Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Trout Zone's 2015 Year in Review

With the end of the year comes the usual "Year in Review" posts proliferating on your favorite fly fishing blogs. Mine is no exception. This is a long running tradition that I try* to accomplish every year, not for my readers but for myself. Not everyone is able to enjoy the adventures that I experience on a yearly basis, and reliving those moments reminds me of how blessed I truly am.

If you are interested in catching up on some previous years' posts, here are a couple of my favorites.

2014 Year in Review

2011: Quality Fishing


Just looking over those two posts reminded me of the great times I've had. I'm also reminded of the tough times. Checking the archives reminded me that I did not do a year in review for 2013. That probably has something to do with a transition back to TN from Colorado and career change. Regardless of how exciting that can be, it also comes with a lot of stress and difficulty. Thankfully, 2015 has been a very good year, both for the second year of my new venture as a fly fishing guide, and also for my own fly fishing and exploring opportunities.

Early in the year, I had one of those memorable days of streamer fishing that every streamer junkie dreams about. As it turns out, that would be a precursor of things to come.

As the winter continued, the early pleasant weather of December and January gave way to some of the nastiest winter weather. Not one but two ice storms pounded the Cumberland Plateau. In between the crazy weather, I did manage to enjoy some time on the Hiwassee and experienced first-hand how successful the delayed harvest has become.


Once the ice hit, we were knocked out of business for a while. With electricity (and Internet) out for 10 days, I returned to the days of the pioneers. Turns out that is not necessarily a bad thing! I got to bed early every night (what else was I going to do?), building up strength that was then spent cleaning up from the general devastation. We're still seeing and hearing limbs coming down from the ice storm.


As we rolled into March, some of the biggest news of the year happened, at least if you were a Smoky Mountain fisherman: Lynn Camp Prong was opened after a multi-year closure to restore the native southern Appalachia brook trout. There are still way too many people fishing that stream for my taste, but another year or so should fix that as people get it out of their systems and move back to trying other equally good (or arguably better) waters.

Also in March, I added a new state to my list of places fished. A pleasant trip down to South Carolina to see my cousin gave us time to catch up and get some much needed spring fishing in. Tennessee was still trying to catch up from the cold weather and our spring hatches were a bit delayed. In South Carolina, I found both bugs and rising trout although most fish were caught subsurface.

Shortly thereafter, I managed to sneak away for a day of brook trout fishing in the Smokies. This turned out to be one of my favorite days of fishing for the year. Admittedly, I do have a few of those. Another was soon to come in fact.


Squeezing a fishing and camping trip around a guide trip, I managed to fish more new water (I did that a LOT in 2015!). This time it was a trip over to the North Carolina side of the Park. Not only did I get in some streamer fishing (there's that theme again!), but I hiked up a stream that I had wanted to fish hard for a while and had a banner day.


Guide trips were in full swing by the end of April and we were seeing hatches complete with rising trout nearly every day. Not just a few bugs here and there, but lots of bugs across all of the streams fished. Important lessons were learned in the process as the fish become just selective enough that you actually needed to have more or less the right bug on the end of your line.

May continued with more of the same great fishing and catching. Two highlights in particular stand out for that month. The first was a float trip with my dad down the Caney Fork. We spent a considerable amount of time teaching him to both cast and to set the hook, but once that was accomplished things went quite well. Late in the month, around guide trips and other things that kept me busy overall, I had a banner day fishing for smallmouth on a Cumberland Plateau stream that yielded my largest small stream smallie to date.


June was busy enough with my guiding that it tied for the month with the second fewest blog posts. The guiding went quite well, however, with a Father's Day guided float trip seeing a big trout landed on the Caney Fork.

In July, we received a much needed shot in the arm with rain finally falling after an extended period of low flows in the mountains. This cool deluge brought down stream temperatures, boosted flows, and got the fish interested in feeding heavily again. One of the highlights of the year guiding was having a return client nail a big brown trout on a terrestrial in the Smokies. We were both really happy about that!

The streamer theme for the year really took off in early August. A change of plans had my cousin and his father-in-law throwing streamers on high water on the Caney. We found some willing trout and some big ones at that! This fish tied for my largest of the year although I think my Yellowstone trout took the top honors for several reasons.


Speaking of Yellowstone, the last two weeks of September were dedicated to a long anticipated fly fishing trip to Yellowstone. I camped and fished until I was tired and ready to go home. In fact, I still owe you some posts on my trip there! The best day of the whole trip from a catching standpoint happened early, on the second day in fact. It began with epic fishing for cutthroat trout and finished with the big brown trout that I had travelled all that way to catch.


I returned from Yellowstone to a busy guide schedule in the peak of the fall fishing season. This was a great October for fishing across middle and east Tennessee. Float trips on the Caney saw some of the lowest numbers of the season but we still saw quality trout including this big rainbow. Fly fishing in the mountains was excellent. Fish were rising to dry flies well but also taking patterns like my Isonychia Soft Hackle like there was no tomorrow. The fall colors were as good as I can ever remember.


This good fishing continued into November and then December, almost like fall had never ended. The leaves were off the trees but the fish kept eating like it was October. In fact, the largest fish caught on a guide trip this year came in early December in the Smokies. This is actually a very good time to target large brown trout in the Smokies, but we admittedly got lucky since we were not sight fishing to this bad boy. What a great big brown trout!

With the holiday season came rain. Lots and lots of rain. In fact, I unfortunately had to cancel guide trips this week with high water dominating in the mountains. Better to cancel a trip though then to take someone's money and spend the whole day looking for fishable water or at least that's my opinion.

In between guide trips, I still found a few fish for myself to catch as well!


As we move into the near year of 2016, I'm excited to see what is in store for me, Trout Zone Anglers, and fishing across middle and east Tennessee. I'm currently taking bookings well into spring 2016 so if you are hoping to spend a day on the water with me in 2016, book the trip soon. I can tailor a day on the water to suit your goals. If the adventures I had in 2015 look like something you would like to experience, then email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884 to book your day on the water.


*Note that try only corresponds with actual achievement some of the time.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Heading For the River

This is a shot I took a couple of months ago on my way to a good day of floating for musky. That trip is an epic tail in itself, but I'll save that for another time...


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Successful Smokies Fly Fishing Tips: Temperature Trends

A couple of weeks ago, I addressed the current El Nino as well as what effects it might have on winter fishing in the Smokies and across our region. One of the points I emphasized was the idea of temperature trends. Just last week, on one of my guide trips, I experienced a new example that just confirmed, at least in my mind, the importance of the general temperature trend.

We had been fishing several different sections of the Park. I did not expect particularly good fishing, especially early in the day, because water temperatures were between 39 and 41 degrees. Generally that signals poor fishing in the mountains. However, the cold snap was about done and the trend in water temperature was up. Our day was pleasant with plenty of sun early and the water temperature rose accordingly. Not only did we catch fish early, but we caught a good number of fish.

Late in the day, the guy that I had out fishing wanted to see some different places to fish. This is normal on days when I have anglers who want to be introduced to fishing in the Smokies. I explained that I could show him some brook trout water but that we shouldn't have our expectations set too high. Ice on the rocks did not give us any extra hope, but this was more about learning how to fish so he could come back under better conditions.

Brook trout stream in winter in the Smokies

Surprisingly, we missed some nice fish including a colorful brook trout and got a decent rainbow trout on a dry fly. The water was 39.5 degrees when I checked.

A Smokies rainbow trout caught in the winter on a dry fly

It is very important to remember that trout across the mountainous areas of the western US are routinely caught in very cold water during the winter. I'm talking about water full of slush and ice floes cold. Here in the southeast we are spoiled to be able to fish year round and generally do so on ice free streams, but remember that even when it is cold, the fish still have to eat.

You can do at least a little to stack the odds in your favor. Pick that first warm day after it has been cold, or even better the 3rd or 4th warm day after it has been cold. You might just be surprised at how good winter fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be when the water temperatures start to creep upwards. Sometimes you'll even catch fish on dry flies...

Monday, December 28, 2015

December in the Smokies


Fishing Little River in the Smokies

Instead of cold temperatures, this December has brought warmth approaching or surpassing recored levels at times. While it is easy to get caught up in wishing for winter, the warm weather has been a great thing for anglers in pursuit of trout on the freestone streams of the Great Smoky Mountains. December fly fishing has never been better unless you want to target large trout. While the overall numbers of larger fish are down, there are still some to be caught.

Winter fly fishing often loses the social element of warmer months because it is simply too cold to sit around and B.S. about past fishing glory. This year has been the exact opposite. In fact, the other day, a buddy and I sat happily by Little River watching yet another friend slowly work his way through a nice hole. I wasn't even wearing a jacket over my short sleeves. The waders weren't even necessary although somehow I would have felt foolish to skip them. In short, while locations across the west are over 100% of average of snowpack for this time of year, places here in the east of been simmering, but the fishing has been accordingly great.

My favorite personal fishing story from this December happened just the other day. I had already attempted to cast to one rather large brown trout but had failed in my endeavors by spooking the fish. That pool rewarded me with a consolation brown whose colors almost made up for the blown larger fish.

Beautifully colored Little River brown trout

Further up river, another pool offered a shot at another quality fish. Definitely a lot smaller than the spooked fish, it was nevertheless a nice trout. Based on its location in the pool, I was confident that I had located a slightly better than average brown trout.

My buddy Jayson agreed to maintain his vantage point while I slipped below the rock wall for a try at the fish. Having just fished through a section with a trout in seemingly every spot where I expected one, my confidence was flying high. So confident that I was a little surprised when the first perfect cast did not catch the trout. With nicer fish, your first cast counts for a lot, so I was concerned that somehow the fish had spooked.

Thankfully, I could call the Instant Replay official upstairs my buddy Jayson who confirmed that the dark shadow was still a fish. Several subsequent casts convinced me that I wasn't getting deep enough and needed to adjust my drift. There was already enough split shot on my flies to sink a battleship and the fish wasn't sitting too deep. Reaching back with the nine foot five weight Helios for a little extra, I dropped the next cast another three feet further upstream and started yet another drift.

The flies drifted into the trout's window and it ate just like it was supposed to. Textbook sight casting. Merry Christmas to me. You see, sight casting is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of fly fishing. Sure, I love streamer fishing as much or more than the next angler. The tip top of that pinnacle, of course, is sight casting with dry flies, but a good angler adapts to the conditions at hand and that trout had no interest in surface offerings. The fly that fooled this nice fish was a #10 Tellico nymph, the same fly that 95% of my fish for the day came on. I've gotten away from fishing this pattern over the last year or two and that is unfortunate. It really is a great fly.

Did I mind that it wasn't a 20 inch brown trout? Of course not. You take what the stream offers and would be a bad sport if you asked for more. This rainbow trout was somewhere around a foot long, making it a very nice fish indeed. Rainbows over ten inches don't come around particularly often. In any given year I'll catch at best a handful of 12 inch plus rainbows in the Smokies, so this was a good fish for what may be my last day on the water for 2015. The fish came to hand after a glorious aerial display making it all the more memorable.

Rainbow Trout from Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains

The rest of the day was anticlimactic. Both Jayson and I caught some trout, but the best action had already passed. Finally, we ended what was a long day with the agreement to get out again sometime soon on another piece of local water that we have talked about for a while. If the weather holds, that will hopefully happen in the first week or so of January. Just like that, we move from December in the Smokies to January in the Smokies...and February, and March...and the first spring hatches. Just like that.

Little River flows beneath rhododendron

A brilliantly colored rainbow trout from Little River

Pocket water nymphing on Little River in the Smokies

Little River rainbow trout that fell for a Tellico nymph

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Invading the South

As the days rolled by, pent up energy was building far to the north. Local hunters and anglers have likely noticed something is amiss, but only a few realized the severity of the situation. True, a few advance scouts had infiltrated the region, but in reality their numbers were a fraction of what should be. Was there a bottleneck or traffic jam? Perhaps someone had called off the invasion.

Over the last two weeks, a few more have been churning their way through. Better two months late than never I suppose. Two days ago, I heard the distinct symphony of the winged invaders. Glancing up, I smiled. They are coming after all.



I suppose this means we might have winter after all. Apparently someone thinks so. I noticed something in the news about energy stocks rising due to expected cold weather boosting the demand for natural gas. Some cold weather would be nice. I went for a hike on Christmas Eve day and wished I had worn shorts. Christmas Eve!!! When it should be cold. Oh, and I saw a snake. This all happened the day after tornadoes ripped across parts of Tennessee and Mississippi. On Christmas day we set a record high temperature here in Crossville and also a record for the most rainfall on December 25. What is going on? Everything this year has been behind or so it has seemed. We may still have a good winter in store. The sandhill cranes invading the South seem to think so.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Giveaway Winners

First of all, thank you to everyone who participated in this year's Christmas giveaways. It was fun coming up with some creative items, and I would especially like to thank Jayson Alexander for contributing his artwork to the giveaway. If you need someone to do some graphic design work for you, or want to commission a great piece of art, contact Jayson for more info via email at jaysonalexander4@gmail.com. In addition, if you are interested in a canvass print of the photograph I'm giving away, let me know via email and we'll discuss the particulars.

Finally, what you have all waited for. First, the winner of giveaway one featuring this fine work of art.


Using the random number generator and ranking everyone based on the order I received your emails, the winner is.....Will Neblett! Congratulations Will and Merry Christmas from the Trout Zone.

Second, the winner of giveaway number two featuring an 11x14 canvass print of a beautiful southern Appalachian brook trout.


Again, using a random number generator following the procedure outlined above, the winner is....Don Tummons! Congratulations Don and Merry Christmas from the Trout Zone.

Finally, the last giveaway was something that any fly fisher can always use. In fact, you probably can never have too many....flies. That's right, the lucky winner of this giveaway gets two dozen of my favorite subsurface patterns for fishing in the Park.


Using a random number generator again, the lucky winner for this giveaway is....Travis Williams! Congratulations Travis and Merry Christmas from the Trout Zone.

That wraps up the Christmas 2015 giveaways. I want to thank everyone who entered as well as those who helped spread the word. Coming up in early 2016 will be some more great giveaways that I know you will not want to miss. In fact, the best will only be available to those who are subscribers to the Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter. Subscribe below to make sure you do not miss out.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Thank you for being here throughout 2015. I'm going to delay the final drawing for the Christmas giveaways for another few hours to give a few more people a chance to enter. Check back late this evening or tomorrow as the final drawing will be this evening. I'll be shipping the items out early next week so the winners should get them by New Years (with a little luck).

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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