Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas 2015 Giveaway Three

First, thank you so much for reading my blog and supporting the Trout Zone. These giveaways are just a small way to say thank you for taking your time to stop by.

The third and final Christmas 2015 giveaway is something that will benefit each and every fly fisherman except for the dry fly purists out there. If you are in that latter category then I apologize, but you will not enjoy this one. Up for grabs are two dozen of my favorite subsurface flies for fishing in the Smokies. All were hand tied by yours truly. Included in the mix are the flies that caught the largest and the second largest trout landed by people on guided trips with me this year. You might be surprised by which ones they are.

When I say subsurface flies, it includes traditional nymphs, soft hackles, midges, caddis pupa, and wooly buggers. There are even some terrestrials thrown into the mix. Whoever wins this will be winning some of my favorite flies for fishing in the Smokies, but there are also some flies that will serve you well on the tailwaters or even out west. In fact, one of the flies I included saved the day once for me on the Big Thompson River in Colorado. Also, you will discover that while I'm not a particularly good fly tyer, these flies will catch lots of fish. Need advice on fishing these flies once you win? Then shoot me an email or book a guided fly fishing trip.


The winner for all of these contests (contest one and contest two) will be drawn on Christmas Eve and announced here on the Trout Zone at that time. Winners will also be contacted via email.

To enter, please send an email to TheTroutZoneContests@gmail.com and use "Giveaway Three" as the email subject line. Simply tell me in the email where you plan on fishing these flies. A winner will be drawn by a random number generator on Christmas Eve day. Shipping included to continental US.

Looking for more great giveaways? There will be one YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS coming up in another week or two but this giveaway is only for subscribers to the Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter. Not signed up? Then use the handy sign up form below. You will not receive any spam from me, only a newsletter on occasion that features fishing reports, how-to, photo essays from fly fishing trips, and the occasional giveaway or special just for subscribers.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas 2015 Giveaway Number Two

The first giveaway has generated some good feedback and hopeful people entering for the unique artwork. The next item up for the giveaway is a recently featured "Photo of the Month." A lot of people seemed to like this shot so I had it printed on an 11x14 canvass for this year's Christmas giveaway. Here is the finished product ready to be sent to you.

Brook Trout Picture for Christmas Giveaway

This picture is ready to hang near your tying desk, in your office, or anywhere else that you would like. The fish was caught in October of this year on a blue line in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a true southern strain brook trout dressed in its finest colors. Love chasing brook trout? Then this picture is for you!

The winner for all of these contests will be drawn on Christmas Eve and announced here on the Trout Zone at that time. Winners will also be contacted via email.

To enter, please send an email to TheTroutZoneContests@gmail.com and use "Giveaway Two" as the email subject line. Simply tell me in the email why you would like this unique photograph and where you plan to display it at. A winner will be drawn by a random number generator on Christmas Eve day. Shipping included to continental US.

Be sure to share this with all of your friends as well! There is still more to come so stay tuned.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas 2015 Giveaway Number One

This year, I decided to get into the holiday spirit and do a Christmas giveaway. Then I considered that maybe more than one giveaway would be nice. With that in mind, here is the first item in this year's Christmas giveaway. Up for grabs is the beautiful piece shown below, a lithograph titled "Pop" and specially numbered. Instructions on how to enter can be found below.

Local artist Jayson Alexander generously agreed to donate a print from his most recent project. He is an artist who fly fishes and incorporates this sport we love into much of his work.

Jayson said this about the following piece: "The print is a 15x22 lithograph titled “Pop” print 1/10, so there are only 10 in existence with no chance of other originals being made identically through the lithographic process."



If you don't want to wait to find out if you win, or if you don't win but still want one of these fantastic prints, you can contact Jayson directly via email at jaysonalexander4@gmail.com or call/text (865) 705-3702 for pricing and to order. You can also check out his Facebook artist page.

The winner for all of these contests will be drawn on Christmas Eve and announced here on the Trout Zone at that time. Winners will also be contacted via email.

To enter, please send an email to TheTroutZoneContests@gmail.com and use "Giveaway One" as the email subject line. Simply tell me in the email why you would like this unique work of art and where you plan to display it at. A winner will be drawn by a random number generator on Christmas Eve day. Shipping included to continental US.

Be sure to share this with all of your friends as well! Coming up will be more great items so make sure you enter into each drawing.



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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Slow Days

One of the benefits (and probably curses too) of writing about fly fishing is that you choose what to share. Have a bad day on the water? No problem. Just don't tell the masses. Just share those good days. However, anglers of all skill levels still have slow days, and being a writer doesn't magically make you immune to bad luck, poor conditions, and the least discussed but probably most prevalent operator error.

Once you have been fishing for over 25 years and fly fishing for 20+, there are also self-inflicted slow days. Take my recent musky floats for example. I have now spent two full and long fishless days, happily casting a heavy rod with gigantic flies all in the hopes of catching a fish larger than any of the trout I have ever caught and with far more teeth. Simply removing the fly can be a dangerous game where losing fingers is a distinct possibility. When I say self-inflicted, I mostly mean that I chose to go on those musky floats, but of course there is also the angle where throwing flies at these monsters is not the easiest way to go about catching them. Then again, that is at least 77.7% the point.

Same thing with fly fishing in the Smokies. I've been around these creeks and small rivers long enough to have a good idea on how to scare up a few fish when necessary. So on those days where I hit the water and stubbornly stick to my streamers, you could say the slow fishing is self-inflicted. Some days are just the result of the fact that I don't know it all yet. Those are the days that keep me coming back again and again.

Have you ever noticed how slow days do one of two things? Either they make you feel like you are slowly losing your sanity as you beat the water into a froth trying to drum up a trout or two, or else they cause you to slow down and appreciate some of the additional benefits to getting outside.

Two weeks ago or thereabouts, I took a full day off to take myself fishing. Even as a guide who spends a lot of time on the water, I'm still excited to go fishing for my own enjoyment. This day was no different. The spawn was mostly wrapped up with a straggling pair here and there. The brown trout were definitely hungry and aggressive, a combination I would take every day if possible.

Rain the night before had bumped up the water levels to something just short of perfect for streamer fishing, but higher than I would prefer for good nymph or dry fly presentations. In other words, I had an excuse ready to go in case I didn't catch many fish.

A super secret streamer came out along with a large nymph, both ending up in tandem on the end of my leader. I hit the water full of anticipation. Several large fish had been located over the last few weeks, and I just knew that it was the right day to catch them. The first spot got me thoroughly warmed up with several aggressively chasing fish. One in particular even graced the end of my line and paused just long enough for a picture. Always document that first fish, assuming you want photographs. You never know when you'll catch another. 

Brown Trout on Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Moving up to an area where I had spotted a large fish two weeks prior, I was disappointed without even getting so much as a follow. Same thing with the next spot. Finally, the third spot produced follow, after follow, after follow...I think you get the point. Some good eats too, but I missed every single one of them. Yep, bloggers and guides have bad days also.

On my way back to the car after this third stop, I noticed something. Fall had not quite passed by. One little maple tree was still valiantly holding on. This was just the soothing distraction I needed as my expectations were taking a thorough beating. 

Fall colors provided by a maple tree in the Great Smoky Mountains

The next spot or two produced some more heart stopping hits, but sadly with the same results. This was just not my day. And so, as has happened many times before and I'm sure will happen again, I approached the end of the day thankful for one fish. 

With the light fading fast and the fish somehow missing my hook, I took a drive down Little River and over to Tremont (Middle Prong of Little River). The scenery was perfect, the roads were nearly empty, and I made an interesting discovery: Middle Prong was flowing much higher than Little River. Unsure of the significance of such a discovery, I nevertheless drove as far as I could up this popular little stream until the light simply grew too dim. My last stop required a final picture. If you have fished here, then you know how high the water really was.

Tremont and the Middle Prong of Little River

The funny thing about slow days is that you learn something about yourself as an angler on these days. Some of my friends will pack it in after a couple of slow hours, while others will go to what they know will catch fish. For me, slow days are my time to experiment, constantly tinkering and looking for that edge. Guide trips are different, of course, with success for many people measured in the number of fish caught. Under those circumstances, I always have a game plan ready that will maximize the odds of catching fish. Some days, when I can only take the lack of catching for so long, I'll kick into gear and ask myself how I would get a client into fish. That usually gets me catching again if I'm not too stubborn to listen...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The El Nino Effect



Fly fishing in the Smokies during the winter months us generally a hit or miss proposition. Some years are better than others for winter fishing while others are downright tough. Last winter, for example, and the winter before were both cold with warm weather a rarity. This year is shaping up to possibly be the exact opposite. Most likely we have El Nino to thank for it.

Generally, El Nino years result in more warm stretches which helps to keep overall water temperatures elevated compared to winter norms. The quality of fishing is directly correlated to water temperatures. That is not to say that fish cannot be caught in cold water. On the contrary, the fish still need to eat but their instinct to feed is triggered by environmental conditions, especially abundant food. When it is very cold, most fish will not move far to seek out food. In cold months this equates to a flurry of activity in the warmest part of the day when a few midges, winter stoneflies, and perhaps some caddis flies all make an appearance.

Another important factor involving water temperature is the temperature trends. Last week, we saw an excellent example of this. The water temperatures were running between 42 and 44 degrees. Conventional wisdom would suggest that fishing would be slow under such conditions, but on the contrary we had a fairly good day for winter with one lucky angler catching a trophy brown trout by Smoky Mountain standards and everyone, including a first time fly fisherman, catching at least some fish. Why was the fishing good on this particular day? The temperature trend.

You see, the previous day saw the water temperature get up to around 43 degrees (as recorded on Little River at the Park boundary just outside Townsend). However, warm overnight temperatures kept the water temperature from falling. That meant that the next morning, instead of starting at 39-41 degrees after the expected night time temperature drop, we were already starting at the previous day's high temperature. The fish responded enthusiastically both to the improving conditions and to our flies.

This winter should see good fishing more often than not. El Nino will bring more warm weather to the region than we saw the last two winters. One of the best parts about winter fishing is having the water to yourself. Sure, beautiful and unseasonably warm weekends are going to have some people out enjoying nature, but for the most part you can find your own piece of water even on the weekends. Can you fish on a weekday? If so then expect to have it more or less to yourself.

The only possibly fly in the ointment is the potential for high water. We will probably have to deal with high water on several occasions over the next few months, but then that is part of winter fishing anyways, at least in these parts.



I plan on taking full advantage of the El Nino Effect this year and get out throughout January and February even on some small streams if possible.  Today would have been a great day to be on the water if I hadn't of been busy. Water temperatures on Little River are in the mid 50s which is more like you would expect in October. I'll most likely get out a day or two this upcoming week. Also, I'm hoping to fish for brook trout a little more this upcoming year. Okay, maybe a lot more.

My goal for the next year is to catch a brook trout a month. I'm hoping to accomplish this on a dry fly to make it even better but will not be above using a dropper if the fish aren't looking up. I might even do it on one of my new Tenkara rods to add another level of novelty. Don't worry though. I'll still be out chasing the big browns on occasion as well!

So, in summary, I expect good fishing to happen more often than not in the Smokies this winter. There will definitely be some cold snaps and probably even some frozen precipitation, but there will be some great fishing on occasion as well. We also probably have a better than average chance of starting the spring hatches early this year so stay tuned for more on that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Big Brown Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains

Catching large brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains is never guaranteed. Far from it in fact as large brown trout are definitely around but rarely hooked. For most anglers, catching one is the highlight of their year at minimum and sometimes even for their life. Yesterday, one lucky angler was fortunate enough to land one of the highly sought after big brown trout on Little River in the Smokies.

I had some guys from up north down to fish. For their first full day on the water, they hired me as a guide to help show them around and get them oriented to how we fish here in the Great Smoky Mountains. The morning started off quickly and it was not too long before each of them had caught their first Smoky Mountain trout including one who was fly fishing for the first time. This time of year, that is about as good as you can hope for so I was already quite happy as the guide.

We took a good lunch break and after getting fueled up for an afternoon of fishing, we hit the water again heading straight for a nice long pool that has room for more than one angler to fish. I got one angler started in the bottom of the pool after pointing out a few specific features with the instructions to fish thoroughly around those areas. Then I took the other angler upstream to fish the head of the run where I hoped we would find some trout feeding in the slightly faster water.

Before we had even really gotten into a rhythm fishing, the first guy yelled, "I think I have a good one!" Indeed he did and when I saw that golden flank flash in the sun I was all out sprinting down the bank with my net at the ready. Luckily all of the knots and 5x tippet held as they were supposed to and he did a fantastic job fighting the fish on his 8' 6" 4 weight rod. Before we even really had time to process what was happening, 22 inches of buttery brown trout was in the big net. Great job Steve and congrats on a memorable wild Smoky Mountain brown trout!

Little River Big Brown Trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Of course, a few pictures were necessary after which I tried to impress upon him how special of a fish this was for the Smoky Mountains. These fish don't come around every day and often not even every year, especially for most anglers. Applying good techniques and the ability to read water will go a long ways though towards eventually achieving the goal of catching one of these beauties!

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies, please contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text at (931) 261-1884. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

Still Out There

There are still fall colors out there for those willing to look around a bit. I took this shot over in the Smokies this past Tuesday. More on the fishing later of course. I'm just impressed that such great colors can still be found...


Thursday, December 03, 2015

New Domain

Please note that the Trout Zone blog has a new web address! The new and correct address is www.thetroutzone.com.  Please update your links and bookmarks accordingly. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Good Read On Streamers For Your Wednesday

Anyone who has read the Trout Zone for any length of time knows how much I enjoy streamer fishing. I've had some long slow days that involve NOT catching fish, but when you do catch that big fish it is so worth it. Small stream streamer fishing is something that most people do not even consider, but that should not be the case. In many ways, streamers are even easier to fish on small streams. Want to learn some tips and tricks to get you started? Check out Brandon Bailes' article over on the Flymen Fishing Company site.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Back to Paradise Valley: Yellowstone Day Four

Cutthroat trout on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park

After a fantastic day on the Lamar River (click the link and read to get caught up if you have not already done so) on just the second day of my Yellowstone 2015 trip, a return was in order. After a fairly tough day with just a few trout to hand, I wanted my buddy Kevin to experience some truly great Yellowstone fishing. As I told him, when you come to Yellowstone you need to fish for cutthroat trout. I figured that we would have a good time and catch some nice trout in Paradise Valley. Between the Lamar which had treated me so well two days prior and also Soda Butte and Slough Creeks, we had plenty of water to keep us busy for the day.

On the way over, we had to pass Roosevelt. Just south of that junction was the Yellowstone River falls area. We quickly detoured to see that as the day needed some time to warm up. The trout would be a little sluggish until later in the morning anyway. Nevertheless, our visit to the Lower Falls was brief as thoughts of large cutthroat kept nagging at us.

Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River

Upon arriving in the Lamar Valley, we slowly drove up to Soda Butte Creek. Lots of anglers were already on the water throughout the valley so bypassing the Lamar River was an easy choice. Finally, we found a good pulloff near the Pebble Creek Campground. Kevin was anxious to get started and wasted no time rigging up and heading for the stream. I, on the other hand, continued my now established tradition of a stream side breakfast before fishing. By the time I was finished, Kevin had worked through at least a couple of good looking runs without even spotting a trout.

Just as I joined him on the water, he was working up to a particularly good looking pool. His first cast was on the money and a big cutthroat ghosted out from beneath a fallen pine tree to take a look at his hopper. Both of us got excited but that didn't help convince the fish to eat. A dropper was added to the rig but that still didn't put any fish in the net. We continued working upstream, seeing a few fish here and there but not particularly great numbers. It was obvious that the fish had been pounded all summer. Gullible was not in their vocabulary on this particular day. Thankfully, the scenery more than made up for the slow fishing.

Soda Butte Creek and a large bull bison or buffalo

An angler fishes a pool on Soda Butte Creek

After missing some nice fish and in general getting tired, it was determined that we should head back down the valley to the Lamar and try our luck there. I remembered all too well how it had fished so recently and was convinced we would find some fish if we just found some open water there. Sure enough, the fish were there and easy to spot I might add. The water had cleared even more since I had fished it and now the fish were very cautious in the low clear flows of autumn. I had indeed hit it on the perfect day and was appreciating that fantastic fishing more and more by the day. Still, finding fish is at least half of the battle so we were in business with trout that we could spot.

With time and persistence, trout started coming to hand. Not in the mass quantities of two days prior, but better than going fishless for sure. Hoppers were still getting it done although there were some mayflies on the water as well. Kevin got his first Yellowstone cutthroat right at the junction of the Lamar and Soda Butte. He had spotted big fish cruising a large flat there, rising to various bugs including mayflies and terrestrials. After breaking the first two off, he was happy to land this gorgeous fish.

Lamar River cutthroat trout in Yellowstone National Park

Nearby, I also caught some trout and enjoyed the sweeping vistas. The low water was all too obvious though as you can see in the picture below.

The junction of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone National Park

By this time, the sun was moving well towards the horizon and we had a decision to make. Leaving and heading back towards camp would get us there in time for about an hour of fishing in the evening on the Gibbon River. My experience in catching a big brown trout earlier in the week definitely tempted us to take this option. On the other hand, it was at least a good hour to get back and we would be burning valuable daylight to do so. Eventually, we decided to stay on the Lamar and try some different water.

As the river leaves the wide open valley it descends into a short canyon stretch. On both ends of this canyon are some rather large pools I have always wanted to fish. We found an open stretch and found a place to scramble down the steep slope. With daylight getting weaker as nightfall approached, Kevin decided to try streamers. I, on the other hand, noticed some spinners on the water and decided that an appropriate imitation fished behind my hopper might be good. Both of us found some good success! That just happens to be one of my favorite things about fly fishing. If you are persistent, you can usually scrounge up at least a few trout on whatever method you choose.

A closeup of my beautiful dry fly caught cutthroat trout on the Lamar River

A nice cutthroat on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park

As the sun sank, the low even light made for some great photo opportunities. The mood was enhanced by pronghorn antelope coming down for an evening drink just downstream from me. I almost expected a wolf or grizzly bear to make an appearance and complete the scene. It is probably best that neither showed up though. It was a long run uphill to the supposed safety of my car.

Dusk on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park

Far downstream, I could see Kevin still working a section where he had caught a really nice cutthroat, probably looking for one even bigger. I was happy with my nice fish and decided to leave all of the other fish alone. The walk uphill to my car went quicker than I expected. With plenty of time, I took off the wading boots and grabbed a light jacket against the chill already developing. My camera was still ready to work so I snapped one last shot to help me remember that great day I had just enjoyed...

Evening on the Lamar River