Photo of the Month: Birthday Fish

Photo of the Month: Birthday Fish

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Time Musky

One of my favorite things in fly fishing is seeing someone catch a fish for the first time.  Kids who are picking up the long rod for the first time and even seasoned anglers catching a new species all enjoy the experience so much that just being around is fun.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending the day on the water with my buddy Dan from Little River Outfitters.  He has been dying to catch a musky, and I had some time free and an idea of where we might catch one.

We met up and hit the water early enough that it was still pretty chilly out.  The adventure almost got off to a bad start when I nearly didn't get off the ramp with my car/trailer (minus the boat of course).  Recent wet weather had really messed up the top of the short ramp with a deep ditch cut by runoff.  Thankfully, after more suspense than I really care to have, the car eased on up, and I was able to start breathing again.  Soon we were drifting and Dan was throwing big flies looking for the toothy critters.

The early part of the float was pretty slow.  I suspected that we would start seeing fish after the first couple of miles.  Slowly floating down, we enjoyed the nice day and the warmth of the sun that was not just making it more comfortable for us but hopefully was also warming the water to turn on the musky.  We both started wanting a snack at about the same time so I pulled the boat over and we got out to stretch our legs on firm ground for a little while.  I also got busy with the camera.



As soon as we started floating again, Dan had 3 strikes in a row off of the same bank.  We never did get a good look at the fish but were glad to see the action picking up.  Continuing down, we got close to the section I wanted to really hit hard and I decided to take one more turn in the casting brace before getting Dan on the prime water below.

Just a few feet further down the river, I had cast up into a big back eddy and was retrieving the fly when a familiar shadow appeared behind the fly.  I started speeding up the retrieve and the fish charged on, unmindful of the boat.  Going into my figure 8 motion, the fish shot past, only to come charging back.  Unfortunately I made a little more commotion than I should have with the fly rod in the water and the fish bolted at the last second.  My buddy Dan was going crazy at this point. "Did you see how big that fish was?!?!? he asked.  His eyes got even bigger when I told him that it was a small to average fish, probably around 3 feet long.

I kept casting a little bit longer but as we closed in on the prime water, I insisted that Dan get back in the front of the boat and it didn't take much urging on my part.  He was ready now after seeing that fish chase.  The wind was starting to pick up and the clouds were lowering as rain moved closer.  It was now or never.

Dan was working a large pool, casting to logs and other structure.  Finally he turned and started working the far bank when I heard "There he is!"  Almost immediately the line came tight and the battle was joined.  I started rowing after the fish and it was a strong one.  Dan had the 8 weight bent over more than I believed was possible and the fish would not give up.  Several runs later and some lucky oar work thrown in for good measure, we had the fish in the net.  Dan was pumped, and I have to admit I was as well. These fish never get old!



We pulled over for the obligatory photos.  Soon the fish swam off, still incredibly strong considering the battle we had just enjoyed.  Minutes later, the rain arrived and we did not see another fish the rest of the way.  Still, getting a musky in the boat rates as a great day and we both had more than enough energy for the ride home.  I'm sure we'll be hitting it again sometime soon and I'm positive we have a new convert to musky fishing.  These fish have a way of getting in your blood.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Musky Time

Around here in Tennessee, some of us fly flingers have taken to fishing for musky on occasion in the colder months.  When the weather is warm, it is hard to pry ourselves away from the trout and smallmouth fishing.  However, as soon as it gets cold enough to have the freestone trout lethargic, we gravitate towards either chasing trout in tailwaters or trying some new stuff.  Well, it is about time to start trying some of that new stuff for this year.

I've tied a few monstrosities that I hope will look delicious to a musky.  There are a lot of patterns out there that people have invented just for these critters, some of which are so giant that I think my arm would fall off if I had to toss it all day.  Still, when you see a huge shadow materialize behind the fly, it is hard to not think that you need some larger flies.

Normally I throw stuff that would be small to medium sized compared to what a lot of musky guys are throwing.  My most recent ties are a little larger than some stuff I normally tie but still nowhere close to being as large as what a lot of people like to throw.  I'm just hoping to see some fish.  Catching them will be a bonus on this first trip of the year but before winter is too far gone, I hope to find some monsters!


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Be Prepared

One of the most important lessons any fisherman can learn is to always be prepared.  As a fly fisherman, it is easy to take this to the extreme.  This is why we have boxes and boxes of flies that we rarely if ever fish, instead opting for the same old Parachute Adams or Yellow Stimulator.  Of course, when you are always prepared, you can effectively fish any hatch that comes your way.

I've had to learn this lesson the hard way more and more than once I might add.  On a recent float with David Perry, I showed up prepared to toss streamers the whole way.  On the spur of the moment I tossed a 5 weight in the boat just in case.  Of course, when we found fish rising to midges I remembered that my midge box was back in the car.  Oops.  One good thing did come of this trip.  At some point we rigged that 5 weight up with a bead head nymph and one of those pinch on indicators. Then, at the end of the day, I just kept the whole thing rigged and ready.

Well, I fished that rig a few times over the last week or so.  I caught some panfish at Cumberland Mountain State Park, and a nice big delayed harvest rainbow on the Tellico.  All of this was done in between the episodes of high water.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I'm heading down to Chattanooga for a few hours and as I'm driving along, I remembered reading something about a delayed harvest stream right along my route! Can things get any better?  Well, yes and that is where being prepared comes in.  I had that rod still rigged and ready to go.  It didn't take me too long to figure out that I should probably just stop and do a quick investigation.



Fifteen minutes later, I had landed 3-4 rainbow trout and was back on the road after one of the better detours I've ever taken while out driving.  Never even got my feet wet either.  That rod is still in my car.  In fact, I'm contemplating a trip over to Cumberland Mountain State Park again this afternoon and if I make it over there, it is always better to be prepared.  Of course, I might end up just taking the camera for a walk which is great as well, but if I see trout rising, I guarantee I'll be ready.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Trending Colder

Today is cold, windy, and a bit damp.  Sounds like perfect weather for staying home, tying some flies and maybe having a hot beverage to help keep warm.  I'll be tying some musky flies for a trip I'm hoping to do within the next week.  Stay tuned for more on that!

As I peruse the area stream flow gauges, I see that Little River is down into the low 40s for water temperature.  The flows are actually very good, but with the trend towards colder weather I'm willing to bet that the fish are a little off today.  Earlier I received a report that Newfound Gap Road is temporarily closed due to snow and ice so don't think about driving over the ridge today.  The colder weather should hold on for a few days but by next weekend we should see decent conditions for fishing again.

Area tailwaters are running high across the region so check the generation schedule before heading out to fish.  A good alternative to the wild trout streams are the delayed harvest streams.  Even when it gets cold these streams fish reasonably well.  That is because the larger stocked trout still have to at least maintain their body weight.

Last Thursday I did some exploring around the Tellico area and found a good number of rainbows.  I caught several 10-14 inch fish on Wooly Buggers and Pheasant Tail nymphs and one that was a bit nicer.  The colors on this fish were simply incredible!  Don't be afraid to impart some action to the small streamers but the nymphs should be fished dead drift under an indicator (this can work for the wooly buggers as well).




Monday, December 08, 2014

The Slam or Cataloochee: Part 3

Each fishing trip has its own beauty and memories.  Some trips are rooted in the familiarity of a favorite stretch of stream while other trips are memorable as the first trip to a stream or section of water.  This year I have been making an effort to break out of my normal fishing routines, and I admit it can be hard.  The great thing about water you fish regularly is that you know what to do without thinking too hard.  On new water, it is possible to overthink the situation even though you know deep down that you should approach it the same as all of the other area freestone streams.

During my camping trip to Cataloochee, after a restful night that wasn't as scary as it could have been, I was determined to fish some new water.  That's relatively easy for me to do in Cataloochee since I have not fished there as much as some drainages closer to home.  The methods would be pretty similar though so I still had that comfortable familiarity with just enough newness to keep things interesting.

The stream I chose to fish was like a lot of the North Carolina side streams.  There was a distinct lack of large pools. Instead, a distinct emphasis on flat glides of pocket water that can be a little tricky to find fish in were the norm.  Early on a cracked the code of where to find fish.  That's important as it allows the fisherman to focus only on prime water while discounting large sections of stream.  In the spring, summer, fall, and winter, fish will move to different areas to hold, rest, and eat depending on factors such as streamflow, time of day, hatches, water temperature and the list could go on and on.  On this trip, the fish were in the middle to rear of the pockets and small runs but were holding tight to structure which could be as simple as a small rock.


A dry/dropper rig seemed appropriate for this type of water.  An October Caddis dry worked great on top with a little bead head nymph I'm working on picked up it's share of fish.  I was fishing a 9' 5 weight Helios rod with a leader around 8 feet long.

Not long into my excursion, I caught a brook trout and then another.  According to the Park's distribution maps they weren't supposed to be this low.  That's one thing I love about Cataloochee: you can find brookies throughout the whole valley.


Moving on up the stream, I began catching enough rainbows to keep things interesting.  The fishing was neither as good as I had hoped nor bad enough to cause me to bail on this stream and find another spot to fish.  That's probably actually a good thing.  Those rare days were everything works and every fish eats can spoil a fly fisher if they come along too often.  Instead, days that hint at the possibility of fantastic fishing are what keeps bringing me back for seconds and thirds.  Returning to recreate those magical perfect days rarely yields as good a time as one remembers, and this applies in most areas of life.  When you do find a stream that is a little bit of a tease, you can go back and have a good time regardless. If it doesn't perform like an all-star, you can just accept that it fished about as you remembered.  On the other hand, if it fishes better than anything you have sampled in a while, you can be satisfied that your intuition paid off.




Eventually, I found a few more brook trout and even one small brown trout followed quickly by a tiny young of the year brown.  None of the larger browns were around and interested in playing on this particular day, yet another reason to return I might add.


As the sun slowly shifted past noon, I started thinking about hiking out.  By 3 it was time to go.  My cousin and his wife were supposed to be joining me, and I wanted to get back before they arrived in camp.  The hike out proved that I had covered around a mile of stream in approximately 6 hours.  Next time I'll hike farther before I start, but at least I can now say I've fished that particular stream.


Want Christmas a Little Early?

If you are looking to score on some great gear a little early this year, check out the annual 12 Days of Christmas over at The Fiberglass Manifesto blog.  Today it is starting off with Christmas Stockings and I guarantee that there will be a ton of great stuff coming up over the next several days.  All it takes to participate is an email so head over now and check out how to get your daily entries in!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Water, Water and More Water


The last few months have been an excruciating roller coaster of hope that repeatedly ends up dashed in rain swollen creeks and rivers.  My local tailwater has seen high water forever.  Granted, the fishing has still been okay, but for those of us who enjoy wading at least as much as floating, the situation has now become dire.  This weekend featured the first low water in a long time, and of course I was too busy to make it down.  Oh, and it also rained this weekend.

Yes, the rain is the culprit.  Knowing how some of my friends out in California have been parched for years, it seems just a little selfish to complain about rain.  Seriously though, every time the river gets to the point that we can have some low water, it rains again.  Every. Single. Time.  So, I'll continue to enjoy my fresh air in other ways.

This weekend, a quick outing to a nearby creek helped me to at least get out of the house.  I'm not sure if it was that good for me.  Seeing all that water flowing downhill towards the upper Caney Fork drainage confirmed what I had been afraid of: now we'll be lucky to be able to wade by Christmas.




So, I'm back to hoping that it doesn't rain for a couple of weeks and thinking about other places to fish.  Up in the Smokies, the brown trout have finished their spawn so they should be feeding well over the next few weeks.  I've got musky on the brain as well and may have to get out there and chase them within the next week or two.  Fishing must go on, even if it isn't where I had hoped...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Local Trout Update

Yesterday, I took a brief scouting trip.  The goal was to see if TWRA had stocked any trout at Cumberland Mountain State Park.  Each year, the small lake is one of many winter stocking sites to provide a seasonal trout fishery.  With the tentative stocking date already past, I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least take a walk with my fly rod.

The trip didn't last long.  Either the trout were not stocked or they did not know how to behave like trout.  I didn't spot the first rise.  Normally those fresh stockers will rise well most of the winter so it looks like the fish may be delayed this year if we are lucky.

Where does luck come in?  Well, in the process of exploring the lake, I heard what sounded like an awful lot of water below the dam.  Upon closer investigation, I discovered that the drain seems to be open.  Now, I'm not sure why, but it seems like every year or two the lake is drained for some reason or another.  If that is what is happening right now, we may not even get the winter stocking at all.  So, there goes all the luck out the window....maybe.


At least there are still a few bluegill around and willing to play.  I managed a few like this one and one small bass that flopped off before I could manage a picture.


Also discouraging was the widespread algae coating the lake bottom.  Runoff from the golf course has been altering the lake for years now to the point that I'm wondering how it is affecting the fish population.  This lake used to put out some slab sized panfish and nice bass up to 8 or so pounds.  The last few years, I just can't find any fish over 2 or 3 pounds and even those seem to be few and far between.

Currently I'm looking into the possibility that the Park is illegally polluting their own lake with fertilizer rich runoff from the golf course. As of right now I'm not sure about all the regulations on such things, but the situation is getting bad enough that something needs to be done so I guess I'll be doing some legwork over the next few days.  More on that later if anything comes of it...