Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Help Improve the Tellico River

While checking some of my favorite sites on fishing in East Tennessee, I found this article over on Ian Rutter's website. In a nutshell, the Forest Service is considering closing down a lot of off road vehicle trails in the headwaters of the Tellico. Nearly every rain event causes a huge amount of silt to be washed into the Tellico, reducing water quality significantly. Head over to Ian's site and check out the particulars and while you're at it, take the time to send an email to the Forest Service (there's a link on the page) and let them know that you want the Tellico River to be preserved and protected.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spring is Just Around the Corner

The following article is one that I wrote for the March issue of the Little River Journal which is published by Little River Outfitters. To receive the current issue you must sign up, but you can browse past issues on the website. I recommend checking it out. There are a lot of great articles included from area anglers and also some good stuff from Lefty Kreh. Anyway, here is my article on springtime.

With the first big hatches of the year expected any day, my thoughts turn to springtime in other years. A time of renewal, spring is one of my favorite times of the year. When the first bluebirds and robins begin making their appearance, I develop what quickly becomes a full-blown case of spring fever that is not satisfied until I find myself on a mountain stream. The entire winter has been spent looking forward to this moment when the trout rise methodically to the sudden abundance that surrounds them. All it takes is a reasonably good match to create an afternoon of memories that will be forever etched in your memory. I remember that day at Metcalf when I found that I had the water to myself one evening as the bugs poured off and the fish rose with abandon. Those are the days that fly fisherman long for and that keep us returning to the stream.

For the dedicated fly fisher, those first days of spring are marked by the arrival of bugs with names like Quill Gordons and Blue Quills. With the burst of new greenery on the trees still weeks away, these bugs along with others continue that never ending circle of life where they in turn sustain life in the trout. Early in the season the weather can be difficult. If you happen on the stream during one of those rare days where everything comes together, a blizzard of insects may be your reward along with many foolish fish. I will never forget the first time I encountered an early season hatch. Young and inexperienced, I was in awe of the activity around me and vowed to someday learn how to catch all the fish that I suddenly realized were in the stream. One of the biggest lessons I have learned since is that very few hatches are as impressive as that one that inspired me years ago.

The past several weeks I have been tying bugs just for such an occasion. If fisherman are good at one thing, it is being optimistic. Every year I tie hundreds of flies with the hope that I will catch enough fish to in turn lose that many flies. In fact, it is impossible for me to go on a fishing trip and feel prepared. There are always a few more flies that could have been tied. It is ironic then that every spring brings the same routine calling for the same flies. Oh, I have plenty of new ones to try out but somehow I always end up fishing the same reliable patterns.

In the Smokies, a few Parachute Adams in sizes #12-#18 will cover a lot of hatches early in the season. Just in case, I carry a few Quill Gordons for those picky fish that want something a little more exact. A few tiny Blue-winged Olive patterns along with a handful of caddis and stonefly patterns round out my selection of dry flies. For nymphs, I always carry Pheasant Tail nymphs and Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear nymphs in a variety of sizes. As I tie these flies, I remember the 17 inch brown that ate a Tellico in a deep hole early one March and tie a few more just in case. Tellico nymphs are a necessity and when all else fails, a soft hackle can save the day. I always have lots more patterns in my fly boxes but return to these same ones every year, not because I have a hard time changing but because the old standbys catch lots of fish.

That first trip of spring always has me as excited as a small child at Christmas. It is hard to sleep the night before I head for the mountains. As soon as I arrive at the stream of choice, I gear up as quickly as possible and head towards the water. Before tying on a fly, I’ll walk the stream bank for a few minutes, observing the water and streamside rocks for insects and rises. Most of the time I’ll tie on a dry regardless of whether or not there is much surface activity just because I have been looking forward to this for so many months. On a good day, the dry catches fish consistently but often I resort to nymphs. This time of year is one of the best to spend looking for large fish feeding on hatching insects and sometimes I’ll spend a few hours just checking the best pools for large trout.

As the days grow longer the fishing continues to improve. More and varied hatches occur and the fish really start to get into the routine brought on by the warmer weather. Despite the better weather I still prefer those first days of spring. The water is still chilly but the sun is warm and daffodils bloom in Cades Cove. Trout fling all caution to the wind as the first banquet in months drifts by on the current. On that first spring trip everything is perfect in the world, even if only for a moment…

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Recent Snowfall

Since I didn't get to fish much this weekend, here are a couple more pictures to keep you entertained. This is from the snowfall last weekend here in the Crossville, Tennessee area. Enjoy...

Tranquility Pool

Hidden Gorge Waterfall

New Net Update

Here is a picture of the new net. It works great for subduing creatures other than fish as this little dog shows so well. The dog belongs to my cousin's fiancee and was probably quite traumatized by its initial exposure to the Coho Ghost Net. After getting used to the net, the dog posed for this shot with me. This should give you an idea of the size of this net (16" by 22" hoop)...

Smokies Again and a New Net

On Friday I decided to take advantage of a rise in water levels in the Smokies to throw a few streamers. This is a type of fishing that I haven't done enough of, especially on mountain streams. While up there, I stopped by Little River Outfitters to pick up my 2009 fishing license and a new net that Daniel had ordered for me.

I'm excited about the new net. Last year I was fortunate to catch some very nice fish which were a bit large for the nets I already had. Trying to corral a big brown in a net meant for average fish is difficult to say the least. My trips out west to such destinations as the South Platte, Frying Pan, Taylor and Gunnison rivers in Colorado among other places has always resulted in nice fish. This year I wanted a net that would help get the fish back in the water quickly with minimal handling and stress. The perfect solution was the Coho Ghost Net from Brodin Landing Nets. This net is very large and will work well for anything from trout to steelhead and salmon so I should be set for awhile when it comes to nets. I rarely use nets except on larger fish so I only need to carry it when large fish are a definite possibility. The net is quite lightweight for its size making it reasonable even if I need to walk some to my fishing spot. So far I'm really happy with the net. Once I have a bit more experience using it I'll provide an update and short review.

As far as the fishing is concerned, I probably arrived a little too late in the day but I still managed to get several bumps and looks on the streamer. Unfortunately I never could hook up but I've been bit by the streamer bug so I'll be doing it again soon most likely. Too avoid the skunk, I ran over to Tremont and in 10 minutes of fishing got 3 little rainbows. They were beautiful little wild fish but I didn't bother with any pictures. I'm planning on a float in the next week or two and also 2-3 trips to the Smokies for the spring hatches over the next 3-4 weeks so stayed tuned for more on that as it happens...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gear Review: Chota RockLoc Boots

So far my experience is limited on these boots but I want to share my preliminary impressions with you. As many people have heard, there is a big push in the fly fishing industry right now to get away from felt soled boots. The main argument being that felt aids in the spread of exotic species like New Zealand Mud Snails and didymo. In their natural environment, these species are not as much of a problem but once they get out of their established ecosystems they can wreak havoc.

Of the various companies offering rubber soled wading boots, the only one that I have experienced so far are the Chota boots. Previous to trying them out, I was extremely skeptical having taken more than my share of falls on the stream even when I was using felt. I've waded in sandals that aren't necessarily designed for good traction on wet rocks and had some near disasters. Understandably I was a little nervous about trusting myself to rubber soles on a stream bed covered in water.

When I made my last trip to the Smokies, I stopped by Little River Outfitters as is my habit to pick up a couple of items I needed and see what goodies they have started stocking for the new year. After checking a few things out and saying hi to Daniel, he asked what size wading boot I normally wear. It depends and when I told him somewhere between a 10 and an 11, he asked if I wanted to try some new boots. Of course I'm always up for something new so he went and got them for me. After wandering around the shop a little more I finally made my purchases and headed for the stream. Upon arriving, I got my waders on and then pulled on the boots. The first thing I noticed was the Chota Quicklace System and the resulting ease of getting your boots on. When you're in a hurry to fish you tend to notice such things.

After putting my rod together, I headed for the water and noticed something else about these boots. Instead of sliding down the bank on my rear end, the rubber soles allowed me to keep my feet under me the whole way down without slipping. This was a nice change and I was beginning to think that the boots might not be so bad after all. After taking a moment to look for insect activity, I finally tied on some flies and the moment of truth arrived. I was nervous to enter the water in these boots but I pretty much had to eventually unless I was going to chicken out. Carefully, leaning on a tree in case I slipped, my feet felt their way along the rocks on the bottom and immediately I was pleasantly surprised. The very first thing I thought was, "It isn't as good as felt but it's definitely not bad at all..." Gaining confidence, I started roaming the stream bottom farther and deeper while noticing that the bottom was slippery on the larger rocks where I normally expect it. Still I hadn't felt particularly unsafe.

I fished my way across to the other side that promised a better angle to fish up and another challenge presented itself. When wearing felt, I'm always very careful when transitioning onto dry rocks and even more so when I wear sandals with rubber soles. Normally it's a recipe for disaster. I probed the dry rocks streamside with my toes and then the the whole foot. This was the high point in the rubber sole experiment for the day. The stability and grip was amazing. It felt almost as good as my rock climbing shoes do with no concern at all about slipping even though the bottom of the boots were dripping wet. I left footprints of water but couldn't slip even when I tried to.

At this point in the day I was sold on the boots. Later on as I fished some different water I started to change my mind but only a little. While the grip is excellent, it still is not as good as felt on large rocks underwater that are normally the slickest in the stream. As long as I stayed on gravel and smaller rocks where I spread my weight over more than one rock I was okay. When I tried walking on the smooth rocks though I slipped, almost going down once. Despite this, I still think these are great boots.

My overall opinion on these boots is that they are a great job and will do a reasonably good job on mountain streams. I think the best application for these as they currently are would be for hiking into to remote smaller streams. They are perfect for hiking in and grip very well on dry rocks. When you fish smaller water you are often on dry rocks along the stream anyway so it is perfect. If you're fishing larger water with a lot of slick rocks (the Hiwassee and Abrams Creek come to mind), I probably can't recommend them as I tried them. The nice thing about these boots though is that they come with studs that you can screw into the sole if you want. Clearly, my experiment in no way gives a good idea of how they would be on our area tailwaters so I don't have an opinion on that yet. If you're looking for a good boot, especially for hike-in fishing or fishing smaller streams where you only get your feet wet part of the time, I highly recommend these as a great alternative to traditional wading boots.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cold Weather Tips

Fishing in cold weather can be tough. During the winter, even the best fisherman can come away wondering where all the fish were after a day of fishing in the Smoky Mountains. However, with a little careful observation and a change in tactics, the average fisherman should be able to catch at least a few fish on most days of the year. The tips I'm about to share are suggestions that have worked well for me. They are by no means a guarantee that you will catch fish and they aren't even all original. Some are common knowledge to many fly fisherman while others probably contradict generally accepted norms for cold weather fishing. Regardless, I hope that you will find at least one of these tips useful during your next cold weather fishing trip.

Tip number one is a classic. When it is cold out and the fish are sluggish, slow everything down. This may seem obvious and you have probably read it throughout fly fishing literature. Still, I can't stress this point enough and in fact, I still need to be reminded of this wisdom myself on occasion.

A good example of the value of this common sense suggestion came during my last trip to the Smokies. For the first hour or so of fishing, I worked my way up Little River somewhere above Metcalf Bottoms. I was carefully covering the water that I expected the fish to be in during cold weather but moving fairly quickly at the same time. My rig was a pair of reliable Smoky Mountain nymph patterns that almost always dredge up a fish or two. After moving only one fish for sure, I decided it might be time for a change of pace. Moving over to Middle Prong, I decided that if the fish weren't hungry, I would at least enjoy my time on the water by fishing a dry fly. In catching 8 fish over the next hour, several lessons were learned, the first of which is the one I already mentioned. Each fish I caught came in slow water were the fly had time to dance and swirl around tantalizingly while the fish below became more and more excited. Eventually one of the residents would just have to come up and sample the apparently juicy morsel I was offering. Some of my drifts were a solid 30 seconds in the same small eddy, the fly floating slowly around and around in a never ending circle.

The previous story illustrates several other important points. My next tip is counter to generally accepted norms for fishing in the mountains during cold weather. Quite simply, don't be afraid to fish a dry fly. However, if you are going to fish a dry, it is probably more important to match the hatch in cold water. This is where a little observation can go a long way. Midges, BWOs, small caddis, little brown or black stoneflies, all these are likely to be on the water even in cold weather. Once the water temperature rises into the 40's, it is almost guaranteed. Even on the coldest days of the year you can usually find at least a few midges hatching somewhere. If you decide to fish a dry, you can do two things: Either wait for rising fish while walking the stream or fish likely cold weather holding water. Simply fishing likely water brings us to our next tip.
Tip number three is another one you've likely heard before as well. In cold water, fish the slower water. This may or may not mean what it seems at first glance. We often associate fishing in the winter with fishing the pools but fish will be in the pocket water as well. My recent Smokies trip was a great example of this as well. I caught very few fish in true pools. Instead most of the fish came out of pocket water that I normally wouldn't even bother to fish. The fish were in the slowest calmest water in the stream but never far from fast water that would still deliver a supply of food. Once it warms up, I often look for fish right under the current tongues but in cold weather I look in the dead water behind rocks, between current tongues, and yes, in those pools and deeper runs. The fish are almost always sitting out of the main current but ready to make a quick foray out into the faster water if a choice snack floats by.

My next tip is one that may or may not always work but seems to for me. In cold weather, fish the smaller streams. In this type of water, there are not nearly as many places for the fish to go that are hard to fish. On larger water, the fish could just go sit on the bottom in the deepest holes where catching them is going to be tough at best. In small streams they will still be in the pocket water and shallower runs out of necessity. Also, it is a lot easier to cover all likely holding water and figure out which type the fish are in on a smaller stream.

Tip number five is a bonus because it is geared towards tailwaters. In sub-freezing weather, look for large midge hatches with lots of cripples on your favorite tailwater. The steady temperatures on a tailwater mean that midges will hatch every day but when it gets really cold, they often have a hard time flying off from the stream. Some of my most memorable days on tailwaters involve very cold air temperatures and trout rising to midges that can't take off. The stranded bugs make an easy target for the fish and the trout will key on the tiny insects.

My last tip for fishing in cold weather is simply to just start doing it. Many people are too lazy to get out in the cold weather and assume that the fishing won't be good enough to justify the effort. If you don't go find out, you will never know what you might be missing...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Poll: Tailwaters Vs. Small Streams

Our last poll was about the water type you normally fish. Now I'm wondering what types of reports you enjoy seeing and reading about. I fish tailwaters a lot because they are closer than the Smoky Mountains but I enjoy fishing in the mountains more because of the solitude. Let me know what your preference is. Do you like seeing pictures and stories of tailwater trout or smaller fish and scenery from the mountains? The poll is on the right side of this page so click on your choice and then the "vote" button...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Where You Fish

Our most recent poll was on the type of water you fish most often. The results were a bit surprising to me. I knew that a lot of people fish tailwaters often but didn't realize that the majority of people fish them most of the time. My tailwater fishing is largely due to the fact that my beloved Smoky Mountains are just a bit far for quick half day trips. I can be on the Caney in 40 minutes from my house making a quick afternoon trip a distinct possibility. Many people are probably turned off by the small size of the fish in the Smokies compared to the larger tailwater rivers. Based on the crowds I see in the Smokies already, this is probably a good thing. It takes dedication to figure out how to fish the Smokies successfully on a regular basis while most anyone can generally catch a few on a tailwater. On the plus side, if you learn to catch fish on our mountain freestone streams, you can catch them just about anywhere. Overall, my favorite is to fish freestone trout streams, at least here in Tennessee. However, I fish tailwaters more because of their accessibility.

I'm going to have a new poll up shortly so watch for it and please be sure to remember to vote...

The Long Float

Last week, my buddy David Perry (of Southeastern Fly) contacted me to see if I was interested in floating the Caney with him and another of his fishing buddies, Anthony. Being the addicted fly fisher I am the answer should be obvious. We agreed to meet early Sunday morning so we could put in a full day.

We met at the takeout so we could leave my car to do the shuttle later in the day. I was looking forward to the opportunity to really fish some streamers. After arriving at the boat ramp and getting started, it took us a little while to start moving fish but after a while we started boating a few. Moving slowly downriver, we took the time to work each section thoroughly although the bright blue sky overhead left us wondering if our efforts were somewhat futile. The forecast today called for cloudy skies with a slight chance of showers, perfect weather for catching some big fish. Early in the day it didn't look like the forecast was going to verify.

Just when I was wondering if it was time to switch over to nymphs and hope for the best, David Perry took his turn fishing while Anthony rowed and proceeded to stick a PIG. Now I know why people are paying him to take them fishing... After a long battle that had me thinking striper, the large brown finally showed itself and we all started getting excited. After some fancy rowing by Anthony and good work on the fly rod by David, we got the nice fish in the boat, got a quick measurement and snapped a couple of pictures. The nice brown measured out at close to 24 inches but if we hadn't of measured it I'd have said it was larger.

After making sure the fish was fine, we watched it rocket back to the deep water that was home. This was the high point of the day and even though we boated lots more nice fish, it was just hard to get excited about fish that were just 17-18 inches. The good part about the day was that I got to catch several fish on streamers and have caught the streamer bug bad now. I'm already planning on trying to float again in the next few weeks to do it again...

Another great part about the day was that I got some more experience behind the oars. Probably it would be in my best interest to feign ignorance when it comes to rowing drift boats but someday I hope to own one and its nice to learn on other people's boats in case disaster strikes.

Right now, I have a few upcoming goodies to share. First up, I have a brief product evaluation to share on the new Chota boots with rubber soles instead of felt. The preliminary verdict might surprise sure surprised me... Daniel over at Little River Outfitters is ordering me a new Ghost net which should be interesting. Also, I'm working on getting some more trips together over the next month or two and it looks like it might include a backpacking trip right when things should be getting good in the Smokies. Stay tuned for more on that... Finally, more tailwater reports should be forthcoming and I have more techniques to share for fishing in the Smokies... All this if I can just find a little time when I'm not working...