Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Hiwassee Is On Fire



February through early May is my favorite time to fish the Hiwassee. The sweet spot though is late March into early April when the Hendricksons and Blue-Olives are hatching as well as various caddis and stoneflies. The last time I hit it right was back during my college days. In other words, it has been a few years too long. That is mostly my fault though and one I full intended to rectify this past Sunday.

Easter turned out a little different than originally planned and with my schedule suddenly open, I decided to take advantage of the free time. By the middle of the day I was headed southeast. The hope of mayflies and rising trout had me excited like a kid on Christmas morning.

My original plan involved hiking in somewhere in the Big Bend area but when I got to the river, the crowds were more than manageable so I just fished close to the car. The bugs were there and the fish were seemingly starving. I'll spare all of the details and try to resist bragging but will say this: the fishing was phenomenal and I probably caught more fish in those five or six hours than I've ever caught on the Hiwassee, and I've had some great days. Here are a few sights and trout from my day.

Redbuds

Hiwassee Brown Trout

Hiwassee average rainbow trout

Rainbow trout on the Hiwassee with great colors

Nice rainbow trout from the Hiwassee

Monday, March 21, 2016

Welcome Spring!

Just like that, the calendar says that spring is here. The early spring wild flowers are getting going now and in fact some of the very earliest have already peaked in a few locations. The garden has been tilled a couple of times now and plants are sprouting here in the kitchen, just waiting until I can put them in the ground in another month or so. Despite all of this, apparently Mother Nature does not read the calendar.

Yesterday, on my way home from a weekend of camping, hiking, and enjoying time with friends, I drove through a near whiteout. That is rare here in Tennessee, but to be fair, snow in the spring is to be expected. Spring usually happens in fits and starts, with the cold short days of winter only grudgingly giving in to longer warm days. The junction of the seasons can be both maddening and stunningly beautiful. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Forsythia after a spring snow storm in Tennessee
"Snowy Forsythia"


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.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Watching Bobbers

Bobbers. One of the more polarizing words in the sport of fly fishing. I actually saw a Craigslist ad for a drift boat one time where the guy mentioned that he wanted the boat to find a home with someone who wouldn't "bobber fish" out of it. Bobbers, strike indicators, all the same in most minds, but if you ask me they are also a useful tool.

A lot of us started our fishing journey with bobbers for that matter. I can still remember going fishing for the first time, probably around the age of 5. Staring for what seemed like an eternity at the bobber that my dad had rigged above a nice fat night crawler. The amount of patience it takes to stare at a bobber is probably a good indicator of whether someone will make it as an angler. Even at a young age I had it, or at least that is what my memory says. Probably as a result of the pleasant outings to the local state park as a kid, I still enjoy bobber fishing. In the Smokies I rarely use one although I did this past Sunday. High water made high sticking on the other side of the stream tough, but a strike indicator helped to suspend my nymphs in just the right spot to catch some trout. Drifting down the Caney in the drift boat while watching indicators is enjoyable as well. You just never know what will be on the other end of the line when that indicator goes down. I used a bobber today also, sort of.

The weather has felt like early spring now for the last week or more. Lots of birds have been heading north. The robins have arrived in large flocks, the daffodils are coming up, and in the Smokies, blue quills have started hatching. It was inevitable, then, that I eventually started thinking about fishing ponds and small lakes for panfish. It is probably a little early for good crappie fishing, but the only way to find out for sure is to go check.

On this particular water, I rarely ever feel the need to fish with anything other than a small bead head Simi Seal Leech. This little pattern catchings both the bluegill and crappie and even an occasional bass although I don't specifically target them with this fly. Today, I arrived rigged with the same four weight I had been fishing in the Smokies on Sunday afternoon, a nine foot four weight Sage Accel. Almost immediately I noticed fish spooking out of the shallows, and I had not even thrown a cast yet.

The water was still quite clear from the recent cold weather, but the fish were obviously on the prowl and hungry with pods of fish cruising just under the surface and even rising occasionally. I stripped the little leech pattern for a while trying various speeds. One or two half-hearted follows was the best I could do. I did get one unusually strong tug but assume it was just a lethargic but heavy crappie. I'll never know because the hook didn't stay in the fish's mouth. Otherwise, that was it. My magic fly wasn't working so well.

Rises occasionally could still be seen, mostly on the other side of the pond. The fish near me would congregate near the surface and then leave large ripples when I moved and they spooked. Then I noticed the bugs. A small midge hatch was in progress. Confident in what the fish were eating or at least hoping to eat, I dug out the small fly cup I had tossed some extra leeches into before shoving it in my pocket. Dry flies, beetles, a few nymphs, and one fly that might serve as a midge.

A knockoff of the Zebra Midge that I tie, similar to Higa's SOS nymph, was the only fly even remotely close in size and appearance. I figured that it would fish the best if I could suspend it under the surface. My cast tended to spook fish so I wanted to leave it in one spot for a while and give the fish a chance to move back in. Digging around in the fly cup again, I pulled out one of my Smoky Mountain Beetles. In the absence of any strike indicators, it would have to work as my bobber.

Thankfully I had tossed a couple of spools of tippet in my pocket as well. In no time I had rigged a dry/dropper rig. The beetle was my indicator and the small nymph would hopefully be close enough to a midge. Turns out that it was.

Fishing for bluegill near Crossville TN

In another 15 minutes of fishing, I finally caught three nice bluegill. Two of them hit soon after the fly hit the water, probably while the nymph was still falling. The third hit after the indicator had sat there for a while, just like I had originally intended, and I was satisfied with having solved the puzzle. Three fish seemed like enough for a quick outing just a couple of miles from home. Come to think about it, I caught exactly three fish my first time watching bobbers also.

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.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Water for California

Things have been awful quiet around here. No, I haven't given up on blogging although I understand how that could appear to be the case. Instead, things have been busy and not on the fishing front either. I've been blessed to have some good family time lately. A trip to California to see family allowed me some time to enjoy spring like we will have here in a few more weeks.

Fruit trees were loaded down with oranges, tangerines, lemons, kiwis and grapefruits that I enjoyed immensely at meal times. Just run outside, grab whatever fruit sounded good straight off the tree, and go back in to eat!

Tangerines on the tree in California

I also looked over some local water and stopped in at a local fly shop, Fly Fishing Specialities. This was a nice shop with a superb fly tying department. Stop in and check it out if you are in the area. It is well worth your time. I didn't take any fishing gear with me on this trip but fully intend to return on a longer trip some time in the future to fish a little.

One thing I did confirm was that the snowpack up in the Sierra Nevada mountains is at an acceptable level, something that is a rarity as of the last few years. In fact, this should at least be a normal year in terms of runoff. Both the trout and people of California should be glad for that.

Sierra Nevada Mountains snowbank in California

Lake Tahoe snow

Finally, I always have my camera with me and this trip was no different. Here are a few shots I got while out in California.

Abandoned rock quarry water reflection

California coastal redwood

Sunset in California

Yolo Bypass Great Egret

Yolo Bypass white faced ibis

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shining Fins

As you well know if you have paid much attention to this blog, I enjoy messing around with a camera. On a recent trip to the nearby cow pasture lake, I decided to have some fun with a couple of the crappie that I caught. Here is the result. Both of these are versions of the exact same picture. I just cannot decide which one I prefer. Which one do you like better and why?

#1

#2

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring Panfish Action Heats Up

Spring panfish crappie tail shot


What a difference a week makes if you are looking looking for panfish! 


When I took a few minutes to run to a nearby small lake last week looking for some crappie and bluegill, things were pretty slow and ice was still melting in a few spots. One hungry bass did grace the end of my line, but that was the only fish spotted.

Fast forward to this week and I'm naturally wondering whether things have improved. With much warmer air temperatures and at least a couple of sunny days since my last quick trip, I figured the fish might be more active. One rod was already rigged and I decided to string up the seven weight in case I found some larger bass willing to plan.

The lake was again devoid of other fishermen. That won't last very long with such nice spring weather finally here, but I'll take it and enjoy it while I can. When I first walked up on the big rock that I normally start fishing from and peaked over the edge, I saw fish spook every which way. That is always a good sign.

As it turns out, the fish had mostly moved up into the shallows, probably enjoying the warmer water where the sun could do the most good. Oh, and they were hungry. I caught more and larger fish than I have caught in a long time from that lake. All the larger bluegill and crappie were hungry and were the more aggressive than even the little guys which meant I only caught three smaller fish.

Spring panfish bluegill

spring panfish crappie

In the end, I didn't fish all that long but caught a lot of fish. From now on, things will only get even better for panfish. Along with the warming temperatures has come a huge increase in the number of migrating birds which leads me to believe that spring might actually be here for real this time. Sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, and of course plenty of robins and other indicators of spring have been arriving. Some pass on to points much farther north, but every spring and fall I enjoy seeing the variety of feathered friends heading north and south respectively.

Even though spring appears to really be here, if we have learned anything from this winter it is to expect something unusual. In Tennessee, some of our largest snows have come in March so its not over until its over. Still, with hatching bugs and rising trout, not to mention hungry panfish, I'm fairly confident that we are starting to turn the corner.

spring panfish crappie

spring panfish crappie eye closeup

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!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dogwood Winter

Right on cue, as the dogwood in our front yard started to bloom, an epic cool down arrived.  After temperatures in the 70s for several days, waking up to snow flying outside my window was a rather abrupt reminder that spring temperatures are never particularly reliable.  Indeed, even now, the snow is nearly gone after covering everything this morning with a fresh coat of white.  Temperatures should warm into the 40s before tonights hard freeze.  Some of the plants are already looking tired and cold while others are still trying to act as if spring didn't hit the pause button.

When I got up, I grabbed a camera and headed straight outside.  Around here you never know how long the snow will hang around.  Now I'm glad I was in such a hurry.  Here are a few of the pictures I took.

The woods received a fresh coat of white.

The maples are wishing they had waited a few more days to leaf out. 

The daffodils are already feeling pretty cold. 

Forsythia brings some bright cheer to an otherwise drab day. 

Ground with lots of sun exposure was still warm enough to melt most of the snowfall. 

Redbuds are just starting to bloom.  The ones who haven't are probably much better off now.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Finally, Spring Crappie


Crappie fishing is one of the great simple pleasures in the life of a fisherman.  This time of year they can be found in shallow water hanging out close to brush piles and generally eating just about anything.  Usually they really turn on by the middle of March, but this year everything is running a little behind schedule.  When Tyler called the other day to ask about fishing for some crappie I figured it was time to go take a look.

When we got to the lake, the fish were noticeably absent from some of the better spots.  The water was low and clear, the previous night had been cold, and the sun was high and bright in the sky.  In situations like that, it can be best to just cover water until you find what you are looking for and that is what we chose to do.

Back in a shaded cove that has held fish in past years, we finally found what we had been looking for.   The fish were tight in to structure which made getting flies to them a bit tricky.  We finally figured out the right combination of fly and presentation though and were soon catching fish.  Tyler had a big grin on his face every time he pulled one out.


The warm water fishing will only get better over the next few weeks as things continue to warm.  With plenty of rain the past couple of days and more on the way for early next week, I'm starting to think that tailwaters may be off the to-do list for a while.  Local lakes and ponds will provide some fun action filled trips until I can get back on the Caney Fork or over to the Smokies!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Two Days

Two days make quite a difference in Colorado.  Just this past Monday I was fishing during a heavy snowstorm.  Aside from the stream not being frozen over, it could have been the middle of winter even though in reality it is now late April.  On Wednesday, the last of the snow was melting along Boulder Creek.  I took a picture of the same pool I fished and photographed on Monday.



It looks just a little bit different.  Maybe its just wishful thinking, but I'm guessing that we have seen the last of the snow.  Every time I think spring has arrived, winter laughs in my face so time will only tell if we have finally turned the corner.  

There is a lot (finally!) of snow in the high country ready to melt and head down the hill so my fishing my start trending towards warm water options in the near future.  I'm starting to consider an early summer trip to chase the salmon fly hatch on the other side of the state as well.  School will soon be out so things will be getting more enjoyable for me!!!