Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Monday, December 08, 2014

Want Christmas a Little Early?

If you are looking to score on some great gear a little early this year, check out the annual 12 Days of Christmas over at The Fiberglass Manifesto blog.  Today it is starting off with Christmas Stockings and I guarantee that there will be a ton of great stuff coming up over the next several days.  All it takes to participate is an email so head over now and check out how to get your daily entries in!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Water, Water and More Water


The last few months have been an excruciating roller coaster of hope that repeatedly ends up dashed in rain swollen creeks and rivers.  My local tailwater has seen high water forever.  Granted, the fishing has still been okay, but for those of us who enjoy wading at least as much as floating, the situation has now become dire.  This weekend featured the first low water in a long time, and of course I was too busy to make it down.  Oh, and it also rained this weekend.

Yes, the rain is the culprit.  Knowing how some of my friends out in California have been parched for years, it seems just a little selfish to complain about rain.  Seriously though, every time the river gets to the point that we can have some low water, it rains again.  Every. Single. Time.  So, I'll continue to enjoy my fresh air in other ways.

This weekend, a quick outing to a nearby creek helped me to at least get out of the house.  I'm not sure if it was that good for me.  Seeing all that water flowing downhill towards the upper Caney Fork drainage confirmed what I had been afraid of: now we'll be lucky to be able to wade by Christmas.




So, I'm back to hoping that it doesn't rain for a couple of weeks and thinking about other places to fish.  Up in the Smokies, the brown trout have finished their spawn so they should be feeding well over the next few weeks.  I've got musky on the brain as well and may have to get out there and chase them within the next week or two.  Fishing must go on, even if it isn't where I had hoped...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Local Trout Update

Yesterday, I took a brief scouting trip.  The goal was to see if TWRA had stocked any trout at Cumberland Mountain State Park.  Each year, the small lake is one of many winter stocking sites to provide a seasonal trout fishery.  With the tentative stocking date already past, I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least take a walk with my fly rod.

The trip didn't last long.  Either the trout were not stocked or they did not know how to behave like trout.  I didn't spot the first rise.  Normally those fresh stockers will rise well most of the winter so it looks like the fish may be delayed this year if we are lucky.

Where does luck come in?  Well, in the process of exploring the lake, I heard what sounded like an awful lot of water below the dam.  Upon closer investigation, I discovered that the drain seems to be open.  Now, I'm not sure why, but it seems like every year or two the lake is drained for some reason or another.  If that is what is happening right now, we may not even get the winter stocking at all.  So, there goes all the luck out the window....maybe.


At least there are still a few bluegill around and willing to play.  I managed a few like this one and one small bass that flopped off before I could manage a picture.


Also discouraging was the widespread algae coating the lake bottom.  Runoff from the golf course has been altering the lake for years now to the point that I'm wondering how it is affecting the fish population.  This lake used to put out some slab sized panfish and nice bass up to 8 or so pounds.  The last few years, I just can't find any fish over 2 or 3 pounds and even those seem to be few and far between.

Currently I'm looking into the possibility that the Park is illegally polluting their own lake with fertilizer rich runoff from the golf course. As of right now I'm not sure about all the regulations on such things, but the situation is getting bad enough that something needs to be done so I guess I'll be doing some legwork over the next few days.  More on that later if anything comes of it...

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Tossing Streamers


When David Perry texted me last week about the possibility of a streamer float, I made sure to clear my schedule.  A day on the river throwing streamers is tough to turn down.  The flows on the Caney have been a bit erratic lately but drifting and throwing flies is better than sitting at home.  A 9:00 a.m. start was a welcome change from some of the early mornings I have to put in for fishing over in the Smokies.

After meeting at the ramp and dumping his boat, we were soon experimenting.  On a guides' day off, lots of experiments go on.  This is part of what helps a good guide keep things dialed in as well as scratch the curiosity itch.  Some deep nymphing was attempted but for the most part we stayed with the streamer game.

I had several early drive by swings from fish who weren't interested in a second look, but after switching rowers a few times, neither of us had yet connected.  Finally, a good half way through the float, we got to the one bank I had been looking forward to fishing.  I had on a new rig that someone showed me earlier this year that has a ton of potential.  It uses a tippet ring to set up a two streamer rig with a larger streamer chasing a smaller one.

Sure enough, after just a few moments on this bank, a beautiful rainbow clobbered the larger of the two flies.  After a quick picture, I dutifully offered to take my turn rowing.  On slow days, it is usually reasonable to switch after just one fish.  David P. generously offered to row a little bit longer, and I didn't take time to argue!

Photograph by David Perry

Just a few feet more down the bank, I made a perfect cast to the bankside water, let the sinking line get down for a couple of seconds, and then started the retrieve.  On the second strip the line came tight and with the flash I knew it was a nicer fish.  With a 7 weight it would seem like you could horse one of these in a little faster, but this fish bulldogged like the brown trout that it was.  Each time I got it close to the net, it managed to get its head back down and take off again.  Finally, we got it in the net, and I noticed it had taken the smaller of the two flies.  Maybe it thought it was racing the other streamer to the food.  Whatever the reason, the two streamer rig had worked to perfection, and I was happy.


Naturally, when I again offered to row, David P. quickly accepted.  In fact I think he would have tossed me out of the boat if I didn't row after getting such a nice fish.  Over the rest of the float, he boated a good number of fish including a beautiful brookie and a 16 inch brown right near the takeout.  We never did see that monster we were looking for, but that's streamer fishing for you.  I'll happily take the quality fish we did find any day.



If you are interested in a day of streamer fishing, the river is dropping into the sweet spot and should provide great streamer action through the colder months.  Just give me a call or drop me an email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com to set up a trip!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Directions

Directions are essential to fly fishing.  Being able to follow even the most vague of directions can net a large reward.  You know the kind. Go 3 miles past the first pullout and park in that pullout overlooking the big pool with a large boulder on the far bank.  Walk upstream 300 yards and start fishing there.  Of course, there are other kinds of directions as well.

Recently, while fishing with my buddy Joe, it occurred to me how important individual rocks and logs are on the stream.  We were watching two large browns in a pool and trying to keep the hand gestures to a minimum so as not to spook them.  See that reddish brown rock that is really flat? About halfway across and slightly upstream?  Those types of directions can be confusing at first, but as you start to really see the bottom of a trout stream, those directions make more and more sense.

Just the other day I came across the ideal direction rock, one that is easy to pick out and isolated enough so as not to be confusing.  What made the view even better was the more subtle direction rock also included in the picture.  If you were standing with me looking at this run, I'll bet you could pick out the nice bright quartz rock.  Just below it is a strip of reddish brown bedrock.  Using the quartz to help locate the bedrock makes the whole process much easier.  Such are the directions you might receive on a trout stream.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Orvis or Orbitz?

Ever catch yourself realizing that your brain is stuck on fly fishing mode? I have. While watching the Dallas Cowboys get demolished during their Thanksgiving Day game, I kept vaguely hearing a commercial during the game breaks. I use commercial breaks as an opportunity to multi-task and finally my curiosity got the best of me. When I actually watched the commercial, it turns out I wasn’t being invited to apply for the “Orvis Card” but the “Orbitz Card.” Oh well, I’m sure Orvis has a card if I need one…

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snow for Thanksgiving

Just let that sink in a little while.  Our third snow of the year fell overnight.  In recent years, we have often been lucky to get that many snows in a whole winter.  Maybe we are headed back to the deep freeze from my childhood when regular heavy snowfall was common here on the Cumberland Plateau.  Admittedly this one is more of a dusting and my friends from Colorado are probably chuckling as they ski in deep powder high in the Rockies.  Still, it is snow and we take every little bit we can get.  The woods are beautifully decorated with just enough snow to make the scenery interesting without actually completely covering everything in white.  The muted tones of winter blend with the white to make a rather enjoyable scene.


My poor canoe is shivering under a thin layer of the white stuff.  Probably right now it is wishing for another trip to the Everglades where at least it would be warm.  In fact, I'm thinking about another trip that way, this time with a lot more fishing involved.  So far nothing has been decided but the possibility is definitely intriguing.


The hemlock trees have collected more snow than some of the others, mostly because they have somewhere to collect all that white goodness.  The birds are strangely absent although that may have more to do with the fact that I still need to put out some seed on the feeders.  Occasional snow flakes are still falling but I doubt we'll see any more accumulation.


Each year, it seems, we get snow on Thanksgiving.  Most years it is just a few flurries, but they are there nevertheless.  Each year, I am thankful for that snow, mostly because we never have as much as I would like (yes, I definitely miss Colorado).  This year, in addition to the snow, I am thankful for friends and family, good health, and the opportunity this year to do something that I love.  Guiding has been an incredible journey thus far, and I have been blessed far beyond what I expected in my first season.  Yes, there have been a lot of difficulties over the past year, but life goes on and I'm thankful for all the blessings I have.

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving today and maybe can even get out in the next couple of days to wet a line.  We are getting pretty low on time to do that this year so enjoy it while you can!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Strange Happenings or Cataloochee: Part 2

On most of my camping trips I like to document the camp a little with my camera.  Sometimes I just snap a few shots of the overall setup and other times I go to great lengths to get shots of everything that makes up camp life.  Fire shots in particular seem to get me snapping more pictures than I intend.  Fire is just so mesmerizing that I'll often shoot 50 or more pictures before I think, "Oh man I can't fill up my memory card with fire pictures!"

Last month in Cataloochee, I found myself taking the obligatory camp shots but not really dealing with the fire thing on the first evening.  My cousin would not show up until the next day and a campfire is generally best when it is shared with someone else.  My fishing plans for the next day included a stream I had never fished but wanted to give a fair shot so I did a quick supper before hurrying to bed.

While I was still thinking about supper, I got the camera out and, as light was quickly dwindling, quickly got a few shots that included my tent and the overall setup.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at the pictures on the computer that I realized that something was a little off.  The first one seemed fine, but then something strange appeared in the next couple of images...




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cataloochee: Part 1

The trip to Big Creek was actually more of a break on my trip to Cataloochee.  Of course, I had planned it in such a way that I got to Big Creek early in the day.  Exploring new water is frustrating when you are limited to just an hour or two so I kept the whole day wide open.  By mid afternoon, the thought of getting camp set up before dark had me back on the road.

Driving from Big Creek to Cataloochee is always an adventure.  These gravel roads seemingly go on and on indefinitely.  Then, just about the time you are wondering if you will ever get there, you start noticing some familiar landmarks.  As it turned out, I not only made it there in time to set up camp before dark, I also had enough daylight left to catch some fish.

There is one pool in particular that I love to fish, mostly because it is easy to access and can be fished effectively without putting on any wading gear.  Never mind exactly where because I would rather not have others fishing there.  Selfish I know.

I still had a large orange October Caddis pattern tied on and stuck with that.  Why change when a fly has been catching so many fish right?  Starting out about halfway up the pool, I started covering the water carefully.  The fish were there, I was sure of that, but for some reason or another, I wasn't even getting any looks.  By the time I started casting in the fast water at the head of the run, I had lost a considerable amount of hope for this spot, but then on the 2nd cast to the fast water there was a subtle swirl and the fly disappeared.

When I set the hook, chaos ensued.  These chunky rainbows were both larger and stronger than I expected.  Soon after catching the first, I caught another, and then another.  All from the same little seam at the head of the pool.  That spot was good for 5 nice rainbows in a matter of maybe 7 or 8 minutes.  As soon as the action died down I quit for the day.  I was already feeling a little greedy after pulling enough trout out that the nearby tourists were taking notice and figured that it would be better to just let the other fish take the rest of the day off.



Back at camp, I got some supper together and settled in for a relaxing evening, not realizing that some strange things were about to happen...

Don't forget to sign up for the Trout Zone newsletter. You can do so using the form below.  Your email address will only be used to send out the newsletter which will contain fishing reports, tips and tricks, photography, and occasional special offers and giveaways.


Newsletter Signup

* indicates required

Friday, November 14, 2014

Be Careful

This time of year is pivotal for the brown trout populations on the streams that support wild, self-sustaining populations.  One of the biggest mistakes that I see made by other anglers is wading through the areas that have been recently spawned.  I'm not going to get into the ethics of fishing (or not fishing) for spawners as everyone seems to have pretty strong opinions one way or the other and I'm not interested in starting up that debate on here (but maybe over on the Facebook page for the Trout Zone).

The one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that it is a terrible idea to wade on the redds where the eggs have been recently laid.  This past week, on two consecutive days when I had guide trips, I saw people fishing a popular spawning site for the browns in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The unfortunate thing about it was that they had waded out on the gravel where the fish have been spawning to get a good cast at some fish they had spotted.  If you have very sharp eyes and can spot the redds and wade around them, then I guess we are back to everyone making their own ethical decisions.

The unfortunate reality is that most people have a tough time identifying redds in normal years, and this particular year is anything but that.  You see, we had a high water event that bordered on a minor flood only 3 or so weeks ago.  It cleaned all of the gravel in the streams of the Smokies to the point that now it is close to impossible to determine where the fish have dug out their nests.  That means that wading through a known spawning area (or any gravel area where you have spotted fish holding on or near) is likely resulting in the loss of the next generation.

The best solution? Stay away from the small gravel in the back of pools and in the riffles.  If you have spotted a large trout holding in that type of water, it is probably on a nest and should be left alone.  Above all, when it spooks 30 feet upstream, don't wade out on the gravel it just vacated to try and cast to it.  There were probably eggs there that you are crushing.

Here is an example of a normal redd when high flows have not scoured out the stream recently.


The difference this year is that all the gravel is the same color as the cleaned area in the middle so again, it is nearly impossible to identify redds unless you have a very keen eye.  If you must fish the Park during the next 2 months, please at least stay away from gravel areas like this.  The really good quality gravel is not in as great a supply as some think and the fish need a good spawn to contribute towards future generations of big wild brown trout.

To wrap up, here are a couple of pictures from a few years ago that will look familiar to those who have been following this blog for a while.  These are large spawning brown trout in the Smokies.