Photo of the Month: Rhododendron Tunnel

Photo of the Month: Rhododendron Tunnel

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trout Zone Photoblog

I am now working on offering hi-res versions of photographs for sale through a new blog.  The Trout Zone Photoblog will be highlighting what I consider my best photographs and offering them through a website called Fotomoto.  This site allows me to place a toolbar directly into my blog for people to order prints and digital downloads.  I will be including the toolbar here at the Trout Zone as well, just not emphasizing the photographs.  In the meantime, please check out the new Photoblog, and let me know what you think!

Tennessee Hiking: Burgess Falls

There is something mesmerizing about water in free fall.  Within an hour of home, I can be hiking to any number of waterfalls, some well known, others obscure and difficult to find.  In fact, there are several smaller ones (up to 30 feet high or so) within walking distance of my house.  When I want to get out in nature and just hike, I'll often make a waterfall my destination. 

About a month ago, we took some of the kids from where I'm teaching down to Burgess Falls State Park to take in the scenery and do a little hiking.  Everyone was enthusiastic to see what was new to most of them.  For me, I just wanted to do some photography since I had not photographed this particular falls before.  The following is a small sample of the falls we saw on our hike. 






Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elk, Baetis, and Big Trout

"Deep Creek" - - David Knapp Photograph

My yearly fall pilgrimage to the mountains was last weekend, and as always, it was very memorable.  The fall BWOs were pouring off late each afternoon in tremendous numbers on Deep Creek, and the October Caddis were getting the fish to look up anytime they made an appearance.  The elk in Cataloochee were mostly done with the rut, but a few bulls were still hanging out with their harems.

Several friends made the trip and my cousin and his wife came up for the weekend.  Camping is a lot more fun with a good group, although since I was the only fly fisherman my time on the stream suffered a bit.  It wasn't entirely a bad trade off though.  Sometimes the relaxation of camping is more needed than tons of time on the water.  After the first 8 weeks of school, I was more than ready for a break.  The opportunity to just sit around the campfire and stare into the coals was just as relaxing as spending lots of time chasing trout.  As much as I love the fishing, its not always just about catching trout.

David Knapp Photograph

Upon arriving at the Deep Creek Campground, we set up camp quickly and then headed up the trail to see Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.  Naturally, I rigged up a four weight with a pair of nymphs and took it along just in case.  For the dedicated fly fisherman, just in case always happens.  After we saw the two falls, I found myself flinging flies into a nice pool hoping for something, anything.  It had been too long since I was on the water and just about anything would make me happy.  First strike, a warpaint shiner...okay, maybe not anything...maybe just any trout.  The next strike was a lot more solid, and I was soon admiring one of Deep Creek's beautiful rainbow trout.  I always head over to Deep Creek to chase the browns, but there is an excellent population of rainbow trout that are always brilliantly marked.

Caitlin Cress Photograph
That night, we gathered branches and limbs from around the campground to make a big fire.  Supper was hobo stew so the fire had to be the perfect temperature...too hot and your food is burned, too small and it never cooks all the way.  We boiled water for hot chocolate as the evening was growing chilly.  The warmth of the fire kept us all close until we finally bolted for our tents and warm sleeping bags.  The next morning was cold so most of us slept in until the sun cleared the ridge.  Once up, we made pancakes for breakfast and then started preparing for our day.  Some of the group had to leave for the weekend while my cousin Nathan and his wife still had to arrive.  After making a phone call, we decided to wait for them to arrive and then head over to Cataloochee for the afternoon. 

As soon as they rolled into camp and got set up, we headed out and cruised through Bryson City, then Cherokee, and finally Maggie Valley before turning north towards I-40.  Just before the interstate, we found the small road that leads up and over the looming ridge and into the paradise that is Cataloochee.  Previously an out of the way little visited corner of the park, Cataloochee has become a major tourist destination within the Park because of the reintroduction of elk.

David Knapp Photograph 

Most people wouldn't bother making the drive without such motivation.  If you intend to drive to that area, just be aware that while it might only take you twenty minutes to drive the winding mountain roads between the valley and the interstate, the hordes of tourists can slow your trip down to a crawl.  We got into one such painfully slow caravan, but by and by, the valley opened up below us in a beautiful panorama of fall colors. 

Not long after reaching the valley floor, we came upon two large bull elk that always seem to hang out in the same area.  We stopped for pictures before moving on up the valley.  Driving slowly, we stopped at several places to enjoy the views, the colors, and the camaraderie.

David Knapp Photograph 

 David Knapp Photograph

As the sun moved lower in the sky, we started to remember that we were hungry.  While driving through Maggie Valley we had noticed a small Italian restaurant called Garlic Knots.  Everyone thought it sounded like the perfect end to a good day in the mountains so we headed back out for a great dinner.  I had the daily special, a garlic and spinach ravioli that came with salad and bread sticks.  Next time I'll probably try one of the house specialty brick oven pizzas.  There were so many items that sounded good, but one can only eat so much at a time. 

After supper, we headed back towards Bryson City for an evening of hanging out around the campfire.  In camp, the hot chocolate and smores came out again.  Friday evening was even colder than Thursday evening was so we were really glad for a warm fire.  The night sky was tremendous because the cold front a few days previously had ushered in much drier and cooler air.  The low humidity made the sky seem so much clearer. 

The next day, we headed over to the Road to Nowhere.  Previously I had never made the time to go that way so it was interesting to drive to the end and walk through the tunnel.  We also stopped to fish Noland Creek.  I always enjoy adding new streams to my list of "fished" streams so this was a great experience.  Over the next few months, I hope to add more of the North Carolina streams to my list of places fished.  I still need to fish Forney, Hazel and Eagle Creeks.  Next spring some backpacking might be in order. 

One highlight of the trip was fishing down at the mouth of a stream as it entered the lake below.  I spotted several fish rising so tried a dry/dropper rig.  This was not working well in the low clear water so I decided to go to the opposite extreme with a Clouser.  The first cast didn't produce but the next one brought a hard charging shape from the depths.  I watched as the trout behind moved quickly to close the gap.  In one fluid movement, it closed on the fly and inhaled it.  Streamer fishing can be as visual as dry fly fishing and perhaps even more so, and this case was no exception.  I battled a nice rainbow in for a quick picture before heading back up the stream to try for some of the resident fish.

Nathan Stanaway Photograph

That evening, I fished Deep Creek again.  The BWOs were out in force again.  In every pool and slick, I found plenty of rising trout.  One particularly perfect cast finally yielded a mighty brown that came up from the depths of a glassy pool to sip my tiny parachute pattern.  After an intense battle, I wrestled the nice fish into the shallows and subdued it long enough for a picture.  I returned it to the stream and hope that it will grow into an even more impressive fish in the years to come.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The final day of a camping trip is always bittersweet.  I never really want to leave the mountains so I enjoy my time to the fullest while it lasts.  The last day was mostly dedicated to fishing.  I tried a couple of favorite streams (still on the NC side) and had memorable moments on each.  The first stream is one I don't really fish often enough but always enjoy when I do.  I was specifically looking for big browns but doing a little "regular" fishing while I was at it.

After a few hours on this stream, I started to think ahead and decided it would be best to head in the general direction of home.  On the way, I was driving along when, like a bolt of lightning, I felt an irresistible urge to pull over and look for big fish in a spot that I normally wouldn't have stopped at.  Creeping through the trees to a high bank overlooking the stream, I cautiously looked slowly up and downstream.  Just as I was about to turn away and head on down the road, a dark form materialized in the middle of the run below.  My heart started to pound as I stared in awe at the nice fish below.  This was the fish I had been dreaming of and it was sitting out in the middle of the stream, shallow enough that I had a good chance of catching it. 

I ran back to the car and got my fly rod and slipped downstream.  Not wanting to make any mistakes, I purposefully slowed down and made sure everything went smoothly.  The double nymph rig landed about three behind and to the side of the trout on the first cast which was fine by me.  I always try to get my distance figured out and would rather cast short instead of too long.  A short cast won't usually spook the trout.  On the second cast, the flies dropped into the water just upstream of the fish.  The big fish turned and followed them downstream and when it turned, I gently set the hook.  I didn't want to spook the trout but needed to set in case it had eaten.  Three casts in a row produced the same result, but on the third cast, the big fish moved up slightly farther and settled closer to the bottom.  Convinced that I had put the fish down, I headed back up to the car to get more flies and to watch the fish again from the bank above. 

Back on the bank, I was shocked to see the fish rise and sip something off the surface and new immediately what fly I was tying on next.  Out came my special October Caddis pattern and back down to the water I went.  The first cast was again made purposefully short to judge the distance, but the second cast was right on the mark.  I watched as the fish seemed to ignore the fly, and then at the last second, the trout ghosted up and sipped the big orange caddis pattern slowly but deliberately.  The line came tight as I raised the rod tip and the fish immediately went crazy.  It ran up and down the beautiful run and almost made it to the faster water below before I finally corralled it for pictures.  As much as I enjoy catching big fish, I was honestly disappointed that this fish turned out to be a rainbow.  One of these days I'll get another big brown in the Park.  Still, I won't complain too much since catching a big fish is always fun regardless. This fish had clearly run up from hatchery supported water below and had the typical big head and snakey body from living in the less than fertile mountain stream for an extended period of time.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

My heart still beating rapidly, I headed back to the car to drive to another stream and hopefully more large trout.  One particular hole had been in the back of my mind for the whole weekend.  As I approached, I was surprised that there were no cars parked there but was not going to complain.  This particular pool can be super hard to fish with low flows because the water is so still.  Accurate drifts with nymphs can be close to impossible without spooking every trout in the pool.  Still it was worth a shot.  The first few fish were run-up stocker rainbows but then a flash of color indicated a wild fish on the line.  As I took a few pictures of the gorgeous rainbow, I was more than rewarded for stopping.  Surprisingly, there was still another surprise in store.

David Knapp Photograph 

David Knapp Photograph

As I worked towards the back of the pool, my indicator dove under.  With the first flash, I was almost convinced I had finally hooked a nice brown.  Two bulldogging runs later, I realized from the colors that it was a brookie.  In fact, it was the largest brookie I have hooked to date.  Again, this was clearly a run-up fish from hatchery supported water below but I was still thrilled to hook and land such a beautiful fish.

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Later that afternoon, I ran into Ian Rutter looking for large fish and heard about some of the nice fish they had hooked that day (mostly on dries).  Apparently the North Carolina side streams are all alive and well, producing good to excellent fishing for anglers that know how how to fish them.

The afternoon shadows were growing long and I still had a long drive.  The return trip over the ridge was much faster than the trip a few days previously.  Best of all, I was now fortified with many great memories of time spent with friends and plenty of time spent on the water.  In just a few short weeks, Thanksgiving break will be here, and I'll have another week of fishing time...this is my favorite time of year to be on the water.  The browns are now highly aggressive and should continue to produce phenomenal fishing throughout the cold months on streamers.  The fall hatches should continue strong for awhile before transitioning into the winter hatches so the rainbows and brookies will be feeding heavily as well.  This is a great time to get on the water...just don't be surprised if you spend more time enjoying the scenery than actually fishing...

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Monday, October 25, 2010

Catching Up

The last few weeks have been busy for me, and I want to apologize for the lack of material.  I have a fair number of posts to get up and will be starting with the most recent and then working back as I have time.  First up will be my Fall Break trip to the North Carolina side of the Smokies.  It was as memorable as many of my other trips and included such things as epic BWO hatches, big rainbows on streamers, and the largest brookie I have ever caught.  I also have other reports on the Smokies and tailwaters as well so stay tuned for those updates...