Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Showing posts with label Tennessee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tennessee. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fishing Report and Synopsis: March 24, 2020

You may have already noticed some changes around here. The first and most important is that I'm changing how this fishing report displays. Instead of a static block at the top of this blog, I'm now going to try and keep an updated fishing report up as a blog post. That could mean weekly, and hopefully it will at least mean monthly. If things get too crazy, maybe I'll even do one more often than that.

Speaking of crazy, the shutdown of life as we know it is accelerating right now. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is officially closed at least through April 6. Unlike some past closures, you are NOT allowed to enter the Park even on foot at this point. While it seems like the great outdoors is one of the best places to be right now, apparently too many popular trails and features were still crowded with people ignoring current social distancing guidelines. Since the Park closed down all facilities including restrooms, this is probably for the best. Lots of people don't know how to go in the woods if you know what I mean.

For me, this means I'm out of work for at least the next couple of weeks. This is a very tough time to be running out of work since early spring is an important time to start making money again after a couple of winter months not guiding much. Hopefully this whole thing blows over quickly and we can all get back to work, fishing, family get togethers, and everything else we're missing out on.

If you are sitting at home bored, take some time to scroll through old blog posts here. Share them with a friend or family member. More page views here means at least a small chance of making up a little lost revenue here on the blog. Not enough, but every little bit helps.

Now, on to what you were really wanting to hear about: the fishing. The fishing was good to excellent in the Smokies the past few days before this closure. I was very fortunate to have scheduled a cabin stay with my wife before this all got crazy, so we spent a few days late last week and through the weekend enjoying the Park. Hiking, looking for wildflowers, photography, and of course fishing were all on our list of things to do. We accomplished all of them! Some streams were only mediocre, while others were excellent. The dry fly fishing has been okay but not great, but nymphing has been very good. We hit some small streams that I've been wanting to fish for a while and found eager fish everywhere. A Guides Choice Hares Ear nymph along with a Tellico nymph proved to be a big hit when high sticking. On this trip, I taught my wife to high stick and she picked it up quickly. Of course, she caught the largest fish of the trip as well. For full disclosure, this fish was caught while indicator fishing but we spent more time high sticking than not.


With lots of rain forecast, fishing won't be great anywhere for at least a few days unless your thing is high water and big streamers. In that case, the Clinch or Caney Fork might be a good option to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. An extended dry spell is looking more likely starting by next week or early April. That has been our norm for the last few years, so look for flows to drop rapidly and become fishable by mid to late April on many area rivers.

Smallmouth will start turning on when flows are reasonable. We hope to be out chasing them sooner rather than later.

Monday, September 09, 2019

My Favorite Season

This post could be all pictures and my point would be sufficiently made. I'm going to make a feeble effort to put some of it into words, however. As a fly fishing guide, my perspective on seasons has changed over the years. If you asked me when the best time to fish was seven or eight years ago, my answer would have been quick and to the point: fall. Now, I will usually get around to answering fall, but sometimes by a circuitous route full of explanations. That is because, for me, the best time of the year to fish is also my favorite time to fish.

Now, not to wax too philosophical or anything, but everyone's definition of the best fishing of the year differs quite widely. This probably all goes back to the rather old explanation of the stages of becoming a fisherman. It goes something like this. First you want to catch a fish, then you want to catch a lot of fish. Next you want to catch a big fish, then you want to catch a lot of big fish. When the whole process comes full circle, an angler should like going fishing for the sake of going fishing or something like that. As a guide, I quickly figured out that people who wanted to know when the best time to fish were generally sincere. The problem with the question of "when is the best time to go fishing?" lies within the perspective of the one asking the question.

Afraid of rambling too much and people getting bored of listening, I've attempted to put my answer into a concise few words. Still, I'm afraid I haven't done a very good job. What starts as "well, spring is probably the best time on most area waters based on overall flows, consistent daily insect emergences, and the fact that fish haven't been pounded all year, but I personally like fall because I like the fall colors," usually quickly descends into lots of side explanations.

The proper answer to the question of "when is the best time to go fishing in Tennessee?" or "when is the best time to fly fish in the Smokies?" is probably more along the lines of a return question. I like to ask people what they view as good fishing. Is it lots of fish or some big fish? Is it having the stream to yourself? Many times, we quickly determine that they don't even know what good fishing consists of. This isn't to knock the people asking the question, it just means that most of us have some vague idea of what fly fishing nirvana would be, but when it comes down to it, we really can't put it into words.

At some point, I'll return and explain why I think winter is the best season, why I think spring is the best season, and why I think summer is the best season. And it's true, all of those seasons are the best, depending on your perspective.

Where you live might influence your opinion a bit, so let's make sure and establish the fact that I live in Tennessee and regularly fish both the wild streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which also happens to be my favorite place to fish) as well as the great tailwater trout streams found in middle and east Tennessee. You should also know that solitude on the stream is very important to me and factors into my preferences in ranking my favorite season to fish. Although smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, stripers, musky, and a few other species are fun and I fish and guide for them from time to time, trout are what led me to fly fishing and trout are what keeps me interested in the sport. Thus, colorful fish and clean cold water with plenty of oxygen are important to me as well. Finally, if you asked me what my favorite season is, never mind whether the fishing was good or not, my answer would be fall. The fall colors are my favorite thing about fall, so really I'm looking at a rather narrow window for the peak of my favorite season.

All of that said, let's define fall more broadly. I don't care if we stick with astronomical fall which begins at the fall equinox and ends at the winter solstice, or if we go with meteorological fall which runs September 1st through the end of November. Good fishing occurs throughout these time periods for those who know where to look. Since things are still usually hot right now, let's go with astronomical fall which this years runs from September 23 to December 21. That encompasses some of my favorite fishing of the year. Here's why.

First of all, as already mentioned, is the fall colors. Every year, I eagerly watch for the first colorful leaves. This usually happen in June, not because fall is imminent, but because some leaf got too dried out somehow and fell off the tree. As summer continues, these early hints of the coming change of season become more frequent. By late October and early November, the colors are peaking. While this can lead to much frustration for anglers if you are on stream during a windy day, the colors provide a glorious backdrop for what I already view as a rather artistic sport.

Speaking of fall colors, late September through the first two weeks of October will feature brook and brown trout getting colored up and fired up for the spawn. Both of these species are becoming more aggressive and eating heartily in preparation for the rigors of the spawning season. Brook trout in the Smokies are normally spawning by mid October although you can probably find some spawning well into November depending on where you look. Brown trout usually start around the same time although you can often find a few stragglers spawning in the mountains even in early December. These fish should be strictly left alone during the spawn and anglers should avoid walking through areas where they are active. The next generation of trout depends on good stream side manners from anglers during this time of year. Fish staging to spawn can still be caught, and fish that have finished spawning can also be caught.

Since the dry fly fishing is usually great in fall, this leaves open a lot of possibilities. I generally gravitate towards streams with some browns but more rainbows. The rainbows are usually vibrantly colored this time of year and are feeding as hard as ever with winter coming on. Brook trout are especially gorgeous this time of year. If you can catch them before or just after the spawn, you will see arguably the most stunning colors of any fish in the southern Appalachians. Of course, brook trout love dry flies which doesn't hurt my opinion of them at all.

Another reason I appreciate fishing in the fall is that I don't appreciate the summer heat. Fall brings cool relief as well as a welcome drop in humidity. Tennessee can get miserably humid any time of the year, but fall is most likely to be dry with pleasant sunny days and crisp nights. This makes it perfect for another favorite activity, camping, which I generally try to do at least a few times every year but almost always every fall. A good campfire on a chilly fall evening is one of the great pleasures of life.

One small side note here, fall is also a great time for catching stripers, rock fish, whatever you want to call them. I don't do it often, but this is probably my most consistent season for finding large ones on the fly, mostly because I haven't had time the rest of the year, but also because there are some advantages to this season which I won't go into here. Regardless of the reasons, a great big tug on the end of the line is fun on occasion.

Interestingly, my favorite fishing season and my favorite season in general evolved almost in unison. That could be because of the early success I had fishing in the fall. I remember one trip early in my fly fishing career. Just a couple of months prior, I had learned how to high stick nymphs without a strike indicator from the legendary Walter Babb on a half day guided trip. To this day that remains some of the best money I've ever spent on this sport. Anyway, I had been applying my lessons. It was November and I had hiked well upstream above Elkmont. I still remember very clearly that I was fishing a #16 Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear nymph and a couple of split shot on my still favorite old Orvis Superfine Tight Loop. I didn't catch any big fish, but I did catch lots of fish. At that point in my fly fishing career, it was a big deal. The rainbows were all where they should have been and they would all eat a well presented fly. In the years since, other great moments on the water have come and gone, but my love for fall fishing definitely got a big boost on that day in November.

By this point, you might have noticed that I still haven't said that the fishing is the best in the fall. I said it's my favorite. Some people will want a straight answer and my answer is this; for me, the best fishing is in the fall, because there is more to fishing than catching fish. That said, the fishing is usually anywhere from good to excellent as well. Low water can add a wrinkle to this equation, but for experienced anglers, low water isn't all bad either. Later, I'll elaborate on why the other seasons are the best, but for now, let's finish with saying that fall is my favorite. So what's your favorite and why?

If you need a few more reasons why fall is the best, here is a small selection. If you want to fish with me during the fall or any other time of year, feel free to visit Trout Zone Anglers to learn more about guided trips.





Thursday, January 05, 2017

2016 Guide Trip Highlights

As I am trying to keep this blog mainly about my own personal fishing excursions, please check out Trout Zone Anglers and the blog there for the Year in Review posts on guided fly fishing trips. Specifically, here is the Smoky Mountain guide trips in review. The tailwaters were fishing very well this past year. The Caney Fork was about as good as it gets last year, or at least it was if you were a regular on the river and knew the tricks. Here are the 2016 tailwater trips in review featuring more big trout than anyone deserves to see in one year. It was a glorious year indeed!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Meat Eater Brown Trout on the Clinch River

This past Friday, I had made tentative plans to fish on the Hiwassee. By Thursday evening, I was having second thoughts. The Clinch River was my second choice so plans were changed. The forecast high temperature was 41 degrees which is not bad by winter fishing standards.

When I got up on Friday morning, I was excited to get going. My last trip to the Clinch had been very memorable, and I was hoping for a good encore. The drive over set the stage for what would turn out as a very cold day. The sky had a solid gray mass of clouds from one horizon to the other. The sunny skies that were forecast never materialized which kept our temperatures from reaching the forecasted highs. When I got to the river, it was 28 degrees. Not the coldest I've fished in, mind you, but cold when you aren't mentally prepared for the occasion.

The water was still running from the generators when I arrived at the Clinch River, so I took a brisk walk up and down the river. My scouting trip upstream was successful, and I headed back to the car to rig up. Big fish, including some nice brown trout, had been located and there was no time to lose!

At the car, I looked at a couple of options and settled on my 9' 5 weight Orvis Helios fly rod. A dry fly with a tungsten bead head midge dropper seemed appropriate. The fish I had noticed were eating and the likely food of choice was midge larva or pupa. This is probably my favorite sight fishing rig for large trout on tailwaters. The dry fly makes a perfect subtle strike indicator, while the midge is a food organism that is prevalent on all tailwaters and most freestone streams as well for that matter (hint hint).

Walking up to where I had found the fish, I arrived as the water started dropping out from the generation. Fish were moving back and forth, enjoying the bounty of the river while there was still enough flow to keep them active. It took three casts before a nice rainbow trout took the midge. The fight was over quickly. Even though I was fishing 6x tippet, the Rio Fluoroflex Plus held just fine. I took a quick picture and short video clip of the release, and then it was time to fish again.

Despite persistence, I eventually gave up on finding more willing fish. Besides, the wind had started blowing which left a chop on the surface of the water that was nearly impossible to see through. I headed downstream to a section where, although I had not spotted fish there earlier, I was confident that the fish were there.

Sure enough, when I started walking slowly through the section, I saw nice brown trout holding in deeper pockets and runs throughout the section. In all honesty, a deeper dropper would probably have been more effective, but it was still below freezing and my fingers were doing good just to cast the fly rod. Every few casts, I would have to chip ice out of the line guides or dip the rod tip in the water to thaw them out. In other words, classic winter fishing. Here in Tennessee, we only get to enjoy this type of fishing a handful of times each winter. The great thing about living here is that there are plenty of warmer days throughout the winter which are comfortable enough to fish without a jacket.

Despite my early confidence, the fish didn't find my midges irresistible. I did miss one or two large brown trout due to operator error. In other words, I didn't set the hook effectively. I'll blame the cold weather.

By this time, other sections of the river were starting to call me, so I started the trek back to the car. Along the way, I fished a few choice runs. I was about to reel it in and just walk back when I saw a nice fish in a shallow riffle feeding heavily. Then I noticed another. Both fish were tucked into slightly deeper pockets and were moving quickly back and forth as they fed on midges. I cast at each one in turn and ended up spooking both. Right as I made my last cast, the indicator (I had switched rigs at this point) twitched and I set the hook...on a monster.

The little three inch trout darted this way and that. I was about to simply lift the fish out of the water too unhook it when a shadow came up behind with jaws open. The little fish ran this way and that trying to avoid its fate. Without even thinking, I dropped the rod tip so the fish had room to finish their uneven duel. It didn't take long. The large fish crowded the little rainbow up into the shallowest part of the riffle before eating it.

I waited enough time for the brown trout to secure its prize before giving tension to the line again. The fish simply sat down on the bottom of the riffle and would not budge. I've had this happen before. Usually it turns into a tug of war where the larger fish eventually spits out the smaller one or gets snagged on a trailing fly. On this particular fishing trip, I was in for a curveball.

Slowly I worked the fish up to the surface and started sneaking closer with the net out. I was hoping to net both fish at the same time. Suddenly, as I snuck closer, something slipped and I saw the little trout escape the large brown trout's mouth. The surprise was that the line was still heavy. When I gave a little pressure, the big fish took off. My midge was securely stuck in the corner of his mouth. That was a new one for me.

I worked my way downstream, following the heavy brown trout until I was within range with my net and quickly scooped. My accidental and brief foray into bait fishing on the Clinch River was quite successful if I do say so myself!

Brown trout on Clinch River Tennessee

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Redemption

Sometimes you lose on one fish but ultimately win for the day. Those days are a roller coaster, especially when friends are around to witness your defeats. Some of those defeats sting more than others. Last Tuesday I had one that really stung.

I was floating with some friends, not guiding, just fishing together. Everyone had caught some nice trout including one really nice rainbow that was a personal best for the angler. I had spent a lot of time on the oars, more interested in watching my friends catch fish than fishing for the most part. For one section, though, I was willing to give up the oars for a short 200 yard stretch. A large brown had shown itself repeatedly on previous trips, and I was determined to catch him.

Sure enough, as we were drifting peacefully along, I suddenly saw a submarine large brown trout materialize under my indicator and saw his mouth open. Things are a bit fuzzy from that point on, but I'm fairly certain that I set the hook before the indicator even moved. The fish was definitely on, but when the large trout came to that realization, he remembered a very important appointment he had somewhere upriver. The only surprise here is that he didn't break me off and simply spit the fly after a long run which saw my real screaming and my buddy Pat, who was on the oars, asking, "What should I do? What should I do?"

In the end, there was nothing anyone could do because it was over before I even had much chance to think. Both the rower and myself had done everything right (or at least had not done anything obviously wrong) but the fly simply popped out.

The next day on the river, I was floating with my buddy Tim and his friend Andy. They scored what may well be the Double of the Year. That was the highlight of the day at the time, but something else would prove to be even more important a couple of days later. We were floating through an area that always holds a lot of trout. Several quality brown trout were spooked by the boat but that is not unusual. What captivated my interest was one large fish in particular. I made a mental note of where the big fish was hanging out and vowed to return...soon.

On Friday I was finally free. Fishing time for myself always gets me excited, and I took full advantage of the lull in my schedule. Getting to the river right as the water was dropping allowed me to get in and start fishing before the crowds got too bad. I worked my way down to where I had spotted the nice fish. Another angler was nearby so I didn't head right in to fish for the hog.

My original plan was to fish with a dry fly and midge dropper but the higher flows made that difficult. Soon I switched over to an indicator rig which allowed my flies to get down to the level of the trout. That brought some results, but still not the big trout I was hoping for. Finally, after one particularly long drift, my indicator shot down and when I set the hook a big fish immediately started cartwheeling. The pink stripe told me that I had a big rainbow trout on the end of my line. In between the jumps, I was able to turn the fish and assumed I had a good shot at landing it. Then, suddenly, it started to take off, and I could no longer turn it.

About that time, a drift boat edged in behind me and dropped anchor. I turned to see my good friend David Perry jumping out with a net. Suddenly, my hopes revived. I might have a chance with a little help.

As I slowly fought the fish, I realized my problem. On one of the jumps, the top fly had snagged the fish near the tail. In the ensuing commotion, the little midge that had originally hooked the fish had popped free. A 20" tail hooked rainbow is one tough customer. Eventually, I worked the fish in close. Close enough that I was starting to think this might actually happen. Then, the fly simply popped free. There was nothing much to say. David P. jumped back in his boat to continue the float with his two clients. I was left with a memory of a big trout jumping across the river and a screaming reel.

By this time, I was resigned to probably not finding a large trout. Luck seemed to be against me on this week. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and things were definitely not looking promising. About this time, the angler below me worked up a little closer and made some comment about a huge fish cruising around where he was fishing. I knew it was probably the trout I had come looking for but bided my time.

Eventually, obligations pulled him away from the river and I was left to check on the big trout for myself. I waited a little longer as another drift boat was moving down behind me. They moved through the run without noticing the shark lurking under the surface. The fish was still mine. Noticing some risers nearby, I changed back to my dry fly and midge dropper rig to work the nearby fish. Resting the big fish a little more, I finally couldn't stand it any longer and made my way down.

Almost immediately I spotted it. The fish looked even larger than I remembered. Long enough, for sure, but extremely thick. I wanted to catch that trout in the worst way. My position was good for a clean drift. I was up and across from the fish which made a down and across slack line presentation the best option.

I made the cast, tossed a couple of mends and some more slack in the line, and the flies were on their way. The big fish saw my midge and moved confidently over. I saw the mouth open and set the hook...and the fish spooked. Somehow the fly didn't, catch but the fish definitely realized something was wrong. He bolted for cover and disappeared quickly.

Spotting some other trout, I cast to them for a while, hoping for a consolation prize. At this point, I would have been glad to see any fish just to take the sting away from missing such a great fish. In all the excitement I had not really noticed, but now that I wasn't focused on the big brown trout I noticed that my toes were numb. This helped me to remember why I never wet wade on the Caney, even in the heat of summer. I considered heading for dry ground to let me feet recover some warmth and then glanced back to where the large fish liked to feed.

This sounds unbelievable, especially if you know anything about large trout, but the big brown had returned and was again chowing down on midges and blackfly larvae. Fate had intervened to give me another chance. Not willing to risk having someone come by and spook the fish, I quickly made an almost exact replica of the previous cast and drift. The fish moved over again and inhaled my flies, and this time the midge stuck firmly in his jaw.

I almost regretted fishing my 7'6" Orvis Superfine Glass rod at this point. The four weight was no match for the big brown as far as power was concerned, but in the end it was the soft tip of the glass rod that protected the 6x tippet long enough to give me a chance to land the trout. The fish quickly ran me almost into my backing while I stumbled along down the river behind, walking on numb feet and slipping on the algae covered gravel and small rocks. Throughout the fight, I had to remind myself to keep the rod tip up. My arm was getting tired!

Finally, after numerous last minute surges, each of which made my heart stop, the big brown trout slid into my spacious net. Even in the big net this fish looked big. It was also very heavy. I stumbled towards the bank, keeping the fish in the water as I went. Just then, a passing canoeist asked if I would like a picture. He didn't need to ask twice. This blessing enabled me to get a couple of excellent pictures of the big brown, something I probably couldn't have accomplished on my own while keeping the fish in the water well enough. When I measured the fish against the net, he stretched out to between 23 and 24 inches. That made the picture that much more meaningful: this was my personal best brown trout on the Caney Fork. Thanks again to Bob Mansolino for kindly stopping and taking a picture for me!

Photo Courtesy of Bob Mansolino

When I released the fish, he swam off strongly. I'm already planning on catching this fish again in the near future, or better still, helping one of my friends catch him. After losing all those fish last week, redemption was sweet. While I had been fighting this big brown trout, I promised myself that if I landed the fish I would call it quits for the day. After watching him swim off, I remembered my numb toes so keeping that promise was even easier. I walked away from the river while the sun was still well up in the sky, completely satisfied with my few hours on the water.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Birthday Rainbow Trout

Guide trips seem to always be in a state of flux right up until the moment I meet the angler(s) for the day. This past Friday things were no different. Deb had fished with me before, but the friend she was supposed to bring would be on the water with me for the first time. Unfortunately, at the last second, that friend had to cancel, but of course Deb was still all for a day on the water. Part way through the trip I would discover why.

We started off the trip in a steady rain. The radar did not look promising, but if I have learned anything while guiding, it is that I should not cancel a trip for weather reasons unless it is truly dangerous. Deb was a trooper and would not be deterred by the water falling from the sky.

The early portion of the float was unusually quiet. I commented on the fact that normally we would have had some quality fish earlier in the float and started through my fly changing routine. Eventually we settled in on some patterns and started drifting again. A few smaller browns were hooked. Some were landed, and some were lost.

Then, we reached an area where I was certain we would find some good fish. It was just a matter of what flies would be necessary to make that happen. Right as I was about to go through another fly pattern change, the indicator took a determined dive. Deb set the hook and the battle was begun. Quickly dropping everything required to rig up differently such as fly boxes and tippet spools, I grabbed the oars and started chasing what was quite obviously a large rainbow. The fish surged up and down the river and we stayed hot on its tail. The one thing that stood out to me during this fight was how calm an angler I had in the front of the boat. A lot of people will get tense and make a mistake when fighting a large trout but not Deb. She was enjoying the experience immensely though, that much was obvious.

Before long, I slid the boat into shallow water and jumped over the side with the net. This fish wasn't going to have any chances for escape. The rod lifted, the net dipped, and the big rainbow trout was safely where we could enjoy it briefly. Pictures were taken and then Deb commented, "That is my birthday fish!"


I'm really glad she waited to tell me until after catching such a great fish. If I had known that her birthday was last week the pressure would have just about killed me. Thankfully, the fish posed for a couple of pictures and was soon released to be caught again another day. After high fives and a moment to soak in the moment, we pushed back out into the river. I was about to row back upstream, and in the meantime Deb had cast out to get her line ready. Right as I pulled hard on the oars to head up for another pass, her indicator shot under again. No way, I thought.

Sure enough, we had as close to a repeat performance as is possible, except that this fish was a little longer than the 19.5" fish that we had just released and a whole lot heavier. Back to back quality trout and we still had a lot of the float to go.


By this time, the rain had eased and we were left to drift down the river under leaden skies. The calm was almost eery at times, but also beautiful and a real treat to experience the river this way. We picked up some fish here and there, but soon our time was drawing to a close. I really wanted to put her on one nice brown trout and knew just the place to do that. That was the easy part. The hard part was making a very long and pinpoint accurate cast and then getting a good drift.

Of course, Deb was up for the challenge. The fly lit softly on the water and started drifting. Suddenly the dry fly sucked under as the trout took the midge underneath. She set the hook like a pro and again we were rowing all over the river. This fish didn't take as long as the big rainbows, but was still an excellent trout to end the day on.


We were soon pushing on down to the takeout, another good day on the water behind us.

This week and next week both have some guide trip openings, so if you are wanting to experience this great fishing, contact me to learn more about a float trip with Trout Zone Anglers.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Double of the Year?

While I have a ton of cool experiences as a fly fishing guide, I rarely find the time to share them with the world unfortunately. However, yesterday was one of those days that was incredible enough that I just can't contain it anymore. One fish is in the running and currently the lead for guide trip fish of the year, but to have two great fish at once? Priceless. Let me tell you about it.

My buddy Tim Helton has, in one short year, become a true fishaholic, or maybe he is an aspiring trout bum. Regardless he spends as much time as possible on the water and many hours of his time has been on trips with me. Our first trip together was in the Great Smoky Mountains on Little River. We hiked up the trail a ways above Elkmont and covered the finer points of high sticking a Smoky Mountain stream for the beautiful wild trout found there. As I remember, we caught some nice rainbows and a couple of browns during our time together that day. Since then, Tim has fished all across east Tennessee, and I have had the privilege to share many of those moments on the water with him.

Like any good angler, Tim has become quite interested in catching some big fish. Over the last months, he has had a lot of big fish on the end of the line. Like most anglers, the story progressed from hooking big fish, to eventually hooking and landing big fish. Those two things don't always go together unfortunately. This year, we had already caught some great trout together. Those big fish did eventually come with a lot of perseverance and dues paid in time on the water.

Yesterday was the first time we shared a day on the boat together. This trip had been planned a time or two before, but finally everything came together and Tim along with his friend Andy arrived at the river ready to jump in the boat and catch some trout.

Early in the day, Andy had the hot hand going. This was his first time ever fly fishing, but he took to it in a big way landing more trout than even many experienced anglers would normally get to see in one day. By lunch, both guys had caught a lot of fish including a nice 16" brown for Tim. While we sat in the shade and enjoyed our food, Tim made a comment about wanting to catch a large brown trout with a big kype jaw. To that, I gave my standard answer which is, "If you put in your time on the water, good things will happen." Little did we know how soon...

After lunch, we shoved off into the lazy current and started drifting again. Both guys were hooked up again on some healthy rainbow trout before we started approaching the next run. We netted those fish and got on to more important things, the hunt for larger fish that is! I directed both guys to cast into the deep water to the right of the boat and they got their drifts going perfectly. Tim's indicator shot down a split second ahead of Andy's, but I immediately knew we were in trouble. Neither fish had any inclination to come up without a fight and we had two on at the same time.

Directing the battles from the rower's bench, I started gently easing on the oars to back the drifter into calmer water. The fish would surge, but both guys kept their rods up and the rod tips protected the 6x tippet. When I got a glimpse of the fish, I was in about as bad of shape as Tim and Andy were. They were impressive fish!

Tim's big brown trout (the one with the big jaw he wanted of course!) was the first to hit the net and Andy's big rainbow was close behind. I had the guys take a quick "Double" picture together to verify what would otherwise be a ridiculous and unbelievable story. I took the pictures and still have to check every few hours to make sure it wasn't a dream.

As is the case with many big fish stories, the rest of the day was anticlimactic. Both guys were thoroughly spoiled but a river that has been treating me great all summer. A hookset on a 12" fish would invariably bring a comment such as, "Oh its just a little one."

Tim had achieved his goal of a big brown trout and Andy was truly ruined in his first time every fly fishing. Me as the guide? I'm spoiled on a daily basis to be able to meet and interact with all of the great people who come to fish with me. However, from a purely memorable fishing moment perspective, I'm not sure if I'll ever have another double that produces a legitimate 40 inches (taped) of trout in two fish. For now, this is the double of the year...



Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Different Float

Before you start thinking I started floating another river, let's clear that up now. This is the same river I've been having some great guide trips on lately. The difference on this particular float is because I got to do some fishing as well. Shocking, right?

I've been very busy this summer with lots of guide trips. Naturally that is a good thing, or at least that is what my bank account would say. The only downside so far as I can tell is that I haven't done much of the kind of fishing where I'm the one holding the rod. It would be fair to say I have been fishing a lot, just not in the traditional sense, and I was ready for a day of throwing the fly rod.

When my friend Bill Bolinger from Little River Outfitters had to cancel our fishing trip together at the last second, I almost decided to just wade fish for the day instead. After considering my options, I decided to check with some other friends and eventually found someone who was able to go. Don Hazel heads up the Fly Fishing Club here locally at Fairfield Glade. After having an epic experience on a guide trip with me the week before, I knew he was already dialed in and ready to catch some fish.

He came prepared with all the correct flies and his rod was rigged and ready to go so we quickly dumped the boat in the river, ran the shuttle, and started floating. It did not take long to start seeing a few fish flash on the streamers we started with, but something unusual happened. The generators were scheduled to shut off at 11:00 AM but we passed right by the cutoff point with no reduction in flows. Realizing that something was up, I headed for a calm backwater behind an island to anchor the boat for a while. We relaxed and took our time messing with the streamers until the water took on that glassy appearance that signals the end of generation. That was our cue to pull the anchor up and start drifting.

Moving down the river, we took our time getting dialed in with the right depth, but the patterns were the same ones that I've been having success on all summer. Follow me on Instagram (troutzoneanglers) to see more of these big fish that we've been catching. Aren't on Instagram? You can also find me on Facebook to see some of those pictures of big fish. Sorry but I don't post pictures of the flies that are working. If you really want a look inside my fly box, stop and say hi on the river or take a guided trip with me. If it helps any, I will say that fish have been caught on dry flies, nymphs, midges, and streamers lately (as in within the last week). Hopefully that will help narrow it down for you...

Anyway, back to my day on the water, Don was the first to strike with a nice rainbow trout and from then on, we were catching fish one after another on down the river. There was only one other drift boat out on the river along with 5-10 kayaks but that was it. Boat traffic has slowed down with the beginning of school and that is a good thing. The river is still very busy on weekends. If you are going to fish it right now, please release all of your quality trout. The river is seeing a LOT of pressure right now and it only takes a few people keeping those big trout before the fishing quality goes seriously down hill. The number of people not abiding by the regulations never ceases to amaze me. If you witness anyone keeping fish in the slot (catch and release on rainbows and brook trout from 14"-20" and only one brown trout may be kept a day with a 24" minimum length requirement), please call the TWRA Poaching hotline (https://www.tn.gov/twra/article/poaching-hotlines) and please notice that the Caney is partially in both regions two and three.

As Don and I continued down the river catching fish here and there, we began to wonder if we would find any of the good fish that have been regularly showing up on every float. I had a good idea where to look but for the first couple of miles, those larger fish proved to be elusive. Eventually that would change however.

We were drifting through one long pool that sometimes has produced nice fish for me (don't they all?) and were fishing both sides of the boat. Don's indicator dove and I glanced over to see what was going on. When I looked back, my indicator seemed to have disappeared as well so I set the hook just in case. Turns out that was the right move. I immediately felt resistance and we were into a nice double.

I scooped his fish into the net with one hand while playing my trout with the other. Handing off the net, I told him to keep his fish wet and continued to battle the nice trout on the end of my own line. Eventually, my fish tired and came to the net. Talk about a great double! Two gorgeous brown trout in the net at one time and they were quality fish to boot.

Brown Trout double in the net from the Caney Fork River
Photo Courtesy of Don Hazel

We took some pictures and then calmed down enough to keep moving on down the river. Eventually we even started fishing again!

A large Caney Fork Brown trout caught by author David Knapp
Photo Courtesy of Don Hazel

The day drifted slowly by in about the same way. Fish were caught here and there and eventually we were nearing the time to call it quits. I wanted one more fish and turned to a rod rigged with a dry fly and dropper midge to accomplish that goal. Sure enough, along a calm edge with scattered risers, I found a willing brown trout that took the midge very softly. The ensuing fight was anything but soft though as the strong brown trout ran all over the river. Before long, another great fish was in the net, and I had my picture taken with yet another beautiful trout.

David Knapp with another midge eating brown trout on the Caney Fork
Photo Courtesy of Don Hazel

Not to be outdone, Don pulled a really nice rainbow trout out just as we started pulling up to the takeout. The fish were still feeding and I was not entirely excited about leaving feeding trout, but I knew that morning and another guide trip would come early. More flies needed to be tied, especially after finding success on a new pattern I've been working on. The small number of samples I tied wouldn't necessarily last through a guide trip the next day.

A colorful rainbow trout on the Caney Fork caught by Don Hazel

As it turns out, our trip was just the warm-up to a truly amazing day, but that is a story for another time...

Monday, August 08, 2016

Smallmouth Bass Again



This summer I have been on my usual warm weather smallmouth bass kick and have enjoyed exploring both new waters and old. After my last epic adventure, you would think that staying away from the smallmouth streams for a while would have been the best choice. Despite all of the dangers, I couldn't get the memory out of my mind of the big wild smallmouth fighting on the end of my line. Thus it was, just a couple of days after my last trip, that I found myself heading towards one of my favorite smallmouth streams.

Now, I have to explain the favorite part just a little. Favorite can mean a lot of things. For me, a large portion of what determines "favorite status" is familiarity. This particular stream I'm very familiar with, or at least I'm familiar with the portion that is a reasonable half day trip from the access area. The bass are not the largest or most numerous, but they are there and with a little work are willing to come to the fly.

I grabbed all of my equipment and was soon headed to a section that I enjoy. This is an area I call the Narrows, although I'm sure the white water paddlers have another name for what must be some very serious rapids when the water is up. The cliffs come in tight to the stream and huge chunks of rock all but block the flow of the stream. Getting around this area can be very tricky, but I have, over time, pioneered several rather sketchy routes up on the bank and around the worst of the deep pools and massive boulders. I say sketchy because it looks like snake heaven, and I'm sure it is. I just haven't found them yet.


Anyway, I tied on the same black Chernobyl Hopper that had done well for me on previous trips. A few bass came to hand that way and I stubbornly stuck with it all the way up to the Narrows. After climbing up and over the huge piles of debris that are deposited during high water, I came to a deep but narrow pool that always has some nice fish swimming around in it.

The topwater fly was presented to all the likely areas, and I managed one decent little smallie. Based on the shadows lurking in the depths, I knew that I should be doing much better. Remember a fly that I had done well on during my last smallmouth trip just days before, I pulled out the weighted fly and quickly changed strategies. On just the second or third cast, it happened. A large shadow inhaled my fly at least 5 or 6 feet under the surface. I could see just well enough to know it was time to set the hook.

When I did, it was nearly a repeat of the big bass I had caught a couple of days prior. The fish ran under as many rocks as possible, and I held my breath as the tippet sawed back and forth over the rough edges. You would think that my lesson would have been learned on the last trip, but instead of bringing a heavier rod, I had the same 5 weight as before, and the wily smallmouth bass took full advantage of my lack of leverage.

Finally, the fish slid back out from under the rock it had been trying to make home and I slipped my thumb inside its mouth for a grasp of the jaw. Another great Cumberland Plateau backcountry smallmouth bass to remember!


Sunday, May 01, 2016

Guides' Day Off: April 2016 Smallmouth Edition

When two fly fishing guides with busy schedules plan an intentional guides' day off, you never know what is going to happen. When not taking clients fishing, we are just as likely to spend a whole day experimenting to just to try some new flies or tactics or maybe mess with some fish we don't target as often as the usual trout.

The day before our planned excursion, David Perry of Southeastern Fly and I were discussing where to fish and several options came up. None were on the current "hot" sections of our favorite rivers to guide for trout, but that was intentional. Sometimes these exploratory trips turn out well and sometimes they are a bust, at least as far as catching a lot of fish goes. The one thing that is always guaranteed when you fish with friends? A good time. It is not just about catching fish after all.

We finally settled on a game plan that involved smallmouth bass, always a good choice. Arriving at the river, David decided to back his boat way out in the middle of the river, mainly because the edges were simply too shallow for the boat to float. That would be a theme for the day. If the river had been another 100-200 cfs lower we might not have made it down. The fish didn't mind though.

To launch or not launch? How about taking a test drive (or is it a test cast?) before committing...


I caught several small redeye bass in quick succession despite David P. not catching any fish from the boat trailer, so it was determined to go ahead with our game plan and off we went. Floating along, we found a few redeye and briefly hooked up with a smallmouth or two, but it was obvious that a strategy change was in order. Thankfully, David P. brought the hot fly tied by smallmouth angler extraordinaire Gary Troutman (what a great fishing name right?).

After some discussion now how to fish said fly, David P. stepped into the casting brace and started working the magic fly. As a good guide, I was incredibly oblivious gazing at the scenery so I could point out interesting things to the guy in the front of the boat. Thankfully he was focused on the task at hand and when the fish hit he was ready. After a solid fight, the first nice smallmouth came to the net and we took a much deserved picture.


Insisting that David P. keep fishing for a while, I eventually lost my reluctance to leave the oars when a great hole with lots of structure came into view. I grabbed a heavy rod rigged for musky and started flailing the water. That produced a maybe follow. A maybe follow is when the angler thinks they see a fish but it could just as easily be the product of an overactive imagination. Despite my optimism, no other fish showed so it was back to smallmouth. In due time, I found my first nice smallie.

Thanks to David Perry for the photograph

We continued the day, taking turns fishing and getting a fish here and there. The pinnacle of the day came unexpectedly. Having caught the last nice fish, I was deservedly on the oars while David P. kept looking for another good fish.

We had already drifted down several exceptionally shallow shoals, but the boat was still in one piece. As we approached another obstacle, this one a huge tree laying across the river, David P. turned around and with a completely straight face told me to go left. I looked at him in disbelief. No way was I going to try to take the boat left but I did manage to blurt out a "I would like to see you row that."

Not one to back off from a challenge, he told me to switch spots. I got into the front of the boat while he grabbed the oars. On further examination, he told me I was right made the prudent decision to not try getting over the tree. Just as I started breathing normally again in relief, David P. told me to go ahead and fish since I was in the front of the boat. Not one to argue when the option to fish presents itself, I cast the hot fly into the run we were drifting past. The fly barely hit the water before getting slammed. After just finishing a long fishless stretch as the angler, the guy at the oars was a little shocked. I was glad to have snatched what should have been his fish but also felt a little guilty.

Thanks to David Perry for the photograph

After the pictures ,which he still graciously took for me, I tentatively offered, "You want me to row so you can fish again?" His answer was an unequivocal yes and brought no argument from me. That big smallmouth made the day for me, and I was content.

The rest of the float was anticlimactic. Despite our hopes, we only saw one or two more muskie and the smallmouth seemed mostly uninterested. The scenery was nice though as was the time with a good fishing buddy. We had set out to catch a few fish and have a good time and succeeded on both counts.

Floating for smallmouth is tough now with low water, but wade fishing for them is just picking up. If I can help you with a guided fly fishing trip on the Cumberland Plateau for smallmouth bass, please contact me via call or text at 931-261-1884 or email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Fishing the Clinch River

This might be the year of the Clinch River, or at least for me anyway. I've now fished it twice within the last four days and that after not fishing it since, well, I can't exactly remember the last time I was down there but it has been a while. Based on the fishing last Friday I'll be down there a lot more. Based on the fishing today it might be a while before I'm back. Let me explain a little further.

Last week, with the nice weather, I've been contemplating fishing a little for myself. With the spring hatches in the Smokies has come a flurry of guide work. That is all well and good, but I do like to at least occasionally fish a little for myself as well. After a steady dose of the beautiful but small wild trout that are found in the Great Smoky Mountains, I was ready for some fish that were larger and more difficult. The Clinch offers both in great abundance.

The idea had been bouncing around in my brain for a while when my old fishing buddy, Trevor, checked in to see if I was available to fish on Friday. Amazingly enough I actually had a free day. Plans were originally made to fish the Caney Fork, but a last minute change of plans had us headed to the Clinch.

When we arrived at the usual Millers Island access, I was shocked to only find a couple of other cars in the parking lot. This place gets packed so to say the lack of people was a blessing is an understatement. We started with the usual midge rig that is so effective on this river. I quickly caught a little rainbow and later another. Trevor got into a hot streak in a good spot. Eventually I snuck in close enough to snag a fish or two myself out of his run when he got tangled momentarily and couldn't fish.

For the most part it was slow. The one high point of the morning was when Trevor got a solid 16-17" rainbow that was all colored up. Some of the fish spawn this time of year so their colors are usually extra vibrant. The real event had yet to happen for me though.

We moved well down the river to a spot near the town of Clinton. Having never fished there, I trusted Trevor's directions and judgement which included a lengthy walk. As we were walking along the river, the occasional rise would prompt me to ask if we should start fishing, but he kept telling me to keep going. Finally, just when I thought we had embarked upon a true death march, he announced that we had arrived at our destination. I looked around and almost immediately noticed a rise downstream just a few yards. Bugs were in the air including caddis and craneflies which prompted me to switch to the tried and true dry/dropper rig with a caddis pupa as the dropper.

In reality, this was my favorite Smoky Mountain rig, something that should never work on the educated trout of the Clinch. On the other hand, sometimes you just never know. On probably my second or third cast with the new setup, the dry fly shot under, and I was hooked up with a solid fish. This fish was strong and acrobatic, giving my four weight fly rod a better workout than it has seen in quite some time. Trevor soon had his net out with an offer of assistance which I gladly accepted.

Nice Clinch River rainbow trout

Soon I was admiring a great Clinch River rainbow trout, the first of many more to come. In fact, I continued to catch trout up and down that section of river, working my way across towards the far bank and back. While I know that I shouldn't expect the same from the Clinch every time I fish there, it was enough to tempt me back for several more times in the near future even if some of them turn out to be far less exciting in terms of fish catching. In fact, I say that after a very slow day on the water.

Today's plans were made just a couple of days ago. The forecast had been calling for partly cloudy skies although a chance for some wind was cause for mild concern. When I arrived to meet my friend John who had kindly offered to show me some of his favorite water, things were looking good. The river had a little bit of chop but nothing too intense. We were soon rigged up and ready to fish with small dark nymphs and midges, in other words, traditional Clinch fare.

After slowly getting in the water to fish, I proceeded to cast and mend, and mend, and cast again. Over and over, but without that nice motivation of a diving indicator and heavy trout on the other end of the line. Finally, one suicidal trout nailed the nymph which broke the monotony, but otherwise the day was slow. John eventually ended up with a fish as well, but we more or less agreed that the fish were not feeding. The weather was rapidly deteriorating and we both like to think that played a significant role in the lack of fish to hand. The wind was soon approaching gale force and when the rain started like stinging needles, we waded out and trooped back to the vehicle.

Despite the lack of large numbers of fish, the company was good, and I kind of like having challenging days because it keeps me interested. Problem solving is good for the mind and is one of my favorite parts about fly fishing. I guess that's the math teacher in me. The Clinch River promises many more days of both large trout and good problem solving opportunities so I'll be back again and again over the next few weeks.

Clinch River Rainbow Trout

Looking for a guided fly fishing trip on the Clinch River? Visit our guide site, Trout Zone Anglers, to learn more about booking your trip.

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"


Monday, November 30, 2015

Hard Work Pays Off

There are some days on the water where you work really hard all day and end up not catching any fish. Other days you may catch just one or two fish. These days are much easier to enjoy when one of those fish turns out to be a really big brown trout.

Yesterday, I hit the river with David Perry for a long day on high water. The norm on high water is heavy rods, big flies, and sinking lines. We had the added bonus of steady rainfall all day which is great streamer weather if you ask me, but the moisture can get a little tiresome after six or seven hours on the water.

Usually, when you bring your own boat, you get to choose when to fish. Despite bringing his boat, David was nice enough to row first for a while. Eventually, we switched and he started working the water. After he had cast countless times to a long and usually productive bank with nothing to show for it, I looked through my box and pulled out a fly that I developed last year for these tough high water conditions. With nothing better going on, it wasn't too hard to convince him to tie it on.

Soon we were drifting through some good looking water. I found a safe spot to drop the anchor so I could throw a few casts out of the back of the boat with my own streamer rod. Only a few casts later, David said, "There's one." He was calm about it, but I started reeling in my line anyway just in case. Only a breath later he followed up with, "It is a pretty good one."

I yanked up the anchor as fast as possible and started chasing the fish down the river. Soon we were within striking distance so I grabbed the net. Amazingly, everything worked as it should and we were staring at 25 inches of gorgeous brown trout. All I can say is that David is a fish catching machine. He not only catches some really big trout, but also puts his clients on big fish as well.

Large Caney Fork brown trout


The rest of the day was anticlimactic. David graciously returned to the oars after catching his monster. I eventually found a couple of small fish willing to play and near the end of the day David caught another smaller fish as well. A bald eagle made an appearance as well which is the first time either of us have seen one for several months, at least on the river. Still, neither of us could stop thinking about the big fish, and I'm guessing we'll be back looking for more again over the next few weeks.

For the time being, high water is going to be a problem on the area rivers and streams. Not good high water either, but higher than you really want to float and fish for the most part. Heavy rain over the Cumberland Plateau means we'll see extended high flows. The good news for streamer fans is that the elevated flows will eventually push all the fish into high water lies so streamer fishing will become better once fish become established in those places. Check back in another few weeks for more as our winter streamer season really gets going.

Until my next time on the water, I'll be tying flies and dreaming of big brown trout!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fly Tyer's Weekend 2015

If you like to fly fish, you should be at Fly Tyer's Weekend 2015. Geared specifically towards fly tyers, it will involve plenty of fun and entertainment for non tyers as well. The event is sponsored by Tremont Lodge & Resort, Little River Outfitters and the Southeastern Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers. A showing of the IF4 (International Fly Fishing Film Festival) will be happening Saturday evening. In addition, learn fishing tips and tricks from each tyer on how to fish their favorite patterns and more.

I will be tying Sunday afternoon so stop by, say hello, and discover some of my favorite patterns for fly fishing in the Smokies.

For more information, visit the page on Fly Tyer's Weekend.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To Be Detailed and Descriptive or Not?

Brookie from Stream X. Yeah, I'm not talking.

A recent local trend has been disconcerting to say the least: publicly outing small streams, particularly brook trout streams, on the Internet for the masses to read about. Sometimes referred to as HOTSPOTTING, the results can be horrendous.

Now before someone calls me out (aw, shoot, go ahead and call me out because it should make for some good entertainment), I recognize that I have often given trip reports that are detailed enough as to leave little to the imagination, sometimes even naming small streams myself. In fact, anyone who has followed my blog for more than a few months has probably noticed that the details associated with my fishing reports have dwindled to the point that some people probably don't even bother to read them anymore, and that is fine with me. In all honesty, I started writing this blog for myself and if others enjoy it so be it. Most of my trip reports are from fairly obvious Park waters, but I'm still not interested in having company next time I fish there.

Having seen what exposure can do to streams has definitely shifted my views over the years. When I first started exploring some of the high elevation brook trout waters in the Smokies, it was not unusual to be able to fish roadside for days and not see another angler. Back then, my favorite sections were probably fished no more than once every couple of weeks and the fishing was accordingly amazing to the point of being stupid easy.

Now, with fishing reports filling the Internet (including from yours truly) and anglers seeking out the water in ever increasing droves (or so it seems), it can be rare to find a piece of water to yourself anywhere close to a road. Add to that an increased acceptance of catch and keep and it becomes obvious why certain sections that used to produce 50+ fish days with several pushing the 10-12" range are now good for maybe 10-20 fish with none over 8 inches.

Sure, people have been keeping fish for a long time, but when did it become acceptable to proudly herald the fact, an act that just encourages more and more people to do the same? The fisheries biologists say that anglers have little to no impact on the trout populations in the Great Smoky Mountains, but that is assuming the status quo from the past few years. If just the anglers I have guided had all kept a limit on each guide trip, I would personally be responsible for the removal of triple digit numbers of trout in the last couple of months. Spread over the whole Park that is a really small number, but concentrated into a few sections I like to return to over and over again that suddenly becomes very significant.

Even more importantly, when anglers remove the largest trout from a section of stream, they are removing the dominant genetics from the gene pool and leaving the little guys that just weren't quite good enough to to make it to "head honcho" status. Spread that trend out over several generations of fish and the result is disturbingly obvious. Catch and keep has its place in our streams, but seriously, please release the largest alpha fish. Those are the genes I want to see being passed down on these wild streams.

So what is the main problem? I could be wrong, but it would appear to be a lack of education. A lot of newer anglers, like myself many years ago, are stoked about the sport and finding such good places to fish. Without quality mentors to teach them the near sacredness of the pursuit of trout and other fish on the fly, it can be a tough trial by fire. Unfortunately, at least a few of these people will have to learn by arriving at their favorite stream to find a plethora of anglers fishing their hidden gem.

Some hints I've seen online recently are obvious to anyone with a map and brains, but still probably shouldn't be announced to the masses. For example, the fact that Stream X has a decent flow and cold water is obvious to anyone with a map and vague concept of geography, but that doesn't mean that 500 anglers from the region should immediately descend on it just because they read about it online. Believe me, there are those anglers out there. "I read about it on the Internet so it must be true/awesome/epic/you name it, and I'm going to fish it this weekend."

A recently outed, previously hidden gem.

As a guide, I have been extremely selective about where I will take anglers. For some of the lesser known remote waters, I will not take clients there unless they specifically request a trip there. That means they have done their homework and already have some info on fishing there. Good for them.

While many of us view the exploration of new waters as part of the charm of fly fishing, there are some less than scrupulous or even just purely lazy anglers who read trip reports simply to glean knowledge about a hot spot that is not often fished. Some of those are fairly harmless and probably won't catch many trout anyway. Others are looking for an easy place to poach. I've talked to those people and have heard the stories such as anglers who used to take "brookies by the bushel" out of some remote headwater streams. Having heard the stories from credible first hand sources, I don't want to be the one responsible for making it easy on others to do the same.

Finally, most of all I'm admittedly selfish. Having worked very hard for 20+ years to discover most of the Park secrets for myself, it is tough seeing them outed by a careless word to the whole world. As someone who actively searches the Internet and keeps a detailed log of possible "secret" waters across the country to someday fish, I know that I'm not alone in my quest for that secret fishing hole. In an age of more and more transparency and fewer secrets, I just hope that at least one of my secret brookie streams will still be untouched next time I fish it.

Is there some contradiction with my complaints and the fact that I guide? Am I part of the problem?Quite possibly (and definitely in terms of creating new anglers or introducing people to fishing in the Smokies), but at least I am in a position to help educate others on protecting the resource. For example, I am always amazed at how many people (including long time fly fishermen with plenty of experience) seem to have no clue that you should NEVER dry hand a fish. Yes folks, please get your hands WET before touching a trout (assuming you even need to touch it). I have no problem with a quick picture of your catch, but dip those hands in the stream first.

The crazy part of this whole thing is that it is not even limited to small waters in the Smokies. Even tailwaters are susceptible to this. I've seen a fair amount of increased traffic on my local tailwater just from a few generically good reports on how it is fishing this year. With large numbers of quality fish leaving the river on stringers, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the pressure is bad. Our tailwaters could be full of fish averaging a legitimate 15-18" if we could just get people to release the majority of their catch and follow the regulations. Unfortunately, a lack of education and a stocking truck chasing mentality permeates the local fishing culture. People are living in a time of instant gratification and are not willing to see how letting a few go now could lead to unbelievable fishing down the road. This weak-minded approach is leaving our tailwaters in a sad state compared to the national treasures they could be.

The best pictures do not show any landmarks.

If that is not enough tangents for one post, then I don't know what is. I'll wrap this up as I don't have much else to say. I guess the recent hot water and low water leaves me without much else to do than dream up complaints. Maybe I should move back out west. I hear they have more water there than they know what to do with.

Oh, if I don't share much information with you, that is probably because I'm watching to see if you are a good steward with what you do know. Want to learn some secrets? Find a map and start hiking to search them out for yourself. Once you pour out your sweat in search of a great fishing location, you probably won't want to share either.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tailwater Action


Recent float trips have been producing some nice fish. The other day, an angler hooked an 18" brown trout and played it perfectly through several blistering runs before it finally got the best of him and spit the hook. Another recent Fathers' Day gift trip produced a memorable trophy for this dad! I'm not sure if he or his son was more excited. His son did a great job on the camera though while I helped pose the fish. Check out this gorgeous rainbow trout!

Big Rainbow Trout on the Caney Fork River
Photo Courtesy of Trone Sawyer

The lack of recent updates is a direct result of how busy things have been. I'm scrambling to get caught up, but most of my free time is spent keeping a good supply of fish catching flies in stock for guide trips.

Lots more is on the way so stay tuned for more reports and thoughts on the current fishing around the area!

If you are interested in a guided float trip on the Caney Fork River or in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please contact me through Trout Zone Anglers, via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com, or call/text (931) 261-1884. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Closeup

This week is shaping up to be just about perfect. I'll be taking some time to spend with friends and also fish for myself. I don't get that luxury as often now that I'm guiding. Today I kicked things off with my first local smallmouth trip of 2015. The trip was incredible in so many ways. Until I digest it a bit further and actually take the time to write about it, here is a closeup of one from today that is my best fish to date from this creek.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Spring on the Cumberland Plateau

Spring is my second favorite time of year, only barely edged out by my top favorite, fall. Yes, I love the transition seasons although summer and fall are both great as well. Summer gets a little hot and muggy and of course winter produces some slower fishing at times (although not always), but all of the seasons have their own charm. This year, spring has been glorious.

Starting out cool and wet in March and early April, we have finally transitioned into late spring. Bass are on the beds along with bluegill and shellcracker, at least up here on the Plateau. In the mountains, early spring hatches of dark colored bugs have given way to the lighter shades of summer. Most of the trees have finally leafed out although some are still getting going in that department.

One of my favorite things about spring and fall is being able to hike comfortably without experiencing the extreme temperatures of the other two seasons. Last Saturday I headed to a favorite local hike. Brady Mountain has a segment of the Cumberland Trail that climbs steeply from a trailhead on highway 68 until reaching the higher elevations on top of the mountain.

While the steepness of the mountain side can make the hike a daunting challenge, the solitude and views gained from the top make it a worth while hike. In the spring, wildflowers reign. The late afternoon sunlight filtering through the fresh green of spring made for some beautiful sights in the woods. Here are some pictures from my hike this past weekend.









Monday, February 23, 2015

Ice Storm 2015: Abbreviated Version

Just a heads up to those of you who have noticed a lack of posts but we are in the midst of the ice storm of the century here in Crossville or at least something like that. Power is out across the county so I just came in town to get internet where power was finally restored sometime yesterday. We have numerous power poles and lines down on our road and the yard looks like a tree company pruned all our trees and then forgot to clean up but otherwise we are doing great. Thankfully we have both a gas fireplace and a wood stove so we are warm. The gas hot water heater is a life saver as I really appreciate my nice hot showers.

Anyway, I won't be checking here as much nor will I be able to check my email very consistently until we get power and phone service back up so please be patient if you do not get an immediate response when contacting me about a guided trip. I'll be back in to check email sometime in the next couple of days if we don't get back up and running and possibly as early as tonight.

Until then, please be patient and know that I will be back soon!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How Did He Know?

A few short weeks ago (or was it months now?), I was doing my usual daily routine of surfing the Internet to see what my fellow fly fishing bloggers had been up to. Coming across a blog that is probably on everyones list of favorites, I was happy to see a giveaway going on. You know the type, you have to accomplish some small task like commenting on the post or sharing it with your friends and you are entered to win something. Now, I never win these things, but hope springs eternal so I left a message.

Shortly after, imagine my surprise when checking back in with Windknots &Tangled Lines to discover that I had indeed won something. Howard Levett, author of the famed blog, had somehow pulled my name out of the hat, or something along those lines. Even more amazing, he had picked me to receive the Korkers Ice Cleats.

Now, we don't have to use Ice Cleats or anything similar very often around here in Tennessee, so I knew something was up when he sent them to me. Clearly he knew something that I didn't know. Fast forward just a few short weeks after they arrived, and Tennessee is bombarded with an epic ice storm. While we see some snow and an occasional thin glaze of ice, it is not every year that we get massive ice storms. In fact, I was in high school the last time we had anything close to this ice storm. This ice storm is so incredible that I can go outside and skate across my yard, and no I don't have a pond out there.




What I want to know is how in the world did Howard know that I would need ice cleats weeks or months before the big weather event? These forecasters around here were changing their forecast from rain, to snow, to sleet, to freezing rain, to snow, and so on and so forth in the days leading up to this big storm. Somehow or another it seems Howard has the inside scoop on the weather.

Really, all I'm saying is that it would be convenient to know the weather so far in advance. This small gesture of kindness by Howard kept me from breaking any limbs. Instead of skating around on the ice, I was able to move confidently on the Korkers Ice Cleats and never once slipped or felt in danger of falling. If Howard knew we would have an ice storm more than two months ago, I want to know how to get him to cough up this summer's forecast and maybe even next fall's.

Imagine how convenient that would be when planning a fishing trip. Hate rainy weather and prefer sunny days for hopper fishing? Just ask Howard when to go. Want to fish under drizzly gray skies during epic emergences of your favorite mayfly? I'm guessing Howard has a way to figure that one out also. After all, he nailed this ice storm.