Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

High Adventure


This was supposed to be a fishing trip deep into the backcountry of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau in search of smallmouth bass fishing nirvana. My friend Mark Brown of Chota Outdoor Gear and I had been planning on fishing together for a while. Somehow things had never worked out, until this trip that is. We both had been hitting the smallmouth streams regularly this summer and were looking to get a little farther away from the access points and the hordes of swimmers and other fishermen that can usually be found in easily accessible water. There were a couple of options under consideration, but ultimately the choice was made for a slightly longer walk but one that would leave our vehicles in a safer location.

The forecast for our day on the water called for hot and dry, in other words about the same as the rest of this summer has been. We hit the trailhead by around 8:30 a.m. and started trekking deep into the still-cool woods. The trail was familiar to me but not to Mark so I took the lead. As I started sweeping spider webs out of the way with my face, I started thinking that maybe being in front wasn't such a good idea. For some reason Mark was still happy to stay in the back so I forged ahead.

By the time we hit the trail down through a crack in the cliff, we were both ready to see the river below. Just as we got to the narrowest portion where the trail was hemmed in by steep bluffs on both sides, I happened to look down in time to see a timber rattler relaxing on the trail. I was in such shock that I forgot to snap a picture. This didn't help my nerves. There are more snakes here on the Cumberland Plateau than anywhere else I've ever hiked and fished, and I was already jumpy. Things didn't improve when we looked down the steep and brushy hillside that had to be descended before our goal was attained. I imagined all of the snakes and bees that were probably waiting to eat me. In the end, visions of huge smallmouth slamming our flies propelled me on down the hill.

We emerged stream-side to stare in awe at the incredible water both up and downstream of where we now stood. Towering sandstone bluffs showed near the top of the gorge. If only these streams were more accessible, but of course in that case we probably wouldn't be the only ones enjoying the view.


After a brief pause to enjoy the scenery and snap a few pictures, we both started casting. Smallmouth bass were cruising the deep pool at our feet just waiting for the flies we had ready. Within the first two or three casts, I had landed my first bass and Mark was not far behind. After catching three bass in 10 or 15 casts, my expectations for the day, as if they weren't already high enough, shot through the roof. Becoming greedy, I started thinking about catching larger fish.

We had emerged from the woods towards the back of a large pool, and I imagined that there were probably large bass stacked like cordwood at the head of the pool. The Grass is Always Greener Syndrome was in full effect. The water was too deep to wade, so I moved around behind a large boulder to search for a route to the head of the pool. Looking over, I noticed a copperhead coiled up on top of a large rock and my big fish dreams quickly came back down to earth. Our first pool was now dubbed the Copperhead Hole. Knowing that there was plenty of water downstream, I decided to abandon my efforts and head down to the next pool.


Fishing quickly through some pocket water, I soon found myself overlooking a long pool. Because of a huge deep pot in the back that required getting deeper than I intended, this pool was named the Swimming Pool. Thankfully I didn't have to completely swim, but we did find some quality smallmouth cruising this pool. While I wasn't rigged for it, the pool sure looked like a good muskie hole as well. One of these days I'll be back to explore that possibility.


We continued downstream into a section that looked like giants had tossed huge boulders all over the river. Some of these are as large as a house. Here is a view looking downstream and another looking across to where Mark was fishing to give perspective on how large these rocks were. Can you find the angler in the second picture?



It was here, in the narrows, that I started to find some larger bass. I had switched from a large black Chernobyl style fly to a subsurface offering. Despite hearing cicadas buzzing in the trees along the stream, the bright sun was winning out and the fish were shy about coming to the surface. After covering the entire whole alongside the huge boulder pictured above, I switched to a fly with a lot of weight. Returning to the head of the pool, I started working my way downstream again. As one of my drifts swung in front of the smaller boulder at the bottom left in the picture above, I felt a hard thump and the fight was on. I had brought my 5 weight Helios and for a moment I thought that such a light rod would prove to be my undoing. This bass worked through its bag of tricks, but ultimately I landed it in the shallows.


After a quick shot, I let it go and continued working down the stream. Not far below, another quality fish came to hand and I got another picture.


About this time, Mark and I realized that we should start thinking about the hike out. We were considering a different route back out, but since neither of us had done the whole route we would need extra time in case something went wrong. After a consultation, we decided on a few more fish, a short lunch break, and then starting on our way out.

As it turns out, we were both glad that we fished a little longer. Mark had the first nice fish. He had been fishing in a deep hole. Both of us had switched to the same pattern that was catching fish for me. He had thrown at a deep slot along side some undercut boulders and a nice fish shot out to nail the fly. After watching the battle, I told him we needed at least one good fish picture and so he held up the bass for a moment. 


I had decided to finish my day hunting fish on top again and had pulled out the well-chewed black Chernobyl Hopper and tied it back on. When Mark caught this fish, I was nearly confined to change back. I headed up to the next pool, intent on sitting down to tie on a different fly. As I walked over the boulder that I meant to sit on, I saw one dark slot just above. Deciding it wouldn't hurt to throw the hopper for one last cast, I tossed it in and almost immediately saw the largest explosion of the day. Things got serious for a few moments as the fish repeatedly ran under rocks, sawing my leader and tippet along the rough edges. Somehow, the Rio tippet held as well as the hook. The heavy tension evaporated as I slipped my thump into its mouth. Mark kindly came over and snapped a couple of pictures for me. This is the largest smallmouth bass that I have caught yet on our Cumberland Plateau streams, and best of all it came on a surface fly.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Brown

By this time, we were starting to realize that we should probably begin our climb out. Scrambling up the steep slope was difficult in the afternoon heat, but the good news was that the brush was not as thick as before. I didn't feel in immediate danger from death by snakes, but before long a new danger showed up.

We had been following a trail for a while, knowing approximately but not exactly where to go. A brief pause to discuss which way at a fork proved to be problematic. Almost immediately, as I started moving again, Mark yelled. A stinging sensation on my arm told me what the problem was and I yelled out, "Run!!!" We both found some long since forgotten energy for a brief sprint almost straight uphill before pausing to make sure that the yellow jackets were not following us. Mark had lost a water bottle in the excitement, but neither of us wanted to go back down and recover it. The good news was that we were out on familiar trails again. The car was still quite a trek away but now we knew exactly how far.

My nerves were back on alert. This high adventure was almost more than they could handle. When a sticked cracked, I may or may not have jumped a few feet high. Mark, chuckling behind me, asked quite innocently, "Did you know you just jumped?"

It had been an incredible day. I'm not sure if Mark will be willing to fish with me again after this adventure proved harder than anticipated, but I I'm guessing we'll both recover eventually and be ready to hit the smallmouth streams again.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Beginners' Luck

Luck. Some of us have it and some of us don't. If you are like me, you will get a good run of luck, but the whole time you are dreading the inevitable turn of fortunes. A bad string of luck can involve losing giant fish, breaking fly rods, and even filling up your waders after an innocent slip on the rocks. Some people seem to have a knack for catching big fish, and it doesn't seem to matter whether they are seasoned pros or beginners.

Last week, I had a couple of people on the boat who said they were beginners. After a trip like we enjoyed it can be hard to believe something like that, but I'll take them at their word.

This was one of those trips that had been on the calendar for months. The goal was to help them learn how to successfully fish the Caney Fork River. As fairly new fly anglers, Jeff and Sandy wanted some instruction that they could then take and apply on their own to enjoy the sport of fly fishing. Upon booking the trip, we left the question of a wade or float trip to be decided later. As the trip drew closer, I received an email and discovered that the decision was to float. That was great with me since it meant I wouldn't have to walk around the river roasting in my waders in the 90+ degree heat we've been enjoying. Additionally, I prefer floating the river for guide trips as it allows us to access some spots that I know have big fish.

On the evening before the trip, after consulting the generation schedule, I contacted Jeff and Sandy to set up the meeting time and place. Then I hit the tying vise for a couple of hours of prep work. We would have plenty of the hot patterns for our trip.

We met the next day and were soon at the put-in ramp. Taking 20 minutes before the trip to go over the finer points of playing large trout was hot even though we found some shade, but it paid huge dividends before the day was over. After coaching first Sandy and then Jeff through the proper technique for fighting large fish on a fly rod (both were accomplished anglers using other tackle), we were ready to go. I dumped the boat and rowed out into the river before we anchored up to rig the rods. Soon both of them had the first fish of the day. These were monster brown trout in the 6-8 inch range. In other words, they were catching the future of the fishery but not the fish we had come to find.

I pulled the anchor and we were off. In the first section the fishing seemed a little slow, but Jeff was steadily catching some trout from the front of the boat. The largest early on was around 12 inches but most were smaller. Sandy, after her initial luck, had things slow down for a while.

By the time we were a good distance downstream, both anglers had settled into a routine. Cast, mend, drift...repeat. The water was just high enough from the generation to allow us to slide over a couple of gravel bars that are normally off limits. It was in one such place, as we approached a deep slot, that Jeff had a great drift interrupted by the indicator plunging down. As soon as he set the hook I knew it was serious. I instructed Sandy to get all of her line out of the water so we wouldn't have any distractions for Jeff to fight his Caney Fork trophy. Soon I was rowing up and down the river. Finally, the fish seemed like it was getting tired, and I dropped the anchor over a gravel bar and jumped out of the boat with the net. The big rainbow trout slid into the net and congratulations were passed around. Jeff had learned quickly and earned his picture with the beautiful fish.


Sandy got jealous when she saw how nice Jeff's big fish was. However, she would have to wait a little longer before her turn for a picture came around. A few hundred yards down the river, Jeff had a nearly repeat performance except that this fish was 19 inches instead of 22 inches. Either fish would be the catch of the day on most trips and Jeff had found two.


This brings up the importance of not only a good guide, but someone who knows the river. The 19 inch trout was in an area I've had my eye on. In fact, the other day during the epic bachelor party, we hooked a monster brown trout out of the same hole. If you want to catch some nice trout, a guided float trip is definitely the best way. If you are like me and enjoy learning on your own, then repeat trips down the river will, over many trips, teach you some of the tricks you will learn on a guide trip. A guided trip just shortens this learning curve.

By this time, Sandy made it clear that it was HER turn. Accordingly, I turned the boat so she had an equal shot at the fish since she was in the back. We were approaching another good spot that I like to hit and sure enough, her indicator dove and she was into a great brown trout. Again we had to row all over the river to chase this fish, but in the end it slid into the net just like the others and Sandy got her picture with a fantastic Caney Fork River brown trout.


Jeff followed up with a nice brown of his own before Sandy struck with a quality rainbow trout. Not long after these fish, it was time to start heading for the takeout ramp. Along the way, we stopped in one spot just long enough for them to get a nice double to end the day. Nothing better than a net full or brown and rainbow trout!





The Caney Fork River will continue to fish well on guided float trips. Weekends are NOT conducive to good fishing and I don't recommend float trips then. However, if you can get away during the week and have the right patterns, the right drift, and the right location, you too may catch a big Caney Fork River trout. I can't guarantee such incredible beginners' luck as Jeff and Sandy had, but we will always have fun and a day spent on the river is about the most fun you can have.

If you are interested in a guided float trip on this river, or a guided trip in the Smokies or anywhere else, don't hesitate to email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Solstice Bachelor Party

The best day I've ever had on the Caney Fork happened just this week. In fact, as close as possible, I had a repeat again yesterday, but the first was probably the most memorable because it was a trip that almost didn't happen. To put everything in perspective, let me go back a few months to last November.

My buddy Jayson gave me the honor of asking me to be a groomsman in his wedding, scheduled for this June. Over the past several months, us groomsmen discussed options for a bachelor party, but for various reasons, none of the plans ever worked out. With so many schedules to try and coordinate, the main problem came down to not having free time together. That and the fact that we wanted to do a trip outdoors. Jayson is another diehard angler as is Pat who is another groomsman. We discussed camping trips, backpacking trips, and of course all revolved around fishing. Eventually, we began to wonder if the bachelor party would even happen. We were all just too busy.

Then, the perfect storm of events occurred. What set off the chain of events was a cancelation/postponement that I had. A float trip on the Caney Fork had been on the calendar until about two weeks ago when the clients requested a postponement until the cooler months of fall. They were concerned about the extreme heat we have been experiencing. Naturally, I decided that I should spend the day on the water somewhere fishing for myself. It was then that I remembered the bachelor party. 

At this point, we were mere days away from the wedding day so time was short to get a trip together. I quickly called Jayson and Pat the other groomsman. Both were able to clear their schedules. Plans were discussed ranging from fishing in the Smokies, the Davidson in N.C., and the Clinch. Eventually we came back to the Caney Fork River and set up a time to meet.

Monday June 20 arrived with a couple of x-factors that were going to make the day go from good to epic. Any day on the water with friends is good. It should go without saying, but catching fish is always a bonus in a situation like this. However, we also had perfect flows with the generators pulsing from 8-9 a.m. The summer solstice happened to be on June 20. Oh, and we had a full moon. 

That last one was a little sketchy. I've had some fantastic fishing during a full moon, and I've also had some really horrible fishing during a full moon. Fantastic and horrible measured purely from a fish catching success perspective I should add. When I saw pictures from my buddy and guide Bryan Allison featuring his success this past weekend, I knew that this might be one of those good full moons. Nevertheless, I warned Jayson and Pat that the fishing could be epic or it could be horrible. Both were in on taking the trip regardless which turned out to be the right decision.

Jayson and Pat arrived at my house on Monday morning and we quickly transferred their gear over into my truck and boat and we were off. A short trip to the river had a small detour to get some air in one of my tires. That small detour almost became a long detour when the valve stem jammed, but eventually I got some air in the tire and the valve stem quit leaking. Back on the road, we finally made it to the river and got the boat launched. Rowing out into the river, I dropped the anchor for the usual time spent setting up all the rods.

Both of the guys were intrigued by the setup I use to fish the Caney Fork, but after just a few minutes of floating they had caught some trout and were believers in my fishing methods. The fish were keying on midges and that proved to be the situation for most of our trip. The night before I had stayed up late tying lots of extras and it was a good thing as we went through our fair share of flies.

A short distance down the river, we finally got a taste of what the day would be like. Appropriately, the groom was the first to strike on a good fish. Jayson set the hook and when the rod nearly doubled over, I quickly instructed Pat to get his line out of the water and clear the area for Jayson to fight the trout. When it rocketed to the surface, we saw that were were dealing with a large rainbow trout. Trying all of its tricks, the trout eventually yielded to Jayson's skill at fighting fish and slid into the net. Pictures were taken, high fives and hand shakes were passed around, and we got back down to the very serious business of catching trout.


Not too much further down the river, we pulled over and got out to wet our feet in the cool water. With air temperatures over 90 degrees, the usually frigid water actually felt good. Jayson and Pat were well ahead of me since I still needed to rig a rod for myself. Deciding on a hopper for my strike indicator, I dropped a nymph and midge underneath and started working downstream along a shaded bank. The overhanging branches seemed like a good spot for a terrestrial to fall in. That assumption was rewarded with a solid 16 inch brown trout, my first hopperized brown trout of the year. After releasing the fish, I noticed that Jayson was hooked up and stopped to take a few pictures.


Jumping back in the boat, I offered the hopper rod to Pat and pointed out a fish that exhibited a terrestrial rise. He cast once and the fish did everything but eat the fly. Throwing back a second time triggered that reactionary bite we were looking for, and soon he was enjoying his own nice brown trout caught on a hopper.


Continuing down the river, we caught fish here and there and broke off some true monsters. Pat seemed to have the corner on the "losing big fish" market unfortunately, but Jayson still had another moment of glory waiting.

We had stopped again to wade a second time. This was a stretch of river that I've been watching some large brown trout in and hoped to get the guys on one of those nice fish. Pat found one way up above where we stopped and lost it to a log. I fished slowly and eventually nailed a nice fish on the hopper.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Tully

Then Jayson struck again. He had been working a nice trout when it finally ate. His yelling got our attention and soon we had the net out and ran down to help. The tippet and knots held, the hook was strong enough, and soon we had more great memories captured with our cameras. Jayson's second 20"+ trout was a brown trout and featured some amazing colors.


Even though he was the groom and thus assumedly being treated extra nice for the day, I informed Jayson that two 20 inchers qualified him for the rowers bench. My moment of glory was literally just around the corner. After rowing around the corner, I turned the oars over to Jayson and jumped into the front of the boat for a few minutes.

Almost as soon as Jayson touched the oars, Pat's luck turned and he nailed a great brown trout right off some rocks along the bank. The fish had taken the midge, but the 6x tippet held and the hook was strong. After the obligatory pictures, Jayson slid the boat back out into the middle and we kept drifting.


Not too far down the river, I saw a large brown slide out of a deep hole and settle into a narrow slot between two rocks in shallow water. Hey guys, you see that big brown? When they asked where, I pointed and cast. Right under my hopper. My flies drifted through and as I pulled them out for another cast, Pat asked if he could take a shot. My cast was already on the way as I said sure. He started his cast and while his flies were literally hovering over the spot, I saw the fish turn sideways and set the hook. Sure enough, the fish was on my flies.

Notice I didn't say that it ate my flies. That is because I initially thought that I had somehow snagged the fish. A lot of side pressure failed to turn the fish at all. In such situations I usually assume that the fish is snagged. I was so convinced of this that I nearly broke the fish off on purpose. I'm not interested in killing a fish for a photo op and a snagged fish is usually going to be too exhausted by the time you land it, if it is big that is. Something in my brain doubted the snagged theory just enough to not break the fish off. On the next turn, I saw my tippet all the way to the large brown trout's mouth and realized that instead of being snagged, this was just a really heavy and strong fish.

I've lost a lot of nice trout through the years. Even a few of them recently. Big fish, not mediocre fish. Things had gotten bad enough that I almost assumed that this fish would eventually come unbuttoned. Somehow everything worked out though, and Pat Tully did a phenomenal job on the net. Thanks should also be mentioned for Jayson's great work on the oars. This fish, as were the other large trout on this day, was truly a team effort.

Photo Courtesy of Jayson Alexander

That fish proved to be the final high point of the day. Yes, we still caught more fish, but somewhere shortly after this fish the action slowed considerably. That may just be because we weren't trying very hard. Everyone on the boat was satisfied, but also tired and hungry. We rowed through the last stretch to get done at a reasonable time. A stop in Cookeville for some great Mexican food finished the day in style.

Three fish 20 inches or better in one day and at least two others broken off. I would like to think that I'm just getting that much better at this whole "guiding" thing. Maybe I am. After all, yesterday's guide trip was nearly as epic with several large rainbows and some nice browns caught. Then again, maybe it was just one of those unexplainably awesome days. The full moon, the summer solstice, good weather, a good barometer whatever that means. You know all the excuses we fly anglers give when the fishing is bad. For one day, at least, we didn't need any of them.

I anticipate the fishing on our tailwaters to continue to be fantastic through the summer. I'm getting some great reports from the Watauga and South Holston as well as the Hiwassee. The Clinch and Holston Rivers continue to fish well. Today I netted a 21.5 inch rainbow on the Holston and later caught some nice trout for myself. The Caney Fork will fish well on less crowded days. The right patterns and techniques are essential now with the water cleared up from the murky days of spring. 

If you want to get in on this great fishing, contact me about a guided wade or float trip on the Caney Fork River. You can reach me via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884. I'm booking trips well into July now with no availability until the second week of July. The fishing should stay good on this river through the summer and fall if we continue to experience low water.



Monday, June 13, 2016

June Openings for Guided Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains

Due to a cancellation and a couple of dates still open, my calendar has some options if you are looking for a guided trip in the Smokies this month. Currently, I have Friday morning June 17, all day on Monday June 20, and June 26 and 30. This is one of the busiest months of the year for good reason. Everyone is in town on summer break or heading to the mountains for a day or two to beat the heat. The fishing has been good although water levels are dropping. If you need help learning how to fish in the Great Smoky Mountains, please don't hesitate to email me (TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com) or call. July has a few more possibilities so just let me know if you are looking to get something booked then for either the tailwaters or mountains or even smallmouth bass streams.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Found Fly Box

While guiding on Little River yesterday, I came across a rather nice and well-stocked fly box that some unlucky angler had lost. If you have lost a fly box recently, please contact me via email and describe both the box and its contents, and I'll be glad to get it back to you!

Monday, June 06, 2016

Remote Smallmouth Creeks

One of the great things about living on Tennessee's beautiful Cumberland Plateau is the abundance of great smallmouth bass streams, some of which also harbor the elusive muskellunge. These streams are mostly in remote, hard to get to areas which adds to the quality of the fishing both from a catching perspective and also just the overall atmosphere. The glorious thing about the Cumberland Plateau smallmouth bass streams is that they are almost always empty except for the people swimming and playing in the creek in very close proximity to the access points.

Given the choice, I would avoid fishing in crowds every day. Not seeing other anglers, except for those I'm fishing with of course, can make a good day of fishing out of a slow day of catching. That is why I love fishing the Smokies in winter so much. Empty streams, fish or no fish, are my overwhelming preference.

I've already been out to check on some of my favorite smallmouth bass streams a few times this year. Some of the trips were very good while only one was what I would term slow. On these streams, slow usually means at least a few fish were still caught and this time was no exception. The pinnacle of smallmouth bass fishing, at least so far this year, was on a trip a few weeks back with my buddy Jayson.

Everything came together at the last minute, with both of us having a day off from work, and we readily agreed that smallmouth bass should be the choice of the day. Arriving at the stream, we both rigged up our preferred smallmouth bass fly rods and were soon walking down to where we wanted to start fishing. I found one really good hole and started going through my fly selection process. Changing flies often is how I like to dial in the flavor of the day. One healthy smallmouth was willing to hit my PB&J streamer, getting the skunk off, but otherwise things were slow.


About the time I landed that first fish of the trip, I noticed that Jayson had disappeared around the bend upstream. Knowing him, I assumed he had found some good water and maybe even figured out the fish. Wandering upstream, I found him tight to a fish. It turned out to be a green sunfish.


Convincing him to get out of the water was not difficult when I mentioned the big bass possible downstream. We hit the trail again and before long got in to a good section that usually has some quality fish. Jayson had figured out that fish would readily hit a popper, so I decided a big black Stealth Bomber would probably work just as well. Turns out I was right!

We both caught a decent number of fish on the surface, not once going back to streamers or nymphs. Some of the fish were quality fish as well which kept things interesting. That big 20" wild smallmouth is still eluding both of us on this particular stream although we have seen some fish that are at least that large.



We ended the day on a good note, with Jayson getting a nice smallmouth while I watched from a perch high on a rock. The fish just couldn't say no to his popper.



The smallmouth fishing will stay strong through at least September. I have several other streams that I want to explore further, but time is not on my side. With some luck, I'll be able to enjoy a handful of other days out fishing for smallmouth this summer. Until then, I have some good memories of a day on the water!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Orvis 905-4 Helios For Sale

A friend of mine is looking to sell their 9' 5 weight Orvis Helios fly rod. This lightly used rod is in pristine condition and is the mid-flex model which is a great all around rod for both dry fly and nymph fishing, especially on larger waters where big trout may be encountered. The soft tip will protect light tippets while the rod still provides plenty of backbone to land quality fish. The rod is bargain priced at $350 shipped to the lower 48.

The Helios is one of the finest fly rods Orvis has ever made. I have fished my Helios all across the country and it has helped me to land some super trout over the last few years.

If you are interested in this fine fly rod, please email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com, and I will provide contact information for the seller on this rod.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Social Media For Trout Zone Anglers

If you have noticed the recent lack of posts, I apologize. Hopefully you will understand that this has been one of the best months for fly fishing that east Tennessee has to offer. I've been fishing all over, from the Clinch and Holston Rivers near Knoxville, to the Caney Fork River in Middle Tennessee. Smallmouth bass streams on the Plateau needed to be explored, and all of this was happening in between the majority of my guiding which is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Thankfully I can report that fishing has been good to excellent depending on the day. Hatches in the Smokies have been diverse with lots of bugs on the water at times. This has resulted in a happy guide and happy anglers!

One thing new that has happened recently is that I entered the world of Instagram. That is right. You can go find me on Instagram. My Trout Zone Anglers Instagram is simply @TroutZoneAnglers. Following me there and over at both Trout Zone Anglers and the Trout Zone on Facebook will keep you more in the loop as to what is going on.

The month of June is already booking up very quickly. I still have a few dates available including a Smoky Mountain trip on Thursday of this week and Monday of next week. If you want to fish with me this month or next, please book as soon as possible to guarantee your spot. This year it looks like business will be very busy and as much as I hate to turn people away, that is what I'll often have to do when contacted just a few days prior to a hoped for trip.

One other great way to stay in touch with what I'm doing is to check out the Trout Zone Anglers newsletter. That is a link to the newsletter from early May, but a new one will be coming out in the next few days. To make sure that you don't miss out, use the signup below.



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Friday, May 13, 2016

A Good Hatch

Smoky Mountain Rainbow Trout


Fly fishing is a science or an art form depending on who you talk to. Many, including myself, will even gladly label it as both. The true pinnacle of both the science and the art is found in match the hatch dry fly fishing. Most good fly anglers have a favorite hatch, especially those who are blessed to reside in a region with rich trout waters supporting a variety of quality hatches to fish.

Many anglers here in east Tennessee have a favorite hatch, but just as many don't want to hem themselves in. This is a product of our relatively infertile mountain streams where a truly memorable blanket hatch is rare although not impossible. Local anglers often gravitate towards generic patterns that resemble of variety of currently hatching bugs. Our hatches tend to be sparse but complex, with sometimes as many as 5 species of mayflies hatching, not to mention the caddis and stoneflies that the fish also love to eat.

I'll never forget the first time I got on a real hatch. Back in 2005 I was blessed to spend time fly fishing in Yellowstone for the first time. I arrived in early June for a week or two of exploring and fishing. My timing could not have been better. The Firehole was just about perfect while the Gibbon was still a tad high but readily fishable.

The first day I headed to the Firehole, I did not really know what to expect. The week or so prior to my trip had been spent tying Blue-winged Olive and Pale Morning Dun Sparkle Duns, two simply elegant flies that still find an honored place in my boxes. I wasn't sure if the hatch would come off, but all of the guide books recommended being prepared for these hatches and the Sparkle Duns were high on the list of accepted patterns for matching the hatches. The Firehole had rising trout in the first place I stopped, somewhere in the first 2-3 miles above the canyon stretch. I quickly tied on a PMD Sparkle Dun and began targeting risers. As it turned out, catching the fish proved relatively easy so long as I could make an accurate cast and prevent drag. That last item was not as easy.

I caught more quality brown trout than is probably fair for anyone to enjoy. At the time, I was thrilled to be catching 8-14 inch browns all day. For that matter, I would still take that kind of fishing now. That trip to Yellowstone quickly fell into an easy routine. Breakfast every morning would be attended by a family of ground squirrels who were hoping for some of the Honey Nut Cheerios I enjoyed. Then it was off for fishing, mostly on the Firehole or Gibbon, but I also explored some of the hike in lakes. Getting spoiled without knowing it, I eventually found it necessary to head for home. Although a piece of me would have preferred to stay in Yellowstone indefinitely, duty called, and I had to get a summer job to help pay for college in the fall.

Arriving back in Tennessee, I soon found myself missing the daily hatches and rising trout on the Firehole. It wasn't until several years later, perhaps four or five, that I enjoyed a great hatch on my home waters in the Smokies. That is not to say that I never experienced hatches or rising trout because I enjoyed both, but a heavy hatch is somewhat unusual around here.

Despite my appreciation for heavy blanket hatches of mayflies, I think I've come to prefer those that are sparse instead of those rare events where the water is covered in bugs. The fish seem to be much more willing to rise to most anything during these hatches we normally experience here in southern Appalachia. That is part of the charm. Each year, my favorite dry fly seems to vary a bit. Some years it will be a Yellow Stimulator in size #14 or #16. Other years it may be a Parachute Adams. This year, I've been on a yellow Parachute Adams kick.


Early on, of course, I stayed with the darker colors of a standard Parachute Adams, sometime switching out for a Spundun or even a tiny Blue-winged Olive Parachute for particularly picky trout. Yes, difficult fish do exist here, but they tend to be easier to figure out than the fish on streams like the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks where anglers have been known to reach madness or the next thing to it while trying to figure out a difficult trout.

Lately, with the transition to the lighter colored bugs of late spring and summer, I kept it a bit more simple than I sometimes do. Instead of elaborate bugs with perfect hair wings and shucks of Zelon, I've kept the Parachute Adams theme going but changed the body color to yellow. The fish approve heartily, but have also rose just as convincingly to a Parachute Sulfur and a Parachute Light Cahill. Like I said, the general idea is more important than the exact bug.

The best days for bugs happen to be the same days that most anglers prefer to not go fishing. Rain or high water keeps the streams open, and if you are adventurous like me, expect some great fishing. Last week, I enjoyed one evening after work where I stood in one spot and caught 8 or 10 fine trout before deciding that it was time to quit. Most were rainbows, but a few of the fish that got away flashed golden brown. One little brown couldn't quite throw the hook before I landed it, but otherwise all the fish were feisty rainbows from 8-11 inches in length. There were just enough natural bugs on the water to get the fish looking up, but not so many that they would miss my imitation as it bobbed downstream in the choppy current. That is a good hatch if you ask me.





Sunday, May 01, 2016

Guides' Day Off: April 2016 Smallmouth Edition

When two fly fishing guides with busy schedules plan an intentional guides' day off, you never know what is going to happen. When not taking clients fishing, we are just as likely to spend a whole day experimenting to just to try some new flies or tactics or maybe mess with some fish we don't target as often as the usual trout.

The day before our planned excursion, David Perry of Southeastern Fly and I were discussing where to fish and several options came up. None were on the current "hot" sections of our favorite rivers to guide for trout, but that was intentional. Sometimes these exploratory trips turn out well and sometimes they are a bust, at least as far as catching a lot of fish goes. The one thing that is always guaranteed when you fish with friends? A good time. It is not just about catching fish after all.

We finally settled on a game plan that involved smallmouth bass, always a good choice. Arriving at the river, David decided to back his boat way out in the middle of the river, mainly because the edges were simply too shallow for the boat to float. That would be a theme for the day. If the river had been another 100-200 cfs lower we might not have made it down. The fish didn't mind though.

To launch or not launch? How about taking a test drive (or is it a test cast?) before committing...


I caught several small redeye bass in quick succession despite David P. not catching any fish from the boat trailer, so it was determined to go ahead with our game plan and off we went. Floating along, we found a few redeye and briefly hooked up with a smallmouth or two, but it was obvious that a strategy change was in order. Thankfully, David P. brought the hot fly tied by smallmouth angler extraordinaire Gary Troutman (what a great fishing name right?).

After some discussion now how to fish said fly, David P. stepped into the casting brace and started working the magic fly. As a good guide, I was incredibly oblivious gazing at the scenery so I could point out interesting things to the guy in the front of the boat. Thankfully he was focused on the task at hand and when the fish hit he was ready. After a solid fight, the first nice smallmouth came to the net and we took a much deserved picture.


Insisting that David P. keep fishing for a while, I eventually lost my reluctance to leave the oars when a great hole with lots of structure came into view. I grabbed a heavy rod rigged for musky and started flailing the water. That produced a maybe follow. A maybe follow is when the angler thinks they see a fish but it could just as easily be the product of an overactive imagination. Despite my optimism, no other fish showed so it was back to smallmouth. In due time, I found my first nice smallie.

Thanks to David Perry for the photograph

We continued the day, taking turns fishing and getting a fish here and there. The pinnacle of the day came unexpectedly. Having caught the last nice fish, I was deservedly on the oars while David P. kept looking for another good fish.

We had already drifted down several exceptionally shallow shoals, but the boat was still in one piece. As we approached another obstacle, this one a huge tree laying across the river, David P. turned around and with a completely straight face told me to go left. I looked at him in disbelief. No way was I going to try to take the boat left but I did manage to blurt out a "I would like to see you row that."

Not one to back off from a challenge, he told me to switch spots. I got into the front of the boat while he grabbed the oars. On further examination, he told me I was right made the prudent decision to not try getting over the tree. Just as I started breathing normally again in relief, David P. told me to go ahead and fish since I was in the front of the boat. Not one to argue when the option to fish presents itself, I cast the hot fly into the run we were drifting past. The fly barely hit the water before getting slammed. After just finishing a long fishless stretch as the angler, the guy at the oars was a little shocked. I was glad to have snatched what should have been his fish but also felt a little guilty.

Thanks to David Perry for the photograph

After the pictures ,which he still graciously took for me, I tentatively offered, "You want me to row so you can fish again?" His answer was an unequivocal yes and brought no argument from me. That big smallmouth made the day for me, and I was content.

The rest of the float was anticlimactic. Despite our hopes, we only saw one or two more muskie and the smallmouth seemed mostly uninterested. The scenery was nice though as was the time with a good fishing buddy. We had set out to catch a few fish and have a good time and succeeded on both counts.

Floating for smallmouth is tough now with low water, but wade fishing for them is just picking up. If I can help you with a guided fly fishing trip on the Cumberland Plateau for smallmouth bass, please contact me via call or text at 931-261-1884 or email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.