trout waters supporting a variety of quality hatches to fish.

Many anglers here in east Tennessee have a favorite hatch, but just as many don't want to hem themselves in. This is a product of our relatively infertile mountain streams where a truly memorable blanket hatch is rare although not impossible. Local anglers often gravitate towards generic patterns that resemble of variety of currently hatching bugs. Our hatches tend to be sparse but complex, with sometimes as many as 5 species of mayflies hatching, not to mention the caddis and stoneflies that the fish also love to eat.

I'll never forget the first time I got on a real hatch. Back in 2005 I was blessed to spend time fly fishing in Yellowstone for the first time. I arrived in early June for a week or two of exploring and fishing. My timing could not have been better. The Firehole was just about perfect while the Gibbon was still a tad high but readily fishable.

The first day I headed to the Firehole, I did not really know what to expect. The week or so prior to my trip had been spent tying Blue-winged Olive and Pale Morning Dun Sparkle Duns, two simply elegant flies that still find an honored place in my boxes. I wasn't sure if the hatch would come off, but all of the guide books recommended being prepared for these hatches and the Sparkle Duns were high on the list of accepted patterns for matching the hatches. The Firehole had rising trout in the first place I stopped, somewhere in the first 2-3 miles above the canyon stretch. I quickly tied on a PMD Sparkle Dun and began targeting risers. As it turned out, catching the fish proved relatively easy so long as I could make an accurate cast and prevent drag. That last item was not as easy.

I caught more quality brown trout than is probably fair for anyone to enjoy. At the time, I was thrilled to be catching 8-14 inch browns all day. For that matter, I would still take that kind of fishing now. That trip to Yellowstone quickly fell into an easy routine. Breakfast every morning would be attended by a family of ground squirrels who were hoping for some of the Honey Nut Cheerios I enjoyed. Then it was off for fishing, mostly on the Firehole or Gibbon, but I also explored some of the hike in lakes. Getting spoiled without knowing it, I eventually found it necessary to head for home. Although a piece of me would have preferred to stay in Yellowstone indefinitely, duty called, and I had to get a summer job to help pay for college in the fall.

Arriving back in Tennessee, I soon found myself missing the daily hatches and rising trout on the Firehole. It wasn't until several years later, perhaps four or five, that I enjoyed a great hatch on my home waters in the Smokies. That is not to say that I never experienced hatches or rising trout because I enjoyed both, but a heavy hatch is somewhat unusual around here.

Despite my appreciation for heavy blanket hatches of mayflies, I think I've come to prefer those that are sparse instead of those rare events where the water is covered in bugs. The fish seem to be much more willing to rise to most anything during these hatches we normally experience here in southern Appalachia. That is part of the charm. Each year, my favorite dry fly seems to vary a bit. Some years it will be a Yellow Stimulator in size #14 or #16. Other years it may be a Parachute Adams. This year, I've been on a yellow Parachute Adams kick.


Early on, of course, I stayed with the darker colors of a standard Parachute Adams, sometime switching out for a Spundun or even a tiny Blue-winged Olive Parachute for particularly picky trout. Yes, difficult fish do exist here, but they tend to be easier to figure out than the fish on streams like the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks where anglers have been known to reach madness or the next thing to it while trying to figure out a difficult trout.

Lately, with the transition to the lighter colored bugs of late spring and summer, I kept it a bit more simple than I sometimes do. Instead of elaborate bugs with perfect hair wings and shucks of Zelon, I've kept the Parachute Adams theme going but changed the body color to yellow. The fish approve heartily, but have also rose just as convincingly to a Parachute Sulfur and a Parachute Light Cahill. Like I said, the general idea is more important than the exact bug.

The best days for bugs happen to be the same days that most anglers prefer to not go fishing. Rain or high water keeps the streams open, and if you are adventurous like me, expect some great fishing. Last week, I enjoyed one evening after work where I stood in one spot and caught 8 or 10 fine trout before deciding that it was time to quit. Most were rainbows, but a few of the fish that got away flashed golden brown. One little brown couldn't quite throw the hook before I landed it, but otherwise all the fish were feisty rainbows from 8-11 inches in length. There were just enough natural bugs on the water to get the fish looking up, but not so many that they would miss my imitation as it bobbed downstream in the choppy current. That is a good hatch if you ask me.





Saturday, April 02, 2016

Light and Trout

As you probably already know just from a quick glance at the Trout Zone, I enjoy photography almost as much as I enjoy fly fishing which happens to be quite a lot. Finding that perfect shot where light and subject combine to create magic is nearly as fun as catching a nice trout. Sometimes, though, the two combine.

That is what happened the other day and I didn't even know what I had until I got home and looked at the pictures on my computer. Most pictures end up not quite as good as you remember the scene in real life. This time, however, I was definitely pleased with the result. When I snapped this picture I was just in the middle of taking several and had no idea what I had captured.

Rainbow Trout from Tremont

I love the mix of light in this picture. The below-water portion of the little rainbow trout blends in so well with the rocks that it is no wonder we have such a difficult time spotting fish in these rocky streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While I would love to take full credit for the way this picture turned out, sometimes the beauty produced by the camera is largely luck and this image definitely falls into that category. Either way, I'll enjoy remembering the smile on the angler's face during our guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies as he landed this beautiful wild rainbow trout.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Using the Extra Day


Starting a new personal challenge can be difficult, especially if you virtually quit before starting. Back in January, I announced my goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Then I proceeded to quit fishing for several weeks or at least something close to that.

My trip to California probably had something to do with that, but also there were extenuating circumstances. Here on the Cumberland Plateau, high water dominated through February. In the Smokies, frequent bouts of cold weather gave the trout a severe case of lock jaw. Not that I'm opposed to fishing in tough conditions, mind you, but I had gotten a little soft. Beyond that, I spent much more time hiking here close to home than I normally do. Hiking and exploring just for the joy of getting outside is a great way to stay in shape for the upcoming fishing season. Unfortunately it doesn't help me catch fish.

And so I woke up one morning and noticed the calendar barreling towards March at an alarming rate. My brook trout challenge was about to die, almost before starting. Thankfully, Fate had already intervened ahead of time by designating this as a leap year. When I saw that extra day on the calendar for February, I knew it meant I had to get out and catch a brook trout. That is how I found myself headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past Monday. The goal was to catch brook trout on Monday and then look for spring hatches on Tuesday.

Responsibilities closer to home kept my in Crossville until 11:00 a.m. or so, but then I was heading towards the mountains. A new 2016 fishing license was in hand (yes, it is that time again). My usual quick stop by Little River Outfitters was nearly skipped because of the late hour and the fact that my brook trout challenge was facing failure. In the end, I decided to stop by to say hello to the guys working there. This quick stop helped me to relax a bit and not take the brook trout challenge too seriously, important stuff when you only have a handful of hours left to keep the streak alive. Fishing relaxed will always turn out better than fishing stressed.

Driving up the mountain, I intended to fish road side. Smokemont was the destination for the night's camping, and I knew where a few brookies were on my way there. Normally I'll head up high before starting, but on this day I didn't go quite as far as normal. Last December, on a guide trip, I had an angler miss what I was certain was a colorful brook trout from a plunge pool with a big back eddy. That fish was the one I was hoping for.

Before I knew it I had my waders on and looked at the rods I had brought with me. Which one to use? The tube containing my Orvis Superfine Glass rod (7'6" 4 weight) jumped out at me so I put it together and attached a Hydros reel loaded with 4 weight line. To this I added a black Elk Hair Caddis on the end of a 5x leader in size #16 and dropped a small bead head nymph off the bend of the dry fly hook using 6x tippet. With my fishing pack in tow along with a camera, I finally had everything together and headed to my spot. The sun was still on the water. This time of year that is generally a good thing.


I warmed up by fishing a couple of pools below the place I had pinned my hopes on. By the time I slid into position just across from the back eddy, my casts were going approximately where they should, and I felt as confident as one could when fishing against the clock. Two drifts around the back eddy resulted in absolutely nothing, but then the fish helped me by betraying its presence. Rising to some minuscule hatch just behind the large boulder that created the safe haven, it didn't eat fast enough to avoid detection. A glimpse of bright orange fins told me this was indeed the fish I was looking for. My next cast was perfect, about 10 inches above the fish. It turned and followed. I saw its mouth open and close and knew it had taken the dropper. All that was left was to not screw up and lose this pretty brook trout. Mission accomplished.


After enjoying the elation of keeping my streak intact, I went looking for a few more trout before heading over the ridge to camp. Over the next hour, I was surprised by another six or seven trout, about 50/50 rainbow to brook trout. My surprise was not because of the beautiful and unseasonably warm day, but because the water was frigid like snow melt. Turns out it was snow melt, but the fish were still ready to eat after a cold winter. Some of them even ate dry flies!





Most of the fish involved some form of spotting before catching and most were spotted because I saw them rise first. Spring is definitely coming, but as the afternoon wore on it was hard to remember that. The temperature started dropping as cold air came down from the snowpack just above, and I decided to head on to camp with enough daylight to fish some in the lower elevations.

Using the extra day helped keep my short brook trout streak alive. Going into the warm months should help extend the streak now. I have two of the toughest months out of the way and improving conditions ahead.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Turning the Corner

Cumberland Plateau snow


Just when I was starting to get at least a little tired of winter, it looks like we might be turning a corner. This weekend should feature highs in the 60's perhaps and definitely well into the 50's. Next week, we naturally should expect a cool down again, but the important thing is the trend in temperature is headed in the right direction. I wouldn't hold my breath, but it looks like we may be in store for an on time arrival with the spring hatches and at most a week or so late.

This rationale was nowhere close to being formed when I woke up this morning. It was still dark outside, or nearly so, but I listened intently. Suddenly, the sound came again, loud and arguably musical depending on your listening preferences. Sandhill cranes were flying over, quite low I should add, and their loud cries had roused me from my sleep. A glance at the alarm clock showed me I still had a few precious minutes of sleep available, but it was no use. Excitement had set in.

The cranes are usually the harbingers of spring, and of winter too for that matter. The huge flocks pour south in huge numbers just prior to and sometimes after the first strong cold fronts in late fall. Their preference for warmer weather is not particularly strong though as they are some of the first birds heading back north in the spring. I expect large flocks of robins will probably arrive this weekend with the warm weather. They'll stay too, assuming that the ground isn't buried under any more snow that is. If it snows, they'll retreat 50 or 100 miles south or to the nearest place that has clear ground available for worm hunting and other important activities.

With the robins I expect bugs. Not food for the robins but for the trout. Blue quills, quill gordons, little black caddis, not to mention the little black and early brown stoneflies. The fish of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will respond, first with caution as if they don't completely remember what food even is after a lean and cold winter. Then, when the hatches get heavier, they'll feed with abandon, and with a little luck, I'll be standing there with my fly rod ready to cast when their noses start poking out of the water.

As a guide, I might not be that lucky, to catch the fish myself that is. There is a decent chance that some lucky angler will be standing with me there on the stream, asking what kind of bugs those are. I'll smile and dig out my dry fly box, and soon the angler will be smiling too as the trout succumb to our trickery. Yes, I'm glad that spring is nearly here.

Smoky Mountain brown trout caught on a Parachute Adams

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip, feel free to visit my guide site at www.troutzoneanglers.com or call/text (931) 261-1884. I still have some availability during the prime early season hatch times in March as well as the peak times in April and May and would be glad to help you with a day on the water that you will enjoy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January Brook Trout


As the calendar turned from 2015 to 2016, I began to think about fishing goals for the new year. I'm not a resolution kind of a guy because why wait until the calendar changes to get things on track? However, from a fishing perspective, it is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same thing each time I get out on the water. With that in mind, I've set a goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Originally I even contemplated doing it using dry flies only or maybe Tenkara, but for now those ideas are on hold.

Still, when I decided to head up to the mountains this past Sunday, I knew the early morning hours would be spent chasing brown trout. After having such a good day the previous Sunday, I figured it was too good an opportunity to ignore. I still had that monster to track down and land. For some reason that fish was nowhere to be seen. After doing a lot of scouting and a little bit of casting, all I had to show for it was 3-4 half hearted chases and one fired up fish that couldn't find the hook. The time had come to move on to plan B.

Before heading to one of my favorite brook trout streams, I rolled into Townsend to warm up and chat with the guys at Little River Outfitters. A short stop turned into a longer one as the nice warm shop was hard to leave. I knew that I might not get back to the mountains much again in January though so I eventually forced myself back out into the cold to go find those brook trout.

When I lived in Colorado, winter time streamer fishing on Boulder Creek right in the middle of the town of Boulder was one of my favorite things to do. I could get out for an hour or two, walk the ice along the banks, and maybe even catch a trout or two. Often I would be surprised by nice brook trout that hammered the streamer so I knew that they loved streamers. If you know me this is probably shocking information, but I actually have not fished streamers for brook trout in the Smokies, until this past Sunday that is.

As it turns out, the native brook trout of the Smokies like streamers as well although water temperatures in 30s meant that the hits were few and far between. I did get this beautiful fish on just the second or third cast which meant I could relax the rest of the time and not worry as much about catching trout.


Able to enjoy myself, I spent more time looking around than fishing after catching that trout. My camera provided another avenue of enjoyment. Here are a few of the stream shots. Notice the dusting of snow on this cold January day.




Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Quality Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

My first fly fishing experience of 2016 got things started off right, but wasn't to my favorite place, the Great Smoky Mountains. Needing to correct that situation, I headed out early on Sunday morning to get in a full day. Water temperatures had been rising for the last two days, peaking at around 48 degrees which is very good for this time of year. With more surges of arctic air in the forecast, I knew that I had better get out while the opportunity was there.

Not wanting to waste any time, and surprisingly not in need of anything for the day's fishing, I skipped my usual stop at Little River Outfitters and headed straight into the Park. The high and low point of the day happened quickly and all with the same fish.

I had already stopped to prospect a couple of pools before I found what I was looking for: a large brown trout sitting out feeding in a very good spot to cast to. In fact, this was almost a gimme trout. Somewhere between 22 and 26 inches in length and sitting in a place where the approach was very simple, the fish was moving back and forth as it obviously fed on something small under the surface.

Wading across the rapids downstream put me into the perfect position to fish for the brown trout. My first cast was too far to the side and short, but the next cast was perfect and the fish turned to follow my flies. For what happened next I can only blame myself. The fish had already followed the flies a couple of feet, and something in my brain made me think that it had ate. Running the replay in my head (as I've done many times already) fails to help me remember exactly what made me think that fish ate, but regardless, my failed hook set caused the fish to drift off into the depths of the run nearby. The trout was not so much scared silly as just concerned about food that levitated out of the stream in an unnatural manner. Just like that, my best shot of the day at catch a big brown vanished.

If anglers were to give up in the face of adversity along the lines of what I had just experienced, fishing trips would generally be short. With the whole day still to go, I stuck with the game plan. Instead of spotting fish, I decided that I would probably be better off just covering a lot of water, so that is what I did.

Brown trout from Little River in the Smokies

The final tally does not sound very impressive when I say I caught three fish, but I should probably add that all were between 12 and 16 inches, and I lost one between 18 and 20. In other words, it was a very good day for fishing in the winter. I got my first brown trout of 2016 and then a couple more for good measure. Sometime soon I'll go back to look for that big fish that I messed up, maybe even in the next few days...


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Successful Smokies Fly Fishing Tips: Temperature Trends

A couple of weeks ago, I addressed the current El Nino as well as what effects it might have on winter fishing in the Smokies and across our region. One of the points I emphasized was the idea of temperature trends. Just last week, on one of my guide trips, I experienced a new example that just confirmed, at least in my mind, the importance of the general temperature trend.

We had been fishing several different sections of the Park. I did not expect particularly good fishing, especially early in the day, because water temperatures were between 39 and 41 degrees. Generally that signals poor fishing in the mountains. However, the cold snap was about done and the trend in water temperature was up. Our day was pleasant with plenty of sun early and the water temperature rose accordingly. Not only did we catch fish early, but we caught a good number of fish.

Late in the day, the guy that I had out fishing wanted to see some different places to fish. This is normal on days when I have anglers who want to be introduced to fishing in the Smokies. I explained that I could show him some brook trout water but that we shouldn't have our expectations set too high. Ice on the rocks did not give us any extra hope, but this was more about learning how to fish so he could come back under better conditions.

Brook trout stream in winter in the Smokies

Surprisingly, we missed some nice fish including a colorful brook trout and got a decent rainbow trout on a dry fly. The water was 39.5 degrees when I checked.

A Smokies rainbow trout caught in the winter on a dry fly

It is very important to remember that trout across the mountainous areas of the western US are routinely caught in very cold water during the winter. I'm talking about water full of slush and ice floes cold. Here in the southeast we are spoiled to be able to fish year round and generally do so on ice free streams, but remember that even when it is cold, the fish still have to eat.

You can do at least a little to stack the odds in your favor. Pick that first warm day after it has been cold, or even better the 3rd or 4th warm day after it has been cold. You might just be surprised at how good winter fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be when the water temperatures start to creep upwards. Sometimes you'll even catch fish on dry flies...

Monday, December 28, 2015

December in the Smokies


Fishing Little River in the Smokies

Instead of cold temperatures, this December has brought warmth approaching or surpassing recored levels at times. While it is easy to get caught up in wishing for winter, the warm weather has been a great thing for anglers in pursuit of trout on the freestone streams of the Great Smoky Mountains. December fly fishing has never been better unless you want to target large trout. While the overall numbers of larger fish are down, there are still some to be caught.

Winter fly fishing often loses the social element of warmer months because it is simply too cold to sit around and B.S. about past fishing glory. This year has been the exact opposite. In fact, the other day, a buddy and I sat happily by Little River watching yet another friend slowly work his way through a nice hole. I wasn't even wearing a jacket over my short sleeves. The waders weren't even necessary although somehow I would have felt foolish to skip them. In short, while locations across the west are over 100% of average of snowpack for this time of year, places here in the east of been simmering, but the fishing has been accordingly great.

My favorite personal fishing story from this December happened just the other day. I had already attempted to cast to one rather large brown trout but had failed in my endeavors by spooking the fish. That pool rewarded me with a consolation brown whose colors almost made up for the blown larger fish.

Beautifully colored Little River brown trout

Further up river, another pool offered a shot at another quality fish. Definitely a lot smaller than the spooked fish, it was nevertheless a nice trout. Based on its location in the pool, I was confident that I had located a slightly better than average brown trout.

My buddy Jayson agreed to maintain his vantage point while I slipped below the rock wall for a try at the fish. Having just fished through a section with a trout in seemingly every spot where I expected one, my confidence was flying high. So confident that I was a little surprised when the first perfect cast did not catch the trout. With nicer fish, your first cast counts for a lot, so I was concerned that somehow the fish had spooked.

Thankfully, I could call the Instant Replay official upstairs my buddy Jayson who confirmed that the dark shadow was still a fish. Several subsequent casts convinced me that I wasn't getting deep enough and needed to adjust my drift. There was already enough split shot on my flies to sink a battleship and the fish wasn't sitting too deep. Reaching back with the nine foot five weight Helios for a little extra, I dropped the next cast another three feet further upstream and started yet another drift.

The flies drifted into the trout's window and it ate just like it was supposed to. Textbook sight casting. Merry Christmas to me. You see, sight casting is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of fly fishing. Sure, I love streamer fishing as much or more than the next angler. The tip top of that pinnacle, of course, is sight casting with dry flies, but a good angler adapts to the conditions at hand and that trout had no interest in surface offerings. The fly that fooled this nice fish was a #10 Tellico nymph, the same fly that 95% of my fish for the day came on. I've gotten away from fishing this pattern over the last year or two and that is unfortunate. It really is a great fly.

Did I mind that it wasn't a 20 inch brown trout? Of course not. You take what the stream offers and would be a bad sport if you asked for more. This rainbow trout was somewhere around a foot long, making it a very nice fish indeed. Rainbows over ten inches don't come around particularly often. In any given year I'll catch at best a handful of 12 inch plus rainbows in the Smokies, so this was a good fish for what may be my last day on the water for 2015. The fish came to hand after a glorious aerial display making it all the more memorable.

Rainbow Trout from Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains

The rest of the day was anticlimactic. Both Jayson and I caught some trout, but the best action had already passed. Finally, we ended what was a long day with the agreement to get out again sometime soon on another piece of local water that we have talked about for a while. If the weather holds, that will hopefully happen in the first week or so of January. Just like that, we move from December in the Smokies to January in the Smokies...and February, and March...and the first spring hatches. Just like that.

Little River flows beneath rhododendron

A brilliantly colored rainbow trout from Little River

Pocket water nymphing on Little River in the Smokies

Little River rainbow trout that fell for a Tellico nymph