Photo of the Month: Rhododendron Tunnel

Photo of the Month: Rhododendron Tunnel

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Side Job

Starting tomorrow, I'll be working 2 days a week at Little River Outfitters fly shop in Townsend for a few months.  My normal work days will be Thursday and Friday (until 5:00 p.m.).  Stop by and say hello if you are in the area!  The rest of the time, I'll still be guiding.

The mountains are fishing great right now with the cooler weather.  If you are looking to take a guided fly fishing trip this summer the next week or so might be the perfect time to get out.  Water levels are ideal as well as the temperatures.  I'm offering a couple of new short guide trip options for wading in the mountains.  Some people would rather fish with a guide so they can watch and learn.  Join me for a "Fish with a Guide" trip or check out the new "Evening Hatch" special.  Head over to Trout Zone Anglers and look at the Services page for more information.  Both of these new options are on a very limited basis so if you are interested in booking one, do so quickly before the available evenings are filled.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Gorge

When my cousin Nathan came up for several days of fly fishing, I knew we would have a great time.  The first day of smallmouth fishing was fun and the Caney Fork float produced that nice brown I'm always looking for.  Next up on our list was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hopefully a mid to high elevation stream that had good numbers of rainbow and brook trout.


Arriving in the afternoon at our campsite, we hurried to set up the tent and stash our sleeping pads and sleeping bags before hitting the water.  Not wanting to fish too long, we stayed close to camp, walking no more than a mile before we started fishing.  We each caught a few fish, and I took some pictures before heading out to go try out a new restaurant in Townsend for supper, the Monte Real Mexican Restaurant.  Turns out the food was good! We enjoyed it knowing that the menu was camp food for the next day and a half.

After a good night's sleep, we were up and ready to fish hard all day.  Our goal was to return to a gorge we had fished together a few years ago.  Sure enough, it was just as amazing as we remembered.  This particular stretch of water has both rainbows and brookies and is among the most rugged stretches of water in the Park.  Numerous times we reached places where continuing on meant boosting each other to climb over the huge boulders.  Not for the faint of heart nor for the weak, this stretch of water should never be tackled solo for obvious safety reasons, but the fishing is so worth it.

The rainbows here are thick and never vanish completely, but the higher you go the more brook trout you can find.  I caught a nice one early on, and on a dry fly at that!


Nathan has a soft spot for brookies and was doing his share to catch a bunch.  After catching one fish in particular and shooting a couple of quick pictures, he gently released it in the shallows at the stream's edge.  We watched it rest on the bottom for probably 30 seconds before it took off again.  Naturally I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to shoot a few pictures...


In between the brookies, the rainbows kept us more than busy.  While none were large, they were plentiful and eager to hit our flies.  Enough fish kept hitting the dry to keep us from going to straight nymphs but most were hitting the dropper.  In the low clear water we could often watch the fish materialize off of the bottom to come up and swirl on the little bead head trailing behind the dry fly.


The stream is beautiful which is part of the reason I keep coming back.  The fish are the other part of course.  Between those two things, the visiting angler most be extremely careful.  To spend too much time on one section means getting stranded in this long gorge overnight, not a fun idea.


Since there were two of us, I spent quite a bit of time with my camera.  This is something that is harder to do when you are the only one fishing.  I tend to get so focused on my fishing that I forgot to enjoy the sights around me, but when I'm sitting back to watch a friend fish, getting out the camera just makes sense.  In this case, it allowed me to get two back to back shots that I think turned out well.



The fish just kept coming to hand and the farther we went the better the fishing got.


Photo by Nathan Stanaway

Not too far from where we would climb out and hit the trail back, I had a very nice fish hit and somehow managed to keep it on the line.  My best fish of the day turned out to be a brookie, and I couldn't have been happier!

Photo by Nathan Stanaway

The hike out was all down hill so we made good time and were soon back at camp for a relaxing evening around the fire.  This trip will be one that I remember for a long time. It's always great to get out with my cousin Nathan!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Float for Me

Guide's day off trips don't happen as often as I would like.  Of course, helping others catch fish is always pretty awesome some I'm not complaining.  I guess you could say that I'm simply pointing out  that being the one handling the fly rod is nice on occasion.  Last week I had a short vacation.  My cousin Nathan came up to fish with me for a few days.  We started the week fishing for smallmouth, followed that up with a trout float on the Caney, and finished up with some awesome trout fishing over in the Smokies on a day that was all about sheer numbers.  In other words, I had an incredible week.

The smallmouth trip was a lot of fun, but neither of us hauled a camera along so there is no photo evidence.  I guess that means I can inflate the size of the fish we caught.  Really it was a standard smallmouth wade trip with some nice fish caught but nothing to write home about, the kind of comfortable every day fishing that scratches the itch but leaves you wanting a little more.

Day two started out much the same with the main difference being that we were floating in the drifter instead of wading.  The generation schedule on the Caney has been a little strange lately.  The Corps of Engineers can't seem to decide what schedule is the best so each float is determined the evening before after a consultation of the following day's generation schedule.  We figured that we could sleep in a little and still make it in plenty of time to catch falling water.


We dumped the boat and were into fish before I had really gone anywhere.  There's nothing like those willing hatchery fish waiting at the ramp to get the skunk off so everyone in the boat can relax and focus on the task at hand.  I was at the oars and Nathan was wearing out the fish.  By the time we got around the first corner, I had turned the boat sidewise in the soft current so we could both fish.  Rowing and fishing at the same time presents a minor challenge but nothing that cannot be overcome.  It wasn't too long before I had caught a couple as well and decided to just focus on rowing while Nathan fished.  He quickly got several nice brook trout as well as a few rainbows but the nice browns were eluding him.




Eventually he offered to take a turn rowing and I assured him that he could take over at a certain point.  I was hoping he would catch a nice fish first but eventually we got to a spot I was dying to fish, and I let him take over rowing duties.

Sure enough, two casts later (seriously, I had barely even got to the front of the boat) something big came up and inhaled the hopper I was trying out.  Fighting the fish on one hand and telling Nathan where to row on the other kept me busy but soon the fish was in the net and we could all relax.  Nathan took over camera duty while I enjoyed the nice brown trout.




Soon we took off again, and I continued to catch fish on the dropper under the hopper.  Nathan eventually figured out how to row and fish as well and started catching some nice fish including his brown for the slam.


Not too long after that we made it to the take out just as the rising water caught up with us.  I was glad that we had finished before the water came up too much.  Nathan was getting pretty tired by the end.  The river can get awfully hot without any shade and a hot summer sun beating down.  We were soon on our way back home to get ready for the Smokies adventure starting the next morning!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Smokies Tips and Strategies: Part 2

If you read my last Tips and Strategies article, then you remember that I focused on the issue of stealth but not from the usual perspective.  My emphasis was on becoming a better caster and I argued that the ability to cast further would generally help you catch more fish.  Additionally, I also mentioned the idea of line control as being essential to success.

For this article, I want to focus a little more on line control.  As mentioned in the previous article, stealth has several components.  Being sneaky includes things like wearing colors that blend in (I wear camo most of the time), hiding behind rocks, sneaking up on trout from directly downstream, and in general doing your best to not be seen.  Of course, casting further means that you are able to deliver the flies to the fish before it sees you, but on many of our small streams, there are enough currents that casting further can just as easily become a nightmare.  That brings us to line control.

Line control is partly a casting issue but also even more important once the line lands on the water.  Let's address a couple of different situations.  First, scenarios where you have been able to sneak up on the fish and are fishing in close, and then later I'll discuss those times that you are able to cast further to avoid spooking the trout.

Sneaking up on fish is always an ideal scenario.  If you can get close without spooking the trout, do it before trying to cast further.  However, many anglers get close but then fail to seal the deal because of poor line control.  For example, let's say you made a 15 foot cast up and across stream.  As soon as your dry fly hits, you get about one second of good drift but then are affected by drag and the fly goes skittering downstream or worse yet it gets pulled under as it motorboats its way across the water.

Solution? Lift that rod tip.  Our standard style of Smokies fishing is called "high sticking" for a good reason.  Many people wonder why that fly rod needs to be held so high in the air.  It is to keep all the excess line off of the water.  I understand that your arm will get tired.  Allow that arm to drop just a little and you'll probably quit catching trout.  In addition to keeping that rod arm up high, a lot of anglers also forget to strip in excess line as the fly drifts downstream.  Remember to do everything in your power to keep as much line off the water as possible.  In fact, when I'm fishing in close with the "high stick" style, I'll often have maybe an inch or two of tippet in the water before the fly.  That's it.  Anymore and the conflicting currents will adversely affect your drift.

Finally, when high sticking, keep the rod tip downstream of the fly/indicator.  This last one is crucial. In this method, you are almost leading the flies downstream, yet without actually moving them any faster than the water.  Your rod tip should track the flies downstream.  If you don't keep that rod moving with the water you will end up with drag, even if it is almost unnoticeable.  Remember, when you set your hook, always sweep downstream and low to the water with the rod tip.  That will keep you from ending up tangled in the overhanging trees.  If your rod is already tracking downstream, this setting motion is easy because it is just a sped up extension of what you are already doing.

Now, what if you are casting a bit further?  Obviously you can't hold 30 feet of fly line up off the water to avoid drag.  Line control again becomes a function of both casting as well as what to do once it hits the water.  In your cast, consider learning some specialty casts like the reach cast (helps to lay out line up or downstream as necessary to extend your drifts) and the tuck cast (helps your flies hit the water before the line) to buy some drift time.

Once the flies are on/in the water, your ability to mend line is what will keep you catching fish.  In the Smokies, fish will often hit just as soon as the flies hit the water, but on the larger pools and runs, a long drift can sometimes get you onto fish that you would otherwise miss.  Mending line is as much a part of line control as anything.  If you are unfamiliar with mending, I highly suggest checking out some of the good online videos on the subject.  The concept is pretty basic and once you see it I think it will make a lot of sense.  Remember that mending does not always happen upstream.  Use mending as a tool to keep your flies drifting naturally and thus you may end up mending up or downstream depending on the current you are trying to deal with.

Finally, get creative.  For example, when you have the ability to cast a bit further, don't be afraid to lay some of your line on the rocks.  That helps keep it off of the water where drag may be introduced to your flies.  When you can't see around a rock to watch your fly, look at your leader or fly line for an indication that a fish has taken your fly.  There have been many times I have tossed a dry fly behind a rock and then watched for the telltale twitch in my leader.  Sure enough, most of the time there is a nice trout on the other end.

Next up on Tips and Strategies, I'll address some fly selection issues.  Until then, get out on the water and work on line control.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Native Brook Trout

Several days of adventure are behind me after my cousin came up to visit and do some fishing.  We waded Cumberland Plateau streams for smallmouth (forgot our cameras), floated the Caney (remembered cameras and nailed a nice brown on a hopper), and then camped for a couple of nights in the Smokies.  While in the Park, we caught a ridiculous number of trout but no monsters.  The highlight of the camping trip was fishing a steep stream full of rainbows and brook trout.  Here's a sample...


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Not Every Day

"Can you handle a really rough stream? Like climbing over boulders and scrambling over logs?"  When the potential client answered in the affirmative, I decided to take a chance.  As a guide, safety always comes first.  Oh, sure, when I'm out fishing on my own I've been known to occasionally cut corners in the safety department.  I've taken some really hard falls also.  Getting into those tough to access streams is sometimes worth it although not always.

For this particular guide trip I decided to try a stream that is tough to access but not terribly difficult to navigate once you are in the stream bed.  Just hope it doesn't storm upstream.  Getting out includes a bushwhack and mountain climbing if you try in the wrong spot, maybe even if you try in the right spot.

The other detail for this particular trip is that my client would be a first time fly fisherman.  As with all guide trips, I never know for sure what to expect but with beginners that big question mark looms a little larger.  Some people take to the sport like a fish takes to water and others are more like Frog's Fanny meeting up with water.  Of course, the majority end up being somewhere between these two extremes.  Only the rarest of individuals can pick up a fly rod and start casting the rod with one hand, tending the line with the other, throwing mends in the line when necessary, setting the hook as quickly as required, and in general doing all of the little things that add up to fish caught.


When we arrived stream side, accessing the water was our first challenge.  After a long walk we got to the spot where we would jump in and start fishing upstream.  I gave a quick explanation of the mechanics of fly casting, and gave Stephen the fly rod.  Within about ten casts, with only a couple of suggestions, he was casting.  I showed him about holding the line with his other hand and he immediately started casting like he had done it his whole life.

Moving up the stream he started catching fish here and there, sometimes several per pool.  The first fish of the day was a gorgeous brook trout.


Later, another pool was good for a Smoky Mountain double.  Seriously, I've fished the Park a lot and had this happen only a couple of times.  This guy was on fire.


Eventually the day was over, but not before Stephen impressed me with how quickly he took to the sport.  There are very few beginners out there who can legitimately say they caught 25 or 30 trout on their first day of fly fishing.


The scenery was great as well.  The Rhododendron is past its peak at low elevations but good in the mid to high elevations right now.


It was a pleasure having Stephen out on the water for a day of fly fishing.  I wish him the best as he continues in this new hobby.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Learning the Smokies

This summer, I have been blessed to share the Smokies with many anglers from all over the country.  That's one cool thing about being a guide: you get to meet a lot of interesting people.  Some of the best trips are where I get to take young people fishing.  I recently had the chance to guide a father/son duo who live just down the road from me.  They were wanting to learn some skills that will consistently get them into fish in the Smokies.

Originally planned as an overnight backcountry trip, the threat of rain encouraged us to rethink the trip.  Ultimately Kent decided that he and his son Blake would enjoy things more if they stayed somewhere with real beds and some A.C.  instead of dodging the rain and thundershowers up in the mountains.  On our first day of fishing, things went well as we covered Smoky Mountain fishing techniques and caught some fish along the way.  The second day was great however.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to take them to a high gradient stream where I have always had great success.  Having seen them work around a stream the day before, I knew that they could handle the hard work required to maneuver through a stream like this.  Also, Blake wanted to catch a native brook trout and the stream I chose offered us a chance at brookies.

After picking them up at Little River Outfitters, we headed up the mountain.  Let's just say we took care of the brook trout pretty quickly!  In one of the first little pools, I showed Blake how to sneak up on the pool by using a rock to hide behind.  On his first cast, a brookie came out and slammed the fly.  Mission accomplished!



Continuing up the stream, we eventually transitioned to fishing subsurface patterns.  That has been a theme this summer.  You can catch fish on dries, and even catch some really nice ones, but overall the dry fly fishing this year has been less than stellar.  If you must fish the dry, then try dropping a bead head nymph 18-24 inches behind the dry.

Near the end of our trip, I mentioned to Kent that if he really wanted to master fishing in the Smokies, he would need to learn to nymph without an indicator in the old "high stick" style.  Quite similar to Czech nymphing, high stickin' developed separately here in the Southern Appalachians and originally was executed with a long cane pole.  The old timers could effectively cover even large pools with this method.  The beauty of fishing without an indicator is that you can vary the depth of each drift depending on the depth of the water you are fishing.  Of course, it does have limitations, most obvious of which is that it works very effectively at close range, but once you have to make longer casts it begins to become more difficult to manage all that fly line.

Anyway, as soon as I mentioned it to Kent, he was all ready to try it out.  Even though I normally reserve teaching this technique to anglers who have a little more experience in fishing the Smokies, I could tell that Kent had all of the skills necessary to make it work.  In the very first pool he tried, Kent had several strikes before catching a fish.  Once he got the hang of it, he was ready to start putting up some serious numbers.


At the end of the trip, we decided to do one last picture with Blake's last trout.  These father/son trips are going to provide great memories for many years to come!


It was a pleasure spending a day and a half with these two guys.  They were very quick learners and are well on their way to becoming great Smoky Mountain anglers.  Thanks for a good trip guys!

If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Smoky Mountains, please email me at TroutZoneAnglers@Gmail.com or text/call (931) 261-1884.  You can also visit my guide site at TroutZoneAnglers.com.  

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy 4th of July!!!

Happy 4th of July to everyone out there! I'm thankful to live in a great country where we can celebrate freedom.  Stay safe out there with the fireworks!