Featured Photo: Native Colors

Featured Photo: Native Colors
Showing posts with label Streamer Fishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Streamer Fishing. Show all posts

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Eclipse and Fly Fishing the White River for #BigBrownTrout

Some trips are spontaneous, but most are the result of plenty of planning. After the last solar eclipse I experienced all the way back in 2017, I knew that any and all solar eclipses in the future would require my best effort to see them. In 2017, I had the luxury of having the path of totality crossing my home county. We enjoyed the show without much effort, but the awe inducing experience convinced me that it was worth almost any amount of effort to see again. 

Fast forward to 2023 and my life looks just a little different. I'm still a fly fishing guide, but now I'm married, have a kid, and any trip plans have to be made well in advance or else my guide calendar is full. When I saw that a solar eclipse was on the calendar for early April of 2024, I immediately started making plans. With my lovely wife on board, we decided to visit Arkansas. Since I had never fished the White River, a trip to Mountain Home or vicinity seemed in order. Time to see the eclipse and fish the White all in one trip...it doesn't get any better!

As the day for departure approached, I started getting everything ready that I could. Fishing gear was checked and checked again. Tents were dug out of the gear closet along with sleeping pads, bags, camp cookstoves, oh, and of course camera gear for the eclipse. Our first night's camping reservation started on Sunday, April 7. As things have become with a toddler in our lives, we didn't leave Crossville until MUCH later than ideal. 

At least a little of this also had to do with booking myself right up to our trip. I keep telling myself to block a day or two off before and after each trip, but so far I keep falling for the same mistake of working right up until vacation starts. I spent all Sunday morning packing the car while my wife wrangled the little one. Finally, we more or less had everything ready to go. Off we headed on our big adventure, excited to see what fun we could have. 

Not far down the road, we realized that in all the excitement, lunch time had snuck up on us. Pre toddler, we probably would have either just snacked or grabbed something and kept driving, but having a little one changes how you do things. A longer than necessary stop ensued 45 minutes into our trip. The silver lining was that a full belly and nap time provided us with an hour or so of quiet. 

Eventually, after many changed diapers and pit stops, we finally made it to our campsite in the middle of the night. Okay, it was probably actually around 10:00 pm, but it felt like 3 am. Thankfully, with the big eclipse the next day, we could sleep in, relax, and otherwise take it easy. 

The question surrounding the eclipse was all about whether we would be able to see it. During the 2017 eclipse, some very last minute racing around the country side got us into position to see totality. With lots of large cumulus clouds around, it almost didn't happen. Home court advantage served us well on that adventure because we knew exactly where to go. For our Arkansas adventure and 2024 eclipse, we really needed good weather. By some miracle or stroke of good fortune, we had bright, sunny skies. Much of Arkansas was cloudy on April 8, but the area we had travelled to was blessed with low humidity and minimal cloud cover. 

Around lunch time, the eclipse started. Little Bit was more interested in playing away on the playground next to our campsite, but I relished the opportunity to enjoy yet another eclipse. This time, I had better camera gear than I did the last time around. Of course, you always want something better, but I was happy with how my pictures of totality turned out. Here are just a few.

April 8, 2024 Solar Eclipse Totality
©2024 David Knapp Photography

©2024 David Knapp Photography

©2024 David Knapp Photography


Of course, no trip to Bull Shoals would be complete without fly fishing the legendary White River. Large predatory brown trout are what the White River is especially noted for, and I hoped to connect with a few. A friend and client of mine had recommended guide Taylor Wooten of Flippin Fly Guides. I decided that instead of dragging my own boat out or trying to wade fish, it would make a LOT more sense to fish with a guide who knew the river, had the right kind of boat, and could put me on fish. As a guide myself, I know that guides have a better pulse on their home waters than just about anyone else and generally know the best way to catch fish at any given time.

Monday afternoon, Taylor and I chatted on the phone to formulate a game plan, and then he texted me with a meeting spot for the next morning. We would be fishing where almost all the other guides were fishing which was on the Norfork River with perhaps a little time spent on the White near the confluence with the Norfork. There was a reason the guides were all on the Norfork. The fishing there was on fire compared to the White. As with most any fishing location, flows drive fishing choices on the White River system. The big river had been tough with seasonally low flows, but the Norfork was running just the right amount of water for great fishing. 

Taylor was about as gracious as any guide I've met. He knew I really wanted to fish the White, so we kicked around a little there after meeting up Tuesday morning. Even better, he put me on several big brown trout. I always half joke with people that I'm a better guide than angler, and the results that day proved why it is only a halfway joke. I missed several big fish including one that I would really like to have back. But, I finally connected on my first White River brown which taped out at 19". From there, the trip just got better and better. 

My first White River brown trout
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024


After we kicked around on the White for a short time, we motored up the Norfork. Taylor graciously took me all the way up to the dam so I could see it and get some pictures. The rest of the day was a mix of nymphing and streamer fishing. I was glad to catch some nice strong rainbows that pulled as well as any I've caught. Eventually, the water started dropping out and we started heading back down the river. A few more nice brown trout interacted with my streamer but I never could seal the deal. 

Fat Norfork River rainbow trout
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024

Norfork River rainbow trout
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024

Motoring up the Norfork River
©2024 David Knapp Photography


Dam on the Norfork River
©2024 David Knapp Photography


As we slid into the takeout ramp, we checked the forecast for both weather and flows the next day. Things were looking wet, but there was a small bump of water in the morning on the White. Taylor graciously agreed to take me up to Bull Shoals dam the next morning even though he assured me that fishing hadn't been great up there as of late. I wasn't as worried about good fishing as most clients and more just wanted to see that part of the river system. 

The next morning, the day dawned cloudy and dark. The threat of rain seemed very real and I was prepared for the worst. When we launched, a quick run up the river got us to the base of Bull Shoals dam, or at least as close as you are allowed to get. One thing that was interesting to me was that you weren't supposed to approach too closely to the dam. Here in Tennessee, we regularly get right up to the base of the dam on the Caney Fork River to fish the outflow from the turbines. However, there were very prominent signs everywhere prohibiting boaters from approaching the dam too closely. We went right up to the line and then started floating back down.

Bull Shoals Dam on the White River
©2024 David Knapp Photography

Streamers were the plan for the day. I still don't know how my arm held up, but I tossed my 8 weight Echo Streamer X (an absolutely incredible line of rods designed specifically for streamer fishing) almost the entire day. Taylor had some secret flies and we were ready to hunt. While I had a couple of half hearted follows up near the dam, Taylor was 100% accurate in his assessment of the current fishing up near the dam. It was pretty slow. While the temptation was strong to just hang around and fish that area regardless of the success rates, we started drifting on down the river.

Before long, we got side tracked. More accurately, Taylor let me side track us. We saw several pods of midging fish in a backwater, and I got excited. Midge fishing is just my game, so we stopped for a bit while I rigged up something for these fish. After a few stocker rainbows, it was apparent that I would get pulled in deeper and deeper by the occasional monster cruising around. If we wanted to stick to our plans, we needed to make a move and keep on streamer fishing.

Another move down river was in order, and before long, I was slinging the streamer rod again. The midge fishing interlude was just what I needed to get me going. As we approached a big shoal, Taylor gave me some directions as well as info about the water we were about to cover.

As the boat drifted down the bank, he started to point me to specific structure to target. The first good log produced a very large brown that I straight up missed. There were several fish that ate the streamer that I missed on this trip, and this was one of the better ones. Taylor saw that I was going to stew about missing the fish instead of getting back in the game and quickly pointed out the next log. I slung the fly and gave a strip. What happened next was one of the coolest eats I have ever seen on a streamer. 

A large brown trout came up and rolled all the way over the top of the streamer. From the casting deck on Taylor's Supreme, it was easy for me to see the whole thing unfold. The fish missed the fly entirely on the first pass and by some miracle I didn't pull the fly out of the strike zone. The fish came down, swam downstream right on the bottom of the river, and after getting below the fly, came up to attack it again. This time, it nailed the fly and I got a legit strip set. We were off to the races and soon had the big brown trout in the net. After pulling over and getting pictures, it was time to try again. 


White River brown trout
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024

Releasing my first big White River brown trout
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024


We moved another fish or two, but it became apparent that the water was dropping out. Taylor made the decision to start a series of big moves down river. Each move was made with the goal of reaching another shoal that had good flow and lots of structure that the brown trout liked to hide in. Each shoal also had lots of fish. I continued to have some opportunities, some larger than others, but the second big fish was eluding me. 

Finally, it all came together again in a particularly fast piece of water where a strong run swept tight to the right bank. This was another very nice fish over 20" with absolutely beautiful dark pumpkin colors. 

White River dark brown trout
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024


From there, we kept moving down the river and hitting different spots all the way to Cotter. Amazingly, one of the coolest fish happened right above a particularly famous and picturesque bridge that is recognizable to many people who love the White. It wasn't the biggest fish of the trip, but it provided a neat photo op right before we started a long run back up the river to where we had launched. With rain again threatening, we hurried back up river and got out before the rain arrived. 

Fly fishing the White River in Cotter Arkansas
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024

Brown trout on the White River at Cotter Arkansas
Photo Courtesy of Taylor Wooten ©2024


That night was soggy. Our tent was soaked the next morning, but thankfully very little rain made it inside. One door had just a little bit of water under the zipper where the seal wasn't the best, but otherwise we stayed warm and dry. Our original plan had been to do some hiking that day, and then head home the next day. However, the forecast was calling for very chilly weather that next night. With lows down near 40 degrees, we knew it was going to be cold. We had already been a little on the cool side camping, but really hadn't prepared well for lows down to 40 on this particular trip. 

With the sun coming out and a warm breezy day commencing, the thought of getting home a little early and having extra time to decompress and recover from our trip appealed. Once the tent dried out, we started breaking down camp and packing the car for the drive back home. We got a late start due to everything being soaked early that morning, but it was nice to get back home and start to recover from yet another excellent vacation.

I finally added another river to my list, one that I have long wanted to fish. Now I know why so many people love the White as much as they do. I'll be back as soon as possible. There are lots of other exciting possibilities on this river, from spring caddis and sulfur hatches, to late summer terrestrial fishing, to shad kill opportunities in the winter. The White River offers so much trout water and the possibility of a fish of a lifetime at any given moment. If you need a good guide for this river, I highly recommend that you check with Taylor Wooten of Flippin Fly Guides. He knows the river as well as anyone and works harder than most to put you on fish. 


Monday, January 15, 2024

Consider Sink Time

This is a relatively short post that would fall in the category of fly fishing tips for success. It applies to both streamers and nymphs, but the main thing I want to talk about is nymph fishing. I do a lot of both short/tight line nymphing without a strike indicator and also longer line nymphing. One of the most common mistakes I see people make is to not cast far enough above the spot they think the fish is. Remember to consider sink time when throwing flies that are supposed to be fished subsurface. 

In very slow water, this doesn't matter as much. Flies will sink almost vertically, especially in lake situations. However, most trout fishing is done in faster moving water. Even if you are using tungsten (which I highly recommend for the faster sink times) or split shot or both, the flies will still have some downstream drift before getting down into the strike zone. However, if you are using a suspension device (strike indicator), not only will that time take longer, but the suspension device will pull your flies back up in the water column if you aren't careful. 

This is why I emphasize big slack line mends when floating flatter water in the drift boat. After your mend, the flies take some time to get down into the strike zone. Any subsequent mending will pull the flies back up in the water column as the indicator drags them up in the water column. On the other hand, you have to consider obstacles on the bottom of the river as part of your equation. If you have a shallow obstacle and then need the flies to get deep quickly behind the obstacle, we'll often throw our flies directly on top of the obstacle or even slightly above it. This applies a lot more in the Smokies. 

In the Smokies, when you are working around pocket water, rocks, and even some logs, you have to be even more careful about both avoiding snagging the bottom, but also getting your flies deep enough. Add multiple currents, both upwelling and downwelling, into the mixture and it can be downright tricky. As a general rule, in the Smokies, I don't like my flies going through pour overs or tailouts of any kind. The reason is that they tend to have sticks wedged into the rocks in those slots that will eat flies. However, those are also some times the best place to throw your fly to get maximum sink time going into the next run. In other words, sometimes you take some chances when throwing nymph rigs in the mountains. 

The same issue with strike indicators applies in mountain streams and is often even exacerbated. The fastest water is nearly always on the surface, so a strike indicator suspension device will usually  have a tendency to drag flies upwards in the water column. This is one reason among many why veteran Smokies anglers usually gravitate towards high sticking without indicators as much as possible. However, there are times that some type of indicator is highly recommended. In those cases, just remember to add plenty of weight to get down. 

Finally, using the lightest possible tippet will help immensely in obtaining good sink times. Thinner tippets have less surface area and result in less drag. Thus, flies are able to sink faster without that extra drag. 

If all of this sounds like more than you have ever thought about while fly fishing, then consider it next time you are out on the water. Putting more thought into presentation than simply just chucking it out there will help your success sky rocket. If you want some on the water coaching, then consider booking a guided fly fishing trip with us at Trout Zone Anglers!

Oh, and about those streamers, if you are using a sinking line, this process can be simplified by understanding your line's sink rate. If it averages 5-6 inches per second, then you can count down until you reach whatever depth you want. For example, 5 feet would be about 10 to 12 seconds. If your streamer is weighted, take that into account so you don't get too deep if you're fishing over structure. 

Good luck and I hope considering sink time will help your fishing!

Friday, January 15, 2021

When the Fish Are Where They Should Be

A big part of guiding is knowing where to find fish. Of course, it also helps to know what those fish will eat once you find them. However, if you can't find fish, then it won't do you any good to have the right flies. Some days are easier than others, of course. On those days, the fish are where they should be. You know what I mean. Those obvious spots that hold fish more often than not are popular with lots of anglers for a good reason. Sometimes, those spots aren't quite as obvious. Nevertheless, if you know the water well, the fish are still where they should be. 

Yesterday, I was able to get out and fish a river that I haven't been on as much as I would like lately. This lack of fishing is mostly because I've been busy with non fishing things. This is the time of year that I'm able to catch up on things that get neglected through a long and busy guiding season after all. Still, it was good to get out and the weather was about as pleasant as you can ask for this time of year.

My buddy John came along to fish and help rowing a little. We started while the generators were still running. John wanted to try his streamer setup with some newly tied streamers. Those proved enticing to some skipjack but at this point, the trout eluded us. As soon as the water cut off, we started slowly drifting down the river with what we thought were the right flies fished in the right places. And we drifted, and drifted, and so on and so forth. Fish were occasionally rising so we knew there were some around. We weren't sure how many, but some fish is better than no fish. Amazingly, we were much farther down than we had wanted to be without a bite and it was time to change. I suggested a possible fly I was considering, and John said he was thinking the same thing.

I anchored for a minute while he changed his rig and then started drifting again. Not too far down the river, we were coming into a run that has historically held plenty of fish but has been slow the last few years. I positioned the boat and suggested he switch to the right side of the boat. A short drift later, his indicator went down and we were into our first trout of the day. When he almost immediately got another bite in the same spot, I started thinking that I should probably change flies as well. 

By the time we got to the next big run, I had switched up flies as well. With the boat in the perfect spot, I decided to anchor for a bit so we could both fish. The wind was blowing strong so we had to work a little at casting and mending. Once the drift was started, we could extend it by throwing more line into the drift with the rod tip. Keeping just enough slack is tricky in this situation. If you get too much, then setting the hook is nearly impossible. Not enough and you'll end up with immediate drag. 

Finally, after several solid drifts, my indicator shot under and when I set the hook, I knew it wasn't a little stocker rainbow. After a strong fight, a healthy brown trout can to hand in the 14 inch range. I took a couple of closeups because the fish had incredible blue spotting behind the eye. After a few more drifts without another bite, I pulled the anchor and we started down the river. A few bites came as we moved through the tailout of the pool, and then we moved on down to the next spot.



The next little run was where things started to look predictable. I again maneuvered the boat into position and suggested John try a spot to our left. After a short drift, just when I was thinking that maybe there weren't fish there, the indicator shot down. We quickly netted the rainbow and on the very next cast, he had another bite. The fish were where they should be.

That pattern then continued on down the river. In fact, several of his fish came after I said something like, "You should have a hit any second." Those are the sorts of things guides love. This wasn't a paid trip, of course, but it always gives you confidence. Clients always think you're a magician when you predict bites a second before it happens. There really is no magic here, though. The fish are simply where they should be.

To learn where the fish should be, it is necessary that you spend a ridiculous amount of time on the water. This knowledge is not something that happens overnight. Often, these things can change year by year. Yesterday, I was noticing how much the river has changed over the last few months and also how it is similar to the usual river we all know and enjoy. Features change, fish move, but they also are where you would expect.

The best fish of the day was near the end of a stretch that had produced a few fish already. We were nearing the end of one of the better pools. I suggested to John to get a little closer to the far bank. He dropped his fly into position. The mend set up the right drift and soon the indicator was diving. When he set the hook, the fish seemed a little more solid. It came mostly right to the boat though. When he lifted its head, the fish saw the boat and went ballistic. We came close to losing this beauty in the resulting fight, but somehow everything held. We had to pull over for a quick picture of this fish before heading on down the river towards the takeout ramp.



Saturday, December 19, 2020

Tying and Fishing David Knapp's PB&J Streamer [VIDEO]

The Motivation Behind the PB&J Streamer

Flies usually come about as the result of either a problem that needs solved or a wild night at the tying bench. Occasionally, both reasons are responsible. When it comes to tying streamers, I've experimented a lot at the vise over the years. I went through an articulated streamer phase. More recently, I've focused on jig style streamers. However, the first killer streamer I came up with was invented quite some time ago.

Over ten years ago, I got addicted to stripers for a couple of years. My good friend Trevor got me started on them and soon we were catching enough to keep us going back. This was back in my teaching days. I would teach all day, go striper fishing at night, sometimes until midnight or after, then make the long drive back home to get up and get to work by 7:00 am. I'm mostly past the staying out late every night stage, but the memories are good ones. 

Late in that first season of striper fishing, we encountered an interesting situation. Smaller threadfin shad were swept through the turbines of the dam at one of our favorite striper spots. The big stripers would set up shop downstream and we would find them sipping shad much like a big rainbow might sip a mayfly. When I say big stripers, I mean fish in the 15-30 pound range. While we have much larger stripers around, those were huge to us. I needed a fly that was weighted and looked like those dead and dying shad. The main purpose was a fly that could be used for sight fishing when these big stripers set up just under the surface to gorge on shad. Enter the PB&J streamer.

The Design Process for the PB&J Streamer

When I got home and set out to tie a great shad streamer, I remembered that my good friend Byron Begley of Little River Outfitters preferred tying shad with EP (Enrico Puglisi) fibers. His EP shad were and still are killer. The only problem is that they were tied weightless and I wanted something with weight that could quickly get down 1-3 feet under the surface without a sinking line to target those big stripers that were sipping shad. 

At that time, I tied very few streamers without some zonker strips. The natural movement of the rabbit fur is killer in any type of streamer. Thus, I combined the best of a couple of patterns. With Byron's EP shad providing the basis for the shape of the fly, I took the wing of a Zonker or similar style fly for extra movement and added dumbbell eyes like a Clouser. Instead of tying the eyes in on top like the Clouser, I found that this fly was easier to tie with the eyes on the bottom which eliminated threading the zonker strip over the hook point. Also, for whatever reason, I found that I was getting better hookups on stripers with the hook point riding down. Add a splash of color (the jelly in PB&J) as a trigger, and the PB&J streamer was born. 

Find the recipe for the PB&J HERE.

Tying the PB&J Streamer

Learn how to tie the PB&J streamer here with this video I put together. Let me know if you have any questions about tying this fly! 




Fishing the PB&J Streamer

This fly came together fairly quickly. Once I had the design down, it was a matter of learning if the fish would like it. That part turned out to be easy. The big stripers it was designed for loved the fly! In fact, I was soon catching more and larger stripers with this streamer. When sight fishing with this fly, I would use a basic 20 lb and 12 lb leader setup. You don't want to get much lighter than 12 lb test because the stripers will really put it to work hard. The key was to locate a feeding striper, then toss this fly 3-5 feet up current from the fish and let it dead drift down. More often than not, the fish would eat. 

Over time, this fly accounted for plenty of stripers along with a lot of random bycatch. I caught sauger, walleye, drum, white bass, largemouth bass, and of course trout on this fly. As I've become more and more interested in fly fishing the shad kill on area rivers, I've focused more and more on trout over the last few years. Ultimately, while I love catching stripers and other fish, trout are my target species of choice and what I keep coming back to again and again. As it turns out, this fly is deadly during the shad kill on trout tailwaters as well. 

You can fish this fly several different ways. One way is to fish it under a large indicator dead drift. You can also tie it on a short leader on a sinking line and strip the fly back to the boat. If you are stripping a PB&J during the shad kill, I recommend focusing on swimming the fly slower, not faster. Imitating the dead and dying shad, you should remember that the natural bait in the water is generally just drifting in the current or maybe twitching a little. Either way, it isn't moving fast through the water. Another good method is to cast upstream on a sinking line and let it just sink as you drift downstream. This technique is risky as you have a good likelihood of snagging bottom. It is usually a matter of if a fish eats before it snags. However, letting it run along the bottom at nearly a dead drift is often deadly. 

When fish are mostly focused high in the water column as often happens during the shad kill, try this streamer on a floating line with a 9 or 10 foot leader ending in 1x. The floating line keeps the fly from getting too deep and under the view of feeding trout. 


Variations on the PB&J Streamer

Over the years, several variations on the original PB&J have also been successful. First and foremost, you can try straying from the original white colors. This thing works in a lot of different color schemes to match various baitfish. Another variation that I really like is to use buck tail instead of EP fibers for the bottom. This gives a much more slender fly that matches various shiners and other baitfish well. Tie the buck tail in just like you would for a Clouser. 

Perhaps the most successful small variation on the original fly is to simply alter the weight. Use smaller dumbbell eyes and maybe tie the pattern itself a bit smaller, say #4 or even #6. This makes a perfect dropper for fishing behind your favorite floating shad. 

Finally, have fun with this fly! Let me know how it works for you and also what interesting variations you come up with. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

2017 Year in Review

Every year has its special moments, and 2017 will always be one of my favorite years. There were some great moments both fishing and guiding, and of course I found an amazing girl who actually goes fishing with me. That last one is what makes this past year so special to me, but some other moments stood out as well.

A quality brown trout started 2017 off on the right note. I had traveled to the Smokies for the famous "Bigsur's New Year's Day Karma Tradition" to see friends and hopefully wet a line. After saying hello to everyone, I snuck off to the stream and was lucky to be first through a good hole right near the picnic area. Sure enough, a nice brown trout slammed the streamer I was working against the far bank and my year was off to a great start!

Fishing stayed hot through the winter months and into early spring. We never had any extremely cold weather so the fishing in the Smokies stayed feasible right on through the winter. The highlight for me of this winter season was catching another beautiful brown on a favorite sculpin pattern while streamer fishing.


This fish was not a monster by Smokies standards, but the colors were great. And did I mention it slammed a streamer?

The spring hatch season started in a big way and just got better from there. The Blue Quills came off starting around February 20 or thereabouts. Fish rose every day. The problem was finding the hatch and the rising trout. On any given day, I rarely found more than 2-3 pools that were worth fishing. The hatch progressed upriver in an orderly fashion. If you found the bugs, then you also found the fish.

Two early season highlights stand out for me. The first was the slightly overcast day in late February that I fished with my buddy Pat Tully. We found great numbers of Blue Quills in several pools as well as an occasional Quill Gordon or Blue-winged Olive. The sight casting possibilities were endless. Because of the overcast, the hatch lasted much longer than it normally does on sunny days. We fished dry flies for hours. When the hatch petered out, we prospected with streamers and found another fish or two. I can't think of a better day on the water.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully ©2017





The second early season highlight was an early March guide trip that produced a large Smoky Mountain brown trout on a dry fly. Spencer had booked a day to polish some of his mountain techniques. We worked hard on nymphing throughout the day, but wanted to get in some dry fly fishing. I had a pretty good idea on where there might be some bugs. When we arrived at the pool, we found a few risers but not as many as I had hoped. The bright day probably had fewer fish rising than if it had been cloudy. Thankfully, we got lucky with one big brown at the head of the pool that liked his Parachute Adams.


After the early season hatches, things went into high gear and I was too busy to fish much. However, each exception to that produced some memorable highlights. One of my favorites was when I fished with David Perry and Susan Thrasher. We had a day to remember as time spent with friends is always hard to beat. The highlight was when I doubled up with Susan on a nice rainbow and brown trout. David Perry graciously snapped a picture for us to remember the day by! Guides guiding guides was certainly one of the highlights of 2017!

Photo Courtesy of David Perry ©2017

Early season guiding on the Caney was mostly limited to high water streamer and shad floats. These trips consistently produced some huge trout as should happen again this year. The one low water float of the early spring produced the largest guide trip fish of the year. The story surrounding this big trout was particularly amazing as an old curse was defeated. Check out the link above for more on that.


One of my absolute favorite trips of 2017 was in June. I actually had a few favorites in June and July, but the trip to Roan Mountain State Park to see the rhododendron and azalea was certainly one of the best. The rhododendron was as amazing as advertised, but the real highlight of this trip was the moment I realized what a special catch I had made. Leah and I had been dating for close to a couple of months at this point, but we had yet to go fishing. Leah was a good sport and agreed to fish a little on this trip up to northeast Tennessee.

We hit the Doe River in Roan Mountain State Park and found a few fish before the afternoon thunderstorms drove us off the water. Right before the rain started in earnest, Leah took big fish honors by starting off her fly fishing career with a big brown trout considering the small stream we were fishing. I couldn't have been happier. I'm still not sure if she knows how big of a deal it was to catch this fish on her first ever fly fishing trip, but I'm pretty sure she has some idea based on how excited I was.



The heat of summer often produces some of the best fishing of the year if you know where to go. This past year was no different. Guide trips produced some big trout on the Caney Fork and gorgeous brook trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. Smallmouth fishing had hit a consistent stride and night time trout trips on the tailwaters were heating up.


My favorite fishing in June, July, and August is usually the beetle fishing in the Smokies and on the Caney Fork River. This year was no different. My most memorable Smokies fishing of the summer involved an afternoon off after a morning 1/2 day guide trip. After dropping off my clients, I headed back to the Park to get in a couple of hours of fishing. In that time, I caught three trout. Two of them were sight fished with the beetle while the third also ate the beetle as I blind fished it in likely places.


The pinnacle of the whole year in terms of my own fishing and catching happened in late July. My buddy and fly tier extraordinaire Brandon Bailes and I had discussed a nighttime mousing trip on the Caney Fork. We finally got our schedules together and set off for an evening of fun and hopefully large trout.

We launched with some daylight left and spent our time alternating between nymphs/midges, streamers, and some dry flies when we found late evening sippers in slack water. We were almost halfway through the float when it got dark enough to begin the main event. Heavy rods, stout leaders, and meaty rodent imitations were tied on and we kept floating into the growing darkness.

Throughout the next couple of hours, we had two big blowups but failed to connect. Each heart stopping moment served as motivation to keep slinging the meat. Finally, we were approaching the takeout ramp and it looked like the mousing portion of the evening would be just enough to wet our appetites and not much more.

I was throwing to the shallow side of the boat and had made up my mind that this was the last cast when it finally happened. Something slurped quietly out there in the dark and my line came tight. I just kept stripping into things came tight. Momentarily I thought maybe I had snagged a log. When the log started swimming upstream I knew that I was in trouble. This was one strong fish! Thankfully, everything went smoothly and Brandon made a great net job on this big fish. My new personal best Caney Fork brown trout and on a mouse no less. Much thanks to Brandon for both the picture and the winning mouse fly! Let's make sure we do it again this year and get your monster brown in the boat Brandon...

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes ©2017

There were lots more guide trip highlights throughout the second half of 2017. However, my fishing began to slow down somewhat. The exception to this also produced the last two highlights of the year for me. The first was in late August. I had been discussing a smallmouth bass excursion for a while with Daniel Drake of Little River Outfitters and Mark Brown of Chota. We finally nailed down a day that would work for all of us.

The day came and went much to fast, but I was left with some great memories of time spent on the water with friends. The interesting part of this fishing trip is that we didn't get any monster smallmouth. Most of the time, these Cumberland Plateau streams are good for at least one big smallie per day, but it was not meant to be on this particularly trip. Nevertheless, we found plenty of willing fish and had a great day of exploring with friends.


The last highlight of the year for me happened on a day of fishing with friends. I began the year with a nice brown trout in the Smokies, and I ended the year with a nice brown trout in the Smokies. Talk about the perfect way to begin and end the year!

Photo Courtesy of Leah Shulley ©2017

Now, while not fishing related, the best and most exciting highlight of the year happened on November 25, 2017. On that day, I asked my best friend to marry me and she said yes!!! Leah Shulley is an amazing young lady who loves the outdoors almost as much as I do. She is beautiful, smart, kind, thoughtful, loves adventure, and most importantly loves God. I'm super excited about sharing life with her!








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.

Remembering 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.


Monday, January 04, 2016

When in Yellowstone, Fish...the Yellowstone: Yellowstone Day 5

Yellowstone River above Tower Falls

How many times can you squeeze "Yellowstone" into a post title? Apparently at least three times. Never limit yourself when greatness awaits. If you can't tell, my creative side is getting close to being shot it seems. Nothing that reliving a trip to Yellowstone can't fix (or maybe worsen, I'm not sure which). Either way, looking back over the pictures from day five refreshed my memory fabulously and I'm excited all over again for what transpired on that day of fishing the Yellowstone River.

The discussion on where to fish had began a day earlier, well after dark when we got back to camp from a long but good day in the Lamar Valley fishing Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar Rivers. My buddy Kevin only had two full days available to fish before heading on to fly fishing guide school and we had already used one. That meant the pressure was on to select a winner for the day's fishing.

Having fished the Yellowstone River on my last several trips out there, I knew what it was capable of. In fact, one of the most memorable days I've been a part of fly fishing wise in Yellowstone happened on that river. Anyway, it always has the potential to produce a quality day of fishing, and in fact, I can't say I've ever had a bad day of fishing on the Yellowstone. Since it was Kevin's first trip, he ultimately deferred to me in the decisions on where to fish so there was a bit of pressure to say the least.

For this day, I knew my stream-side breakfast tradition was in jeopardy. There are few places where you can drive to the Yellowstone in the canyon reaches we hoped to fish. Somehow, eating breakfast in a dry parking lot with a flood of tourists surging past didn't appeal, but something was tickling my memory. That great big breakfast from my first full day in the Park had been delicious, and as we were already driving right past Canyon, why not stop in for round two? Convincing Kevin was not too hard at all and we left in time to be there right as they opened. With a good breakfast behind us, we were ready to hit the water of the mighty Yellowstone River.

Hiking down from the shortest access at Tower Falls, I carried two rods. One was rigged with the hopper/dropper rig that had done so well on the Lamar Valley waters while the other was my 7 weight complete with full sinking line. In other words, I was ready to fish streamers. Tied on the end was my favorite, the PB&J.

At the bottom of the trail is a huge boulder in the edge of the Yellowstone's flow. I just had to fish there as I do most trips down into the canyon. While normally I'm smart enough to make the long and slightly dangerous hike upstream, trudging up and down slopes along trails belonging as much to the deer, elk, bison, and bears as to humans, this time we had people fishing ahead of us and had no idea how far they had hiked. Might as well enjoy the water close at hand since no one was on it.

Yellowstone cutthroat that hit a PB&J streamer

I had a solid swipe on the first cast and shortly thereafter teased the nice cutthroat back out from under the rock and onto my fly. A quick picture and I tossed the fish back to catch again another year on another trip. We moved upstream to a long deep run just upstream and started working streamers hard. Flashes, taps, and the occasional tug kept us going for longer than I normally would fish one spot. In fact, in all honesty, I believe we could have stayed in that one spot the rest of the day, but the urge to roam was strong and we kept pushing upstream.

Only once did we need to leapfrog around other anglers. The main group of competition apparently had booked on up the river to where I normally fish, leaving us the easier to access water down low. Turns out that wasn't a bad thing. We found more fat cutthroat than is fair for two anglers to catch in one day.

Yellowstone Cutthroat trout

We soon arrived upstream at a large pool that I remembered well from past trips. The one thing lacking from my recollections were any particularly great stories about fishing there. That would change on this trip. I had been working up through some pockets and told Kevin to head on up and fish that hole. When I moved up, I found him absolutely certain that a large cutthroat had taken at least a couple of swipes at his flies. A high bank loomed over the hole and provided the perfect spot for me to spot from. When I got up there, I started to get a little giddy, because sure enough, there were large cutthroat chasing his fly on most casts.

I've been fishing long enough to know many of my shortcomings as a fishermen, and one of those is that I tend to start seeing things by the end of a long day on the water, but these shadows were too well defined to be imagination. Deep bright red along the flanks suggested that at least some of the fish could have rainbow ancestry mixed in, but I've also caught enough large cutthroat to know they can be brilliant red as well so who knows.

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

Yes, who knows, because while some true giants that I'm convinced were in the 25 inch range showed, the best landed was in the 18-19 inch range. That said, both of us were ecstatic at the fish that were caught. I do my best to not complain about the catching. Complaints can affect your fishing mojo negatively.

What I can say is that I'm sure both of us will fish that same pool again the next time either one of us is out in Yellowstone. Best of all, we both know what fly they seemed to really appreciate. Notice I'm not telling here, but for the record, it is a fairly common streamer pattern you should find at just about any normal fly shop.

The rest of that day was anticlimactic. There were plenty more fish to be caught after this epic pool including some nice ones on the hopper setup. A few hit the hopper, while a good number hit the nymph that was trailing underneath. Eventually I set the hopper rod down and went back to streamers because the hopper rod was almost too easy. We didn't fish as late as sometimes, probably because we were both beyond satisfied.

The memories of those big fish though kept us pondering and both of us were ready to get up early and head back to the Yellowstone if it wasn't for Kevin's need to depart the next morning. I had some vague plans to sight see and enjoy the scenery the next day. Even though the sun set early at that time of year, both of us were tired enough to enjoy a good supper and a bit of conversation before turning in to our respective tents for the night.

Just before dark, the sunset lit up the meadow that was my usual early or late day fishing spot whenever I was in camp. The rich glow painted the perfect end of day picture as the moon rose to the east until, moments later, the sunset itself was worth a shot.

Junction of the Gibbon River and Solfatara Creek at Norris Campground

Sunset along Solfatara Creek at Norris


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Yellowstone Cutthroat Love the PB&J


With my Yellowstone vacation wrapped up, I'm still deciding whether or not I'm glad to be home or not. Like all good trips this one had to end, but not until I had caught plenty of big trout and enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather. Foul weather and large numbers of lake run fish would have been nice, but not waking up to lots of snow and freezing temperatures was also nice.

One of the best parts about the trip is that I threw streamers or hoppers almost exclusively except for when I dropped some soft hackles off of the streamer or large nymph for the lake run fish. Lots of streamers were thrown including one of my favorites, the PB&J.  As it turns out, Yellowstone cutthroat love the PB&J just about as much as Tennessee tailwater trout do. This despite the fact that there are not any shad around on the Yellowstone River, but the lack of shad did not seem to make the fish shy about eating it. Apparently it is just one of those patterns that catch fish under a large variety of circumstances.

I'm still in the middle of processing the many gigabytes of pictures that I took. Starting in another couple of days, I'll be guiding pretty steadily for a while also. That means that Yellowstone reports will come along but may stretch out over the next month or even two. Thank you for your patience. In the meantime, watch the Little River Outfitters message board for an initial abbreviated report and also my Facebook pages for the Trout Zone and Trout Zone Anglers for pictures and other tidbits from the trip. Some pictures will also show up on Twitter.

If you are looking for a guided fly fishing trip this month or next, the calendar is getting close to full. Book sooner as opposed to later or else I will be out of open dates. Right now, I have October 21 and 22 available as well as some days the last week of the month. November is looking a bit more open as of right now, but the inquiries are starting to come in so don't wait too long. Contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com if you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies or on the Caney Fork River.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

First Time Streamer Fishing

Fly fishing for trout with streamers is definitely an intermediate technique at minimum and perhaps even could be considered as advanced. One of the joys of owning a drift boat is being able to introduce people to good streamer technique. When everything comes together, and they catch that first trout on a streamer, the smiles rival catching that first trout ever. Last week I had an open day and called my buddy Tyler to see if he wanted to fish. Rarely do I have to ask him twice, and we made plans on when and where to meet.

The next day, we dumped the boat and immediately anchored up for a snack. I had a full morning of errands behind me and needed some fuel to row down under the 5,000 plus CFS that were coming through the sluice gate and generator. This proved to be a good opportunity to give Tyler the verbal crash course on what we were trying to accomplish.

Before long, I pulled the anchor and we were under way. Tyler was hitting the banks and current seams like a pro and before long the follows and flashes were coming. In fact, I soon saw perhaps the largest trout I've ever seen on the Caney flash on his streamer. I glanced up and his eyes were as big as saucers, and I was back rowing like mad to try and give another shot. On this day, it was not meant to be. The big fish never showed itself again, but I guarantee that I will be back to look for that big slab of buttery brown.

Once we switched for a short distance so I could throw a few casts myself. Tyler is slowly learning to do a good job at rowing. Eventually I'll have him trained in to row me down there river the whole way.  On this day, the student would out-fish the teacher. Before long, I switched back to the oars and this time I could tell that Tyler was dialed in. The streamer was landing within a foot of the bank and he was swimming the fly like a pro.

We were entering another big fish zone where I had recently seen a large brown. Directing Tyler to cast to specific spots soon brought results. A nice fish slammed the streamer and Tyler was happy and nervous all at once. Anyone who has had a nice fish on the line knows the stress that comes at such times. Handling it like a pro, he soon had the fish in the net and posed for a couple of pictures. Like other recent quality fish, this one ate a PB&J streamer. Congrats Tyler!

Caney Fork River brown trout

Caney Fork River brown trout head shot

After watching the fish swim off strongly, we continued downstream. I fished a bit more, but other than some small stockers chasing and one nice fish that missed the hook, I could tell it just wasn't my day. Tyler went back to the front casting brace and before long had his second brown on a streamer. Not bad for his first time ever streamer fishing.

Another Caney Fork River brown trout on a streamer

Soon the ramp slid into view and before we knew it the boat was loaded. The air conditioning felt great after the hot sun on the river. Funny how catching nice fish made us forget the heat until we got to the end of the float.