Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Missing Big Fish

Lost any big fish lately? I have, and I can tell you that they are still fresh in my memory. The last two streamer floats I've done have resulted in losing nice fish. One was two weeks ago, and the other was this past Sunday. At least I'm still getting out and catching a few fish though.

On Sunday, my buddy Dan Munger from Little River Outfitters, and I had planned on doing a float. Going back and forth between trout and musky, we finally decided to hit the Caney Fork. Putting in on low water, we stirred up a few fish with nymphs as we waited for the rising water from the power generation to catch up. Once the water hit, we drifted and threw streamers.


Overall, the fishing was slow, but I did have that one moment with a big brown trout. We were well along in our day at this point. I was in the front of the boat and was working a good fishy looking bank. Suddenly I saw the dark shadow take a swing at my fly and miss. Pausing just briefly for the fish to find the fly again, I continued my retrieve. The second time the fish nailed it, but somehow I just missed the hook set plain and simple.

On my previous trip, I had the fish on long enough for a couple of jumps before the fly shook loose. Clearly I'm in some sort of a rut, and one where the main feature is loosing or missing big browns is depressing indeed. The only solution I can think of is to get out and fish some more. So for the next two days, I'll suffer and get out some more in search of more fish. Someone's got to do it...

Monday, February 09, 2015

Master Fisherman

Have you ever been humbled by another fisherman while out on the water? I have, and I've noticed that there is something in common with each of those masters, well at least most of them that is. They are all birds.

One of my all-time favorite stories of this happening is from at least 10 years ago and probably a little more. I was fishing a high mountain lake in Arizona's White Mountains in the hopes of catching my first apache trout. The fishing was slow to the point that I started to wonder if there were even any fish in the lake.

Right about that time, a large bald eagle came soaring overhead. Soon the bird spotted a large trout. I watched in awe as it dove and snatched what looked to be a 24" trout, give or take a couple of inches. I never did catch a fish on that particular fishing trip, or at least not on that lake. That much I clearly remember, almost as clearly as I can still see the bird struggling to fly away with its heavy catch.

I've seen herons take fish on many occasions as well. In fact, When they are around, they generally seem to be doing better than I am on the catching scene.

Have you ever been humbled by a master fisherman?


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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Country Evenings

There is nothing like watching the sun slowly sink out of sight while surrounded by the sights and sounds of the country. The past two evenings have been a tremendous blessing to me.

Last evening, at the end of jogging four miles, I got back home just as the sky exploded with color. As I had been running, I noticed the high clouds streaming in and thought that we had the perfect setup for a good sunset. Thankfully, the best was saved until I was home and could grab my camera.





This evening I enjoyed a short one mile walk instead of more vigorous exercise. Instead of the aerial display in the sky, the rich evening light was a treat to watch as it lit up the barns, fences, and even cows, especially since I had brought my camera on this walk.






I'm so glad that I live out in the country. It just doesn't get much better!

Friday, February 06, 2015

Visiting Cataloochee With Someone Who Used To Live There

Cataloochee Valley is one of my favorite places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The out of the way valley sees plenty of visitors who mostly come to see the elk that the National Park Service has reintroduced there, but the history of the valley is fascinating as well. As in many other parts of the Park, Cataloochee was a thriving community before the Park was created and those living within the boundaries of the newly created Park were forced to move.

This video is of someone who lived in the valley early in life. Hattie Caldwell Davis shares her memories from the valley and this video from www.smokiesinformation.org will help you look at Cataloochee in a whole different way next time you visit. For anyone who loves the Smokies, this is a must watch!

© GSMA 2012. All rights reserved.

Next time I'm camping there, I'll have to make the hike up the Rough Fork trail. The house up there is one I have not visited yet. If you have never visited Cataloochee, don't forget your fly rod. The fishing there is pretty good also!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Hiwassee River Round Two

After such a fantastic day on the Hiwassee River last week, I had to go back for more. A couple of friends planned to meet me for an afternoon of fishing.


We planned on meeting just about the time they cut off the generators, but instead of starting at the powerhouse as I did two days prior (if you haven't read it, you will want to do so then come back), we started a bit further down the river. Since the water was still high, we had to be extremely careful wading as the water slowly dropped out. The Hiwassee is one of the slickest rivers I know, and more than once I came close to taking a spill when my wading boots slipped on the slick ledges of the big river.

Both of my friends quickly got into a trout or two on nymphs and streamers. There were a couple of flashes in the vicinity of the streamer I started out with but otherwise it was slow compared to the last trip.

Once the water dropped out enough, I switched over to the same dry/dropper rig that had produced so well for me earlier in the week. That proved to be the ticket once again, especially once the water levels dropped out close to the minimum flow level. Fish again showed a distinct preference for my subsurface offerings instead of the dry fly.

Not too long after we had slowly slipped and stumbled our way across the river, my buddy Chase hooked a hot fish. After a strong fight, he finally managed to land it. We were both surprised that the fish wasn't any larger. Based on the fight, this fish should have gone more like 16-17 inches, but that is the effect a tailwater has on fish. I never cease to be amazed at how strong fish from area tailwaters are.


Meanwhile, Jayson was off fishing some ledges above us. He continued to catch a fish here and there. I happened to be nearby for at least one of them and snapped a picture of one of his fish as well.



I was pleasantly surprised to catch my first ever brookies on the Hiwassee River on this trip. While they may not be the best use of TWRA's money (seriously, they just become bait for big browns and stripers), they do provide a bit of a break from the routine of stocker rainbows and fingerling browns. The average size of stocked trout on the Tennessee tailwaters seems to have decreased over the years. I'm guessing that it has something to do with the budget and cost associated with raising larger fish. Interestingly, in some states at least, they have discovered that they can stock fewer but larger trout and actually provide better catch rates.


Catching a Hiwassee River slam was a nice first for me. The brookies are sadly pale compared to their wild counterparts that I love catching so much in the Smokies but they are still brookies.

The day had one last high point for me. With the sun sinking quickly, I found myself in the same area that I caught the nice brown on the previous trip. Throwing my fly in the same run the brown came from, I hooked a strong fish. When I got it closer, I saw that it was one of the prettiest rainbows I have seen in a long time. It reminded me a lot of the beautiful rainbows I caught in Colorado.



Shortly after catching the rainbow, the generators came back on for the night. With rising water approaching, we made our exit from the riverbed and headed home completely satisfied with another great day on the water!


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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Chasing Golden Trout in the High Sierra

One of my dream trips is backpacking in the high Sierra Nevada mountains of California in pursuit of not only golden trout, but also a true wilderness experience in a habitat unlike any other that I have enjoyed yet. This video is of an epic backpacking trip high into the mountains in pursuit of golden trout. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me!

These other recent posts on the Trout Zone may interest you as well!


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Hiwassee River: A Return To An Old Favorite

Travelling northeast from Chattanooga, I was headed for the Hiwassee River. Back in college it had been my go to trout stream, partly because it was so close of course, but also, well, the mighty Hiwassee just grows on you.

Wide for a trout river anywhere, the Hiwassee is a tailwater, but a rather unusual one. Below Apalachia Dam (yes, that is spelled correctly), the streambed barely contains a trickle unless the dam is spilling as the majority of water is piped 8.3 miles downstream and released at the powerhouse where the best trout fishing on the river begins.

On low water, the Hiwassee River shows her teeth, but when the generators kick on, it becomes a rafters’ paradise with several companies running commercial trips on the river. The shoals still lurk just under the surface, which means that only the most experienced drift boat oarsmen should attempt rowing the river. I have seen it all including people floating down the river on blowup mattresses from Wally World. Thankfully, all of that nonsense takes place in warmer weather. In the winter, anglers pretty much have the river to themselves.

Driving east from Cleveland I noticed something that I had never seen before. The mountains appeared to have been frosted. Even more impressive was how distinct the apparent freezing line had been the night before. Big Frog Mountain to the east-southeast was so beautiful that I almost changed my plans for the day to go hike the mountain instead. At minimum, I was inspired to go do some winter hiking in the Smokies before things warm up. Much closer, Chilhowee Mountain just above Benton had just a little of the white stuff on its highest reaches. 


Continuing on north towards the Hiwassee River, I was counting on the fact that it was a weekday to have the river mostly to myself, but surprisingly there were almost as many fishermen out as I would normally expect on a winter’s weekend.

Driving slowly upriver with the requisite craning of the neck to look at the water, I came around a bend to find an interesting sight: the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) trout stocking truck. As they were just finishing up one stocking location, I asked if it would be all right if I followed them up and took some pictures of the stocking in action. They graciously agreed.


While we’re on the subject, for the record, I am not in the habit of following stocking trucks around. I remember reading an article once about trout warriors who follow stocking trucks around so they can do battle with trout as soon as the fish are released. Something about that strikes me as not quite sporting so I try to avoid even the appearance of evil being a trout warrior chasing rubber stockers.


I know this sounds like a lot of excuses for a couple of pictures, but you will have to trust me on this one. As soon as I got my photographs I headed upriver as far away from the stocking truck as I could get. I felt marginally better after catching a few healthy fish that looked like they had been in the river a while.

By the time I reached the turnaround, fishermen had begun to descend on the river. I passed several anglers on my way up who were working the accessible bankside water as they waited for the flow from the turbines to be shut off. My own preparations became more and more hurried as that moment loomed closer. Everyone’s goal was to be in position to fish their favorite spot before the water went off so they could fish as it fell out. After all, there is usually a flurry of feeding as the water drops.

My original hope had been to fish some shad patterns on high water. The stop to watch the stocking truck consumed enough time that I had no chance, so I rigged up for nymph fishing. A couple of standard flies under an indicator completed my setup, and I was soon slogging across a narrow side channel in the still heavy current. Right on cue the generators went off, and I started casting.

Trout were already rolling all across the river. Not seeing any winter stoneflies, I was left to assume that it must be midges. A short time later I finally saw some of the little bugs and had my suspicions confirmed. As the water level dropped, I was able to access more and more streambed. Wading aggressively, I was soon casting to feeding trout in deeper water. Strangely, the usual suspects were not appealing to the fish on this day.

Something of an “Ah ha!” moment took place, and I tied on a small white streamer that is always very effective for me during shad kills. Only a few casts later I had a solid hit and the first rainbow of the day came to hand. Apparently the trout have been seeing some shad.

After perhaps 3 trout on the white streamer, I changed over to a dry fly with a dropper. My normal winter setup on this river is a Parachute Adams. This fly does a passable job of imitating the winter stoneflies at least vaguely in shape and size, never mind the giant white wing sticking up on top. That part is to help me see the thing 60 feet away. Underneath I would normally drop a small midge, but instead I used a little bead head caddis pupa that you would recognize if you have fished with me before. The fly is the embodiment of simplicity so I do not mind losing one every now and again. In other words, a perfect guide fly.

Carefully slipping and sliding around the river bottom, I managed to scare up another trout or two before wondering how the water downstream was fishing. While I have fished a large portion of the river from well above the powerhouse downstream to Reliance and beyond, those excursions away from the upper river are the anomalies. I prefer the water from Big Bend upstream for a simple reason: that section has the highest concentration of trout in the Hiwassee River.

Accordingly, I was soon making the short drive downriver to fish a favorite area at Fox’s Cabin. This stretch of river produced some of the most epic match the hatch fishing I’ve experienced anywhere. Of course, the whole river was good on those days, I just happened to be fishing there. Still, a little nostalgia always creeps in when I fish there and remember the good old days. You know, my college years before the real world kicked in and started kicking my butt.

Anyway, so I stopped just downstream where I had seen the stocking truck earlier. There is a shoal that extends across the river there that I enjoy fishing when the winter stoneflies are out. By that time in the day I was seeing a few fluttering around and also some explosive rises.

As I waded in, I could not help but notice a large school of trout podded up near the bank. Apparently the stockers from earlier in the morning had survived their rough entry into the river. I did my part to help them disperse so an unethical angler wouldn’t come along and full up a couple of 5 gallon buckets with fresh stockers. To any onlookers, I probably looked a bit like a Labrador retriever who had not seen the water in a few months as I bounded through the water in pursuit of the terrified fish. My mission was soon accomplished though as the school scattered for safer habitat. The area duck hunters quit yelling at me to “Fetch!” and things quickly returned to normal.

Wading out across the shoal, I worked quickly towards the middle of the river to get away from those poor fresh stockers. They were still confused enough that I could have scooped them up in my net if I wanted.

I was catching brown trout, more than normal I might add, although it has been so long since I fished the Hiwassee I might just be remembering incorrectly. Lots of the fish were barely larger than fingerlings and a few could have convinced me that they were hatched in the river if I didn’t know that TWRA stocks a lot of fingerling browns in the fall. Hopefully those will grow up to be large predatory browns in the next few years.


The complete tour of the shoal was finished about the time the water came up from the afternoon pulse of generation. Heading a short distance upstream to the large pool at Fox’s Cabin, I fished a streamer rod in the heavier current for a while. My one reward was a chunky rainbow around 13 inches in length. Soon the pulse abated, and I worked my way back out on the water with the 5 weight again in hand.

Some of the prettier fish I caught on this day came after that afternoon pulse. Some of the rainbows were so pretty that it seemed a shame that they most likely would not get the chance to grow much larger. The delayed harvest season is on a bit longer, but when it ends there will be carnage on the streams that fall under this designation. This has more than a little to do with the fact that most Tennessee tailwaters do not produce as many large fish as they are capable of, but that is a topic for another time.

The pulse seemed to hang around longer than expect, but that was likely a product of the fact that I was not fishing immediately below the powerhouse this time. Water drains out fairly quickly on this river, but it still takes time for it to go somewhere. Slowly I worked my way out towards some deeper runs in the middle of the streambed, catching the odd rainbow trout or two along the way.


This set of runs has produced some fantastic fish for me over the years. On a day when I was just happy to be out, the magic struck again. A big boisterous rise got my attention across the pool I was fishing. I had just caught a rainbow from the near current. It was a pretty fish and I paused a moment to appreciate its colors. You never know when a fish will be the last one of the day, and I needed something to daydream about over the cold days ahead.

That big rise was across some dead water that was just past the current closest to me. On the other side of the dead water was a current seam along the edge of the dominant current flowing through this particular pool. Based on the rise, I assumed the fish had noticed one of the few stray winter stoneflies still fluttering around.

I made a long reach cast across, reaching upstream so my line would not drag immediately in the secondary current just beyond my rod tip. The dry drifted about three feet before I blinked. When my eyes opened again the dry fly was nowhere to be seen. There was a split second where I questioned where it could have gone before I thought, “Maybe I should set the hook, you know, just in case.” This scenario seems to be a more common ailment among fly fishermen than is generally acknowledged, but most likely more research needs to be done.

Over the years, this problem has reared its ugly head in some rather humorous ways. One time I was fishing the Caney Fork River when a drift boat with three guys came through. I have to say I was rather enjoying the scenery until one of the gentlemen yelled at me to set. At least I obey quickly. I landed that fish while guys probably thought I was the least focused fisherman they had seen all day. Now that I’ve guided a while I realize it is a universal problem. As a guide, I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve had to yell set. Of course my friends do it to me all the time when we fish together out of the boat. If you’ve found the cure, then I’m all ears.

Anyway, so as I was saying, my flies had disappeared, and when I set the hook I could tell it was better than anything else I had caught all day. The flash of buttery brown immediately had me wishing that I had brought a net. For some reason or another, my net had been left at home. Want a surefire way to hook a nice trout? Leave your net or camera at home, preferably both of course.

The dropper that the fish had eaten was dangling off of that Parachute Adams on 6x tippet. With all of the ledges and sharp rocks around I was nervous. I really wanted to see that trout up close!


To spare you the boring details, I soon guided the fish up onto a nice soft barely submerged weed bed that cradled the brown almost as well as my net. A couple of pictures later I held the trout carefully in the water. When the fish was ready to go there was no holding it back.


By this time the late day sun had moved well below the nearest hill and there was a definitely chill in the air as evening approached. The far hillside was lit with a warm glow that you can only get in winter. Reflecting off of the water, it gave the illusion of liquid gold flowing downstream below me.



Before calling it quits for the day, I decided on making one last stop at Big Bend to fish the bottom of the big shoals there. Several more browns made an appearance although none were as nice as the handsome fish I had caught further upriver. The late day sun was sinking even lower, so after a few more quick pictures, I decided to finally call it a day and head back to civilization.





These other recent posts on the Trout Zone may interest you as well. 



Fly Tying Focus: The Clouser Minnow

One of my favorite patterns for warm water and trout alike is the Clouser Minnow. This fly has fooled many a fish over the years. Learn to tie it from Bob Clouser himself with this great video!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Monday Morning Trout

If you are already planning next weekend's fishing trip, I understand your pain. The rat race is real, but of course if everyone quit their jobs to fish then things would go south in a hurry. The least I can do is encourage you with your Monday morning trout. This one is a beautiful rainbow trout from the Hiwassee River delayed harvest waters. I had a fantastic two days on the Hiwassee last week so watch for more posts on those days coming up soon!


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Who Do You Want To Win The Superbowl Today?

The thought just occurred to me that I've seen a lot of interesting sentiment heading into Super Bowl XLIX. In fact, I can't remember the last time that so few people were not excited about the big game. Of course, when I say "So few people," I'm naturally referring to friends and people I speak with fairly regularly. I can only assume that there are some excited fans out there rooting for one team or the other.

That said, who are you rooting for this year? Let me know in the poll on the sidebar to the right just below the Trout Zone Newsletter form. Vote and also don't forget to explain your vote in the comments below. Thanks for voting! I didn't watch much of the game but the 4th quarter was pretty interesting at least!