Photo of the Month: Summer Brown Trout

Photo of the Month: Summer Brown Trout

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!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What A Fish!

One of the toughest parts of guiding is probably similar to raising a kid, but I can only speak from experience on one of those.  I'm talking about watching someone else doing something and you just wish you could step in and help them do everything correctly.  If you're a parent, maybe you can let me know if that's about how it goes or not.  As I guide, I definitely know the feeling.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of guiding Shane for a day in the Smokies.  Having lived in Tennessee for a few years, but never making it over to fish the Smokies, it was high time he learned a little about the Park streams and how to catch the beautiful wild trout there.  With a cool start to the morning, I decided that fishing on Little River would be a good way to start the day and we stopped in a likely area.  After chatting a bit while rigging up and getting on our wading gear, we finally approached the stream.

Looking just downstream, I noticed a spot that I've long suspected had a nice fish.  After getting confirmation from Shane that he was willing to start his day with a challenge, I explained the approach, the cast, and the drift.  He nodded and started to work into position.  After a few drifts in which I felt we weren't getting deep enough, I added another split shot and he resumed casting.  A few casts later the indicator dove convincingly.  When he set the hook, a beautiful brown trout came all the way out of the water in a leap for its life.

Immediately I got nervous.  Fish like that don't come around every day, and certainly not in the Smokies.  Thankfully, I hadn't told Shane that his bottom fly was on with 6x tippet so he wasn't nearly as nervous as I was.  In fact, he was probably one of the calmest anglers I've seen with a nice fish on the other end of the line.  

While I was nervous and really concerned about losing that fish, Shane did everything he needed to perfectly, working downstream with the fish until he was able to lift its head so I could slide the net under it.  I had spent all that time worried, and in the end I didn't need to.  Shane did a great job fighting such a nice brown trout and clearly didn't need any help at all.  There are few people who can say their first Smoky Mountain trout was such a pretty fish.  Congrats to Shane on a job well done and a beautiful Smoky Mountain brown trout!




If you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains, please contact me via email at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fall Has Arrived

Okay, now that I have your attention, I'll go ahead and clear things up right now because fall isn't here of course.  That said, you wouldn't know it based on the beautiful leaves I found on a mid-stream rock on Thursday.  Guiding a father/son team, I noticed the leaves and stopped for a quick picture.  Thoughts of beautiful fall days with hungry trout were soon dancing in my head.  Drifting down the Caney catching those fired up browns on streamers, or maybe fishing the big caddis over in the Smokies to try and get a rise out of some of the best fish of the year, whatever your preference fall has something for everyone.  I know it seems premature to think about, but it will be here before we know it and I can't wait!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer Smokies Tips and Strategies: Part 1

Spending a lot of time on the water with clients as I did this previous week will get you thinking about how to help someone catch more fish under conditions that, while not optimal, are not yet truly terrible.  Anyone who remembers the drought years of 2007 and 2008 can remember the Smokies streams being a trickle.  Little River got down around 25 cfs at the Park boundary.  Compared to a normal spring time flow of around 300-450 cfs and a normal summer flow of perhaps 100-150 cfs, 25 is a really small number.  This year we are seeing water conditions that are less than the long term average but thankfully not dangerously low...yet.

So, what's a fisherman to do when the conditions get tough out there?  Answering this very question for several clients this past week got me to thinking about all the little things that a veteran Smokies angler does without even thinking, but without doing them the average angler will catch only a few trout.  That's too bad because this time of year can be as good as any if you focus on a few things that you should be doing differently as compared to earlier in the year.  Having already addressed this topic for the Little River Journal a few years ago, I suggest you read my thoughts here and here.  I'm going to revisit some of these items as well as address some new ones.

For this particular post, I'm only going to focus on one issue: stealth.  Now, I'm going to guess that if you have read this far, you are probably nodding your head in agreement.  However, I'm going to approach the question of stealth from a different angle than usual.  You see, being stealthy often means sneaking around on the trout stream, making sure the fish don't see you, keeping a rock between you and that next fishing hole, always approaching the fish from behind, and I could go on and on.  All of those things are great, and I've written a lot in the past on the importance of each of those.  Here's the shocker: the difference between a good fisherman and a great fisherman is not in any those things.  Oh sure, a great fisherman will do all of those things, probably without even thinking about it, but they are very easy to learn and even a beginner can pick it up very quickly.  Will doing those things increase your catch rates?  Of course.  However, hear me out on this one.

Let's say that you are pretty much a beginner and would consider an outing in which you caught 5 trout to be a great trip.  By adding in the above mentioned items whose sum is basically being stealthy, that beginner might move up to catching 10-20 trout.  If you're a beginner you are probably salivating at that.  As soon as I tell you that the great fishermen are likely catching 50-60 fish or more (100 fish days anyone?), 10-20 fish is no longer good enough.  What else can you do to catch all those extra trout?  Right flies, right place, right presentation.

Sounds simple enough, but consider that the last two both hinge on your ability as a fly caster and your line control once the flies have been cast.  Presentation and getting your flies in the right place involve many things, but if you do not have exceptional line control and great casting ability, having the right flies is nearly useless.  Improving as an angler means you have to become a competent caster and have impeccable line control once you have made your presentation.  These things do not come easily.  They are born of many hours of practice, both at home on the lawn or casting pond and on the streams.

To excel at mountain fishing, it is rare that you will ever need to cast a long distance, but the ability to cast a long distance will make you better at line control and overall presentation.  In fact, while most anglers are sneaking as close to a run, pool, or other section of stream as possible, I'm fishing the same water from 10-25 feet back, allowing my longer casting distance to keep me far enough from the trout so they don't spook.  Here's the best part: becoming better at line control and better as a caster will only happen through a lot of practice, so clearly you need to get out and fish more if these are areas in which you need to improve!  There it is, the perfect excuse for more time on the water.  Guess what? I have to fish more, because I realized I need to become a better caster...  I can hear the conversations now.

Once you decide to make the jump to fishing big water like tailwaters or large freestone streams out west, that ability to cast and have great line control will shine.  On rivers like the Caney Fork where I guide, most anglers miss opportunities for large trout on dry flies because they cannot make the required cast.  If you don't mind only catching smaller fish then don't worry about it.  That will leave more nice fish out there for me to target...