Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fishing in the Mud


Late summer in Tennessee generally means low clear water in the mountains and a mix of high and low water on the tailwaters.  TVA begins to draw down reservoirs to winter pool about this time of year if necessary, but otherwise the tailwaters are low and clear.  Last week brought a departure from the norm on the Caney.  Recent generation has consisted of a two hour pulse at some point in the morning, but heavy rains that brought flooding to parts of the state affected the lower end of the Caney Fork. 

Water levels in Center Hill Lake have come up some, but mostly the lake was spared from the worst of the onslaught.  The tailwater is a different story.  Last Thursday, it was obvious that large quantities of mud had entered the river somewhere upstream of Happy Hollow.  I fished at Happy for probably a couple of hours and caught a decent number of fish despite the water conditions. 

When I first pulled into the parking lot, I almost didn't even bother to get out of my car.  Upon closer inspection though I noticed dark patches indicating the weedbeds under the surface.  Realizing that the water was just very off color and not chocolate milk, I proceeded to rig up a four weight and headed down the ramp.  The clarity of the water made simply searching the water much less productive than it normally can be.  I've seen fish move up to 7 or 8 feet to take a Zebra Midge on the Caney, but this time the fly would have to be within a foot or two of the fish for them to even see it.

 

Careful observation is key to success in life, and fishing is no exception.  After standing on the bank for 10 minutes, I located several risers and slowly started to wade in their direction.  Once within range, it was a simple matter of waiting for the fish to give away its location by rising and then casting to it.  Most fish would hit within the first few casts although a few took upwards of 10 or 15 casts before eating.  Still, I can't complain about those numbers. 



I don't know whether it was due to the reduced visibility or what, but probably half of the fish rose to my indicator dry whereas normally I would only catch a couple on the #14 parachute.  The fish were a nice mix of 13-16 inch rainbows with a couple of browns thrown in for good measure.  All fish seemed really healthy with beautiful full fins and fought very well.  I'm hoping to head back soon to sample the river again under slightly more "normal" water conditions to see how things really are...



Thursday, August 19, 2010

On the Other Side

My Smokies excursions tend to be limited to the Tennessee side of the ridge. Obviously that is a result of proximity but also of familiarity. The comfort of fishing my home water keeps me coming back time and again. Over time I have learned the river almost like the back of my hand. At this point, the main challenge has become chasing the larger browns in the river. Ironically, every trip to the other side of the Park tends to produce a memorable moment. On Little River it is easy to fall into the trap of routine, but I retain some of the suspenseful excitement of fishing new water on North Carolina streams.

This past weekend I headed up to fish the Park with the plan to meet my buddy Joe Mcgroom. After a late start, I finally was rolling up Little River a little after noon and found Joe's truck near a favorite stretch of water. After some consultation, we checked out a couple of spots on Little River before deciding to head over the ridge.

The trip up and over Newfound Gap was faster than you can normally make it during peak vacation months. There was a noticeable absence of lost tourists stopping in the road which was a nice change from the norm on Park roads. Rain was developing over the higher elevations, a warning of things to come. We developed a game plan while en route and finally stopped along the Oconaluftee River.

Joe had a definite goal in mind and our first stop put us at a nice pool that can produce some better than average browns on occasion. I was not ready to fish yet and told Joe to fish the pool while I rigged up. We both started with the usual double nymph rig.

As I tied on some fresh tippet and selected flies, Joe worked methodically through the pool. Nothing happened until he hit the head where fish often feed in the low water of late summer. Finally a solid fish struck the fly and the excitement started. I watched as Joe fought the fish downstream into the slower portion of the pool and finally corralled it in the shallows. Interestingly, in addition to Joe's flies, the fish also had a short section of tippet and small nymph in its mouth, obviously the victor in another recent fight. After freeing the fish from its unwanted jewelry, we snapped a couple of pictures and then Joe spent a few moments reviving the nice 14 inch brown.



First pool success is often a sign of slow fishing for the rest of the day and this trip didn't deviate from that standard. More than anything, I think our own laziness set the pace for the rest of the day. We both caught several more fish but nothing out of the ordinary and the catching was definitely not as good as it could have been if we were more focused. Sometimes its nice to have slow days though. Really all I wanted out of this trip was the chance to get out on the stream, and any fish caught were just a bonus.

A little later in the day the rainfall from higher elevations finally caught up with us and the water turned muddy. Fish still fed just fine, but after fishing in the higher water for a little while, we decided to call it a day and head back over the ridge.


Over the next few weeks, I plan to get out more than I have been. The intense heat and humidity of the summer should slowly yield to the changing seasons as we approach my favorite time of year. I'll be heading back to the Smokies soon as well as making some tailwater trips. Expect another report in a couple of days...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Word of Caution

As we head into the late summer months, I feel a word of caution is needed for anglers everywhere, myself included.  When a large trout (or any other species) graces the end of your line, the urge to take plenty of pictures is strong.  I would like to recommend being as careful as possible when doing so.

This issue is a problem and one that has been painfully obvious on my last two trips to the Caney Fork River.  Both times I have found large brown trout dead on the river bottom.  Each fish was obviously healthy and probably in the prime of its life.  I know that after a certain point the fish die of old age, but these fish were not to that point in my opinion (although I clearly cannot say that positively). 

I have a couple of theories on how those fish died.  One is that someone caught them and simply played the fish too long and then kept it out of the water for too long during the picture session.  Another possibility is that someone put the fish on a stringer before thinking better of the idea.  The new regulations allow the harvest of only one brown trout over 24 inches.  The first fish I found dead was around 18" and the fish yesterday taped out at 22".  Both were under the minimum size limit and someone may have got nervous and slipped the fish off the stringer as they approached a major access point.

 
However, the fact remains that some fish we catch probably won't make it.  To greatly increase the odds of the fish surviving, please remember to always wet your hands before touching any fish.  Also keep the fish in the water as much as possible between photographs.  There is no need to have the fish out of the water for very long.  Don't place the fish on dry surfaces for those "beside the rod" shots.  Finally, when in doubt, get the fish back in the water and skip the pictures instead of killing the fish.  I've done this with some large fish, and never regret the decision. 

On the Caney, low dissolved oxygen levels have been reported lately.  The river is currently only a shadow of its former self.  If you should be fortunate enough to hook and land one of the rare large fish that are left, please treat it respectfully and get it back in the water as quickly as possible. Spend as much time as necessary reviving the fish.  This is particularly important with the oxygen problems.  Get the fish out in the main current away from the warmer water near the banks. 

While my motivation for bringing up this issue was two experiences on the Caney, this is something that everyone should be careful of as we continue through the hottest months of the year.  Fisherman everywhere should consider their impact on the resource and fish responsibly at all times.  I've stayed away from the lower reaches of large Smoky Mountain streams this summer because of the warm water.  The long term health of the fishery is much more important to me than possibly catching and killing a large brown. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Too Many Alligators!!

I first saw this video over on CNN. Apparently this guy was starting out on a fishing trip. I'm wondering if this would be a good solution to the crowds on some of our tailwaters...maybe just stock a couple of 'gators... Other than the water being too cold for them, this could be a brilliant solution to an overcrowding problem...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No fishing...

...but on the bright side the sunset was really nice this evening!!! An isolated shower was moving slowly along to the southwest making for some nice photo opportunities. The colors playing through the clouds during the sunset were as nice as any I've seen yet this year...








Monday, July 19, 2010

Really???

Yesterday I tried out one of my striper spots with a couple of buddies. The fishing was slow to say the least. With nothing better to do I stuck with it until it was quite late. Finally, something hit like a freight train. After a relatively short fight, I had a small striper in for a couple of pictures. I'm still trying to figure out what I was thinking during the picture...probably something along the lines of, "Really??? I drove here for this little fish?" It must have been too late to be thinking clearly though because I always appreciate my time on the water regardless of the fish I catch...


Trevor Smart Photograph

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Caney Outing

Adam Littell Photograph


This has definitely not been the summer of nonstop fishing. Thankfully I have still managed to get out often enough to avoid suffering through withdrawals. My most recent trip was one that just kind of happened at the last minute, and what a trip it was!

One of my best friends was in the area for a couple of weeks prior to his upcoming wedding. He wanted to get together and float a few hours. Naturally I couldn't say no to that, so we made plans to hit the river Friday afternoon. He isn't a fisherman but didn't mind me bringing a fly rod along.

When we arrived at the river, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of activity from the fish. Rises, jumping trout, everything telling me that I might catch a few. Strangely, I couldn't get any to play at first. I had rigged up with something other than the flavor of the day unfortunately, and out of pure laziness I stuck with it a bit too long. Once I changed over to a midge things improved quickly.




Adam Littell Photograph


We paddled down the river, lazily drifting along for the most part on the low water. Every now and then I would switch rods. The midges were producing well, but I really didn't have any follows on the streamer as far as I could tell. In one spot we beached the kayak to wade a bit. Fish were feeding heavily throughout the run, and I caught my first Caney slam in awhile. The only noteworthy fish was the brookie.



Adam Littell Photograph


Overall it was a great trip made better by the fact that I got to hang out with a good friend. I'm hoping to fish again tomorrow although on some different water. Check back again soon for further updates...

Monday, July 12, 2010

And So It Begins

Striper season 2010...finally time to start chasing them again!!!

Trevor Smart photo

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Floating with Southeastern Fly

Nathan Stanaway photo


Backpacking in the Smokies is always an enjoyable experience. I've been looking forward to the opportunity to do so for awhile and couldn't wait to get on some of my favorite water in the Park. Unfortunately the best of plans don't always work out. Due to several factors, we had to cancel the Smokies trip. To salvage the weekend, my cousin Nathan decided to come up to Crossville instead, and we planned on floating the Caney.

Originally we planned on taking my canoe, but when David Perry from Southeastern Fly asked if we were interested in floating with him, we both thought that would be a good idea. This turned out to be perfect since David knows the river so well. He showed us a couple of tricks he has for days that seem slower at first, and it made all the difference.

We planned on meeting early. I was actually on time for a change, and we were ready to float by around 6:45 or 7:00. The first hundred yards of the float was spent just trying to navigate through the maze of other river users. Once we got out in front of everyone though the fishing immediately improved. Nathan and I started out fishing, and soon we were both catching fish. The midge hatch produce some excellent fishing on a dry/dropper rig. I wanted to catch some larger fish and eventually couldn't resist the call of the streamer rod.




Within just a few casts with a Stacked Blond, I had a little 10 inch brown on and thought it might turn out to be a good streamer day! Unfortunately the quick success soon turned into lots of follows and flashes but few strikes. Still, I was turning fish and some nice ones at that so I was a little reluctant to stop throwing big streamers for big fish.

We continued down the river and things really slowed down as the sun hit the water. The hordes of canoes coming down the river weren't helping either although most people were being polite. The glaring exception was a boat that motored by within 6 feet or so between the drift boat and the bank that was probably no more than 30 feet away at this point and probably much less. This was while I was working the streamer rod to said bank, and it was all I could do to restrain from blasting one of them in the head with a big streamer. Some people are just not very intelligent.

The dry spell continued for a good distance down the river, largely due to the fact that we were spending a lot of time experimenting. Finally, David went to his bag of tricks and showed us his favorite method of fishing the Caney when it is tough. Immediately we started catching fish and within 10 minutes, I nailed a nice 18 inch brown. That fish made my day, and I was ready to relax for awhile so I took over the oars. Rowing on low water is not a difficult job at all...

Nathan Stanaway photo

Nathan Stanaway photo

David nailed several good fish including browns up to 17 inches. Nathan took over camera duties for awhile and we got some nice pictures of all the fish. When we were about a half a mile or mile above the takeout, Nathan took over in the front and proceeded to catch his own nice 16 inch brown.






The river is slowly coming back although it has a long ways to go before it gets anywhere as good as it used to be. The numbers of fish are still not particularly good and the heavy boat traffic does not help. There are definitely fish to be caught though and even some very nice ones. I'll be looking forward to the opportunity to fish the Caney again, hopefully in the next week or two.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Almost Striper Time

Yesterday evening I took a trip to one of my favorite places to fish for stripers. The expedition was as much a scouting trip as an actual fishing trip. So far we haven't found the fish up shallow where it is easy to target them with a fly rod from shore. Since I don't have a boat or consistent access to one, I make do when the fish are within casting distance from shore.

The trip was very useful and added a bit more knowledge to my repertoire. First, the fish weren't in our favorite spot. Second, most fish are not up feeding on the surface yet although in a few select spots they can be found busting bait. Usually they take patterns deeper in the water column, but I had to go to a Deceiver before finally hooking up. Unfortunately, the last lesson learned was more of a reminder: Don't overpower stripers...when they are ready they will come in. After a solid fight with a very nice fish, I lost the striper when the hook pulled free.

Hopefully in the next 2-3 weeks things will continue to improve. There are few options here in east Tennessee that can compare with the adrenaline rush from hooking a big striper. I hope to try out some musky within the next few months, but until then, stripers are high on my list of best fighting fish here in our area.