Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Smokies Adventure

Adventure is a huge part of fly fishing for me.  During a conversation on our camping trip, I was telling my buddy Joe how I enjoy exploring almost as much as the actual fishing.  Thankfully I was able to enjoy both on this trip.

On Sunday, I arrived a bit later than Joe.  Coming from Central time into Eastern time always makes it hard to get up and on the river as early as my friends.  Getting there at first light means being up to leave around 3 or 3:30 a.m.  No thanks...  Anyway, so eventually I did make it over there and when if found Joe he was already hard at work fishing a likely run.  He reported good early morning action on the usual nymphs and we decided to continue fishing up through a nice mix of pools and pocket water.


Not too far upstream, I came across Mountain Laurel and stopped to play with the camera a bit.



Just above the blooms, Joe worked a really nice run.  When he finished and headed down to the truck for some lunch, I noticed a few rises and moved up into the run.  Tying on dry flies, I worked the fish hard but in the end was humbled.  If I had known how spooky those fish would be I probably would have brought a 3 weight and also used a longer leader.  Dry fly fishing is excellent on Little River right now, but the long still flats on the roadside stretches may produce some challenging conditions.  It was every bit as tough if not more so than chasing a picky riser on a tailwater.


Anyway, eventually we had lunch, set up camp, and headed back out for an afternoon of catching fish.  We both caught a lot of nice trout on nymphs and eventually made it back to camp to rest up for the next day's action.

We fished on both sides of the mountain and hit up some stretches that were new to both of us.  One of my favorite parts of the trip was exploring a stream known as having the ability to produce the Smoky Mountain Hat Trick.  After a fairly early start, we made it over to the stream on day 2 and started fishing by looking for nice browns in the larger holes.

While Joe worked the pools, I fished the pocket water.  A double nymph rig seemed appropriate early in the day.  Wet wading was a little chilly with the temperature hovering right around 50 degrees in the early morning shade.  Hatches were pretty much nonexistent but the rainbows were feeding well subsurface.  This is where I picked up my better rainbows on this stream.  Strangely, neither of us caught a brown trout in this stretch.  By the time things had warmed and the sun was triggering some hatch activity, we decided to head upstream and look for the slam.


Both of us had fished just a little bit of this section before but we had no idea of the challenges awaiting us.  Huge piles of debris from a semi recent flash flood made stream navigation a challenge to say the least.  The fish population seemed to be on the low side but we both caught trout.  The pools were beautiful flat runs that were mostly shallow to medium depth, perfect dry fly water if you ask me.  Of course on water that pretty we both fished dry flies.  I choose a new Yellow Sally imitation I've started tying and Joe went with the standard for brookies, a Yellow Stimulator.  Betchya can't guess what color of bugs were hatching...


I found the brookie before I found the brown.  Both came out of fairly fast but large pockets.  The nice dry fly runs were not producing for the most part.



After a ton of effort to fish maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of a mile of water, we got tired at the lack of fish and decided to head out and hit up another brook trout stream.  That was a good choice as we caught a lot of trout although the number of rainbows was a concern.

That evening, we had a good fire as it was our last night.  Staying up late, talking about trips from past years, we reminisced about our Yellowstone Trip (here and here also) as well as the epic one day fishing trip in Colorado last year.  Good days fishing the Smokies, large fish caught, and lots of other topics kept us up late but not too late to be up early the next morning.


Joe didn't have long to fish the next morning, so after fishing just a little together, he took off, and I decided to hit up a favorite stretch of Little River.  The water here is a nice mix of pools and pocket water, classic Little River water if you know what I mean.  In the first pool, I caught 4-5 trout and probably could have caught more if I had chosen to.  Best of all, most of them were browns.


I continued fishing until around 2 in the afternoon when hunger started to gain the upper hand over my desire to fish.  On the way out, I found a hat hung on a rock in Little River.  If you happen to have lost one while fishing, it is now over at Little River Outfitters in Townsend.  For this last day, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.






Tips and hints: The best action was in the faster deep pockets...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Little River Blooms

Today I returned from a quick camping trip with my buddy Joe to Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains.  We fished a wide variety of water and caught a lot of nice trout.  I'll get a full report up in the next day or so but just know that the fishing is great right now.

The first Mountain Laurel blooms of the year are making an appearance now, and I found some nice ones along Little River while fishing on Sunday morning.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Tailwater Update


Finally, the high flows are abating on my nearest tailwater.  The fishing should be good now although with the low flows and nice weather expect to see a lot more people out on the water.  Thankfully there are lots of options including smallmouth bass streams and the wild trout streams of the Great Smoky Mountains and the rest of east Tennessee.


On the tailwater scene, the usual flies are getting the job done.  Midge fishing is coming on really strong and we will begin to see some dry fly opportunities as we head into summer.  Sow bugs and other nymphs will pick up some fish in addition the the usual midge patterns.  The lower Caney Fork is seeing a few bugs hatching including some Light Cahills and Sulfurs.  These are generally only sporadic hatches but they can get the fish interested sometimes.

The other day I stopped by the Caney Fork on my way home from Nashville.  The fishing was excellent during the 3 or so hours I fished.  Fish were feeding on a variety of flies and were in great shape.  There was a good range of sizes from about 8 inches up to 14 inches so we have a good mix of fish.  The majority of the fish were rainbows but I did manage a few browns as well.


If you need any help or advice or would like to set up a guide trip, please feel free to contact me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Canoeing with Dad



One of my favorite summer time trips is over to a little lake set deep in the woods perhaps 15 minutes from my house.  The lake is deep and unusually cool for this area and contains panfish and bass as well as a few carp.  Occasionally I'll take my float tube over there and just kick around for a few hours, but the best way to really fish this lake is to take a canoe.  Gas powered engines are prohibited so this lake sees very little traffic.


My dad enjoys canoeing so I planned a short excursion to take him over there and paddle.  Naturally, anytime I'm canoeing the fly rod should come along and my dad was gracious enough to let me fish a bit.  We spent the majority of the trip paddling but when good shoreline structure would appear, we would both drop the paddles, and I would give it a few casts.

Normally I can catch a lot of bluegill on this lake if I want to but this trip I was after bass.  I'm not sure why but I've been after the bass more than usual lately.  Anyway, on the return trip, drifting along the north shore, I cast the Clouser right onto the bank and began a slow retrieve that would swim the fly into deeper water.  When the line hesitated, I thought I had snagged the bottom or perhaps a submerged log.  Just in case, though, I set the hook.  Pleasantly surprised when the line started to move, I found myself playing a nice little bass.  One fish is better than no fish and I was pretty happy with this one.


The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful, but I expect this lake to get much better as the weather continues to warm.  The fish will be more aggressive with the increasing water temperatures.  I'll be back soon, probably with my float tube, and will spend a few relaxing hours drifting around and maybe even catching some more bass!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Current Happenings

Perhaps you have noticed that I haven't been posting for the past few days.  I have been spending the last few days with my  girlfriend and have not been doing any fishing.  I do still have some warm water reports to get caught up on and will have a ton more coming later this week and next as I have guided trips, a short camping trip with my cousin, and another camping trip with my buddy Joe.  In between all of the excitement, I do still have some availability if you are wanting to set up a guided trip.  Next week I have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday available if you want to get in on the excellent spring fishing that we are now experiencing.  The Caney Fork is starting to give us some wading options again so if you want to learn how to fish and approach this excellent tailwater contact me to check out the trip options.

Finally, happy Mothers' Day to all the great moms out there and especially my own! Thanks for all you have done for me!!!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Golden Ribbon

Walking around a small lake on a farm just to try and discover something that will give me an edge as a fisherman is standard practice.  Thus it was not unusual when I met my friend Tyler at the lake that I asked if he wanted to head down the shoreline "at least a ways."  The sun was high, the sky clear, and the fish seemed to have headed out to deeper water.  Still, you never know when you might find a bass right up on the bank, and based on the boils and wakes we saw every once in a while, there were some decent ones.  If only they were less spooky...

By the time we had nearly circled the lake, stared down a few menacing bulls, and incidentally chased some cows off, the sun was getting low in the western sky and panfish were beginning to rise to the midge hatch that really gets cranking near sunset each day.  Here and there, the dimple of a rise form would break the surface.  I had caught two fish up to this point, one small bass and one crappie, but was hoping for that evening magic to set in.  Little did I know.

Just as the sun was sitting on top of the horizon, I noticed a swirl or two.  The gentle breeze had ended with the setting sun and the water looked like glass.  Sky and cow pasture met the water in one continuous scene as the reflections were now almost perfect.  Then I saw it, nervous water.

To a bass fisherman, there may be nothing as exciting as schooling baitfish.  The boils appeared slowly here and there, until I had probably six or seven good balls of baitfish in front of me with at least three within casting range.  Then it happened.  The nearest ball had an eruption as something attacked from below.  By the size of the splash it was a large bass.  Before long, bass were attacking each of the bait schools.  The incredible part is that these baitfish were bluegill and crappie.  Those were some big bass.  Of course, this is the same pond where I saw a bass come nail a 9 inch crappie off of a bed so there are some nice fish around.

Without knowing what else to do, I just tossed the same Clouser out that I had been using the whole afternoon.  My plan of attack was to cast either into or just beyond the bait balls and let the fly sink below it before beginning the retrieve.  In theory, any bass cruising a little deeper would notice my fly first.  And it worked.

Two quick bass in a row suggested I had picked a good technique.  I started feeling just a little selfish because my buddy was still fishing a little cove that has great potential, but I knew that the action in front of me was the best we would see that evening.  I whistled until I had his attention and waved him over.  Back to fishing, now with a clear conscience, I caught some more.

By the time he had arrived, the bait had moved off towards deeper water, probably following the hatch.  Huge midges were coming off and the bluegill were responding like it was their last meal.  For some it was.  By now the largest bass in the pond had moved in.  Some of the explosions were so big I wondered if my 5 weight would even have a chance. Promising myself to bring the 7 weight next time, I did what I could which was to keep fishing.

As darkness approached, we finally each took that last cast and headed out.  Walking through a pasture full of snakes and fresh cow pies in the dark sounds like the makings of a horror movie and we wanted enough light to make the short walk up the highway without getting hit.

That night, I lay awake going over the scenario again and again.  What else could I do to hook those big bass?  The next day I tied up a couple of different flies.  One was a Diamond Hair Minnow that I had done well on for bass recently on another lake.  The other was my PB&J but with lighter hourglass eyes.  I didn't want it sinking too deep.

By the time the next evening rolled around, I was armed and ready.  Bring on the big fish!  I got to the small lake and everything seemed ready for a repeat performance.  The only difference being that the wind didn't completely lay down this evening, but the baitfish were there chasing the midges.  Larger bluegill and crappie were cruising leaving their dimpled rises around the lake.  Occasionally, a boil would suggest some bass were out hunting, but where were the big ones?  

Like most big fish, it appeared that this was a one shot deal.  The first day was the day to catch a monster, and I had blown it.  Of course, it was early and the trip could still go either way.  I walked down the shoreline and spooked some nice bass.  One of them was big, but it wasn't out cruising, just laying up waiting to see what developed.  The slight chop made it a bit more tricky to decide where the nervous water was, but enough larger bluegill and crappie were mixed in that I could usually locate the schools by their rises.

Walking along the shore to the magic spot from the previous day, I decided if there was not a repeat performance, I could at least enjoy the evening.  Everything was exactly the same as the day before except for that chop on the surface.  Since the fishing wasn't as hot, I took time to look around.  Right in front of me was a golden ribbon thrown down by the sun, stretching out across the lake.  Absentmindedly I wondered where it might lead.


Maybe it led to fish.  Not having any other theories to work off of I started casting.  Once or twice I snagged some cow patties behind me, but other than that everything was going well.  I made sure my casts were laying out perfectly in that golden ribbon, just in case.  Then it happened.  After several casts, I felt the hit and set the hook.  A nice little bass with most of the emphasis on the little had eaten the PB&J.  Little bass are better than no bass.



Getting back to my fishing, I noticed with dismay that my golden ribbon was almost gone.  Did that mean the end of the catching?


As the sun disappeared and I prepared to navigate the cow pies in the waning light, the wind suddenly died down.  Sure enough, there was very little nervous water left.  Occasionally a bass would explode on something, but nothing was happening within casting range.  I didn't have long to ponder that, because the sky was going through the beauty of a spring sunset.  Maybe I didn't really come to catch fish after all.  Glad that I had a good camera, I paused to soak it all in.



The colors faded quickly, so I had to hustle to get out before dark.  The big bass are all still out there, and of course I still think about how to catch them.  We probably have a few more weeks at best before the pond becomes too nasty to fish as the summer heats things up and algae blooms.  I'll go back again of course.  One of these days I'll probably hook a big one, finally I might add, but if not I'll be happy with finding another golden ribbon.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Tying an Easy Yellow Sally

This is the first of what I hope will be quite a few video projects showing patterns that I tie.  Some are my own while most are existing patterns or my adaption of existing patterns.  For the first one I chose to demonstrate one of the easiest Yellow Sally patterns I know of.  This time of year sees the first hatches starting in the Smokies and as the summer goes on, this little insect will be important on many waters across the country.  Try it out, but even better, once you've tried it start experimenting.  There are some great variations that can be done with this simple pattern.


A Well Spent Sunday

A couple of months ago, my friend David Perry contacted me about helping out with a great cause, Casting for Recovery (CFR).  Put on locally by the Music City Fly Girls, CFR is an opportunity for breast cancer survivors to try out the sport of fly fishing while enjoying a relaxing weekend retreat with others who have experienced breast cancer.  The last day of the event was the on the water day where each of the ladies would be paired with a guide and given the chance to hopefully catch some fish.

Fast forward to yesterday, and I found myself getting up at an unearthly hour to make the drive over to the Duck River below Normandy Dam.  The drive over was mostly uneventful other than the random cop that decided to come out of nowhere and terrorize me for a minute or so by riding my bumper in McMinnville.  After my heart rate came back down to normal and he had pulled off somewhere, I was back to the races, trying to make it to the event site by 8:00 a.m.  At least I would have had a good excuse for speeding if he had pulled me over.


Once I arrived, I was surprised to find out how small this tailwater is.  I'm not sure what I was expecting but this is a small stream compared to other tailwaters I fish.  Small is good though when it comes to putting people on fish who are new to the sport.  Trout were rising to a healthy caddis hatch and the occasional Light Cahill and even a Sulfur or two.  We had a delicious breakfast prepared by the Music City Fly Girls and got a nice CFR hat.


Eventually the ladies showed up and we headed down to the stream to fish.  The lady I was assigned to was pleasant and we quickly hit it off.  Once we got on the water, we covered some basic casting to reinforce what she had learned the previous day and then started working one of my favorite patterns for stocked rainbows through a good looking run.  Only a couple of casts later, she hooked her first fish!  Okay, so it was just a chub of some sort, but we were still glad to see a fish.  Not long after, we started catching trout, and missing trout, and catching some more trout.


She did a great job and finished the morning with close to 10 trout.  Not bad for a first timer on the fly rod!


After the fishing excursion, we headed in for lunch and a short program.  There, the lady I had been working with was the lucky recipient of a CFR fly rod and reel combo! The day couldn't get much better, and by the time I headed home, I was tired, but also happy to have been a part of this great event.  Special thanks go out to David Perry for inviting me to help and the Music City Fly Girls for putting on such a fantastic weekend!!!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Availability

The spring fishing is finally settling into a predictable pattern and this next week is looking perfect.  Trout are active and looking up for a good number of their meals although fishing subsurface will sometimes be best for overall numbers.  May is the one month of the year where anglers will likely catch more fish on dries than on nymphs.  In fact, my best day on Little River ever was in May, and I caught all my fish on dries.

If you are visiting in the area and would like to set up a day to get out on the water, I still have a couple of days available this week, specifically Monday and Tuesday.  Please head over to Trout Zone Anglers or email me if you want to set up a trip.  If you are willing to hike, the Smoky Mountain backcountry is at its best right now.  An easy 3-4 mile hike (easy meaning no major elevation gains/losses) can put us on lots of willing fish or if you want to hit up some brookie streams we can do that as well.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

Last Chance


Being a tailwater fisherman can be a roller coaster from joy to disappointment and back again.  Hours are spent poring over forecast rain amounts, then analyzing actual rainfall totals during and after a precipitation event.  If you live out west then you might spend your winters checking out the latest Snotel information to see how the snowpack is coming along.  Long term generation guidance is also consulted on a regular basis, all in an effort to figure out when your favorite tailwater might be fishable.  Of course, in a dry year, all of this becomes unnecessary as anglers enjoy the rare opportunity to fish whenever and wherever they desire.

Over the past few weeks, I've been checking the generation schedules daily, sometimes even multiple times a day.  I guess I'm just optimistic.  Maybe the schedule will change for the better, and of course, eventually it did.  Unfortunately, the theme this year is that low flows signal the next round of heavy rain.  Streams here on the Plateau shot up from around 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to over 15,000 cfs over the last few days.  One stream went from 70 cfs to over 3,500 cfs. That's a lot of water no matter where you live, and when you consider that 3,500 cfs is approximately the amount of water that one generator releases at a time on my favorite tailwater, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that many days of generation are on the horizon.  All that water here on the Plateau eventually drains into the valleys on either side and into either Tennessee Valley Authority or Corps of Engineers controlled dam systems.

As the major weather system this week started to really get cranking, my nearest tailwater finally cut back on the generation.  I planned to fish Monday morning, but early day storms were already rolling in and prompting the first local tornado warning of the year.  My fishing trip became a storm chasing trip, and I was stuck waiting for the next opportunity.  Tuesday morning was shot as well, and Wednesday was the last day of low flows, my last chance to get on the water.

My friend Tyler, who has quickly become addicted to fly fishing, had never fished a tailwater before.  I explained that the water would be cold but that people had been known to wet wade there before.  He was all for it so we planned on when and where to meet.  Wednesday morning couldn't come soon enough for me, and before long I had scarfed down a quick breakfast, made a sandwich, loaded my gear, and headed out the door.  Tyler was on time and we were soon headed for the river.

Muddy water...

Upon arriving, I headed straight for a favorite run that requires less wading than some spots.  After all, I knew Tyler was excited but if he didn't have to freeze then all the better.  Driving along the river, the first thing we noticed was mud thick enough to walk all the way across the river on.  On second glance, we realized it wasn't quite that bad but we definitely weren't going to fish in the slop.  Back up the river we headed to the clear water just below the dam.  Several other anglers were already crowded in the best spots (for easy wading that is), and I was concerned that Tyler was going to be stuck getting soaked and cold.

One possibility remained and we headed down to a favorite spot of mine.  Another angler was fishing just upstream but otherwise we had the water to ourselves.  Showing Tyler a rising trout and explaining the process of mending and fly placement, I started downstream to get some fishing of my own in.  Just as I was getting my own rod ready to cast, Tyler yelled as he hooked the first trout of the day.  It turned out to be his first brown trout so I brought the net and camera for a quick picture.  As I made my way back down the river he hooked another, and another, and so on and so forth.  In fact, he soon lost track of how many he had caught.


I found a nice hole and started catching a few of my own, and then more, until I was catching fish after fish as well.  Over the next two hours, we never ventured far.  Tyler didn't have to wade deeply to fish, and I was having some of the best midge fishing I've had in a long time.  Both of us quickly lost count of how many fish we caught and even had several doubles as the fish were almost racing each other to get to our flies.



Now that tailwater is pushing a lot of water down the river as the lake continues to rise.  We'll be lucky if it is fishable anytime in the next two weeks and if we get more rain it will take a lot longer than that.  A more realistic prediction is a minimum of 3 weeks but we'll have to wait and see what happens.  When it does drop again, I'll be back looking for another fantastic day on the water.

Oh, and I should mention that Tyler forgot to be cold.  He was catching so many fish he didn't even notice the 50 degree water flowing around his legs.  His comment to me was, "Knapp, you've created a monster!"  Yep, tailwaters can be fun, and I'll look forward to getting on one again.  Hopefully it will be sooner instead of later...

On our way home, we stopped to chase some bass, and I had my best bass day on this particular lake ever, but more on that a bit later.