Photo of the Month: Through the Fog

Photo of the Month: Through the Fog
Showing posts with label Spring Break. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spring Break. Show all posts

Monday, March 18, 2013

High and Cold

Spring in east Tennessee, Quill Gordons, Blue Quills, Black and Brown Stoneflies, rising trout....and don't forget the daffodils and everything else that combines to make this one of the best times of the year.  Conventional wisdom says that the bugs should be hatching around the first of March give or take a week.  By mid-month things should be pretty awesome, in a normal year that is.

The new norm is, well, anything but normal.  Last year the bugs were hatching a full month ahead of schedule in early February.  Shoot, I even had a day in mid-February that was so warm that it was NOT prime fishing unless you arrived early in the morning.  By noon the hatches were over.  Fast forward a year and a warm and very wet winter has been followed by a cool and wet spring, make that cold and wet.

My initial fears of arriving after the peak hatches were soon replaced by fears of no hatches.  In the end the actual conditions were somewhere in the middle but closer to the latter extreme.  My first day in the Park was last Tuesday, March 12.  While driving into Townsend, a text brought a call from my buddy Josh Pheiffer who was heading into the Park to fish.  After arranging where to meet, we were soon on the stream and looking for trout.

In a couple of hours of fishing, we saw a handful of fish with the best being a 15-16 inch brown that I fished for but never even remotely interested in my offerings.  I also missed a healthy brown on a big Parachute Adams but that was it.  The water was cold, high, and clear which made things a bit tricky.  Finally we parted ways for the evening with my dad and myself heading back to Townsend for the night.

Photo by David H. Knapp

The next morning brought back the excitement at being in the mountains.  I knew that Wednesday would be the toughest day in the Park but was dead set on making the most of my time there.  My dad was just along to hang out.  It was great having him along to chat with and made the long fishless periods go much quicker.  By mid-afternoon, the waters had warmed from frigid (upper 30s) to very cold (low 40s).  I wasn't particularly hopeful and had decided to just fish streamers.

My new 5 weight was rigged with a small white streamer like I fish out here on the local creeks.  My seven weight was rigged with fast sinking line and a much larger streamer.  I was covering my bases size-wise but was dedicated to fishing streamers on this day.

Finally, in a pool recommended by my friend and Smokies big fish guru Joe McGroom, I spotted a rise.  Huh???  The sun had not been out much, nevertheless, a few bugs were hatching here and there and soon I spotted a very nice brown rising to the snack.  The two isolated rises did not deter me from my original intent and I was soon probing the depths with the seven weight.

Gradually I worked out more and more line.  Casting was tricky with all the trees and high bank behind me.  However, I finally got something resembling a rhythm down.  Two false casts with a vigorous double haul would land the streamer on the far side of the current.  Three quick mends while throwing out more line soon had the fly swimming properly downstream and across.  On one of these drifts, something slammed the streamer.  Finally, a fish, I thought.

Fighting the fish through the heavy current, I soon had a nice glimpse and was thrilled.  Not a bad first fish of the year in the Smokies!!!  My dad graciously came over and took the camera from me to document this beautiful brown trout.  I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face.

Photo by David H. Knapp 

Photo by David H. Knapp

Something about catching a nice fish like this makes me appreciate my surroundings even more.  Instead of immediately fishing even harder to catch another, I took a breather and used my camera to help me remember that moment.  The water continued to roll past.  I noticed a single large boulder across the stream facing the onslaught of water and was impressed at the forces it had to withstand to still be there at the head of this pool.  Many Smokies pools are completely different this spring as a result of the high water this past winter.

Eventually, I felt like fishing some more.  Further up river, I came to a nice undercut bank with deep soft water next to it.  I just new there had to be a fish somewhere in there.  The soft water reminded me that I was still carrying a 5 weight in addition to the heavier rod.  I set the 7 weight down and started jigging the little streamer along the bank.  The second cast produced a spirited strike and soon I was admiring my second Smokies trout of 2013, a colorful 8 inch brown.

Again, I paused to enjoy the beauty around me.  On some trips, I almost wish that I could just photograph while someone else fishes, almost.  There is something rewarding to me about not only coming into such close contact with nature by fishing, but also photographing the experience for rememberance later.

My day was becoming better by the moment.  While landing the last fish I had noticed mayflies crawling out along the bank and quickly drying their wings.  The cold weather had slowed down the hatches but not stopped them altogether.  The little brown I had caught was obviously along that bank to eat the nymphs migrating to the bank to hatch.  I paused to wonder whether a nymph pattern would have fooled the fish as well, coming to the conclusion that, yes, it probably would have worked just fine.

The day was beginning to draw to a conclusion, but I had one or two more pools on my mind.  Heading upriver even further, I soon came to the last pool of the day.  Just one more, I thought to myself.  By this time, I had changed over to a big dark articulated fly.  The second hook was cut off at the bend to remain legal in Park waters.  Slinging the fly across the current and beginning the retrieve, I felt a tug after the first strip.  An especially hungry brown had grabbed the fly, and I was excited again.  What a way to end the day.

Soon I had my third and final brown for the day to hand.  My dad again graciously took pictures, and I slipped the hook out and watched the fish swim away.

Photo by David H. Knapp

Photo by David H. Knapp

Considering the water conditions, I think it was a pretty amazing day on the water.  Besides, the highlight of the trip for me was just seeing so many friends and family in Tennessee and visiting the Smoky Mountains.  Catching fish was just icing on the cake.

The final day of my Smokies excursion would bring yet another great experience, but more on that later.  Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures of the streams.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Patiently Waiting

Every year for the past 3 years or so, east Tennessee has had a cold first week of March.  I was always glad to be heading out-of-state to places like the Everglades and the Grand Canyon for spring break.  Also, each year had a warm second week of March.  Since spring break out here in Colorado fell on the second full week of March, I was hoping to hit the weather right in Tennessee.  So far it looks like everything is working out!

With snow and cold temperatures in Tennessee right now, I'm glad that I'm not walking the banks of Little River looking for a hatch that may never start.  The long range forecast calls for moderating temperatures.  That means that while the bugs haven't exploded yet, they might be trickling off in fishable numbers upon my arrival.

I've been patiently waiting for spring break but my patience is quickly wearing thin now.  With only a week to go, I'm now tying flies during every available moment.  Last night it was #18 Parachute Adams to match the Blue Quills.  Today it will be more of the same as well as larger #12 and #14 flies for the Quill Gordons.  I've stocked up on my Copper and Partridge Soft Hackle as well to match the caddis that will also be around.  I tied plenty of Tellicos and other stonefly patterns weeks ago and am fairly confident with my supply there.  Still, there is rarely a fishing trip that I feel completely prepared for.  If all else fails I'll be stopping by to see my friends at Little River Outfitters and picking up a few extra flies if I run low.

Lately I've been paying special attention to Ian and Charity Rutter's fishing report as well as Josh Pheiffer's.  Both are excellent area guides that frequent both the mountain streams as well as the tailwaters.  The most recent reports indicate that bugs are hatching sporadically but in general the big hatches have yet to happen.  I guess I don't have a lot of options and will have to try and stay patient for another week.  Going home will be a nice treat for spring break!!!