Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Weekend

Yet another great weekend is in the books but still no fishing. Lately the Caney is showing signs of slowing generation which is a good thing. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint), the extended forecast includes several chances of precipitation. Thankfully as of now, none of these are looking like the significant events we experienced over the last several weeks. With any luck I'll be fishing on the Caney in another couple of weeks.

Despite the lack of fishing, I still had fun this weekend. Saturday I got in some hiking and the chance to get outside with friends and take a few pictures was great! Today (Sunday) I spent several hours at Little River Outfitters doing a fly tying demo. As always, it was a lot of fun to just hang around a good fly shop and talk fishing. Tying flies wasn't bad either. I shared a few favorite Smokies patterns including one of my "secret" soft hackles that the browns just love.

One highlight of the day was the drive I took up Middle Prong to check out the water. There was a lot of ice on the river which made for some interesting pictures. Tomorrow or Tuesday I'll get those uploaded for you to see...and one day this week I might try to get in a bit of fishing...wish me luck on that because I'll need it to make it happen...

Friday, January 16, 2009

2008 Year in Review: The Early Months

For the sake of this post, I'm considering the early months of 2008 to be January through March. The year held many interesting firsts for me and the early months had several big ones. I got the year started in January and enjoyed one of my best days on the Caney of 2008 on what turned out to be the coldest day that I spent fishing for the year.

The temperature never got out of the low 20s meaning that I fought ice in my guides and reel all day. Despite the cold, the day was memorable because the fish were feeding heavily on the midges that were having a hard time flying off. It was so cold that as soon as they emerged onto the surface, they couldn't fly away. The fishing was leisurely and enjoyable and I even managed to stay warm.

In February I chased lake-run fish for the first time and also started targeting some warm water species such as white and yellow bass. The lake-run experiment was spotty but I did find some nice fish.

The fishing below Chickamauga dam was an absolute blast and for the first time in awhile I found myself enjoying fishing for something other than trout. The white bass and hybrids really fight well, often bulldogging with strong head shakes. The shad kill in the Chickamauga tailwater was good and the fish would happily take just about anything white. On one of my excursions I hooked and landed my first freshwater drum. It was very heavy in the strong current but didn't fight particularly well for its size.

As March rolled around, the trips to Chickamauga continued along with an increase in the frequency of my trips to the Hiwassee River. The fish were generally feeding well and the spring of 2008 was a good one on this amazing tailwater.

Below I'm putting a couple more pictures from the early months of 2008. Hopefully I'll get around to spring and early summer of the year soon. Until then, remember to stop by Little River Outfitters on Sunday afternoon if you're in the area. Hope to see you there...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sunday Tying Demo

For those that live in or near East Tennessee and don't have plans for Sunday afternoon, I'll be tying at Little River Outfitters in Townsend from 12:30-4:30. So far I'm planning on sharing some of my favorite Smokies patterns including some variations on standard patterns that provide just enough difference from the original to interest some picky fish. Also I'm planning on sharing some favorite tailwater patterns including how I like to fish them. Hope to see some of you there! If anyone plans to attend and has a request for a pattern you would like to see, respond here or shoot me an email and I'll see what I can do...

Also, please remember to vote in the poll at right if you have not done so yet. Let me know how 2008 was as a fishing year for you...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tiny Flies

When most people think about fly fishing, they envision a cool mountain stream or a large western river with someone artistically working a fly rod for rising trout. Many fly fishers consider the dry fly as the purest approach one could take to the sport. Casting a dry over a rising trout and watching the take is indeed one of the most exhilarating moments you can experience on the water. However, if you want to be successful as a fisherman, you must be able to adapt to whatever conditions are occurring when you arrive streamside.
Anyone that has fly fished for any length of time has heard the saying that 10% of fisherman catch 90% of the fish and most likely everyone has also heard that trout feed below the surface 90% of the time. Becoming proficient with subsurface flies is critical to success as a fly fisher. While we often focus on the more exciting mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, there are other insects that are important to trout. Midges are often one of the dominant food sources for trout and carrying a broad selection of patterns to cover these insects will contribute to many successful outings if one knows how to fish them properly.
Some of the easiest flies to tie will often catch the most fish in a trout stream. The only downside to tying midge patterns is their normally small size in relation to other fly patterns. I regularly tie and fish patterns from a #18 down to a #22 but will fish down to a size #28 or even #30 as the conditions dictate. Those that regularly read this blog or fish with me know that I like fishing with multiple flies to increase the odds. Better yet, it helps in determining what the fish are feeding on. I can try one fly at a time or I can try 2-3 flies at a time. Obviously I can try many more patterns in an hour if I tie on twice as many each time I change.
When fishing midges, I like to also fish something larger to serve as an attractor and then drop my small midge pattern behind the larger fly. It is important to either match the larger fly to food that is commonly available in the water you are fishing or to an attractor pattern that normally does well in that particular river. When fishing a tailwater, I will often use a scud or sowbug pattern as the first fly. Other good patterns are Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Copper Johns, and various softhackles. On tailwaters where there is a good population of a specific mayfly, caddis, or stonefly, I'll often fish a nymph or larval immitation of the prevalent insect. Always use the heaviest tippet you can get away with for the first fly in a multiple fly rig. Tying on several flies can take a few minutes if you aren't very quick with knots, and it is always frustrating to lose the whole rig. In most situations 4x tippet is fine and if at all possible, don't go below 5x. People are often shocked at how heavy of a tippet you can get away with even on pressured fish. Using fluorocarbon will allow you to use heavier tippet.
Once you have chosen the first fly, it is time to figure out what type of midge pattern to fish. You want to use a fly that matches the larva or pupa that are most common in the water you are fishing. Before choosing a fly, take a moment to observe the water and see if you can figure out what the trout want. Are they staying right on the bottom, betraying themselves only by the occasional flashing side? Or are they up in the water column moving around as they intercept midge pupa in the drift? For fish that are up in the water column, a pupa will be the best immitation while for those right on the bottom, a larva will often catch more fish.
Whichever pattern you decide upon, once again use the heaviest tippet that the fish will accept. I generally fish 6x fluoro with my midges and often even use 5x. If you are fishing faster water or water that is very deep, you will want a couple #6 split shot to help get it down. Generally it is also best to use an indicator for this type of fishing. You want to find out the zone that the fish are feeding in and then keep your flies there. A strike indicator is a great way to do this. I like to use Thingamabobbers but also use yarn indicators with rubber o-rings. The general rule of thumb is to place your indicator one and a half to two times the depth of the water but in actual practice you'll discover that this is actually very flexible. Don't tie yourself to one exact depth. Let the fish tell you what they want and be willing to change constantly. I'm generally very lazy and often just set the indicator between 6 and 8 feet deep if I'm fishing a larger tailwater. However, laziness will eventually start costing you fish...
When it comes to midges, one mistake that many people make is to fish patterns that are too fat. Traditional wisdom says that midge larva are long and slender while the pupa are short and stout. This is true but short and stout is definitely relative. Most midge patterns that are supposed to be pupa are much too fat compared to the naturals. Often the fish won't seem to care much but at other times, fishing a less bulky pattern will bring a marked increase in the number of hookups. I have several patterns that I like to fish. The zebra midge in various color combinations is a reliable fly that can catch at least a few fish under most circumstances. I tie mine with a slimmer profile compared to those that many people fish. Other favorites include the RS2, WD-40, various thread midges, and patterns made from micro and midge tubing.
Midge larva or pupa tied using midge and micro tubing are easily some of the most realistic small flies I've ever fished. This point was driven home one day while fishing the Roaring Fork River in Colorado. This Gold Medal stream is known for its fine brown trout but the section we were fishing was some of the better rainbow water on the river. In one particular hole, I sight fished to a large rainbow using a tiny gray midge larva dropped behind a Green Drake nymph. After several drifts, the large rainbow ate and upon feeling the sting of the hook, immediately raced to the middle of the river before jumping. When I saw the size of the fish I was immediately worried about everything, the tippet, the tiny fly that connected me to the fish, and the fast water just below the pool. Sadly the fish raced downstream and 10 minutes later the nice rainbow won the battle when the small fly popped free.
I now knew that the fish really did like my midge pattern but I was fully convinced after fishing another pool. After covering all the likely water, I pulled my flies in to make sure everything was intact. When I saw the midge, I was shocked to see a small gray midge larva the exact same color and size as the fly I was fishing. In fact, it looked so identical that my fly could have been a natural threaded onto the hook. It was now obvious why the large rainbow had been so easily fooled in this highly pressured water.
The first time I learned of this fly was from east Tennessee guide Hugh Hartsell. He shared the pattern with me as a good match for blackfly larva. While fishing out West in the nutrient rich tailwaters, I discovered the need for a really good larva pattern and remembered my blackfly patterns. While fishing the Gunnison River I pulled one out and after a small of modification was soon catching lots of large and now stupid trout. The next day my buddy and I headed down to the nearest fly shop to pick up some more micro tubing. Back in camp, I tied around 20 or so of the flies in different colors and headed back to the river. This fly became a staple on the Gunnison and proved itself on several other waters as well.
The pattern is very easy to tie and can be varied to match just about any color that you need to. Midge and micro tubing comes in many colors but will partially take on the color of the thread that you use underneath it. This pattern can also be tied with a small metal or glass beadhead which makes it suitable for matching midge pupa. See my video on tying the bead head version of the micro tubing midge on YouTube HERE. If you want to tie some for yourself you will need the following:
Hook: TMC 2487 (or favorite midge hook) #16-#28
Thread: 8/0 UNI-Thread, color to match
Body: Midge or Micro Tubing (distributed by Hareline Dubbin, Inc.)
Select the appropriate size of tubing based on the size of fly you are tying. I tie most of mine with Micro Tubing but for larger sizes midge tubing is great as well. Midge tubing will work down to a #22 or #24 but the Micro Tubing will cover all situations.
To tie the pattern, tie in your thread about halfway back on the hook shank (#24 TMC 2487 shown with gray thread).
Wind the thread back towards the bend of the hook and tie in the midge or micro tubing on top of the shank (shown with gray micro tubing). After securing the tubing, wind the thread evenly to just behind the hook eye.
Wind the tubing forward keeping the wraps tight up against each other. If you leave the first few wraps a bit loose, it will simulate the slightly thicker half that most larva have. Start putting more pressure on the tubing and it will stretch, creating a nice thin and perfectly segmented body. Once you wrap the tubing to just behind the eye, tie it off with a couple wraps of thread. Give two more wraps of thread and finish the fly in whichever way you prefer. I normally just use 3-4 half hitches and a bit of glue.
While this fly isn't much to look at, the fish will definitely approve of it. Tie up a few and give them a shot the next time you find midging fish...I think you'll be pleasantly surprised...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Recent Rain and What's Next

The last of the precipitation departed yesterday morning as a few lingering snow showers moved through east Tennessee. The snow was in no way significant with this last weather system but the rain was. Center Hill Lake, below which is the Caney Fork tailwater, rose a few feet as a result of all the rain we got. It looks like the generation will continue heavily there for awhile anyway. In the Smokies, Little River rose higher than it has been in a long time. I have not been able to get over to the Smokies recently so I don't have any pictures of the high water. However Ian Rutter from R and R Fly Fishing posted some excellent pictures taken during the high water episode. One of the most impressive was of Little River at the Sinks. The water was extremely high and dangerous. While it has been bad for fishing in the short term, all this rain is pulling us out of the drought that we have been in for the past 2 years so most of us are glad to see it.

Partly because of all the rain and partly because I've been busy, I haven't been fishing as much lately. My new teaching job started this past week and is keeping my doing things other than fishing but I should be able to start fishing on the weekends again soon. So you don't get too bored until I fish again, I'll be posting another article on midges in the next day or two...maybe even later this afternoon.

In early December I posted a video on midges from Ralph and Lisa Cutter. In the past I have posted on how to fish the Zebra Midge most effectively so I won't be dwelling much on these techniques either. The main focus of the upcoming article will be on fishing midges in deeper water in tandem with other flies and will include some of my favorite flies for this task. I'll cover how to rig up, tips on casting, and even a recipe or two for some of the easiest midges you will ever tie. If you have any questions that you would like for me to address, please post them here under the Comments section or shoot me an email and I'll do my best to include them in the article... I also still owe you the 2008 Year in Review so look for that in the near future as well!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Just Keeps on Raining

Here in Crossville, it has been raining intermittently since yesterday afternoon. Area creeks are on their way up and the ground is thoroughly saturated. Over in the Smokies, Little River has started to spike up and will likely be unfishable for at least a day or two. Sometimes when it rains this much I like to get out and do a little photography. With all the rain right now, there should be some good opportunities for pictures in the next few days. If you have a camera and can't go fishing, consider spending some time on the water hunting pictures instead of fish.

A couple of weeks ago I was able to get out with my cousin to hike North Chickamauga Creek canyon down near Chattanooga. We weren't out to fish but it was interesting to see the area streams at normal levels since I've only fished them during the worst part of the drought. Despite the lack of fishing, we still had a good time out and found a couple of really nice photo ops. Here are some favorites from the day...

Creek bubbling over richly colored sandstone...

Looking out the entrance to an old coal mine...

Rainbow formed by a small waterfall and the afternoon sun...

Monday, January 05, 2009

More Drought Bustin' Rain

Just when the Caney has had a few very short windows without generation, it looks like we will be getting a lot more rain. If the current forecast holds true (does it ever though?), the Caney could be generating until February. Of course I can't be complaining because all the rain does have a silver lining. First, the fish in the river will be relatively untouched as long as the generation remains heavy. In other words, when they finally quit generating for awhile, head for the river as soon as possible. Second, it looks like we are just about out of the drought conditions so bring on the rain!

Below are two versions of the U.S. Drought Monitor. The first is the one issued on September 2, 2008 and the second is the last one for 2008 from December 30. Compare the area affected by drought in the southeast and the severity of the drought in the two pictures. Clearly things are looking better...just don't get too excited about fishing tailwaters anytime soon...

Currently the National Weather Service in Nashville has issued a Flood Watch for a large portion of middle Tennessee. The portion of the Watch that caught my eye said the following:


Yep, they called out the Caney by name so I'm guessing that there isn't much hope to fish it any time soon... This might be the winter of Smoky Mountain trout fishing...

Friday, January 02, 2009

First Trip of the Year

The first trip of 2009 is now complete. Originally I had planned to try and make it to the South Holston River yet again but today it didn't work out. Fate conspired against me and in the end I headed over to the local state park to try for the recently stocked trout. Overcast skies promised a decent opportunity to catch some fish.

When I arrived at the lake, I took my time rigging up. My old leader was badly in need of a replacement so I got out a new one to start 2009. One of my favorite flies for catching stocked trout in stillwaters is the Simi Seal Leech. I tied on a beadhead version in black and red and wandered down towards the water.

Normally there is a good bit of surface activity on this particular lake but today it was dead. Below the lake is a creek that provides a change of pace and I decided to start there. After 15 minutes of beating the water I begin to suspect that maybe none of the fish had come over the dam. Just when I really was ready to try another spot I got a hard bump. Refocusing, I enjoyed the swish of the line through the guides while shooting line to put my fly on the other side of the creek.

After several casts and a few more bumps I began to get tired of continually missing fish. A deep spot downstream caught my eye and I moved towards a logjam that had a bunch of foam piled in front. My first cast produced an explosive strike which made me wonder if there were larger than normal fish in here. After several more casts I finally hooked up with a trout that had an attitude. Guiding it in close to the bank, I soon released the first fish of 2009!

Four fish later, I called it a day, glad to have enjoyed a couple of hours on the water. The Simi Seal Leech accounted for all 5 fish and most took it hard in a convincing manner. While not the South Holston, it was a pleasant alternative to the three hour drive. There's always another time for large fish. The Caney is starting to provide a few opportunities for wading if you pick your time carefully. Of course I'll be floating it and throwing streamers sometime soon as well. The next few months provide some outstanding fishing for those willing to brave the cold...

Going to Yellowstone Next Summer?

Winter is the time to dream about the trips you took over the course of the previous year. It is also time to plan the trips for the upcoming warm months. Last summer I travelled to Colorado again and while I had a great trip, it just wasn't the same as Yellowstone. For the last couple of months I've been dreaming about fishing Yellowstone for awhile next summer. Early season on the Firehole is a great time and while Tennessee bakes in 90 degree heat, you can be happily fishing during a PMD or BWO hatch in 50 or 60 degree weather. There are several lakes that I really want to visit again including some that hold grayling. The question now is, will I actually be able to safely visit Yellowstone?

Over the last week, many small earthquakes have been shaking the Park. While not unusual for such a geologically active location normally, the recent earthquakes have been a bit out of the ordinary due to their frequency. There is one possible good that may result from the tremors but this is just a strictly uneducated guess. As I understand it, the Firehole River did not always warm up as much during the summer. Back in the 1970s, a particularly active period geologically caused some of the hot springs to begin pouring even more warm water into the river. Now it would be great to have the opposite happen. If the current tremors could shake things around so not as much warm water is running off into the Firehole, it might help the fish survive through the long hot summers in better shape. Now that I've said that the opposite will probably happen but let's hope not...

Anyway, for those that are interested, you can find more on this story here...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008: Great Year or Not

Soon I'll be posting a 2008 year in review but until then, I want to know how the year was for you. I just put up a new poll so you can put in you vote for how the year went. Personally I had a good year including the most days on the water in a year. This next year may not include as much fishing since I graduated and now have to get a real job. It is all about maximizing the quality of one's time on the water. I guess I'll be switching to quality over quantity at least for a few months.

If your year was amazing, reply here and let me know why it was great. I want to hear your best stories from the year. Did you finally get that monster fish or perhaps make a trip you've been planning for years? Also if it was bad for some reason tell me why...