Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

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

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Caney Fork Scouting Trip

Low water on the Caney will be a rarity for the next couple of weeks, but I found a few while it lasted. If you haven't subscribed to my YouTube channel yet, you probably missed this video. Check it out below, or even better, head over and watch it on YouTube and subscribe to my Trout Zone Anglers channel while you are there. 



Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Something Good Always Happens On Deep Creek

Some fishing experiences tend to end in disappointment while others tend to end in elation. For example, there is a stream in the Smokies that, due to its small blue line status, will remain nameless. It looks fishy and I sometimes catch some fish there, but it never fishes nearly so well as it looks like it should. Every once in a while, I go back and give it another shot, but so far it has been mediocre. Other streams have a tendency to always impress. This has been my experience on Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I have long said that something good always happens on Deep Creek. For me, that has historically been a memorable fish. While all the fish I catch should be memorable, it was beginning to look like my backpacking trip would conclude with lots of beautiful but average trout. The usual Deep Creek lunker had eluded me.

Thankfully, as we began hiking down the trail on our return to civilization, I carried with me the memory of two incredible days on the water in the Smokies. The first day was memorable because I returned to fish a pool that had previously produced my largest brown trout on Deep Creek. The second day was memorable because I had finally achieved my long time goal of fishing around Bumgardner Ridge. The experience had been everything I had imagined, short of 20 inch wild trout leaping onto my hook the whole way that is.

As we hiked down the trail, I began to think about one pool in particular. This pool is in the lower reaches of the creek. It is where I had broken off a rather large brown trout the year before. There are several of these big pools on Deep Creek. Bottomless pools that must contain truly large brown trout, these are the pools that keep anglers coming back and dreaming about the big one.

By this point in our trip, I was simply focused on getting back out to my car and heading home. I was already dreaming about some good home cooked food instead of the backpacking food that required rehydrating before eating. A soft bed also sounded rather nice. Clearly I'm getting soft in my old age, but the comforts of home were pulling me down the trail faster than I had hiked in a few days before. I did some quick math in my head and decided it might even be possible to make it home in time for lunch.

The thought did occur to me that I might discover a big fish. Mostly I hoped that it wouldn't happen, because if it did, then I would probably need want to fish for it. Approaching the final pool of reckoning, I was almost scared to glance into the water. I purposefully left my polarized sunglasses off. If I couldn't see through the surface, then I couldn't find any fish.

Upon first glance, the pool seemed devoid of fish. Whew, close call, right? The smart thing at this point would have been to keep going. However, with no other anglers in sight, I couldn't help but linger. This was the pool that I had been dreaming about for over a year. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to examine every rock, every boulder, every inch, just in case that big fish was still around.

When I saw the fish, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was late enough in the morning and enough people were around that a fish that size should have already moved up into the deep heart of the pool before then. The fish looked about the same as last year, maybe a shade bigger. There wasn't much mistaking this fish though. A an opportunity for redemption was staring me in the face. The fish was clearly eating. The white of its mouth was obvious from our vantage point every time a bug drifted too close.

I had purposefully packed my wading gear inside my backpack knowing that the harder it was to get to everything, the less likely that I would actually stop to fish. This fish was in such a perfect position and looked so big, though, that I just couldn't refuse the chance to cast to it again.

Digging through my fly box, I selected a big black Kaufmann's stonefly along with the same bead head caddis pupa that I had broke the fish off on last time around. Assuming it would spook the fish, but really having no other choice, I also added the smallest airlock indicator they make. I couldn't get close enough to high stick very effectively so the indicator would have to do the trick. I took a while to sneak into position. The riffle just downstream from the pool affords a level of cover, but you still don't want to be too casual about the whole thing.

Soon I found myself kneeling in the riffle downstream of the fish. I could still see it large as life. My buddy John had dug out his GoPro and started filming. Strangely, I didn't feel any pressure. Either the fish would eat or it wouldn't. If it ate, I would either land it or I wouldn't. For some reason, spending a few nights in the woods puts things into better perspective, and I had never been more relaxed while fishing for a large trout.

After fishing for a while, the bottom fly caught the bottom just upstream of the trout. When I gently tugged to get it moving again, the large fish casually cruised up and across the pool and out of sight. Almost ready to leave, I remembered that the fish had done the same thing when I fished for it last time. Thankfully, my memory proved correct. This was a tolerant fish.

Several minutes later, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as the fish worked back up through the riffle to my left. It casually returned to its feeding lie and sat back down. I waited another minute, absolutely certain that another cast would spook it for good. But it didn't.

Eventually, I was convinced that the fish didn't want what I was offering. I changed the dropper to a small Pheasant Tail nymph. The fish had clearly been eating when I first spotted it. It seemed to know I was there, because its feeding had nearly ceased. In fact, when it finally ate the same big black stonefly I had been throwing the whole time, it was probably the first time it had ate anything for several minutes.

The same thing had happened when I broke this fish off over a year ago. The currents are tricky in the back of this hole, and I'm convinced that the flies just finally drifted correctly through the spot. A good drift is essential to catching trout and this fish proved that yet again.

The fish tried running hard down the river. I made a beeline, running across the tailout to maintain pressure downstream. Trout will generally pull away from the pressure, so by pulling downstream, I encouraged the fish to pull back up into the home pool. With that potential crisis averted, I settled down to fighting the fish. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the fish slid into the shallows and I grabbed its tail.


My buddy John came down the bank and graciously took some pictures for me. He also took a bit more video including of the release. I can't wait to see the final video. It is the first time I've had something filmed like that. The chance to relive that moment will be a lot of fun. In the meantime, I'm already considering how and when I can return to Deep Creek. I don't know what future trips there hold, but it will probably be something good. Oh yeah, I did make it home in time for lunch, albeit just a little late. It was worth running a little late though...

Update: Find the video HERE.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fly Fishing The Bend Around Bumgardner Ridge on Deep Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smokies fly fishing on Deep Creek

Great Smoky Mountains fly fishing on Deep Creek

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

Deep Creek brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

To be continued...


Friday, April 19, 2019

First Full Day of Fly Fishing on Deep Creek

The original plan for this camping trip was to start on lower Deep Creek and work our way to the headwaters over the course of several days. With that goal in mind, we wanted to fish the big bend around Bumgardner Ridge above campsite #60 on our first day. When we arrived Wednesday evening, the stream seemed fairly high after rain a few days prior to our trip. Since neither of us had ever fished the bend, we didn't want to get in there with water conditions being a little high. So, after some discussion, we decided to fish water immediately downstream and upstream of camp for our first day. This proved to be an excellent decision.

As with much of the fishing this time of year, things started out rather cool on Thursday morning. With the cool start, the fish were a bit slow getting going. We caught a handful of fish here and there, but it wasn't until the sun had been on the water a couple of hours that things really got going. We walked back downstream to campsite #59 with the goal of fishing back to our camp (#58). Deep nymphing proved to be the magic formula early. I was fishing a double nymph rig while John was working a dry/dropper. Throughout the shady stretches, I caught a few fish deep but it wasn't until he through into the first little patch of sunlight reaching the creek that John got a rise to the dry fly.

By the time we were approaching campsite #58, sunlight had reached nearly the entire creek valley and the fish were starting to really turn on. Lots of small brown trout were in the flats immediately downstream of camp and were more than willing to smash the dry fly or run with the little Pheasant Tail dropper. When the bear cables at our campsite came into view, we were both getting hungry and lunch in the comfort of camp seemed like a good idea. Here are a couple of pictures from the morning session.

Big red spots on a Deep Creek brown trout

Deep Creek fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Deep Creek in the Smokies and a perfect bend pool for fly fishing

After lunch, we hustled upstream to check out the water between campsite #57, #56, and #55. This is probably my favorite backcountry water on Deep Creek when it comes to fishing for brown trout. I've caught some really big brown trout (for the water) in this stretch in past years and was hoping for more of the same.

Because of the elevated water levels, getting around was a bit tougher in this stretch than I am used to. Fish were out and hungry though and the fishing was good. I kept switching back and forth between a double nymph rig and a dry/dropper rig. Fish were coming up to dry flies just often enough to want one tied on, but more were eating the nymphs. As usual, my simple caddis pupa was accounting for a lot of fish. Deep Creek and other North Carolina streams have an insane amount of caddis. We only noticed sporadic mayfly activity which seems odd this time of year. However, the bright sunny day definitely wasn't helping us when it came to good hatches of mayflies.

While no single fish really stands out from that day, we did catch plenty of very healthy and fat rainbow and brown trout. Each fish was carefully released to grow some more and hopefully be there the next time I return to Deep Creek. Here are a couple of fish from our day.




By mid afternoon, a stout breeze had kicked up. In fact, things got a bit dicey for a while. The wind was really rolling through the Deep Creek valley and every once in a while, large branches would fall out of the trees. We also heard some huge crashes back in the woods. There are many dead hemlock trees along the banks of Deep Creek and this made for a more exciting than usual day. It got bad enough at one point that we actually discussed whether we would need to get our stuff and hike out. Thankfully, just about the time it was really getting unbearable, the wind started to ease off. The rest of our trip wouldn't be that windy.

By late in the afternoon, we had reached a trail junction. Just upstream was a nice pool that I always like to fish. We decided to make that our last stop of the day. I quickly waded upstream and started working the deep water, hoping for a big brown trout. It wasn't meant to be on this day, although I did stick another fine rainbow trout. As we hiked back to camp, we decided that the stream levels had fallen enough to justify the excursion through the bend around Bumgardner Ridge the next day. We hoped for good weather and hungry trout plus a good night's rest...




Read Part One of our Deep Creek Trip HERE.

For information on guided fly fishing trips in the Smokies, please visit our guide site, Trout Zone Anglers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone on a Cold Rainy Day

If I had to pick one river that draws me back to Yellowstone National Park time and again it would be the Gibbon. Primarily featuring gorgeous meadow water, the Gibbon River also has some canyon sections, water falls, lake run fish, and huge resident brown trout. The Gibbon River is also a stream facing significant challenges and unfortunately may not long be a stream worth fishing. Despite those challenges, fly fishing the Gibbon River still provides some of my favorite fly fishing in Yellowstone. In my most recent Yellowstone trip, I had a chance to spend a little time on this wonderful stream. Before that story, here is a bit about fly fishing the Gibbon River as well as challenges facing this incredibly unique fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Lower Meadows

The Gibbon River can be split into several distinct sections. The lowest and probably most famous water is from Madison Junction upstream to Gibbon Falls. This section hosts tremendous numbers of large rainbow and brown trout from Hebgen Lake from fall through early spring of each year. The brown trout head upstream from the lake through the Madison River on a spawning journey that eventually finds them in either the Firehole River or the Gibbon River. Rainbow trout move into the system as well for the same reasons. While many anglers make the journey to Yellowstone in October to fish for these incredible trout, I prefer fishing areas upstream from this section simply for the challenge that they present.

Fly fishing the Gibbon River Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls - ©2018 David Knapp Photography

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Canyon and Gibbon Meadows

The next section of the Gibbon River is the canyon from Gibbon Falls upstream to Gibbon Meadows. This canyon section provides some great fishing both early and late in the season. Fish are not very large on average although a few larger fish are present. In Gibbon Meadows, the river slows down and meanders slowly across a wide landscape. A few large trout may be found here, but few anglers are up to the challenge of stalking them.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Elk Park to Grebe Lake

Upstream from Gibbon Meadows is another short canyon stretch which ends near Norris in another meadow section. Elk Park provides more meandering meadow water and is also some of my favorite water on the river. Meandering behind the Norris Geyser Basin, the Gibbon leaves the road for a couple of miles before returning and providing easy access near Norris Campground. If you want to fly fish the Gibbon River in its upper reaches, stay at this campground. Above Norris, the Gibbon enters another canyon leading upstream to Virginia Cascades. Above this scenic waterfall is another beautiful little meadow known as Virginia Meadows. This water previously had some fantastic fishing for wild brook trout although I've also caught cuttbows here with more rainbow heritage than cutthroat. Those fish are no longer there, however.

Above Virginia Meadows, the river and its tributaries flow through heavy brush as it descends from Grebe Wolf, and Ice Lakes. This entire section was recently treated by the National Park Service. While well intentioned, the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department is following shaky science at best with their efforts on the Gibbon River.

Gibbon River Restoration Efforts

Restoring native species is an admirable endeavor under most scenarios. Unfortunately, the National Park Service is following a rather broad definition of "restoration" for restoring the upper Gibbon River. According to their own environmental assessment in the planning stages, the upper Gibbon River never contained west slope cutthroat trout nor did it contain grayling. Unfortunately, the National Park Service has decided to prioritize one invasive over another. Long term, the plan calls for the total elimination of "non-native" species all the way downstream to Gibbon Falls. That means that my favorite stream will no longer be worthy of a visit. 

Why? I travel to Yellowstone to fish for the wild brown trout of the Gibbon upstream of Gibbon Falls. In particular, the water around Norris Geyser Basin is specially suited to these beautiful fish. Once they are eliminated and replaced with cutthroat, this stream will be full of an inferior fish and one that is not even native. If it was a true native species restoration, I would have nothing to say even if I did not like losing the wild browns. Since it is not a true restoration, I have no problem saying that I think this is a worthless project that will ruin an amazing fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River for Large Resident Brown Trout

While everyone else is thinking about fishing the lower Gibbon River for lake run fish, I like hunting the giant brown trout that inhabit the upper watershed from Gibbon Falls upstream to Virginia Cascades. These fish are finicky, spooky, and everything else that you would want from large challenging trout. On my most recent trip to Yellowstone, I was able to spend a bit of time on this, my favorite river in Yellowstone.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River on a Cold Rainy Day

Nasty weather always seems to bring out the aggression in brown trout. This is often the case on the Gibbon River. Under normal sunny weather, fish will tuck up under overhanging undercut banks and in any other piece of shade they can find. These brown trout did not get large by being stupid. However, under cloudy skies and rain or snow, these fish come out to hunt. Truth be told, my favorite time for fly fishing the Gibbon River is mid summer on a bright sunny day. Knowing that the fish are tucked up under those undercuts helps immensely in locating them. However, you just cannot beat a good stormy day to get the fish on the feed. 

On our trip to Yellowstone National Park, the weather took a turn for the worse within our first couple of days. Unseasonably cool weather prevailed, eventually producing the first good snowfall of the season at higher elevations. More on that in a future blog post. Somehow, my wife kindly agreed to let me fly fish the Gibbon River in this nasty weather. The rain wasn't falling when we started, but soon a cold fine rain began to soak our rain jackets. I knew I was on borrowed time since I did not want to make my wife miserable. Thus, I focused on some of the best and also most accessible water near Norris. 

Fishing through this section, things started out rather slow. In time I found out why. The National Park Service restoration efforts had been ongoing and many of the stream's trout appeared to be missing. In their place were pasty pellet head west-slope cutthroat straight from a hatchery somewhere. The brook trout were lacking compared with other visits to this stream. I'm still unclear on whether fish are being mechanically removed (via electroshocking) or what is going on through this section. 

Eventually, the YNP fisheries hopes to completely remove non-natives from this section according to my last information. I'm seriously hoping that they instead allow the brown, rainbow, and brook trout to coexist with the cutthroat. This is a contrived fishery after all and the Park Service should not be favoring one invasive over another. 

With the slow start, I knew I had two choices: either move faster to cover more water in my search for brown trout or slow down and really pick apart the water. When fishing this type of water, the worst thing you can typically do is to move too fast. Thus, I found myself slowing down. Often, this is a part of the process for me. As a Great Smoky Mountains angler and fly fishing guide, I'm accustomed to moving fast. Therefore, I always need to change my mindset and approach when fishing other water. This normally takes me an hour or so. 

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Success!!!

Finally, as I was working into some of the best water I would fish on this trip, it happened. I had cast up above a deep bend pool and allowed my fly to nearly dead drift deep into the slot at the head of the undercut. A couple of twitches kept it from snagging the bottom. Suddenly, my line simply stopped. When I set the hook, I fully expected to be stuck to a large pile of weeds on the bottom of the stream. That first head shake told me otherwise. My amazing wife grabbed the net and went for the fish. Because of the heavy tippets I use for this fishing, it didn't take long before I maneuvered the fish to the bank and she slipped the net under my largest brown trout of the trip. While not as large as some I have caught on this stream, it was still an amazing fish.

Large brown trout caught while fly fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park
Gibbon River Brown Trout - ©2018 Leah Knapp

I fished a bit longer, catching a few more solid brown trout. However, it was getting colder and the rain heavier. My lovely wife was no longer having fun and that meant it was time to stop. 

Observations on the Gibbon River From My Trip

As I mentioned above, the Gibbon River was simply not the same stream as before. Fish numbers and size were down significantly. I do not know if the National Park Service has modified their approach on this stream. Perhaps they are attempting to mechanically remove the majority of fish in an effort to avoid using poison on such a large stream. Perhaps the change in regulations is hurting this stream. Unfortunately, in conjunction with their new management strategy, the National Park Service removed all limits on "non-native" fish in this section. That does not extend to the non-native cutthroat, clearly demonstrating the hypocrisy of the Yellowstone National Park administration in managing this formerly incredible trout stream. 

If this bothers you as well, I encourage you to contact both the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department as well as the overall Park administration. The Gibbon River will probably not be a good reason to visit Yellowstone National Park in the future unless things change. Before the removal efforts, myself and many others would travel there just to fish this stream. Now, I'm planning vacations to other destinations. There are still amazing places in Yellowstone, and I will be highlighting some of these from my trip this summer in future blog posts.

Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter


Please sign up for the Trout Zone Anglers newsletter. You will receive approximately one email per month highlighting fishing opportunities in middle and east Tennessee and offering trip reports from my adventures both guiding and beyond. 

Subscribe to the Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter!

* indicates required

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Summer Brown Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read just a few of my blog posts and you will quickly ascertain that brown trout are one of my absolute favorite species to target on the fly rod. Given the opportunity, I would just about rather fish for brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than any other species anywhere else. That said, you won't find me being picky either. I get a lot of joy out of the little seven inch rainbow trout that are a lot more common in the Smokies and catching native southern Appalachian brook trout might be my next favorite thing to catching big browns. On some days I would probably even say the brook trout are my favorite thing.

Fishing in the summer for big brown trout in the Smokies is probably about the best time to catch one, at least in the course of simply going out and fishing and lucking into one. Fall through spring is a better time to specifically and intentionally target these fish as they are easier to spot during those months, but in the summer they are just as likely if not more so to eat a fly.

This summer has been one of the better ones for fishing the Great Smoky Mountains in recent memory. Normal to often below normal temperatures combined with a wet summer has made the current conditions good to excellent. The effects of the drought of 2016 are finally showing in larger fish sizes now in 2018 as well. Overall, this has been and will continue to be an incredible year for fishing in the Smokies.

I have long said that the most important part of catching big trout, especially in the Smokies, is time put in on the water. The people who catch the most fish and especially the largest fish are the ones who spend the most time out on the water. When it comes to stalking large brown trout in the Smokies, there is no substitute for experience. This year, one of my regular customers and good friend Greg Hall has made it a point to spend a significant amount of time in the Smokies. We have been fishing a day in the Park nearly every month this year except for January and it is really showing with the fish he is catching. The last two trips in particular have been amazing.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how hard we worked for these fish, but in all honesty both of them were relatively easy to catch. Both came in the course of simply covering water which is probably the best strategy this time of year.

summer big brown trout Great Smoky Mountains National Park

big brown trout in summer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The last trip in particular was special because I was able to get in on the action as well. I asked Greg if he had anywhere to be or if he wanted to fish late. I was thinking about fishing for an hour or so for myself and told him we would just extend our trip time and I would start fishing at the conclusion of the usual "guide" portion of the trip. He readily agreed to more time on the water which set the stage for me to get in on the good brown trout fishing in the Smokies this summer.

When he landed his brute, it was already late in the day. I guided him for a bit longer, but soon it was time for both of us to fish. Leap frogging up the river, we started nailing fish through the fast pocket water. By the time we reached the top of the first section of fast pocket water, I was already to double digits for numbers and was hoping the nice pools at the top would produce a good fish for me.

The first good pool was surprisingly slow. The second and third proved much better. I took the top pool and left the bottom one for Greg who started pulling out nice big wild rainbow trout one after another. I got one rainbow and then had an extended drought. Knowing how good the water was, I continued to slowly dissect the pool, fishing every inch thoroughly. Finally, right at the very top in some faster current, it happened. The indicator shot down and I was hooked up with what felt like a freight train on the 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon, perhaps one of the finest rods for fishing in the Smokies I might add. Up and down the pool we went before the fish finally allowed me to guide it into the shallows and my waiting net.


This was probably the only time this summer that I'll really be able to target big brown trout in the Smokies. The next time I can get away and fish will be in the fall. Winter will allow a lot more time on the water for me hopefully.

As far as techniques and tactics for chasing these big brown trout in the Smokies, I high stick with nymphs and sunken terrestrials more than anything in the warm months. In the water, I just drop the terrestrials and maybe add some streamers as well. Learning the subtle nuances of high sticking (Euro nymphing for you modern anglers) is an art form with over 100 years of history here in the Southern Appalachians. There is simply no substitute for time on the water in gaining these skills and a fly fishing guide will shorten the learning curve immensely. That said, get out and practice if you want to catch these beauties and most of all, have fun!!!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Warm Winter Reprieve

Cold. That has been the theme for this winter. For one stretch back in early January, streams were mostly too frozen over to fish, with the exception of tailwaters of course. At one point it was bad enough that a day above freezing was a warm day. Not that I mind cold days, but they do tend to put a damper on fishing activities. On top of that, I was busy the last half of January with two weeks of classes towards my outdoor education masters. The second of two weeks at the intensive was spent staying at a gorgeous lodge on the Watauga. Sadly, fishing was not the goal, so I mostly had to stare longingly from a distance. The intensive ended on Friday just before noon, and I didn't need to be home until evening.

With a couple of hours to spare, I hit the drive thru at Taco Bell for a couple of burritos and then headed up the Watauga to look for a good place to fish. Meandering up the river, I made it all the way up to Wilbur Lake. With no itinerary other than enjoying a few hours off, I wanted to see the scenery while I was there. As I headed back down the river, a plan started to crystalize in my mind. My car just naturally took me to one of my favorite access points on the river for wading and soon I was gearing up.

The day was warmer than any we had experienced for a while. I debated whether to wear my jacket or not. Realizing I would be too warm if I wore it, I just wore the long sleeve shirt and that was all I needed. The sun was toasty on my back and bright in my face every time I turned to fish towards it. Accordingly, I tried to fish with the sun at my back as much as possible.

A nymph rig seemed appropriate, although I saw just enough Blue-winged Olives and the occasional rise to convince me that fish could also have been caught on a dry fly. I also carried a streamer rod. Over the course of my two hours on the water, I caught all my fish on the nymphs, but moved some really good fish on the streamers. Unfortunately none of the streamer chasers connected with the hook, but next time I'll know where to look.

In the two hours I fished, I quickly lost track of how many I had caught. That isn't as impressive as it sounds, however. First, I normally lose track somewhere between fish number three and fish number five or six. Second, it appears that TWRA had done a thorough stocking job recently and dumped a bunch of fingerlings in the river. I didn't mind though. It was good to catch a few trout and there were just enough nicer fish mixed in to keep things interesting.

The day was close to winding down when I noticed that I had missed a call from a long-time client. I paused from my fishing long enough to call Tim back and he inquired how my day was going. He fishes the Watauga a lot and knew I was planning on fishing it a little. When I told him where I was fishing at, he gave some pretty specific directions. Wade to this spot, throw towards this log, let it drift down as far as you can, and repeat. Figuring I had nothing better to do and with time slipping away, I waded carefully into the described spot and started fishing.

As I fished through the spot, a strange thing happened. I was standing in the middle of the river when a drift boat bore down on me from above. Looking behind and realizing there was plenty of room for them to go around, I stayed put. The strange part was that they never even attempted to avoid my section of the river. With even depth all the way across, they opted to float past about 10 feet in front of me and right through the water I was fishing. Apparently some of the upper east Tennessee guides aren't as polite as the ones from Knoxville and points westward. Oh well, the day was too beautiful to let something like that ruin things for me so I shrugged a little and kept fishing.

With only minutes to spare, I noticed a large fish rise to inspect my indicator before hunkering down again. Big mistake on the part of the fish. I cast repeated to the spot until the fish realized how delicious my Pheasant Tail nymph looked and ate. The fight was a bit nerve wracking. Some fast rapids just downstream were exactly the sort of place you don't want to fight a hefty trout. With some solid pressure from my 9' six weight Orvis Recon, the fish turned and finally slid into the net. The big male rainbow had a perfect kype jaw. If this fish lasts another year or two in the river he will be a genuine monster.


That trout was the perfect consolation after having some less than polite people float through my spot. I had already pushed my self-imposed quitting time. With one last glance at the place I had caught the big trout, I turned and made my way out towards the car with another satisfying outing under my belt.


Friday, December 29, 2017

End of Season Brown Trout

Winter fishing for brown trout is one of my favorite ways to spend time on the water. Not that I'll turn down fishing at other times, but having a stream to yourself is well worth the numb hands and frosted ears and nose that usually accompanies fly fishing this time of year. Not long ago, I managed to get out for a day on the water with my then girlfriend Leah (now fiancee!!! so more on that in another post!) and a couple of our friends.

The day was cool with clouds, but not as cold as what we are experiencing now. The fish of the Smokies were still just active enough that we had a chance. In fact, Leah started the day off in a hurry, catching a nice rainbow and a beautiful brown in short order. I was a little slower getting going, and thought I had messed up my day when I missed a really nice brown trout on a streamer several casts in a row. This was one hungry fish! Unfortunately, I could not connect, and so we went looking for other fish.



About this time, our friends Jayson and Hailey showed up. We all went into this day knowing that the fishing would be good but the catching might be slow to nonexistent. Instead, we were just glad to get out and enjoy some time in nature with friends. Imagine my surprise when we found a really nice fish sitting out at our next stop. Actually, to be more accurate, I saw the fish and spent the next few minutes trying to decide whether it was worth a cast or not.

Most of the time with large brown trout, it is a waste of time if they are just sitting down and not moving. That's not to say one won't bite under those circumstances, but they tend to be a little finicky to begin with. A fish that's not moving is not a feeding fish. This fish was moving side to side just enough that I figured there was a chance. After asking everyone else if they would mind, I ran and grabbed a rod and slipped down to the water.

Moving slowly into position, I had the advantage of a large boulder to sneak up behind. This allowed me to get within casting range without spooking the fish. After a handful of casts, the nice fish sat down, and I realized that, despite my careful presentation, somehow I had spooked the fish. Suddenly, I saw a shadow and realized that another fish was moving nearby. I was shocked to realize there was more than one big trout in this spot, but quickly made the cast. My leader ticked ever so slightly, and I set the hook hard.

The big brown trout came to the surface and rolled. Meanwhile, my buddy Jayson slid down the steep bank from where everyone had been watching and quickly grabbed my net to help. Amazingly, the 10' 3 weight TFO BVK rod I was fishing handled the fish in short order. The rod had a soft enough tip that I could really put a lot of pressure on the big trout without risking breaking my tippet. Yet, there was enough backbone deep towards the handle that it could turn the fish. Soon Jayson swooped in, and I was looking at one of the larger fish I've caught in the Smokies this year.

I'm not sure who was more surprised about me actually hooking and landing the fish. It isn't often that everything comes together just right when sight fishing one of these big brown trout. I was thankful to have pulled it off when I had friends around to help with pictures. Leah grabbed my good camera and started shooting away. I think she has natural talent with the camera because they turned out great!


Over the next 3-4 months, there will be more opportunities to sight fish to large brown trout. The cold water of winter is a lot clearer than the warm waters of summer. Cold water doesn't hold suspended solids as well, so even after a big rain it will clear quickly this time of year. Spend plenty of time walking the banks and looking for big trout. I find it helps to leave the rod in the car until a fish is located, otherwise you'll find yourself fishing just because. Once you find one, keep going back until you catch it out feeding. With enough time and effort, these big wild brown trout of the Smokies are catchable.

I'll be out there again through the cold months, but not as much as usual. I have a lot going on to keep me busy between work, school, and an upcoming wedding. Stay tuned for more on all of those! In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and letting me share with you.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Under Cover of Darkness: Hunting Big Nocturnal Brown Trout

For years, I have dabbled occasionally in fishing at night. Many of my largest fish have been caught at night, although that is a bit misleading since a lot of those were stripers. Long nights spent stripping streamers also resulted in a big brown trout here and there. One thing eluded me though: catching a big brown trout on a mouse pattern.

For the last couple of years, I have been inspired by my buddy Bryan Allison. Recently, his monster 30" brown trout on a night time mouse trip got me thinking about mousing again. Fast forward to a few weeks back when my friend Brandon Bailes checked in about the possibility of fishing the Caney Fork River. We have been trying to get our schedules together for a while, but this was the first time it looked like we could finally make it happen.

Yesterday, I started the day off early with a morning guide trip on the Caney Fork. After a quick lunch break midday, I headed back to the river to meet Brandon and get ready for our evening float. Imagine my surprise when he handed me a handful of his own creations. For anyone that doesn't know Brandon, he is an extremely talented fly tier who sometimes does orders for people who need some good custom tied flies. If you are interested in getting flies from him, then contact me, and I'll put you in touch with him.

Mouse Pattern from Brandon Bailes
"The Winning Mouse Pattern" Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes

I couldn't bring myself to fish such beautiful flies, but I did grab a mouse pattern from the bunch and added it to my box...just in case. After dumping the boat and running the shuttle, we started floating around 4:00 PM. Brandon started off on streamers and stuck with those faithfully until near dusk. I wanted to see how the nymph fishing was for future guide trips, so I drowned some flies under an indicator.

Early in the float, Brandon started having some really nice flashes on the streamer. We were both stoked for the evening and what it had to offer. Soon, my indicator dove, and I had a nice fish on. A battle scarred rainbow hit the bottom of the net moments later, and I got a quick picture. Just downstream, Brandon nailed a couple of beautiful brown trout on his streamer.

"First Fish" Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes

Caney Fork River brown trout caught on an ant
"On the Ant" ©2017 David Knapp Photography

We continued into the gathering darkness. By the time we were halfway through the float, we stopped for a brief dry fly session. Brandon nailed some nice browns on a flying ant of his. The fish were sipping in gentle currents as they are prone to do in the last light of day. The hits indicated that the fish were not altogether unfamiliar with terrestrials which is good news for the fly angler.

Light was failing fast now and before we continued through the second half of our float, we took the time to exchange sinking lines and streamers for floating lines and mouse patterns. Yes, you read that correctly...big nasty rodent imitations. Did I mention that Brandon ties some amazing flies? I dug out the fly that he had just gifted me with and tied it on to some stout 12 lb. fluorocarbon tippet. If a fish happened to hit, the last thing I wanted to do was worry if my line would hold.

Caney Fork River evening in the ClackaCraft Drift Boat
"Evening Reflections" ©2017 David Knapp Photography

The anchor was pulled back up and the boat continued into the mysterious darkness of night. We had no idea if trout would come out to play or not, but there is only one way to find out. This float is not for anyone unfamiliar with the river. Even on low water you could get yourself into some problems if you don't know where you are going. Thankfully, having rowed this river countless times, I could nearly do it with my eyes closed. All of those daylight floats really pay off when you fish at night. Sometimes you are thankful just to see a silhouette of trees against the stars for navigation. Other times, the river is wide and lazy and there are few opportunities for danger. Some sections are just too tight for safe casting and those we rowed quickly through.

Along the way, we discussed everything either of us had read on large predatory brown trout. Feeding habits and patterns were recalled and we began trying to really target specific water types where we expected these fish might happen to be at. At the end of one long pool, Brandon had an explosive strike but the fish refused to hit again. The same thing happened another 200 yards downstream, except this time the fish hit a second time and was briefly hooked. Then there was a lot of futile casting. Those two hits had us excited, but the next couple of hours just demonstrated how important it is to put in your time on these big fish.

We were drifting into a flat area that I always like to fish on low or high water. The fish just always seem to be there. I directed Brandon towards the left side of the boat where I expected the fish to be, and I aimlessly slung some casts to the right just in case. About the time I was thinking about pulling my fly out of the water for the final time and just working the oars it happened. Despite being in a section that I thought was wide open, my fly suddenly seemed very heavy. As I kept stripping, the heavy feeling began to throb, and I realized I was feeling the head shakes of a big fish as the "log" I thought I had hooked came alive.

The fish was clearly large, but how large we wouldn't know for several minutes. For a few seconds I questioned whether I had somehow nailed a smaller striper, but quickly discarded that for the lack of a scorching run. Even so, I briefly saw my backing before quickly getting the line back on the reel. The 7 weight rod was doubled under the weight of the monster. Brandon grabbed the net and a headlamp as I kept working the rod and the fish. It surfaced briefly just on the edge of the feeble glow from our light, and I knew it was only another moment before my big brown trout was in the net.

Finally, Brandon slipped the big boat net under the fish. I was glad for the large version of the Fishpond Nomad Boat Net. Anything smaller for a net and I would have been a nervous wreck. As it was, I was shaking and not from the cool night air. This fish was a monster with a big kype jaw. In other words, I had just landed my dream big brown trout on the Caney Fork River. For the second summer in a row, I found a new personal best fish on this special river.

Caney Fork River Monster Brown Trout on a Mouse Fly
"Rodent Eater" Photo Courtesy of Brandon Bailes

The next few moments were a scramble to keep the big fish in the water, set up some lighting, dig out the camera, and get ready for a couple of quick pictures. That accomplished, I then held the fish facing upstream in the gentle current. I probably spent longer than necessary holding on to this fish. I didn't want to let it go until I was absolutely certain that it was healthy and ready to swim another day. Fish like this are a treat to be enjoyed by other anglers again and again. Let them go so they can grow!

The Caney Fork River is amazing in its ability to produce big trout. The river can support a surprising number of very large fish given the opportunity. Good catch and release practices go a long ways towards insuring the opportunity for others to enjoy this fishery. If you enjoy catching big fish like the one above, release your catch. If I was ever going to put a fish on the wall, this one was probably the fish. It was perfect in every way, from the big kype jaw, to the rich coloration, and of course it was a big fish. Instead, I prefer to see them swim away to be caught another day.

Thanks to Brandon Bailes for coming to fish with me and kindly taking these great pictures. Also thanks for the winning mouse pattern! Check out his work if you need some effective, big fish catching flies!




Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Summer Smallmouth Explorations

Last minute cancelations are rare these days which means I'm not doing much fishing. To be clear, I'm participating in fishing a lot these days, just not as the actual fisherman. That is okay, I suppose, because it means business is going well. On the other hand, it means my time to explore has been severely limited as of late. Summer smallmouth exploration trips are probably one of my favorite downtime activities. This is likely at least partly because of how rare they have become.

As a short aside here, if you want to get on my calendar this summer, plan ahead. I'm booked solid until the last week of July although things are not quite as busy in August. That said, August is probably the best month of the year to fish the Caney Fork (in my humble opinion) if you want to find and stalk large brown trout on midges, but enough of that. Back to my smallmouth fly fishing exploration trips.

The first smallmouth trip was on limited time and was a return to an old favorite. That day went well as I caught several healthy fish on topwater foam hoppers on light tackle. This is probably my favorite way of fishing for smallmouth.

When another cancelation happened just a few short days later, I decided to go a bit further afield in search of some new scenery and hopefully good fishing. My dad happened to be off of work as well, and I checked to see if he was interested in a hike. He was, so we quickly made our plans and hit the road for the new destination.

The hike in turned out to be shorter and relatively easier than I expected which was great. The fishing also turned out to be amazing. Fishing topwater flies is probably my favorite way to stalk these feisty bass, so I tied on a black Stealth Bomber. My usual selection is either that fly or a Chernobyl style hopper. Add a rod in the 4-6 weight range (usually a 4 or 5 for me) and you have an afternoon of fun ahead of you. Smallmouth on these creeks can get big, so a rod up to a 7 or even 8 weight isn't the worst idea, but I think more fish eat the fly because of the gentle presentation of the lighter rods.

Once I rigged up and got on my wading boots, I quickly waded into the stream and started casting. A few casts later, and I had my first bass! That fish was soon followed by a second and the day was looking good!



About this time the distant sound of an ATV had grown louder and I stopped fishing long enough to chat with a guy and his son who lived nearby and proved to be a wealth of information about the area. Armed with this additional knowledge, I started working my way upstream while my dad relaxed in the shade on a large rock overlooking the stream. A few more fish came to hand on the Stealth Bomber before I decided it was time to turn around and work back downstream on my way out. Since all of the fish had already seen the top water fly, I decided to go sub-surface with a favorite smallmouth bass streamer.

On my way up, a large fish had spooked out of the tailout of a big pool. This fished wasn't really interested on the Stealth Bomber but I thought it might go for the subsurface offering. Sure enough, as I approached the spot, I could see the fish cruising. My cast landed the fly 5-6 feet upstream of the fish and it immediately charged. After a quick pause to stare at the fly, it inhaled the streamer and I gave a tremendous bass set.

Somehow the 5 weight provided enough power and the fish was soon charging around the pool. I was thankful for a good large arbor reel with its ability to quickly pick up a lot of line. The fish grew tired, and soon I lipped it and snapped a quick picture. This may be my new favorite place to fish for smallmouth!


Knowing that time was short, I worked quickly downstream and back to where I had left my dad. He agreed that the day was warm and humid so we were both ready to leave. I stopped to fish a little off of the rock he had been relaxing on and quickly nailed two more nice bass on the streamer. My dad kindly snapped a couple of pictures with my phone and then we were ready to go!



This is definitely one of my top three favorite smallmouth locations now. The access is not terrible although I'm always nervous leaving a vehicle parked in the middle of nowhere on the Cumberland Plateau. So far I've been fortunate thankfully. The fish are willing and clearly not too pressured. The only difficulty with fishing for smallmouth is the skill required. Short sloppy casts won't work on these fish, and once you get one to eat you better be ready to set the hook hard. That said, the rewards are well worth it. Exploring these remote smallmouth creeks is reward enough, but finding fish like these make it even better!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guides Guiding Guides

There are guide trips, and then there are guides guiding guides. Of course, it is possible for there to be some crossover between the two. Let me be clear from the start by saying that there was no money exchanging hands on this particular trip, just three friends getting together to have a good time.

The day began the week before when David Perry contacted me about getting out to fish streamers together on Sunday. When I told him that my calendar was clear, it was time to find a third person to join us. We talked about some possibilities and soon settled on another great Caney Fork River guide, Susan Thrasher. Amazingly, her calendar was also open and things were quickly finalized to meet Sunday morning. With the time change happening that Saturday night, we didn't start too early and targeted 9:00 AM as a good time to meet up.

Morning came too early with the time change, and I was glad we hadn't started any earlier. David Perry had brought his boat. It didn't take long to throw the necessary items into his truck and ride up to the dam. I stayed with the boat to get everything ready while he and Susan ran the shuttle. Before long they were back. Comfortably settled in at the rower's bench, I told them to jump in, and we were off for a few laps around the dam pool.

Fish started to come with some regularity and soon it was time to trade off on the rowing job. We ended up each taking a lap around the dam pool before starting off down the river. Both strikes and fish were coming with enough frequency that you had to stay on your toes. This was going to be one of those good days.

I had some experiments to try out. I've been working on deep water nymphing techniques for one and two generators. On several previous trips I had the one generator routine dialed in, but wanted to try some things for two generators. The ribbing from my guide friends started in earnest when I pulled out a pack of balloons. In the end, the amount of weight I was trying to float ended up being more of a hassle than it was worth, and I quickly ditched the balloon idea. Unfortunately, I didn't quit before Susan snapped a picture to preserve the evidence. To be fair, before my experiments came to an end, everyone wanted to try the lucky flies so it wasn't a complete failure. They just didn't want to fish them under a balloon!

Photo Courtesy of Susan Thrasher ©2017

Early in the float, David P. had the hot hand with plenty of fish coming to the net. Susan started to catch up and then we got into a pod of fish that was producing almost every cast. By the time we started down the river, everyone was on the board. The hunt continued and we tried some different techniques out. The key to any of the techniques was depth (isn't it always?), and when the depth and speed was correct the fish would respond.

White was a clear favorite as far as fly colors go. The fish are responding to shad imitations such as my PB&J even when there aren't any obvious signs of a shad kill which leads me to believe they have been coming through at times. A few weeks back, on a guided float, we saw some come down the river and the fish were going nuts for them. All of this bodes well for the fishing this upcoming year! Fish are healthy and growing well this winter and early spring.

The highlight of the day came shortly after I nailed a nice rainbow trout. We were having a conversation about how nice it was to fish with other guides. As much as we all love guiding, it is also nice to occasionally spend time on the water without being responsible for putting someone else on fish. Sharing ideas together allows each of us to become better anglers and guides.

Photo Courtesy of Susan Thrasher ©2017

About that time, David P. was back on the rower's bench and I was in the front of the boat. As we came into a nice bend in the river, I stuck a good brown off the right side and was followed shortly after with Susan putting a deep bend in her rod. David P. was left to ask which of us wanted our fish netted first. Both fish came to the net about the same time so we pulled over for the always enjoyable "Double" picture. Susan's was a gorgeous rainbow trout while mine was a buttery brown trout. David P. did the honors taking pictures for us and soon both fish were released to swim and be caught again another day.

Photo by David Perry ©2017 and provided courtesy of Susan Thrasher

There were more fish to be caught and still some distance left to float. As the shadows started to lengthen, we got the crazy idea to do it all again. Well, sort of. Things slowed down and we started thinking about the dam pool again. There were and are plenty of fish up there and we decided to run up there and make a few more laps. Accordingly, we hustled down to the takeout, loaded the boat, and were soon back up at the dam.

The final fish were caught and we were all starting to think about work the next day. All good things must come to an end or so it seems most of the time. This was no different. We loaded the boat and put up gear. Soon we were saying our goodbyes and promising to do another trip like this one as soon as possible. Thanks again David P. and Susan!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fly Tying Demo at Little River Outfitters

If you are in the area this weekend, I will be tying at Little River Outfitters on this Sunday (January 29, 2017) from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. If you have time, stop by and say hello. I'm planning on tying tailwater midge patterns and also some nymphs that should be good both on tailwaters and in the mountains. If there is time, I may do a few terrestrials as well. I'll be discussing fishing on the tailwaters and sharing some of my tips and stories for success. If anyone wants to talk fishing in the mountains, I may do that as well. If you have any particular patterns you would like to see, please let me know by responding here or emailing me with your request.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Updated Website

Lots of changes have happened with the Trout Zone Anglers website. If you remember back, I introduced a new website several months (okay almost a year) back. That was an experimental site that allowed me to get up to speed on the new platform (Wordpress) and get the basic site set up so I would have minimal downtime. Fast forward to today and I'm happy to announce the new website.

The basics of the website are complete, but the site is far from being done. Check back often for fishing guides to many of the streams, rivers, and even lakes across middle and east Tennessee. Eventually those guides will probably even include destinations further away. Of course, you can also find information about my fly fishing guide service on the new site.

One thing I would highly recommend is subscribing to the Trout Zone Anglers email newsletter. Go to the new website link above and look at the right sidebar for a signup form. Simply add your email and name and hit submit and you will be good to go. Lots of extra content comes through the newsletter that does not show up here.