Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trout Zone Photoblog

I am now working on offering hi-res versions of photographs for sale through a new blog.  The Trout Zone Photoblog will be highlighting what I consider my best photographs and offering them through a website called Fotomoto.  This site allows me to place a toolbar directly into my blog for people to order prints and digital downloads.  I will be including the toolbar here at the Trout Zone as well, just not emphasizing the photographs.  In the meantime, please check out the new Photoblog, and let me know what you think!

Tennessee Hiking: Burgess Falls

There is something mesmerizing about water in free fall.  Within an hour of home, I can be hiking to any number of waterfalls, some well known, others obscure and difficult to find.  In fact, there are several smaller ones (up to 30 feet high or so) within walking distance of my house.  When I want to get out in nature and just hike, I'll often make a waterfall my destination. 

About a month ago, we took some of the kids from where I'm teaching down to Burgess Falls State Park to take in the scenery and do a little hiking.  Everyone was enthusiastic to see what was new to most of them.  For me, I just wanted to do some photography since I had not photographed this particular falls before.  The following is a small sample of the falls we saw on our hike. 






Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elk, Baetis, and Big Trout

"Deep Creek" - - David Knapp Photograph

My yearly fall pilgrimage to the mountains was last weekend, and as always, it was very memorable.  The fall BWOs were pouring off late each afternoon in tremendous numbers on Deep Creek, and the October Caddis were getting the fish to look up anytime they made an appearance.  The elk in Cataloochee were mostly done with the rut, but a few bulls were still hanging out with their harems.

Several friends made the trip and my cousin and his wife came up for the weekend.  Camping is a lot more fun with a good group, although since I was the only fly fisherman my time on the stream suffered a bit.  It wasn't entirely a bad trade off though.  Sometimes the relaxation of camping is more needed than tons of time on the water.  After the first 8 weeks of school, I was more than ready for a break.  The opportunity to just sit around the campfire and stare into the coals was just as relaxing as spending lots of time chasing trout.  As much as I love the fishing, its not always just about catching trout.

David Knapp Photograph

Upon arriving at the Deep Creek Campground, we set up camp quickly and then headed up the trail to see Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.  Naturally, I rigged up a four weight with a pair of nymphs and took it along just in case.  For the dedicated fly fisherman, just in case always happens.  After we saw the two falls, I found myself flinging flies into a nice pool hoping for something, anything.  It had been too long since I was on the water and just about anything would make me happy.  First strike, a warpaint shiner...okay, maybe not anything...maybe just any trout.  The next strike was a lot more solid, and I was soon admiring one of Deep Creek's beautiful rainbow trout.  I always head over to Deep Creek to chase the browns, but there is an excellent population of rainbow trout that are always brilliantly marked.

Caitlin Cress Photograph
That night, we gathered branches and limbs from around the campground to make a big fire.  Supper was hobo stew so the fire had to be the perfect temperature...too hot and your food is burned, too small and it never cooks all the way.  We boiled water for hot chocolate as the evening was growing chilly.  The warmth of the fire kept us all close until we finally bolted for our tents and warm sleeping bags.  The next morning was cold so most of us slept in until the sun cleared the ridge.  Once up, we made pancakes for breakfast and then started preparing for our day.  Some of the group had to leave for the weekend while my cousin Nathan and his wife still had to arrive.  After making a phone call, we decided to wait for them to arrive and then head over to Cataloochee for the afternoon. 

As soon as they rolled into camp and got set up, we headed out and cruised through Bryson City, then Cherokee, and finally Maggie Valley before turning north towards I-40.  Just before the interstate, we found the small road that leads up and over the looming ridge and into the paradise that is Cataloochee.  Previously an out of the way little visited corner of the park, Cataloochee has become a major tourist destination within the Park because of the reintroduction of elk.

David Knapp Photograph 

Most people wouldn't bother making the drive without such motivation.  If you intend to drive to that area, just be aware that while it might only take you twenty minutes to drive the winding mountain roads between the valley and the interstate, the hordes of tourists can slow your trip down to a crawl.  We got into one such painfully slow caravan, but by and by, the valley opened up below us in a beautiful panorama of fall colors. 

Not long after reaching the valley floor, we came upon two large bull elk that always seem to hang out in the same area.  We stopped for pictures before moving on up the valley.  Driving slowly, we stopped at several places to enjoy the views, the colors, and the camaraderie.

David Knapp Photograph 

 David Knapp Photograph

As the sun moved lower in the sky, we started to remember that we were hungry.  While driving through Maggie Valley we had noticed a small Italian restaurant called Garlic Knots.  Everyone thought it sounded like the perfect end to a good day in the mountains so we headed back out for a great dinner.  I had the daily special, a garlic and spinach ravioli that came with salad and bread sticks.  Next time I'll probably try one of the house specialty brick oven pizzas.  There were so many items that sounded good, but one can only eat so much at a time. 

After supper, we headed back towards Bryson City for an evening of hanging out around the campfire.  In camp, the hot chocolate and smores came out again.  Friday evening was even colder than Thursday evening was so we were really glad for a warm fire.  The night sky was tremendous because the cold front a few days previously had ushered in much drier and cooler air.  The low humidity made the sky seem so much clearer. 

The next day, we headed over to the Road to Nowhere.  Previously I had never made the time to go that way so it was interesting to drive to the end and walk through the tunnel.  We also stopped to fish Noland Creek.  I always enjoy adding new streams to my list of "fished" streams so this was a great experience.  Over the next few months, I hope to add more of the North Carolina streams to my list of places fished.  I still need to fish Forney, Hazel and Eagle Creeks.  Next spring some backpacking might be in order. 

One highlight of the trip was fishing down at the mouth of a stream as it entered the lake below.  I spotted several fish rising so tried a dry/dropper rig.  This was not working well in the low clear water so I decided to go to the opposite extreme with a Clouser.  The first cast didn't produce but the next one brought a hard charging shape from the depths.  I watched as the trout behind moved quickly to close the gap.  In one fluid movement, it closed on the fly and inhaled it.  Streamer fishing can be as visual as dry fly fishing and perhaps even more so, and this case was no exception.  I battled a nice rainbow in for a quick picture before heading back up the stream to try for some of the resident fish.

Nathan Stanaway Photograph

That evening, I fished Deep Creek again.  The BWOs were out in force again.  In every pool and slick, I found plenty of rising trout.  One particularly perfect cast finally yielded a mighty brown that came up from the depths of a glassy pool to sip my tiny parachute pattern.  After an intense battle, I wrestled the nice fish into the shallows and subdued it long enough for a picture.  I returned it to the stream and hope that it will grow into an even more impressive fish in the years to come.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The final day of a camping trip is always bittersweet.  I never really want to leave the mountains so I enjoy my time to the fullest while it lasts.  The last day was mostly dedicated to fishing.  I tried a couple of favorite streams (still on the NC side) and had memorable moments on each.  The first stream is one I don't really fish often enough but always enjoy when I do.  I was specifically looking for big browns but doing a little "regular" fishing while I was at it.

After a few hours on this stream, I started to think ahead and decided it would be best to head in the general direction of home.  On the way, I was driving along when, like a bolt of lightning, I felt an irresistible urge to pull over and look for big fish in a spot that I normally wouldn't have stopped at.  Creeping through the trees to a high bank overlooking the stream, I cautiously looked slowly up and downstream.  Just as I was about to turn away and head on down the road, a dark form materialized in the middle of the run below.  My heart started to pound as I stared in awe at the nice fish below.  This was the fish I had been dreaming of and it was sitting out in the middle of the stream, shallow enough that I had a good chance of catching it. 

I ran back to the car and got my fly rod and slipped downstream.  Not wanting to make any mistakes, I purposefully slowed down and made sure everything went smoothly.  The double nymph rig landed about three behind and to the side of the trout on the first cast which was fine by me.  I always try to get my distance figured out and would rather cast short instead of too long.  A short cast won't usually spook the trout.  On the second cast, the flies dropped into the water just upstream of the fish.  The big fish turned and followed them downstream and when it turned, I gently set the hook.  I didn't want to spook the trout but needed to set in case it had eaten.  Three casts in a row produced the same result, but on the third cast, the big fish moved up slightly farther and settled closer to the bottom.  Convinced that I had put the fish down, I headed back up to the car to get more flies and to watch the fish again from the bank above. 

Back on the bank, I was shocked to see the fish rise and sip something off the surface and new immediately what fly I was tying on next.  Out came my special October Caddis pattern and back down to the water I went.  The first cast was again made purposefully short to judge the distance, but the second cast was right on the mark.  I watched as the fish seemed to ignore the fly, and then at the last second, the trout ghosted up and sipped the big orange caddis pattern slowly but deliberately.  The line came tight as I raised the rod tip and the fish immediately went crazy.  It ran up and down the beautiful run and almost made it to the faster water below before I finally corralled it for pictures.  As much as I enjoy catching big fish, I was honestly disappointed that this fish turned out to be a rainbow.  One of these days I'll get another big brown in the Park.  Still, I won't complain too much since catching a big fish is always fun regardless. This fish had clearly run up from hatchery supported water below and had the typical big head and snakey body from living in the less than fertile mountain stream for an extended period of time.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

My heart still beating rapidly, I headed back to the car to drive to another stream and hopefully more large trout.  One particular hole had been in the back of my mind for the whole weekend.  As I approached, I was surprised that there were no cars parked there but was not going to complain.  This particular pool can be super hard to fish with low flows because the water is so still.  Accurate drifts with nymphs can be close to impossible without spooking every trout in the pool.  Still it was worth a shot.  The first few fish were run-up stocker rainbows but then a flash of color indicated a wild fish on the line.  As I took a few pictures of the gorgeous rainbow, I was more than rewarded for stopping.  Surprisingly, there was still another surprise in store.

David Knapp Photograph 

David Knapp Photograph

As I worked towards the back of the pool, my indicator dove under.  With the first flash, I was almost convinced I had finally hooked a nice brown.  Two bulldogging runs later, I realized from the colors that it was a brookie.  In fact, it was the largest brookie I have hooked to date.  Again, this was clearly a run-up fish from hatchery supported water below but I was still thrilled to hook and land such a beautiful fish.

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Later that afternoon, I ran into Ian Rutter looking for large fish and heard about some of the nice fish they had hooked that day (mostly on dries).  Apparently the North Carolina side streams are all alive and well, producing good to excellent fishing for anglers that know how how to fish them.

The afternoon shadows were growing long and I still had a long drive.  The return trip over the ridge was much faster than the trip a few days previously.  Best of all, I was now fortified with many great memories of time spent with friends and plenty of time spent on the water.  In just a few short weeks, Thanksgiving break will be here, and I'll have another week of fishing time...this is my favorite time of year to be on the water.  The browns are now highly aggressive and should continue to produce phenomenal fishing throughout the cold months on streamers.  The fall hatches should continue strong for awhile before transitioning into the winter hatches so the rainbows and brookies will be feeding heavily as well.  This is a great time to get on the water...just don't be surprised if you spend more time enjoying the scenery than actually fishing...

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Monday, October 25, 2010

Catching Up

The last few weeks have been busy for me, and I want to apologize for the lack of material.  I have a fair number of posts to get up and will be starting with the most recent and then working back as I have time.  First up will be my Fall Break trip to the North Carolina side of the Smokies.  It was as memorable as many of my other trips and included such things as epic BWO hatches, big rainbows on streamers, and the largest brookie I have ever caught.  I also have other reports on the Smokies and tailwaters as well so stay tuned for those updates...

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fun Continues: Smokies


As the season begins to change, my desire to head for the Smokies grows by leaps and bounds.  The call of wild trout in a beautiful mountain setting is too much to ignore.  The second of my five days of fishing was dedicated to going to the Smokies.  I made a quick phone call to see if my buddy Joe was fishing.  He said he was and told me approximately where to look for him when I arrived. 

The drive up was intense.  A slow moving cold front was working its way through the area, producing very heavy showers and thunderstorms well in advance.  I drove through some of the most intense rain I've had to drive in yet and was becoming hopeful that Little River would be up a little and possibly stained.  Summer rainstorms after extended periods of low water can produce phenomenal fishing. 

I found Joe in a pool known to hold big browns which is no surprise for anyone that knows him.  He has a knack for finding and landing big fish like few people I know.  On this day, he had not landed any monsters, but had seen a couple of nice fish.  After I rigged up, we both fished up a short section of stream that has produced well on occasion.  A few small rainbows and a couple of suckers later, I moved out of the first pool and into the pocket water above. 


There were three good seams to try.  The closest one proved the hardest to put a fly in.  As soon as I did, though, an explosion rocked the end of my line and a nice brown started plowing around through the run.  Unfortunately, after a few tense seconds, the brown unhooked itself, and I was left shaking my head. 

After I quit pondering the missed opportunity, we decided to head upriver and try another section.  This one was better as far as the overall quality of the fish was concerned.  I managed several chunky rainbows but unfortunately no browns.  The water started to take on more and more color.  Finally we headed back to the bank nearest the cars and it turned out to be none too soon.  The water rose some more and became more like chocolate milk in a matter of just a few minutes. 


For the rest of the afternoon, I spent some time ripping streamers and some time taking pictures.  The second activity was much more successful than the first although its always fun to fish big flies.  I'm hoping to head back to the Park in the near future so stay tuned for more updates...



Saturday, September 18, 2010

First of Many: Caney


Last week, I had a streak of 5 days in a row with at least a little fishing.  That is better than I have had in quite awhile, and as we continue to move into fall I expect my opportunities to get out to continue improving.  While still only a shadow of its former self, the Caney Fork continues to produce good fishing for mostly stocker rainbows.  There are larger holdover fish to be had, but I've been having trouble keeping them on when hooked. 

The trip last week was interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, there were no releases from the dam that particular day so I was able to get a good look at the river during low flows.  Anytime you can see a river at its lowest point, take advantage of the situation.  Even if the fishing is not perfect, you will learn some valuable information about the stream bottom.  The second interesting thing about the trip was the apparently very recent stocking.  I found freshly stocked fish, some in huge pods, all over the river. 

If these fish can escape the stringers and grow awhile, we'll have some excellent fishing over the next couple of years.  They have not learned much about what they are supposed to eat yet.  In fact, a fly with a bit of drag seemed an incentive to strike instead of a deterrent.  I finished my day ripping a very small streamer with a trailing softhackle through a small hole and watching as these stockers fought over the opportunity to slam the flies. 

In between pestering the little rainbows, I managed to find a willing brown that posed long enough for a picture.  I'm always glad to catch the browns so this fish made the trip that much better...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Monster Bass

Large fish don't come around every day.  When I catch one it makes my trip but when I catch multiple large fish in an outing, it can well be the trip of the year.  This past weekend I made another trip for smallies, redeye, and anything else that would hit a fly.  Each time I explore a little further but this time it was somewhat in vain.  The fish would eat, but the water was so low that stealth was paramount.

As I moved further into unexplored territory, the fishing improved but the large fish seemed to be lacking.  However, the high point was still to come.  Finally, on a remote pool teeming with fish, I found two quality fish feeding.  Realizing that my years of searching for that trophy smallmouth might be coming to a close, I purposefully slowed everything down so I wouldn't make any last minute mistakes.  I even remembered to check my line for nicks and made sure the fly was sufficiently sharp. 

Assured that everything was in order, I crept closer and made a cast.  Everything came together perfectly, and I made the right cast the first time.  The hookset was good and I found myself attached to a hefty smallmouth.  Mere seconds later, I was shocked to be holding the nice fish after such a short fight.  After a couple of pictures, I released the monster back to its home. 

I peered back into the pool and found the other large fish still out feeding.  After another careful cast, I hooked up again.  Luck was on my side for once!  After the same routine, I moved down one more pool to finish out the day.  One more big fish came out to play bringing the total number of big bass to 3 for the day. 

In addition to the monsters, I also caught a few average fish for the stream, but after the excitement provided by the large fish, I didn't even bother to take any pictures.  Now I can't wait to go back to find what further secrets have yet to be revealed on this beautiful stream...

Here are the three nice fish I managed to land...:D




Friday, September 03, 2010

Low Flows and Hungry Fish


Every local trip I make for bass and panfish, I end up wondering why I don't stay close to home more often.  This past weekend was no exception.  Some friends wanted to go swimming, and of course I was interested in the fishing possibilities.  We arrived at one of my favorite streams and while they all started preparing to swim, I started stringing up a four weight fly rod.

Once everyone was ready, we started down the stream in search of a good swimming hole.  I tried to move on ahead so I was fishing unspoiled water.  The fish seemed to be particularly uneducated on this day.  I threw a Simi Seal Leech and never changed flies.  The only requirement seemed to be getting the fly in the water.  The highlight of the day was finding two "large" smallies in the 16 inch range.  For this stream those are good fish, and I will be back to catch them at some point.




All too soon the trip was over, but I'll be back as soon as I can, maybe even this weekend.  In the meantime, I might finally get a trout trip in this afternoon so check back to see if anything exciting happens...



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...