Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Sunday, October 25, 2009


After last weekend's striper mania, the only fitting encore was to return for more. I had a few hours free Saturday night and decided to head back for more punishment. Joining me in pursuit of the large stripers would be my buddy Joe Mcgroom who finally agreed to come see what all the hoopla was all about.

I made it down to my fishing hole ahead of him and as it is a bit remote, he had a hard time figuring out how to get there. Hoping to catch a couple before he arrived, I strung up the rod and went to work chucking big nasty flies. Shortly after starting, I hooked a monster that would easily have been the largest I've landed yet. Unfortunately it somehow managed to throw the hook after a blistering run that had the drag on my Lamson screaming. Where there's one there must be more so I started working the water again. Soon another fish was on. After a hard-fought battle, the fish finally agreed to be corralled and I got a quick picture.

Finally Joe showed up and I demonstrated to him the proper technique and showed him where a fish should be. Then something incredible happened. On his first fishing trip for stripers, he hooked into a really nice fish. Neither of us saw the fish but the bend in his rod and the screaming reel were evidence enough. Several hard runs later, the fish finally began to tire. Joe did an excellent job of not forcing the issue and finally the fish was close enough for me to grab. Putting your hand in the mouth of one of these fish is a bit intimidating. If they happen to clamp down with their jaws it can also be a bit uncomfortable.

After lifting the fish out of the water, I passed it off to Joe, and he hoisted his first ever striper for a couple of pictures. I was thrilled to see him hook such an awesome striper on his first trip and amazed at how fast he did it. Joe had been fishing no more than 15 minutes when he hooked the fish.

We fished for another hour or two and I landed one more that weighed around 20 pounds, but overall the evening slowed down considerably. This seems to be the normal pattern. You catch or at least hook 4-6 fish in this spot and then it gets quiet for the rest of the time. I won't complain though. The trip is worth it to land just one of these beautiful fish, and I got two.

Next weekend I am planning a trip for trout in the mountains of east Tennessee. The weather may be a bit uncooperative, but I am going no matter what. Stripers are a lot of fun, but nothing can beat trout for me at least. In the meantime, I'm still working on a few other things that I hope to be able to share this week. In addition, I am working on an article for the Little River Journal from Little River Outfitters (you have to sign up to receive it by email). Of course, in between all this I need to actually teach some classes as well so I'll be busy this week for sure!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day of Dreams

All good fly fishermen spend an inordinate amount of time dreaming about their sport. Perhaps it is mindlessly gazing out the window on the first nice day of spring while you are at work, or maybe it is getting the shakes on a cloudy, drizzly day in the fall because you aren’t out chasing the big browns that you know are on the move. Regardless, time on the water is normally somewhat difficult to come by for most fishermen. Unless you are a guide or independently wealthy, most people just can’t afford to fish all the time.

In between fishing trips I normally pull out maps, look at pictures form past trips, and tie plenty of flies in hopes that maybe one of them will be the magic fly to entice a monster brown or chunky rainbow. Rarely does my time on the water reach the point of ridiculousness that causes me to just stand and laugh as large fish line up for the opportunity to be caught. Naturally, many of my day dreams about fly fishing involve large fish, and occasionally nightmares as well. There is always the big one that got away to think about.

A few months ago, I started dreaming about my fall break. Every year I try to do a camping trip to chase trout somewhere or another. Traditionally this trip has been to the nearest mountains that have trout. Several of these trips were to the Smokies over the last few years, and I always love going to the place where my fly fishing career started and my skills developed. This year I wanted to do something a little bit different. I started planning a trip to the Cumberland River in Kentucky well in advance, making reservations to camp there, and inviting others to join my buddy Trevor and me.

Unfortunately, as the time of departure approached, unseasonal heavy rain began pounding the region. All the area tailwaters with the exception of those in extremely upper east Tennessee were running large quantities of water. Since we didn’t have a boat, plan B started to sound good. I cancelled the reservation at the campground and started thinking about returning to the Smokies after all. The rains continued though and instead of camping in the wet weather with unusually high streams to fish, I decided to just stay home and do day trips wherever the best conditions were each day.

My first couple of days went well, but I felt that I should have much better fishing. Day three is when things took an abrupt turn for the extraordinary. Trevor and I had decided to make the drive over to Cherokee to fish the tribal catch and release water where we hoped to tangle with some monster rainbows.

The trip turned out well but we really didn’t catch as many big fish as we had hoped for. The water was really high for that area and we did best on up the Raven Fork. As daylight started fading, we decided to call it a day. The drive over the ridge is better if done while it is still light out. Since it wasn’t too far out of the way, I decided to check on a couple of striper spots as I headed back to Crossville. When I arrived at the first one, I was amazed to see big fish stacked up near the bank. Since I had only caught 3-8 pound fish up until this point, I probably should mention that big fish doesn’t mean 50-60 pound fish.

I ran back to the car and feverishly started putting my 7 weight together, calling Trevor at the same time. He could hear the seriousness in my voice as I told him about the monster fish there. “I’m on my way” he said and I returned to fish. There was no one else out on the water, no one at all to see the big fish rolling on the surface and darting around like shadows just under. In no time at all I was hooked up with the biggest fish of my life and learned what it is like to worry about your backing knot. When I hooked the fish, I had maybe 20 feet of fly line out. It took no more than 3 seconds to see my backing racing through the guides and probably another second before my heart started pounding.

The rest of that night is a bit hazy, kind of like a good dream where you wake up and everything seems so real and yet so distant. I do remember that the first fish threw my fly while the next broke my off. Eventually I started landing fish. Trevor showed up and both of us caught stripers over 20 pounds according to the boga. Both of us got cleaned out a few times as well. These fish are insane when hooked and head for the far reaches of the earth in their efforts to throw the fly. Occasionally I would just burst out laughing at how ridiculous the whole situation was. We were there alone with more monster stripers than we could possibly hook in a night, and the fish were just so big.

While it is possible that a night of monster fish could ruin me for life, I believe I’ll still enjoy chasing trout at least as much if not more than big stripers. When I think about fishing now, I still am taken to a trout stream in my dreams. Not to mention that I would need a heavier outfit if I was going to chase stripers that were any larger than the 15-25 pound fish we were catching. My 7 weight was pitifully inadequate but somehow managed to get the job done. I felt quite helpless every time one of these fish started running. Of course, if they just rolled over and beached themselves, then it probably wouldn’t have been a day to dream about…

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chasing Big Browns

Each fall, I spend as much time as possible in the Smokies. On Friday I started the annual tradition with a day trip that included several hours of fishing. More specifically, I spent several hours looking for fish and a few hours actually fishing. The big brown trout are getting more aggressive and starting to move in preparation for the spawn. This is one of the better times to catch one. Finding them is always the hard part though...

After making my usual stop at Little River Outfitters, I headed on up Little River Road, stopping often to check favorite holes. Finally, I got tired of looking for fish and just decided to cover some water. Catching large fish usually works best when you find them first but you can catch them by just fishing the water blind as well.
As I moved up the stream, I had several small rainbows attack my flies. Then, as I started into a run that has held big fish in the past, my line stopped abruptly. I set the hook and was attached to a nice brown, at least for the park. If I was fishing a tailwater the fish would only be average, but in the park, anything over twelve inches is a decent fish. Best of all, the fish was brilliantly colored. These fish are so beautiful, I am always thankful that I get to see them up close for just a few moments.

Later in the day I caught a fairly nice rainbow and missed another good fish. This trip was just a warmup, and I fully intend to spend several days in the upcoming weeks in search of the elusive big brown trout of the Smoky Mountains.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Strange Fall

Normal fall low water in the Smokies

My official "Favorite Time of the Year" is back but in a strange way. The past two years have produced near perfect conditions on the tailwaters for fall fishing. Largely due to the drought, the low flows were idea for wade fishing and produced many good sight fishing opportunities for large browns feeding in the shallows. This year has been the exact opposite. We have recovered from the drought but payed for it with difficult conditions on the tailwaters.

A nice Cumberland brown

Originally I planned to do a multi-day camping trip on the Cumberland River this October. After the success I had last year, I couldn't wait to get back and chase some more big browns. Unfortunately, it appears that I will have to cancel my camping reservations and the trip. The flows are up and look to stay that way for at least another couple of weeks. The same thing goes for the Caney Fork and Clinch Rivers. The only tailwaters in the area with a shot at good wading conditions are the upper east Tennessee rivers.

Despite the tough tailwater conditions, the mountain freestone streams are all in peak condition. Recent high water cleaned out the streams and knocked down the rock dams thrown up by the tourist tubers. Water levels are high for this time of the year making for interesting fishing conditions. The fish are also healthier than they have been in some time. There is plenty of food in the streams and the fish have been eating well all summer.

Smoky Mountains fall rainbow

There are also some sleeper streams that no one knows about. They are definitely hit or miss, but if things turn out well, the hit will go for a home run.

As much as I enjoy fishing the mountains, I love fishing the tailwaters as well. Hopefully we won't get too much more rain. Right now I would say we are looking at about two weeks until the lakes drop enough to provide some fishable windows on the tailwaters. Any significant rain event will push that back further. In the meantime, I'll be putting in a lot of time at the vise, tying flies for the cold months.

Monday, October 05, 2009

New Poll

Months have passed since the last poll here at the Trout Zone. Yesterday I had the opportunity to float with my buddy Joe Mcgroom. At one point, I asked him what he would do if he caught a possible record brown. Without even having to think, he immediately replied that he would release the fish after a quick picture. How many people would be able to do that?

I have often wondered what I would do if I caught a huge fish. I hope that I'll be able to let the fish go without having second thoughts. Personally I would hate to kill such a magnificent fish. If I have a memory then I'm happy, and if I have a picture, it is even better. So, what would each of you do with a possible record? Vote in the poll on the right hand side of the page and let me know!

Went Fishing Yesterday...

...and caught a few fish. Here is the best fish of the day. Thanks to Joe Mcgroom for taking the picture!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crazy Busy

Lately I've been extremely busy and have been struggling to find the time to post anything. I apologize for the lack of new material and hope to do better moving forward. Hopefully I'll have a few more fishing reports to tell about in the near future.

Last weekend I did manage to get some camping in down at Chilhowee near the Ocoee and Hiwassee Rivers. Squeezing in a little fishing was challenging but I managed to catch a few bluegill and bass from the little lake on top of the mountain. The weekend involved some of the heaviest September rain ever in east Tennessee and made for challenging camping conditions. The Hiwassee was higher than I have ever seen it and area creeks were well out of their banks.

I was camping with a group of guys we had taken from the school I teach at. On Saturday we wanted to take them all up to see the powerhouse on the Hiwassee but ran into trouble at Childers Creek. The road was completely flooded up to just over my knees in places. We backtracked and tried the back way in but ran into a mudslide just over the ridge coming down to the Big Bend parking lot. At that point we just gave up.

The scenery was spectacular and I enjoyed the opportunity to do a little photography. The sunset on Chilhowee Mountain was beautiful Saturday night. Sunday I ran up to Townsend to pick up a few items at Little River Outfitters. All the streams in the park where high to very high and made fishing sketchy at best. I ripped streamers for a little while but only flashed a few small fish.

Next weekend I hope to float somewhere and rip streamers for big browns. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Tailwater fishing is going to be difficult at best for the next couple of weeks due to the recent heavy rain event.

Here are a few of the pictures I took last weekend including some of the high water. The high water pictures are in the vicinity of Reliance Fly and Tackle including a shot looking down the road at the bridge over Childers Creek (last picture).

Friday, September 18, 2009

High Water

Rare late summer rain has been drenching middle Tennessee for the past several days. Last week I snuck away to the Caney Fork for a couple of hours one afternoon. The water was slightly stained and I was wondering why. Despite the stain, the fish were still feeding heavily and I was even able to do a little sight fishing. The clarity was really not that bad, and I believe the stain made the fish a little less cautious. The nicest fish was a chunky brown of around 13 or 14 inches that was beautifully colored.

Yesterday I went back to check out the river and see what effect the recent rains were having on the river. Upon arrival, I found the majority of the river blown out with extremely muddy water. Despite the fact that the generators were off when I first arrived, the river at Happy Hollow looked like a 1 generator pulse had just come through. It was much higher than normal and full of debris. Lots of logs, trees, and root wads were floating down the river, and all the creeks had dumped a large quantity of rock and gravel into the river. I even saw a dead trout floating downriver. Overall I don't think this will severely impact the river but only time will tell. I do know that boaters will have to be careful and watch for new obstacles.

After watching the river awhile, I headed up to the dam to fish after the generators were turned off from the afternoon pulse. I noticed something very interesting. The normal discharge from the generators was perfectly clear while the sluice was heavily stained. Apparently the baseflow of 250 cfs coming through the sluice gate is the source of the off color water.

The higher flow during generation turned out to be a good time to throw streamers. I spent around an hour fishing a shad immitation before the water started receding. Several brown trout went crazy for the streamer, but as soon as the water started dropping out, the fish switched to midges. I spent another hour or so fishing a zebra midge under a dry fly and this produced plenty of fish although none of any real size. The largest was again around 14 inches.

Currently Center Hill Lake is continuing to rise although not too quickly. If the trend continues, I would expect to see an increase in generation for a couple of weeks to keep the lake at or below the target levels. This will definitely be the case if we get any more substantial rainfall. The most recent hazardous weather outlook from the National Weather Service in Nashville suggests that more rainfall is likely.

While the rainfall is definitely beneficial, I wish it would come in moderation. This beats the drought of the last few years though so I won't complain too much...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Madison River Streamer Mania

After chasing native cutthroat on the Yellowstone River, we headed west to a new base camp at Madison Campground. The next several days were spent on various secret brown trout streams. Later on I’ll share some stories about the fish we caught during that time. The high point of the trip was fishing the Madison River outside the park.

During our days chasing browns, we both had our shots at big fish but neither of us had landed anything over 18 inches. You won’t often find me complaining about catching plenty of fish up to 18 inches, but on these big trips my expectations are a little higher. My buddy Joe and I were both hoping to catch a fish of at least 20 inches on the trip and were specifically hoping for a brown trout. I had never fished the Madison outside the park so I was looking forward to seeing some new water.

We rolled out of our sleeping bags early on Thursday morning and headed to West Yellowstone. After a stop at McDonald's for breakfast, we went to Blue Ribbon Flies to pick up our Montana fishing licenses. At this point we discovered that a short term license was good for two days instead of one so we would have the option of fishing the Madison two days if you wanted to. The guys at the shop helped us out with a map of the area showing major access points and we were on our way.

We stopped by the Quake Visitor Center on the way to fish and read about the tragedy that occurred. Quake Lake will eventually be just a riverbed again once the forces of erosion of completed their work, but at the present it is a good fishery in its own right. We wanted to fish the river further downstream though and headed on after a brief stop.

Our first stop was at the Raynold’s Pass bridge. The friendly guy at Blue Ribbon Flies had told us that it was a good spot to start out so we quickly rigged up and started fishing up. We had only been there a few minutes before Joe had hooked up. His first fish turned out to be a rather nice whitefish. Over the next couple of hours we fished steadily upstream, leapfrogging as we went. Both of us caught whitefish along with a few trout. My first Madison River trout was a chunky rainbow that was around 17 inches and it came on a soft hackle caddis emerger.

By the time we had fished up to the Slide Inn, we were both tired and ready to take a lunch break. Walking back down to the car gave us time to decide what to do for the rest of the afternoon. We agreed that while fishing was decent, it definitely was nothing to brag about. Every time I fish new water, I enjoy figuring out the best strategy. Careful observation of the fish themselves as well as the insects hatching will significantly shorten the learning curve on a new stream. So far neither of us had unlocked the secrets of the Madison.

After picking up the car, we drove back up to the Slide Inn to see if we could meet Kelly Galloup and also maybe buy a few flies. Luckily, he was running the shop that day so we hung around awhile to pick up a little wisdom along with a few flies. Joe bought a few streamers and I bought “Modern Streamers For Trophy Trout.” I had wanted to buy the book for awhile and it was the perfect opportunity to get it autographed at the same time. Heading back to the river, we decided to try another popular access point.

Again, we started fishing upstream. Joe tied on a streamer and I stuck with my double nymph rig for a bit longer. Before long Joe started getting excited. After hearing a couple loud exclamations I stopped long enough to inquire about the reason for his excitement. As it turned out he was flashing some big fish. I’ve fished with Joe long enough to know that it takes a good fish to get him excited. I was wondering what exactly was going on so I decided to shadow him for a few minutes. Sure enough, the next good spot he threw in resulted in a big brown charging the streamer and swirling around it before disappearing back to the depths. Something was definitely going on with the streamers.

I hung in there a little longer with my nymphs after I spotted a nice brown out feeding. On the 7th or 8th cast I saw my indicator twitch and the battle was on. Several hard runs later, the fish came to the net and posed for a quick picture. I now had my first Madison brown trout and it was a nice fish. Moving up the river, I was spooking enough big fish and hearing Joe’s excitement enough to know that we had a good shot at a 20 inch fish.

We continued on up the stream, passing several other fishermen and giving each of them a wide enough birth so they wouldn’t feel crowded. Finally we were upstream of all the other fishermen. It was about this time that the first caddis started making an appearance. Shortly after, the Epeorus showed up, and the fishing just got better and better. Joe stuck with his streamers hoping for a monster, but I was satisfied with casting dries to fish that averaged 16-18 inches. A #16 Light Cahill Parachute was close enough in color to the lighter colored mayflies, and the fish obviously didn’t know the difference. I hooked several and missed some that would have been pushing 20 inches or better. We were far from the car at this point and decided it would be best to head back downstream and fish close by as it got dark.

After watching me catch several fish, Joe was finally convinced to tie on a dry and caught a few that way…still no monsters though. When it was too dark to see our flies, we headed back to the vehicle for the drive to camp. On the way we discussed the all important question of where to fish the next day. Enough big fish had shown themselves to convince us both to drive back over again.

The next day started a little later. We were both exhausted from getting back to camp so late and just didn’t make it out of bed as early as we wanted. Thankfully we made it back over to the Madison before it was too late in the morning. I was still trying to wake up completely and settled on a leisurely streamside breakfast. Joe on the other hand was hardcore and immediately hit the water. I knew he was headed to the spots where we spotted good fish on the previous day and hoped that he would nail that good fish that he had been dreaming about.

As I finished breakfast, I started getting the urge to hurry. It is amazing what some good food will do for a person. Additionally, I started getting a nagging feeling that I was missing out on something special. At this point I made a decision that would pay huge dividends throughout the rest of the day. I had been afraid to carry my DSLR on the Madison my first day since I was unsure what the wading conditions were like. Common sense dictated that it was not a good idea to carry it at all but for some reason I took it anyway.

Starting up the river in search of Joe, I got the feeling that he might have a good fish. When I saw him leaning over the water with his net I started hurrying. As I got closer I hollered, “Do you have a good fish?” His reply in the affirmative motivated me to hurry even more and soon I was admiring a beautiful 20 inch brown. Joe was definitely glad that I had my nice camera with me and posed for a couple of shots before releasing the beauty.

After seeing his fish, I didn’t even bother fishing nymphs. We had stopped by Galloup’s shop again and I had purchased a few streamers myself. Cutting back my leader, I added some 2X fluorocarbon tippet and tied on a heavily weighted streamer. We were both fishing without the benefit of sinking lines and had to fish patterns with a lot of weight.

I headed upstream and we started our routine of leapfrogging our way up. After passing Joe up for the second or third time, I walked slowly toward the bank only to see a large fish spook out towards the middle. Wanting to kick myself for ruining a perfect opportunity, I decided to cast anyway. On the 4th cast, a dark shadow materialized behind the streamer. Thankfully, my normal streamer reaction did not kick in. In other words, I kept up the retrieve instead of staring in awe. The fish kept following until it was in no more than a foot of water. Just when I thought the fish was going to give up, it charged forward and inhaled the streamer.

Immediately I felt the power of a nice fish trying to run. Despite the heavy tippet I was still scared. Too much pressure could rip the fly out, but too little would result in the fish running downstream through a rapid. I hollered to Joe and he was soon on the scene to provide net assistance. Setting up just downstream from where I was, he waited for the right moment to move in. Finally the fish started to tire, and Joe got in the water. As the fish got closer, I lifted the rod tip high and kept the fish’s head up while Joe netted it. Right as he got the net under the fish and I released tension the fly fell out. Thankfully it was already captured.

We went through the picture taking process again except this time I was the one lifting the fish with a cheesy grin on my face. After releasing the fish, I took a few minutes to let it all sink in. Too often I don’t appreciate each fish enough. This time I sat down on a rock and enjoyed the beauty of the stream, the day and the rest of my surroundings. I’m truly blessed to travel to the places I do and experience all the great moments that make up each trip.

Throughout the rest of the day, we both hooked more fish on the streamers. As the case normally is with streamers, the fishing was all about quality over quantity. Late in the day we switched back to dries for the evening hatch but the fishing was only marginal compared to the previous evening. Finally we decided to call it a day, wrapping up the trip on a good note.

Catching larger fish on streamers is addicting. As soon as I got back home, I purchased a lot of tying materials for streamers and plan on fishing them consistently this winter. The opportunity to catch large fish is definitely better if you are throwing meat and potatoes instead of appetizers, at least in most situations. The trip to Yellowstone opened up a whole new world of fishing techniques and that is not just limited to streamers. When I travel, I am forced to experiment. On my home waters, I tend to return again and again to time proven techniques. Of course they catch fish, but innovation is the key to increasing one’s success. I can’t wait to apply some of the lessons learned out west on the wild browns of the Appalachians in east Tennessee.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Two Fish

What could possibly be better than catching a fish? Of course it would be catching two fish at once! I've been chasing stripers all over east Tennessee recently and while I have caught at least one on every trip, it is the other species that are making up the bulk of my catches. Last night I caught a largemouth bass, yellow bass, white bass, hybrids, skipjack, and three stripers.

While fishing a few days ago, I fell hard and messed up the reel for my 7 weight. This has made recent fishing a lot more interesting. Even a three or four pound "baby" striper feels like a monster on the 5 weight. I still haven't hooked anything over 5 pounds but can only assume that a 10 pounder on the 5 weight would drag me into the river.

Last night I had an interesting thing happen...in fact it was the second time in only a week or so that it has happened. While fighting a white bass, another one came and hit the trailing fly. Two fish at once is definitely better than one and makes for a good chuckle. I don't believe I could land two stripers at once though unless they were really small. They pull way to hard!!!

Coming up I still have a lot to share from trips out west and I apologize for the recent lack of posts. I've been busy teaching but should be able to find some free time over the next few days. I also plan to chase a few trout again sometime soon. I have a couple of product reviews still to come as well so check back soon for more!