Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Monday, July 05, 2010

No Need For Greed

Catching lots of fish seems to be the goal of fly fishing these days. Naturally we all want to catch plenty of fish, especially since we could spend the same amount of time on the water without a fly rod if we were just out for the experience. Still, sometimes it is nice to relax and just appreciate the overall experience as it comes.

My fishing drought ended yesterday. I had spent the weekend in Atlanta and was on my way back home when the brilliant thought occurred to me that the Tellico area really wasn't that far out of my way. All my fishing gear had magically been stashed in my car before the trip so everything fell into place nicely. I rarely fish the mainstem Tellico, opting for small tributary streams instead where the only fish you'll encounter are wild and the crowds are slim to none.

After driving around scanning lots of water, I finally just eased the car into a pulloff and got out to examine the stream. The water is getting very low so I knew stealth would be the order of the day. I casually rigged up a 9 foot 4 weight Legend Ultra and extended the leader with around 20 inches of 6x tippet. Low clear water and a lack of big fish convinced me that I could get away with tippet that was lighter than I normally use and that it would in fact improve my success. The vast majority of the time I start with a nymph, but on this day I wanted to catch fish on dries. After observing the stream and its environs, I realized that I would probably be creating an artificial hatch. The only bugs around were some extremely pesky gnats that were trying to make my life miserable. A light cahill parachute seemed like a good way to cover water. The fish here are not picky and will generally rise to just about any reasonable pattern.

My guess proved to be a good one on the first cast. Catching fish immediately can often be the sign of a terrible day of fishing. The first cast curse didn't strike thankfully and a short while later I caught another. Continuing up the creek, I fished around 80 yards of water. It took me around 45 minutes to cover the section and in that time I pulled out 8 little rainbows. All were healthy and very feisty making pictures difficult.

As I approached the pulloff where I had left my car, I realized that my day was already perfect. Asking anything more of the stream would just be greedy. One of my fish came on one of those casts that you make and then wonder how in the world you just pulled it off. Everything was working nicely and to fish any longer would have invited a sub-par ending to the day. I decided to head on back towards civilization and home, the perfect interlude in my day complete...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Deep Memories

Brown trout and remote water are two things that make Deep Creek one of my favorites in the Park. My largest fish in the Smokies came from Deep Creek and every trip there is always good for at least one memorable moment. After some convincing, my cousin Nathan agreed to do a trip with me to #53 in search of the Deep Creek slam. This section of stream is well protected by the rigorous hike in but still sees a fair number of fishermen.

I have done this trip as a daytrip, and also I’ve hiked down to #54 from the top. Each time I do this trip, I promise myself that I’ll never pack in overnight again, but I like Deep Creek so much that I just can’t stay away. The section of Deep Creek above the confluence with the Left Fork is characterized by smooth low gradient stretches that are perfect for brown trout alternating with steep sections of picture perfect pocket water containing rainbows and, as you go higher, more and more brook trout. The stream is fed by several feeder creeks between #53 and #54 meaning that as you go higher, the stream is getting smaller fairly quickly. Still, occasional larger pools often harbor better than average brown trout.

The trip was motivated by two things. First was my desire to return to upper Deep Creek along with wanting to do a backcountry trip. Second, my cousin Nathan just received a fly rod for his birthday and obviously needed to try it out. This trip was the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone so to speak. Friday morning we both got up later than anticipated so we really didn’t reach the trailhead until around noon. Nathan beat me there, but thankfully we were both completely ready to hit the trail and started hiking as soon as I arrived.

Hiking down from near Newfound Gap is the pleasant part of this trip. Hiking back out is an altogether different story. We made really good time, only stopping briefly twice to adjust the shoulder straps on my pack. I was hiking in a pair of Tevas that are extremely comfortable to walk in, even with a 40 pound pack on. This eliminates the need to carry sandals or flip flops for wearing around camp. The downside is the lack of ankle support. Nathan had brought an extra pair of trekking poles for me to try out on this hike, and I must say that I found them useful.

The best part of the hike in was checking out the stream along the way. In a favorite small pool near the trail, we spotted a beautiful brook trout waiting for food to come along in the current. This particular pool is well protected by the surrounding vegetation making fishing nearly impossible. One of these days I’ll solve the problems posed by this particular scenario but in the meantime, it is nice to know that the fish will be there again next time for me to watch when I need a breather on the hike in to campsite #53.

Upon arriving at #53, we quickly set up the tent and then ran our packs up the bear cables. I wanted to get in some fishing time before we had supper. We hiked a short distance down the trail before jumping in the creek to fish back upstream. It was only a matter of minutes before the first trout hit, and for the next couple of hours, the action continued fast and furious. I managed a slam relatively quickly although Nathan was having trouble finding a willing brown trout.

Not too far up the stream, I cast my double nymph rig into a small pool and watched as the line gave a telltale twitch. Raising the rod tip, I discovered that I was attached to something big that obviously didn’t want to come downstream to me. After a couple of headshakes as it plowed upstream, the nice fish came free. Deep Creek is full of surprises and nearly every trip I’m reminded that more than anywhere else I’ve fished, the large browns on Deep Creek are often NOT where you would expect them…

We cut the evening fishing short since supper was going to require some effort and we were both really hungry after the hike down the ridge. The plan was to make hobo stew (lots of different names for these but this is what we’ve always called them). The basic idea for those that don’t know about this delicious camp food is to cook various vegetables in packs of foil over the fire. As I’m vegetarian, mine includes a meatless alternative to chicken that I like. We went with just the basics since we had to carry everything in. The night before I cut and chopped potatoes, onions, and carrots and put them in Ziploc bags. Nathan brought butter and foil. Everything goes in the foil and then after wrapping it all up really well, you put it on a fire.

The fire was the difficult part of this whole operation. The forest was soaked from the daily thunderstorms. After a lot of effort, we found enough semi dry wood to get the fire smoldering. After another 30 minutes of blowing on the small coals, we (read Nathan here…I mostly stood back watching and laughing) got the fire roaring. In fact, it was so hot that the outside of the foil was burning off. Nothing I’ve ever ate while backpacking could compare with that incredible meal. The extra weight was well worth it, and best of all, we didn’t have to carry it all back up the hill in our packs. When you’re done, throw the used foil and other trash into the Ziploc bags and everything is clean and ready to pack back out.

We let the fire die soon after eating and decided to hit the sack. The next day was dedicated to exploring downstream in search of some larger browns, and we were both tired after the hike in.

The next morning I was up early and headed over to the stream to look things over. In one nice pool, I was sneaking slowly along the edge when a dark shadow caused me to pause. I couldn’t believe such a nice brown was out feeding in such an easy to spot location, but then, I’m used to fishing Little River where the larger brown trout are notoriously hard to find. Apparently the fish was attentive to its surroundings, because shortly after spotting it, the fish noticed me and spooked. Knowing where nice fish are is at least half the battle though, so I was confident that returning later might produce better results.

Back in camp, I found Nathan ready to get going. After a quick breakfast we started hiking downstream. We made it down below #54 where we saw another fisherman working upstream. Realizing that it was pointless to fish behind him we backtracked upstream probably a half a mile or more. Entering the stream, I started with a dry as did Nathan. The fish weren’t really looking up so after 15 minutes of fruitless casting, I went back to a double nymph rig.

Nathan Stanaway Photograph

There were lots of bugs hatching so any number of nymphs and wet flies worked well. Caddis pupa patterns were definitely catching fish and an Isonychia nymph soft hackle I tie was also doing the trick. Additionally, we saw good numbers of BWOs in a #20 or smaller, Golden Stoneflies, Little Yellow Stoneflies, and various light colored mayflies that I never could get a good look at but appeared to be either Light Cahills, Sulphurs, or Pale Evening Duns. All of these appeared to be somewhere the in #14-#16 size range.

Moving upstream, Nathan soon decided that a dropper would significantly enhance his odds so we tied on a bead head caddis pupa. Immediately he started catching a lot more fish. Once the sun finally came out from behind the clouds, the fish were on his dry fly as well. It was interesting to watch the clouds come and go.

Almost like flipping a switch, the clouds turned the fish on and off to feeding on the surface (or at least our dry flies). When the sun went behind the clouds the trout went deep. This is just one of those mysteries that keeps fly fishing interesting. Most places I’ve fished have the exact opposite situation. Clouds normally bring fish higher in the water column to feed on emerging insects. In the mountains the sun often seems to be a good thing though as long as you are satisfied with catching average sized fish.

Three photographs above by Nathan Stanaway

Eventually we were approaching a point where the stream flows through a gorge with the trail far above. The sun was already nearing the tops of the ridge to the west so we climbed out and started trekking back towards camp. I wanted plenty of time to try the spot where I briefly hooked the large fish the evening before and to look for the nice brown I spotted that morning. Getting back into the stream where we started the evening before, I moved rapidly upstream to the hole I missed the nice fish in. I carefully worked every inch with my pair of nymphs but never got so much as a single strike.

We got back out of the water and hustled far upstream to the nice pool I discovered that morning. I moved slowly along the bank trying to keep well under cover. Finally I was in casting position but couldn’t see the fish where I expected it to be. Undeterred, I figured it had moved a few feet further upstream to a better lie with the lower light conditions. I checked my tippet and knots one last time before making the first cast. Purposefully I kept my casts short until I was positive that I had the obstacles figured out.

Stripping a few more feet of line from the reel, I cast up to where I expected the fish to be. Immediately the line went tight. The boil of a good fish rolling on the surface showed and the fight was on. As the fish turned downstream, I got a decent look and knew it wasn’t a bad fish. After a couple of minutes, I wrestled the fish into the shallows and corralled it by kneeling down in the water to provide a human fence…definitely no last second opportunities for this fish to get away. Nathan came up from where he had been watching and took over the camera duties. I was thrilled with the 16 inch brown. This fish could be the nicest I catch in the Park this summer so I savored the moment. Finally, I cradled the fish in the current to release it. It only needed a couple of seconds before it bolted away to grow a little more and be caught again another time.

Two photographs above by Nathan Stanaway

The pinnacle of the trip had been reached, however back in camp a humorous episode awaited that would be almost as memorable as the big fish. As we strolled into the clearing, I looked up at my backpack and saw lots of bees flying around. You have to understand that I don’t like bees. I’ve had plenty of bad experiences with all kinds of stinging critters including sitting on a hive (more or less) a couple of summers ago.

Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the bees were attempting to take up residence in my pack. I came to this realization about the same time Nathan started rolling on the ground laughing in glee. While he continued laughing, I started to formulate an approach to rid my pack of the bees. Smoke was my first idea so I grabbed a long branch and rigged up an apparatus on the end we could light. After the smoke was wafting upwards on the breeze, I moved for my first attempt at putting the bees to sleep or otherwise encouraging them to head for a different locale. Sadly the smoke idea didn’t really work unless I got my improvised torch dangerously close to the pack.

After much discussion, plan B was enacted. This entailed unclipping the pack and running like hell for the opposite side of the clearing while the pack tumbled to the earth. Just before I actually let go of the cable, I wondered if I could lower it so gently that the bees wouldn’t notice the decrease in altitude. Altering plan B proved to be a good solution. The bees were still roaming around the pack though. At this point Nathan finally ceased his mirth, calmly grabbing the pack and carried it to our dinner log. Honey bees are nonaggressive as far as such things go.

After another hour of maneuvering around the few bees still hovering around my pack, it occurred to me that they must be after the salt. The last time I used this pack was for the Everglades canoe trip early this past spring. There were bees around my pack, its rain cover, and my tent. All items probably had a fair amount of salt on them. The bees didn’t care for any of Nathan’s gear and that was the final clue to the puzzle.

That evening we both had freeze dried backpacker dinners that just require boiling water. I love these meals but they are a bit expensive when there are other alternatives. Again we headed to bed early since we wanted to get out early the next morning.

We woke up to thunder rolling down from the direction of Clingmans Dome. Hurriedly packing, we just beat the furious downpour so at least our gear was dry. The same couldn’t be said for us though. We hiked out completely soaked but the effect was to keep us cool. Hiking out from #53 is never pleasant. We were both glad to see the cars and end the misery of walking uphill under a heavy pack. Another great trip was completed. I’m already tentatively planning two more, one on the North Carolina side and one on the Tennessee side. We’ll see if either one works out but if I had to guess I’d say I’ll be headed for the hills again sometime in July…

Different Summer

As many of you know, some or all of my summers are usually spent "out west," usually meaning Colorado but also including parts of Utah, Wyoming and Montana. This year is definitely a change of pace for me. Travelling is getting too expensive so I took a summer to stay close to home with a focus on trying out some fishing opportunities I normally don't enjoy enough. So far, I've backpacked into Deep Creek (report coming soon), explored some Plateau streams that I don't normally fish much, and experimented with float tubing local lakes. As the summer continues, I have plans to do at least one more pack trip and possibly two. Also I'll be floating some area rivers as well as heading to upper east Tennessee at some point to fish the South Holston and Watauga. These rivers are not the Green, or Gunnison, or Madison, but it is definitely better than nothing and in fact far better than most people give them credit for.

Hopefully next year will bring a return of my annual pilgrimages west. Until then, I'll enjoy a different summer of more thoroughly exploring my local options...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

New Links

Those of you that pay attention to my list of links have probably noticed that it continues to slowly grow. Lately I have added a few, and I want to specifically mention a couple since they are well worth your time to visit.

Within the last week or two, one of my top favorite fly shops, Blue Ribbon Flies has added a new blog to their website. If early indications prove prophetic, then this blog is definitely worth reading on a regular basis. So far there is a good mix of fishing reports from Craig Matthews, entomology information, and even a bit of philosophy on the simple joys of fly fishing from John Juracek. If they continue to update this blog as consistently as they are right now, then this is one I'll be checking out daily...

The other blog I've added to the list of links is the Fly Fishing Mind of Jeff Allen. This one is not updated as regularly as the new Blue Ribbon Flies blog, but it is still well worth a visit. In addition to quality writing and good pictures from the author, I particularly enjoy this one because it focuses on the area of southwest Colorado I love so much. The author regularly fishes the Gunnison (one of my favorite rivers anywhere) as well as favorites such as the Taylor.

Since I won't be making it out to fish Colorado or Yellowstone this year, I'll try to live vicariously through these and other bloggers and fly shops that post good reports. In the mean time, I have a Smokies backpacking trip to plan and a Caney fishing report to share. More to come on both of those soon!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Last Cast

Spur of the moment fishing trips always have an element of uncertainty. The careful planning that goes into most trips is nonexistent and expectations are usually kept low. After all, when you get a last minute opportunity to get out on the water, the experience is often sufficiently satisfying and catching fish can be a pleasant afterthought.

Most of this week has been spent telling myself I need to fish more. Fishing Sunday and Monday apparently wasn’t enough to make up for the recent dearth of fishing trips. What I’m really craving is a good trout fishing trip, but when the nearest trout water is 50 minutes away you simply take what you can get. About three miles from where I live is a small lake that most people would miss when driving by. It is tucked back in the woods mostly out of sight and the entrance is unmarked. However, it is a public lake with a TWRA boat ramp. When I first bought a float tube earlier this year, I envisioned evening trips to this particular lake on a regular basis, but so far those dreams have not been realized.

In an effort to start fishing more and begin learning the lake, I decided to drive over last evening to see what was going on. The float tube came out and was soon ready to go. I quickly dug through my fly boxes looking for enough random bass and panfish flies to make the evening a success. Soon I was on the road, happy to be going fishing again. The first time I took the tube out, pre-launch preparations took me quite awhile but this time I was in the water fairly quickly, kicking my way across the lake with a large diving hairbug in tow.

The first 20 minutes produced absolutely nothing on the large bassbug so I switched to a small Clouser. Again, nothing happened. While I don’t consider myself a particularly proficient warm water fisherman, I at least like to imagine that I can manage to get by. The first 30 minutes on the water had me wondering if I really truly had no clue what I was doing or if the lake only offered poor fishing. Finally, after kicking across the lake to another shoreline, I snagged my fly within a few feet of the bank and had to work in close to retrieve it. As I moved into the shallows, I saw small bass and bluegill spooking in all directions.

Convinced that it must be my method, I decided to try a smaller fly. Out came the fly boxes again and this time I decided to try a small Simi Seal Leech. These simple but deadly flies are some of my favorites for bluegill and small bass and work great for trout as well. Again I started slowly working the shoreline, but other than a couple of bumps, I couldn’t buy a fish. Moving into a cove, I finally discovered one reason that at least some of the fish weren’t biting well. I discovered a large area of bedded fish. There appeared to be both bass and some type of sunfish in this area although I can’t be positive that both were on beds since one may have been raiding the beds of the other.

The scenery was great!

The trip was pleasant and while it would have been nice to catch a few fish, the Mountain Laurel blooming along the water’s edge helped make my effort worthwhile. I still had to get back to the ramp though. The area where I found the large concentration of fish had been rested long enough so I slowly worked my way back. The first cast up against the shore produced a solid strike, and I soon was admiring a small bluegill. Releasing the fish, I quickly caught another, this time a yellow perch. Next, a nice 8” bluegill came to hand. Then the dreaded lull took over.

First decent fish of the evening...

An offering to the fish gods or a weak effort at an interesting camera angle?

The evening shadows were growing long and the sun had disappeared below the hills. I decided that one last cast was in order before I called it a day. Most people have more than one "last cast," but I was actually reeling in line after this one. Right on cue, the largest bluegill of the day struck and staged a determined fight. The fish literally hit as I was reeling in the line so I just kept cranking away. The fish fought valiantly, but in the end I was the victor, my reward being a couple of pictures of the nice 9”+ fish. After watching the fish swim off, I started kicking back across the lake.

Big fish of the trip

Probably midway back, excruciating pain surged through my leg. “What now?” I thought as a muscle cramp threatened to end my trip while I was still out on the lake. The leg simultaneously wanted to double up and straighten itself out. Balancing my fly rod across the tube, I massaged the tired muscles, hoping to end the misery. Reclining in the tube with my legs sticking straight out, I paddled slowly with my hands, laughing to myself at the absurdity of trying to go anywhere very quickly with my hands as the main propellant. I was making progress though and the thought of standing up to stretch my leg kept me going. By and by I realized that I could kick with the one good leg without going in circles if I was careful. Slowly the pain eased and by the time I approached the boat ramp, I was again kicking gently with both legs.

While some people would be worried about going out in a float tube again, I took the muscle spasms as I sign that I need to get out more. After all, the best way to avoid a problem of this nature is to strengthen the muscles involved. Last minute trips always seem to have a random occurrence, it just so happened that this one was quite unpleasant. Maybe next time I’ll make up for it by catching a monster fish.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Plateau Creeks

Here on the Cumberland Plateau, we are blessed with an abundance of small to medium sized streams. Every one of these holds a variety of fish with smallmouth and various sunfish usually dominating. Tired after a long year of teaching, I just couldn't get excited about making the two hour drive to fish in the Smokies, but the thought of driving 30 minutes and trying some of the local water sounded appealing.

This morning I went through my usual pre-trip ritual of stressing over my limited available fly selection, and this is always despite the fact that I normally have enough flies to open a small fly shop. Regardless of whether or not I had enough flies, I knew that if I didn't tie a couple the trip would be a bust. Sitting down at the vise, I quickly tied three flies that have done well on these local fish before. Throwing the flies in my car along with the other necessary equipment, I was soon cruising along the back roads near Crossville on my way to a favorite area that I have only begun to explore.

Arriving at the stream, I was surprised to see that very few people were around. That is unusual for this particular spot, so I took the opportunity to fish a pool that normally has plenty of people swimming and otherwise enjoying themselves. Several fish later, the crowd started to show up so I wandered downstream in search of solitude. I moved slowly along, casting my fly to each likely spot while keeping both eyes peeled for snakes. While I love fishing this area, it always seems to have a large number of snakes. Friends have told me of seeing rattlesnakes swimming in this particular stretch of water as well so I'm always on the lookout.

As I moved farther away from the road, the smallmouth started biting better. Most likely they just weren't used to seeing flies, but I like to think that I was actually doing something right as well. I ended the day no more than a quarter of a mile from the road but still the farthest I've made it downstream.

My morning tying session was justified...all the fish I caught except for one were on one of those three flies I tied. Part of my problem with tying is that I've been lazy lately. I just don't sit down to tie in the evenings like I used to. Each fishing trip uses up more of the supply I have so eventually I have to start tying again. Tonight I need to tie a few more patterns. I'm going to a bluegill and bass pond tomorrow evening and will have a friend that is new to fly fishing along. I need a few more good bluegill patterns ready to go since I am running low on the usual suspects...so for now I'm off to the tying bench. Here are a few more pictures from today's fishing...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Diverse Weekend

In addition to attending Troutfest, I also managed to get a little fishing in as well this past weekend. I caught a few trout, a few bass, some panfish, and my first carp...not a bad way to spend the weekend I have to say.

Saturday afternoon, I decided to do a little scouting around Catoosa WMA northeast of Crossville. Catoosa is a large wild area with plenty of untouched water to sample. The streams contain bass and panfish, and there are rumors of musky in the more remote sections. I wanted to check a favorite access point and possibly fish while I was there. Unfortunately, storms earlier in the day had Stream "A" high and muddy. No worries though as I drove a few miles to another stream.

When I arrived, I was pleased to find the water low and clear. While watching the water for some indication of active fish, I saw a smallie cruise past and vanish into a deep hole. I went back to the car and grabbed the 4 weight, rigging it with a small Crazy Charlie variation I tie. Back at the waters edge, I flipped the fly into some bankside structure before wading in and caught a few fish before even getting wet.

The sky was becoming more threatening and low rumbles of thunder told me that I was fighting against time at this point. After a couple more fish, the thunder was loud enough that I decided to call it a day. Twenty minutes of fishing and 5-6 fish is a nice relaxed way to enjoy the afternoon.

On the drive back out, I saw a turkey wandering around in the road. It spooked as I drove closer so I couldn't get a picture. The wildflowers were stunning, and at one point, I just had to stop and take a couple of pictures.

Saturday night I tied up a couple of Light Cahill parachute patterns. I was more or less out, and this, along with the Yellow Sallies, is the hatch to be fishing right now in the Smokies. Of course, there are lots of other bugs in the water right now as well so be prepared. My goal was to fish dries during the evening hatch after attending Troutfest.
Sunday morning I slept in later than I intended but eventually got on the road to Townsend. At Troutfest, I wandered around taking in the sights and got to talk to several old friends and meet some new ones. After I saw everything I wanted to, I headed over to Little River Outfitters to pick up some tying materials I was needing. My buddy Trevor was supposed to meet me there so we could go check out the bass action.

After he arrived and picked up the things he was needing from the shop, we went in search of some smallmouth bass. Unfortunately the fish were not very cooperative, but we both managed to catch a few. Rain eventually caught up with us again so I decided to head back to the mountains for the evening hatch. I stopped at the first pool I came to on Little River (yeah, not many options there so guess away...) and found fish rising steadily. The Light Cahill parachute accounted for a few smaller rainbows before I moved on to another location. The final pool of the evening yielded several rainbows including one that was probably 10 or 11 inches. When I couldn't see my fly well anymore, I knew I was approaching the limits of legal fishing hours and decided to head back towards Crossville.

I stopped at one of my striper spots hoping to find the big fish in feeding, but instead I found lots of carp. They were definitely as picky as any fish I've ever cast to although that could be simply because I have no clue when it comes to catching carp. Finally I got one to take a pheasant tail nymph and the battle was on. I couldn't believe how hard this fish pulled. Everytime I thought it was ready to give up, the fish would go on another hard run. Fishing alone, I was unable to get a picture but I still have the memory.

The carp was a strange end to a pleasant yet diverse weekend of fishing. I always enjoy catching a new species although I don't really keep a detailed list of all the fish I've caught. The main thing I learned this weekend was that there are some great places close to home that I need to be fishing more. More to come on that as I get out on the water...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Big Weekend

The last few weeks of school are always extremely busy both for teachers and students. I've been too busy to fish (mostly anyway) so other than one or two quick trips for bluegill, I haven't really been out much lately. This weekend that should all change.

Troutfest is happening in Townsend, Tennessee this weekend. I'll be heading up that way on Sunday to take in the festivities which include such big names as Joe Humphries, Lefty Kreh, and Bob Clouser all doing various demos and seminars. Best of all, everything is free!

I highly doubt that I'll spend the whole day there. Instead I'll enjoy a few hours in the park on some favorite water hopefully catching some trout. The evening hatches are supposed to be great right now and the predicted rainfall should bring water levels up and trigger better than average emergence of mayflies and stoneflies. Light cahills should be hatching now as well as little yellow stoneflies and probably a hodge podge of other insects. This is the time of year to catch good fish on dries. The low light conditions during the best hatches coincide with the only legal time you can fish that also happens to be prime time for large fish to be feeding. You rarely will find nice fish rising in the middle of the day but that all changes during the banner evening hatches.

I'll try to have a few pictures after the weekend so check back to see what happened...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Snakes and Trout

At a young age, I realized that snakes would be a permanent part of at least some of my fishing trips. I can still remember playing in small streams and creeks and coming across the inevitable water snakes, not to mention other occasional types that like to hang out close to wetland areas in hopes of an easy meal. I’ve never been afraid of snakes, exactly, but do give them plenty of healthy respect. Snakes that are visible and obvious don’t bother me. It’s the ones that suddenly appear under my feet that concern me.

Some of my earliest encounters with serpents were of the terrifying variety. Running through the yard at age 6 only to have a 5 foot blacksnake rear its head in a menacing gesture practically under my feet was terrifying enough. Much worse was a trip to the Smokies with my family in which we camped on Little River in Townsend. I headed down to the stream one evening to try and catch some trout with my trusty Zebco and some spinner flies. The number of snakes I saw that evening still astounds me. In the dwindling light, it seemed that the bank was literally covered with snakes, while out in the water they swam this way and that but mostly right towards me. Probably there were only 10 or 12 total, but it seemed like something out of a nightmare that left me, if not permanently scarred, at least a little jumpy when things start moving under my feet.

During the recent epic fishing trip with my cousin Nathan and JR, a highlight of the trip was when I needed to filter some drinking water. I’ve stopped carrying enough drinking water for the day, taking only a single Nalgene and my MSR filter. Sitting comfortably on a rock while operating the filter, I looked down to see a strange pattern in the water between two rocks under my boots. At first, hope almost convinced me that it was just a strange rock or maybe a branch, but eventually I had to be honest with myself and admit that it was a water snake that had somehow appeared mere inches away. Snakes that magically appear are the ones that concern me. Thankfully, this particular critter was still sluggish in the cool water of spring, so I grabbed it by the tail and threw it across the stream at my buddies. Such is life on a fishing trip with the guys.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an appreciation for snakes. When the opportunity presents itself, I always snap a few pictures of any noteworthy specimens. Generally this means copperheads or rattlesnakes around here. While living near Townsend and working at Little River Outfitters one summer, I saw copperheads on the road near my cabin almost nightly as well as a pair of rattlesnakes one evening. In the Park itself, I rarely see poisonous snakes, but find more water snakes than I find pleasant. They have a habit of appearing while I’m wading upstream, usually in mid stride and directly under my feet. The snake dance ensues, probably leaving their nerves more shattered than mine. Still, even the water snakes can be intriguing. A couple of years ago in the spring, I came across a ball of breeding water snakes on the rocks along one of the most popular pools on Little River. If most people realized the number of snakes inhabiting that vicinity I would probably have the place to myself.

Last summer, I heard repeated stories of a rattlesnake hanging out near the trail a short distance above Elkmont. This put a damper on my normal habit of hiking out late in the evening after dark. I figured a headlamp should become part of my gear on day trips but didn’t start carrying one yet. Last weekend I found a rattlesnake about ¾ of a mile above Elkmont within 10 feet of the trail, convincing me that it was finally time to start carrying the headlamp or else hike out only while I could still see well. The snake was near a bench overlooking a nice pool on Little River. I climbed down closer to the snake to get some good pictures. There were too many witnesses around to attempt catching the snake. Harassing wildlife is strongly frowned upon so I had to leave my first capture of a rattlesnake for another day. Besides, by this point its angry response was to coil up and start rattling. Such are the hazards of photographing snakes. I wasn’t concerned in the least, but the “Holy Crap” I got from one nearby tourist when I pointed out the snake told me that not everyone is as unconcerned about rattlers as I try to be.

The rest of that day was perfect for fishing. I caught plenty of fish, even though I kept discovering that I was fishing behind people. The bright spring colors provided excellent opportunities for my camera, but the memory of the snake kept me watching me step, at least occasionally missing the beauty of new life around me. Probably the biggest difference between this and normal fishing trips was the fact that I hiked out with probably 2 hours of daylight to spare. No, I’m not afraid of snakes, its just healthy respect…I promise.

Help the Hiwassee

This afternoon I was perusing the Little River Outfitters message board and read a thread from Byron Begley. He had heard that some regulation changes were being considered for the Hiwassee River and wanted to give everyone a heads up. After doing a bit more research, I came across this article from the Polk County News. According to the article, TWRA is considering removing the "Trophy Section" designation and also adding a delayed harvest season.

The delayed harvest is a great idea, but I can't really say that I think it will increase the quality of the fishing. TWRA's version of a delayed harvest is basically to stock fewer fish with the idea that they will be caught over and over again. I fear that enforcement will continue to be very limited meaning that the fish will end up leaving the river anyway. While going to school in Chattanooga, I fished the Hiwassee a fair amount and was never checked for a license. If TWRA would step up enforcement then the delayed harvest is a great idea.

I wish the Trophy section would be left alone. It really is not doing its job particularly well, probably somewhat due to the lack of enforcement. The remote nature means would-be poachers can come and go at will with a very small likelihood of getting caught. Additionally, water quality problems during summer wreak havoc on the trout population in this area. Not all the fish die though. I know for a fact that brown trout are holding over in the river, at least on a limited basis. Better enforcement of current regulations and better stocking strategies could still make the Trophy section a great fishery. For example, brown trout tend to migrate upstream from their stocking location. Instead of stocking fingerling browns at Big Bend, TWRA should consider stocking them further downriver so they can move up into the Trophy section and get a chance to grow for awhile.

Unfortunately, there are so many things wrong with the Hiwassee that there really may not be a good solution. Still, I urge everyone that cares about this river to take a few minutes to let TWRA know how they feel about the proposed changes. Simply send an email to TWRA.Comment@tn.gov. Please include “Sport Fish Comments” on the subject line.

I would recommend supporting the delayed harvest proposal. However I cannot support removing the Trophy Section designation. Even if the section is largely failing in its purpose, it still gives these fish somewhat of a refuge on a river that is hammered throughout the warm months by many fisherman. A small sanctuary that is occasionally violated is better than opening everything up to normal fishing regulations.

An additional recommendation I would add is to limit brown trout to one kept per day. The current proposal is to allow up to two browns per day. However, brown trout hold over much better in this river than rainbows and limiting the number leaving the river would offer better opportunities for trophy fish.

Again, please take a few moments to let TWRA know what you think.