Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is Spring Here Yet?


Apparently the fish think so. Going fishing on Friday the 13th seems like an invitation for all kinds of bad luck. Expensive rods breaking, monster trout throwing the fly, falling into the ice-cold water of mid February...all these are a distinct possibility when you go fishing on a day traditionally said to bring bad luck. However, my fishing trip yesterday would have made even a cynic believe that there really is no such thing as bad luck.

Early in the trip I started wondering if it was a bad choice to fish on such a day. Little River with it's shot at larger browns was calling to me and I started off fishing somewhere between Metcalf Bottoms and Elkmont. After working slowly up a 2oo yard stretch of water with only one missed strike to show for my efforts, I decided to move to a different stretch of water. Again things were slow, although in all honesty it was a very technical stretch. The one fish that I managed to feed picked a most opportune time to eat because my line was tangled around some streamside structure and the hookset failed miserably.

After taking a few moments to ponder the fishing thus far, I decided to move to a more intimate setting. Tremont was the perfect size for the type of fishing I wanted and upon arrival, I decided to go against conventional wisdom and fish a dry. Earlier in the day I had seen plenty of midges and little black stoneflies along with a few small black caddis and early brown stoneflies so a generic #16 parachute Adams seemed appropriate.

I moved down to the water and left my thermometer on the stream bottom while I made the first few casts. Picking a slow eddy in a nice deep pocket, I delicately placed my fly in position to dance tantalizingly in the current, spinning lazily around and around. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw a dark form materialize from the depths and lazily inhale the fly. Without thinking I firmly set the hook and was soon admiring the first rainbow of the day. Wondering if it was a fluke, I checked the stream temperature (43.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and quickly moved up to the next likely pocket. This time I missed a strike. In increasing surprise and excitement I moved up to yet another spot and this time caught another trout. In the next hour, I caught a total of 8 rainbows on dry flies proving that fish still have to eat even at cold water temperatures.


Later on, after moving to another section it was time to try some nymphs. The fish still fed happily on the Tellico and Brassie I was offering although they didn't hit the fly as hard as they would have if it was warmer out. By the end of the day, I had caught 15 fish which goes to show that there are still fish to catch even in the cold months.


One of the amusing things about the fishing trip was the size of the fish. I caught 4-5 fish that were in the 3 inch range. For some reason, at least on this stretch of water, all the smaller fish were out feeding. Maybe they just haven't figured out how to be lazy and conserve energy. I'm really glad I decided to fish the Smokies because it was a great change of pace from the extremely crowded Caney Fork that I've been experiencing lately. While I enjoy catching large fish, it was just as rewarding to be out catching 3-7 inch rainbows as it has been to fish the Caney lately. That said, I'm still excited to get out on the river tomorrow and hopefully will have some good stories by tomorrow evening!
Of course, spring isn't really here yet but I'm excited about the approach of the warmer months with their important hatches bringing up some nice fish to dry flies. I'm in the early planning stages of some great trips for the upcoming spring including some backpacking trips to prime water in the Smokies... As always, stay tuned for more info...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Warm or Cold?


The weather lately has been the normally strange weather we often experience in the southeast during "winter." Wide swings in temperature bring snow one week and potentially severe thunderstorms the next. Now that we officially have a tornado watch here in middle Tennessee, I thought I would post a few pictures taken during the early February snowstorm here on the Cumberland Plateau. That will give you something to look at while I go out looking for tornadoes and other forms of severe weather...




Next Three Days

Finally! I've got a few days off from work so the next three should provide some fishing time. The Caney Fork is always a possibility because if its close proximity but other streams are probably better options for a good adventure. Lately, I have been seeing reports of nice fish being caught in the Smokies including rainbows up to 12 inches or so and also some decent browns. Of course it is a little early for any major hatches to begin but that won't stop me from catching a few. The fish still need to eat and the recent warm spell should have all the fish thinking more about eating than they might normally at this time of year. Also, it is the time of year to start looking for fish making their annual run up out of the lakes to spawn in the streams of the mountains. I've got several streams that I "need" to check on and hope to make a good start on that soon, like tomorrow or Friday.

Today will likely not include any fishing despite the nice warm weather. Instead I'll be staying close to home to watch the days weather unfold. Yesterday turned out to be a big day weather-wise with severe weather striking the Nation's midsection. Today is not looking quite as favorable for severe weather but it is still a definite possibility. Instead of getting caught on the river during lightning and high winds, I'll stay home, tie a few flies, and if things start to get exciting, head out with the camera to try and get a few decent pictures of the storms as they roll by. Tomorrow, I'll be fishing somewhere for sure so check back for updates soon...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Crowds on the Caney

First Fish of the Day on Sunday

To say the Caney is crowded these days would be an understatement. Apparently everyone has heard about how great a river it is and has to get in on the action. Unfortunately for all those hopeful for a day of spectacular fishing, the river continues to be a bit tough for wade fisherman. I only saw a handful of fish caught today by fly fisherman but the bait guys seemed to be doing okay.



Crowds Below the Steps


My general fishing methods employ the use of 5x or 6x tippet (normally fluorocarbon) when fishing on tailwaters. The last couple of trips, Friday and today, have forced me to downsize. Today, all but one fish came on whatever fly was tied to the 7x tippet in a three fly rig. The first fly was on 5x, the next fly was dropped with 6x, and the last was on 7x. Over the course of the day I had to retie multiple times because I kept breaking off on the light tippet.

Several things really stood out to me today. Probably each will be worthy of its own separate post as I have time to mull everything over but for now I'll just mention them. First, it doesn't matter how great a river is, it can only handle so much pressure. Just before leaving for the day, I watched a couple of bait fisherman haul in one nice fish after another and put them on their stringers. When I say nice, I'm not talking about 12-14 inch fish but nice 15-18 inch fish. I realize that everyone is entitled to use their fishing license as they see fit, but watching that many quality fish leave the river is difficult knowing that given another 6 months, they would probably all be solid 18-20 inch fish. If the fish just had the opportunity to grow the river would be full of large fish.

The second thing that stood out to me today was that there is absolutely no boater etiquette being observed on this river except by a very small minority. I watched many boats float down the river without regard for the numerous wade fisherman. In fact, I saw a few wade fisherman literally dodging boats that refused to move. I saw probably 3 boats in which the occupants were polite including a well-known guide that went out of his way to maneuver clear of as many wading fisherman as possible. If you have any idea of how crowded the Caney is, you know just how many other boats were not very polite.

Finally, it seems that the fish are not spread out quite as much right now. Once you start finding fish it can be easy but it can take as much good observation skills as actual fishing skills to find the fish and figure out how to catch them.

Yep, that's a #28...


Today's best fish came on a #28 stripper midge on 7x fluoro tippet. On Friday, my best fish took a zebra midge also fished on 7x. Both fish were around 15-16 inches and fought well for their size. As much fun as the Caney is, I'll probably be looking to diversify my fishing experience in the next week or so. The Great Smoky Mountains have been calling to me and I'll probably be heading that way sometime midweek. I've got a few surprises up my sleeve and will try to have something exciting to share in the near future...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Slow and Windy Day

Today was one of the strangest days I've had on the river in awhile. I can't really complain since it was 60 degrees out and its only February 1. Maybe that was part of the problem. Based on what I saw today, I'm getting close to predicting that this is the year that the Caney finally succumbs to the heavy fishing pressure. There were altogether too many people fishing and it was really quite ridiculous. Miraculously I managed to find plenty of space throughout the day. If things continue this bad, I'll probably be fishing other places once the weather warms. Or maybe I'll have to spend more time exploring the lower river. Whatever I do, I don't think I'll be able to spend much more time in the crowds on the upper river.

Back to the river being a bit strange today, the fish seemed to have a case of lockjaw until you started stripping or swinging the flies. Even then they seemed to hit at very random times. Early in the day, I got into several fish in quick succession on a stripper midge with a gold bead but after that, I had to work for each fish. Considering all of the high water that we have had lately, it may be that the fish are still adjusting to the ever-changing flow schedule. Still, it would be nice to at least see a few better fish... Since no one has been able to fish the river very thoroughly for awhile, I don't believe that all the fish have been taken out so I'll give it a few weeks before getting too concerned. Then again, several stringers of nice fish were leaving the river today and too much of that will put a hurt on the rainbow population.


As a good fisherman, I'll choose to blame today's slow fishing on the weather conditions, the stream flow, and the lack of a really solid hatch. Of course, the whole day I felt like I should be able to catch fish a little more consistently so its probably time to head back to the vise and perfect a few more patterns...and next time, maybe I'll spend a little more time just watching and observing the water and the fish instead of insisting on fishing hard all day. A little observation can go a long way to solving slow fishing days...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Caney Fork 2009


Finally! Today I put the first Caney Fork trip of 2009 in the books. I taught my morning classes and finally got away around noon. Shortly after the generators were turned off at 1:00 pm, I arrived at the parking area below Center Hill Dam. My reel had the spool of line I use when ripping streamers so I put the other spare spool with my "standard" line in my pocket and tied on a streamer to see what would happen. I've been hoping for a shad kill soon and decided on a white Simi Seal Streamer.

After wandering down the river for awhile, I finally got in and started chucking my streamer. It can't exactly be called casting but it was still effective. On about the 5th cast, a fish nailed it and after a brief fight, I landed my first Caney Fork fish of 2009, a chunky rainbow. "Great!" I thought, "The fish are killing streamers." Excited at the prospect of getting into some decent fish, I kept ripping my streamer but with no further action for about 20 minutes. Eventually I got one more but it wasn't quite as fast paced as I was hoping.


By this time I was really cold and waded over to shore to pull out the other spool and rig up with a deep nymph setup. With numb fingers, the normally quick operation took closer to 15 minutes but upon reentering the river, I had on the deadly combo of a copper john and a zebra midge.

Within a few short casts I had a fish on, and this turned out to be one of the prettier rainbows of the trip. Then it happened, the mother of all wind knots. Funny how these happen only on the coldest, nastiest trips of the year when your fingers don't want to work. I decided to take off the flies and see if this would speed up the process at all. Almost immediately, the knot worked out except for the tippet which I had to retie. After this annoying task was over, I was back into the fish. This continued for the rest of the day, ending the last 45 minutes before the evening generation with me stalking midging fish with a dry/dropper just below the dam.


Overall, I think it was a pretty decent day. I stuck one really good fish but lost it and cast over another that would have been around 18 inches. This spring should be another great one on the Caney. Soon we should see some shad coming through the dam as well. There may have been some already although I didn't seen any today. My guess is that we have to wait a bit longer. Normally February and March are the prime months. When it does, I'll be back hoping for some good action on streamers...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finally Went Fishing

January will likely be the month with the fewest days on the water in a long time. This whole "becoming responsible and getting a real job" thing is really hard on the fishing time. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy what I'm doing but not fishing is tough. Next month should be better though as most weekends will allow an opportunity to fish and I also have a few days off one week early in the month. Today was the first time I got out on the water, at least to fish, since January 3. Those of you that read this blog or know me at all realize that this is a long time without a fishing trip.


In many ways, my fishing trip today was one of the best in awhile. The small things that I often overlook really made the day. Each rainbow trout that graced the end of my line for a few moments fought hard, putting a nice bend in the 3 weight rod I was fishing. Watching the line form nice tight loops was a lot more enjoyable than I normally give it credit for and reminded me how the artistic aspect of the sport is really what got me into fly fishing in the first place.


When the short trip of around 30 minutes was complete, I had caught 4 little rainbows. All fish hammered a #16 black Simi Seal leech with a beadhead that I fished very slowly stripped in the current of the stream. The water was icy cold and my hands felt like they were being pricked by needles every time I dipped them in prior to handling a fish.


I goofed around a little and got some ridiculous "hero" shots with the small fish including the classic but rather cheesy "rod in mouth" picture. Overall it was a fun trip. By next weekend the Caney might be fishable and if so, I'll be there seeing how the fish have handled all the high water lately.


Also, later this week, I may have to head to Chattanooga one day and if so, I might check out my old haunts along the Tennessee river. Shad should be coming through Chickamauga and Watts Bar dams creating a feeding frenzy for the resident fish below. As always, stay tuned for more as it develops...

Friday, January 23, 2009

2008 Was a Good Year

Our most recent poll has closed and most people voted that 2008 was a good or great year. A few of you apparently not so lucky readers didn't have a particularly good year but overall the results were positive. One of my favorite responses to that poll came from my buddy Trey who said it was his best year because he learned to fly fish in 2008. Now that's a great year in anybodies book if you ask me.

To me, 2008 was great for several reasons. First, I expanded my horizons and explored some more. I caught several new species on the fly rod and chased the mythical lake run fish on the south side of the Smokies, finally finding a few good fish. One of the major highlights of the year was the opportunity to work at Little River Outfitters which was a dream come true. Talking with customers and helping them have a great time while visiting the Smokies was a lot of fun. It was always gratifying when someone would stop back by to say thank you for the information that led to some nice fish.

The year was also great because the Caney Fork River continues to improve despite enormous fishing pressure. This river has become one of the top rivers in the southeast but unfortunately this has created some serious crowding problems. While it will still fish well this next year, it will probably not be the river of choice for many people, myself included because of the bad crowds. Still, I'll get my fair share of time on that river which will always be my favorite Tennessee tailwater.

If anyone else has anything to share as to why 2008 was a good year (or not), please let me know. In the meantime, I'll be putting up a new poll soon so be sure and cast your vote...you can choose more than one option on the new poll by the way...

2008 Year in Review: Just Gets Better


Currently I'm setting at 20 days without wetting a line and I'm really starting to have some withdrawals. Last weekend wasn't too bad since I did get to spend Sunday tying at Little River Outfitters which is probably the next best thing to going fishing. However, the lack of fishing is really starting to hurt so I felt like it was a good time to continue my 2008 Year in Review posts. As the early months gave way to the warmer weather of spring, the fishing just kept improving.


Early on, I focused largely on the Tennessee River, especially just below Chickamauga dam where the fishing was often exceptional for white bass and hybrids. As the weather warmed, the skipjack started running and provided a lot of fun on the fly rod. These fish are called Tennessee Tarpon for a reason and absolutely go crazy when hooked.




The other big moment below Chickamauga came when I caught my first ever double on the fly. Hopefully I'll do it with trout this year but until then, its hard to beat these two nice fish.


I also took several trips to the Smokies including a great one on April Fool's. It turned out that the fish were the foolish ones and I managed several beautiful wild rainbows.


In May, things went from good to great when I received a phone call from Little River Outfitters in Townsend inquiring whether I would be interested in working for them over the summer. I would have been crazy to say no and before I knew it I was busy at an awesome summer job (as long as I overlook Wapsi Hell that is). The best thing about this was that I could fish every evening in the Smokies if I wanted which I generally did.

Another big first occurred when I caught my first Caney Fork slam of a rainbow, brown, and brook trout. TWRA began stocking brookies on the Caney this past year and so far the results are promising. I'm willing to bet that we start seeing some 16-18" brook trout this next year. The Caney Fork has a lot of food available for the trout and the fish in that river grow very quickly. By fall of 2008 a few brookies were already pushing 13-14" so 2009 should be epic.




The big story in the Smokies that became apparent by early summer was that the ongoing drought had not given up yet. The streams were frighteningly low by June although we did see a few rounds of thunderstorms over the summer which helped a bit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Solid Water

I've finally got around to posting the promised pictures from this past weekend. The cold weather we've had lately froze a lot of the flowing water here in Tennessee. On Saturday afternoon, I went hiking near Chattanooga in search of some frozen waterfalls and found some spectacular ice formations. Despite the frigid conditions, I managed to have a good time and stay relatively warm. On Sunday, before the tying demo at Little River Outfitters, I drove up to Tremont and took a few pictures. Most of the rocks in the Middle Prong had varying amounts of ice on them... Below are a few pictures. The first two were taken in a canyon near Chattanooga, Tennessee and the rest were taken on the Middle Prong of Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains.