Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Project Ongoing

Things have been a little slow around here, but that is because I've been working on another project. This is a new site that will cover all things fly fishing here in Tennessee and feature my guiding as well. The current URL is a practice run, so it may change somewhat. Right now it is nowhere close to complete although I'm making progress. In the meantime, I would appreciate any and all feedback. You can visit the current site at www.davidrknapp.com. I know there are lots of blank pages, but I'm working on getting them filled in. Right now I want them up so you get the general idea of how the layout of the site will work. So, what do you think? Is it easy to navigate? Does it look like it will contain useful information once I get the pages completed and more added? I intend to cover all major watersheds in the Smokies including tributaries, fishing techniques for the Park, Tennessee tailwaters, and warm water streams and techniques for those as well. I'm still debating whether or not to merge this site with Trout Zone Anglers and/or this site (the Trout Zone) although I kind of hate the idea of changing platforms for this blog after all of the years of hard work I have gone through.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January Brook Trout


As the calendar turned from 2015 to 2016, I began to think about fishing goals for the new year. I'm not a resolution kind of a guy because why wait until the calendar changes to get things on track? However, from a fishing perspective, it is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same thing each time I get out on the water. With that in mind, I've set a goal to catch a brook trout each month of the year. Originally I even contemplated doing it using dry flies only or maybe Tenkara, but for now those ideas are on hold.

Still, when I decided to head up to the mountains this past Sunday, I knew the early morning hours would be spent chasing brown trout. After having such a good day the previous Sunday, I figured it was too good an opportunity to ignore. I still had that monster to track down and land. For some reason that fish was nowhere to be seen. After doing a lot of scouting and a little bit of casting, all I had to show for it was 3-4 half hearted chases and one fired up fish that couldn't find the hook. The time had come to move on to plan B.

Before heading to one of my favorite brook trout streams, I rolled into Townsend to warm up and chat with the guys at Little River Outfitters. A short stop turned into a longer one as the nice warm shop was hard to leave. I knew that I might not get back to the mountains much again in January though so I eventually forced myself back out into the cold to go find those brook trout.

When I lived in Colorado, winter time streamer fishing on Boulder Creek right in the middle of the town of Boulder was one of my favorite things to do. I could get out for an hour or two, walk the ice along the banks, and maybe even catch a trout or two. Often I would be surprised by nice brook trout that hammered the streamer so I knew that they loved streamers. If you know me this is probably shocking information, but I actually have not fished streamers for brook trout in the Smokies, until this past Sunday that is.

As it turns out, the native brook trout of the Smokies like streamers as well although water temperatures in 30s meant that the hits were few and far between. I did get this beautiful fish on just the second or third cast which meant I could relax the rest of the time and not worry as much about catching trout.


Able to enjoy myself, I spent more time looking around than fishing after catching that trout. My camera provided another avenue of enjoyment. Here are a few of the stream shots. Notice the dusting of snow on this cold January day.




Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Quality Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

My first fly fishing experience of 2016 got things started off right, but wasn't to my favorite place, the Great Smoky Mountains. Needing to correct that situation, I headed out early on Sunday morning to get in a full day. Water temperatures had been rising for the last two days, peaking at around 48 degrees which is very good for this time of year. With more surges of arctic air in the forecast, I knew that I had better get out while the opportunity was there.

Not wanting to waste any time, and surprisingly not in need of anything for the day's fishing, I skipped my usual stop at Little River Outfitters and headed straight into the Park. The high and low point of the day happened quickly and all with the same fish.

I had already stopped to prospect a couple of pools before I found what I was looking for: a large brown trout sitting out feeding in a very good spot to cast to. In fact, this was almost a gimme trout. Somewhere between 22 and 26 inches in length and sitting in a place where the approach was very simple, the fish was moving back and forth as it obviously fed on something small under the surface.

Wading across the rapids downstream put me into the perfect position to fish for the brown trout. My first cast was too far to the side and short, but the next cast was perfect and the fish turned to follow my flies. For what happened next I can only blame myself. The fish had already followed the flies a couple of feet, and something in my brain made me think that it had ate. Running the replay in my head (as I've done many times already) fails to help me remember exactly what made me think that fish ate, but regardless, my failed hook set caused the fish to drift off into the depths of the run nearby. The trout was not so much scared silly as just concerned about food that levitated out of the stream in an unnatural manner. Just like that, my best shot of the day at catch a big brown vanished.

If anglers were to give up in the face of adversity along the lines of what I had just experienced, fishing trips would generally be short. With the whole day still to go, I stuck with the game plan. Instead of spotting fish, I decided that I would probably be better off just covering a lot of water, so that is what I did.

Brown trout from Little River in the Smokies

The final tally does not sound very impressive when I say I caught three fish, but I should probably add that all were between 12 and 16 inches, and I lost one between 18 and 20. In other words, it was a very good day for fishing in the winter. I got my first brown trout of 2016 and then a couple more for good measure. Sometime soon I'll go back to look for that big fish that I messed up, maybe even in the next few days...


Monday, January 11, 2016

First Tenkara Trout for 2016

As the calendar rolled over from December into January, a host of things prevented me from getting out on the water much other than one guide trip in the Smokies last week. The guide trip went well. Despite cold water, we found a few trout willing to eat our flies. As a guide, I often enjoy putting people on fish nearly as much (maybe more?!?) as catching them for myself, so that trip was great for many reasons. However, it was time to catch some for myself.

My buddy Tyler was free to fish for a short time and the air temperature was low enough that I didn't want to be out long. We met up at Cumberland Mountain State Park for a quick trip to get that first trout for 2016. I had the Tenkara rods along and Tyler was intrigued enough to want to fish with them as well. We strung a couple of them up with the usual offering we give to these stocked trout and it was not too long before Tyler struck first.

Rainbow trout caught with Tenkara

Shortly after, I found some willing fish for myself. This beautiful rainbow gave the Tenkara rod a good workout. The colors were very good for a recently stocked fish. The fins were all in good shape as well. The fish used in the winter stocking program are generally in excellent condition so someone is doing a top notch job at the hatchery.

First rainbow trout of 2016 caught on a Tenkara USA Amago rod

The best part of the trip was when Tyler caught a yellow perch. That was a first for him. I've only caught a handful in my life. His was quite possibly the prettiest I've seen with vibrant colors. Great way to start the new year!

Yellow perch at Cumberland Mountain State Park


Monday, January 04, 2016

When in Yellowstone, Fish...the Yellowstone: Yellowstone Day 5

Yellowstone River above Tower Falls

How many times can you squeeze "Yellowstone" into a post title? Apparently at least three times. Never limit yourself when greatness awaits. If you can't tell, my creative side is getting close to being shot it seems. Nothing that reliving a trip to Yellowstone can't fix (or maybe worsen, I'm not sure which). Either way, looking back over the pictures from day five refreshed my memory fabulously and I'm excited all over again for what transpired on that day of fishing the Yellowstone River.

The discussion on where to fish had began a day earlier, well after dark when we got back to camp from a long but good day in the Lamar Valley fishing Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar Rivers. My buddy Kevin only had two full days available to fish before heading on to fly fishing guide school and we had already used one. That meant the pressure was on to select a winner for the day's fishing.

Having fished the Yellowstone River on my last several trips out there, I knew what it was capable of. In fact, one of the most memorable days I've been a part of fly fishing wise in Yellowstone happened on that river. Anyway, it always has the potential to produce a quality day of fishing, and in fact, I can't say I've ever had a bad day of fishing on the Yellowstone. Since it was Kevin's first trip, he ultimately deferred to me in the decisions on where to fish so there was a bit of pressure to say the least.

For this day, I knew my stream-side breakfast tradition was in jeopardy. There are few places where you can drive to the Yellowstone in the canyon reaches we hoped to fish. Somehow, eating breakfast in a dry parking lot with a flood of tourists surging past didn't appeal, but something was tickling my memory. That great big breakfast from my first full day in the Park had been delicious, and as we were already driving right past Canyon, why not stop in for round two? Convincing Kevin was not too hard at all and we left in time to be there right as they opened. With a good breakfast behind us, we were ready to hit the water of the mighty Yellowstone River.

Hiking down from the shortest access at Tower Falls, I carried two rods. One was rigged with the hopper/dropper rig that had done so well on the Lamar Valley waters while the other was my 7 weight complete with full sinking line. In other words, I was ready to fish streamers. Tied on the end was my favorite, the PB&J.

At the bottom of the trail is a huge boulder in the edge of the Yellowstone's flow. I just had to fish there as I do most trips down into the canyon. While normally I'm smart enough to make the long and slightly dangerous hike upstream, trudging up and down slopes along trails belonging as much to the deer, elk, bison, and bears as to humans, this time we had people fishing ahead of us and had no idea how far they had hiked. Might as well enjoy the water close at hand since no one was on it.

Yellowstone cutthroat that hit a PB&J streamer

I had a solid swipe on the first cast and shortly thereafter teased the nice cutthroat back out from under the rock and onto my fly. A quick picture and I tossed the fish back to catch again another year on another trip. We moved upstream to a long deep run just upstream and started working streamers hard. Flashes, taps, and the occasional tug kept us going for longer than I normally would fish one spot. In fact, in all honesty, I believe we could have stayed in that one spot the rest of the day, but the urge to roam was strong and we kept pushing upstream.

Only once did we need to leapfrog around other anglers. The main group of competition apparently had booked on up the river to where I normally fish, leaving us the easier to access water down low. Turns out that wasn't a bad thing. We found more fat cutthroat than is fair for two anglers to catch in one day.

Yellowstone Cutthroat trout

We soon arrived upstream at a large pool that I remembered well from past trips. The one thing lacking from my recollections were any particularly great stories about fishing there. That would change on this trip. I had been working up through some pockets and told Kevin to head on up and fish that hole. When I moved up, I found him absolutely certain that a large cutthroat had taken at least a couple of swipes at his flies. A high bank loomed over the hole and provided the perfect spot for me to spot from. When I got up there, I started to get a little giddy, because sure enough, there were large cutthroat chasing his fly on most casts.

I've been fishing long enough to know many of my shortcomings as a fishermen, and one of those is that I tend to start seeing things by the end of a long day on the water, but these shadows were too well defined to be imagination. Deep bright red along the flanks suggested that at least some of the fish could have rainbow ancestry mixed in, but I've also caught enough large cutthroat to know they can be brilliant red as well so who knows.

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

Yes, who knows, because while some true giants that I'm convinced were in the 25 inch range showed, the best landed was in the 18-19 inch range. That said, both of us were ecstatic at the fish that were caught. I do my best to not complain about the catching. Complaints can affect your fishing mojo negatively.

What I can say is that I'm sure both of us will fish that same pool again the next time either one of us is out in Yellowstone. Best of all, we both know what fly they seemed to really appreciate. Notice I'm not telling here, but for the record, it is a fairly common streamer pattern you should find at just about any normal fly shop.

The rest of that day was anticlimactic. There were plenty more fish to be caught after this epic pool including some nice ones on the hopper setup. A few hit the hopper, while a good number hit the nymph that was trailing underneath. Eventually I set the hopper rod down and went back to streamers because the hopper rod was almost too easy. We didn't fish as late as sometimes, probably because we were both beyond satisfied.

The memories of those big fish though kept us pondering and both of us were ready to get up early and head back to the Yellowstone if it wasn't for Kevin's need to depart the next morning. I had some vague plans to sight see and enjoy the scenery the next day. Even though the sun set early at that time of year, both of us were tired enough to enjoy a good supper and a bit of conversation before turning in to our respective tents for the night.

Just before dark, the sunset lit up the meadow that was my usual early or late day fishing spot whenever I was in camp. The rich glow painted the perfect end of day picture as the moon rose to the east until, moments later, the sunset itself was worth a shot.

Junction of the Gibbon River and Solfatara Creek at Norris Campground

Sunset along Solfatara Creek at Norris


Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year's Day!!!

Happy new year's day from the Trout Zone! I hope that your 2016 is memorable and that you are able to make memories with friends and family, hopefully at least some of the time out on the water. My fishing is going to be cut back a little here in January and February. That is not to say that I won't be fishing. On the contrary, I will be guiding up in the Smokies this next week and hopefully fishing here and there as well. However, I'm looking forward to bigger and better things this year and things like travel and new boats all require money. That means I have to conserve somewhere.


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