Advice From the Guides

Question: How do you decide where to go fishing or take a guide trip?
It depends on the day, but the individual angler influences our decision more than anything else. Some insist on a backcountry experience while others are not as capable of making the walk into a more isolated location. Even when we hike in to fish it is pretty rare for us to walk more than 30 minutes. Some have the goal of catching a brook trout or brown trout so that influences where we would fish.

During the spring hatches we prefer to fish the large streams like Little River where we find rising fish. On weekends we go to streams that aren’t as well known for more privacy.  As the heat of summer arrives we move to the higher elevations where trout remain active. Some of these streams are strenuous to wade, but the fishing is usually great.

TVA generation schedules influence our float trip choices more than anything else. Spring is an easy season to find good water to float for trout. By late May the fishing is great but we have to pay close attention. The Holston River may have levels too high to fish at times. The Clinch can get too low to float some days and can be too high for good fishing at other times. Fortunately we have a number of floats and several rivers to choose from.

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Question: How have the recent drought and even more recent flooding affected trout populations?

This is a question that seems to be on everyone’s mind. We’ve chatted about this several times in the past few years with Steve Moore and Matt Kulp, fisheries biologist in the national park. The worst effects from the drought took place in 2007 and were mostly confined to streams under 2000′ in elevation. Rainbow trout populations took a big hit, but brown trout populations remained stable. Abrams Creek is a noteworthy stream under 2000′ that did quite well. Cades Cove is 1900′ elevation and the stream originates there and flows to Chilhowee Lake at 900′. Most of the water in Abrams Creek flows from springs in Cades Cove so the water is much colder than other streams this low. Sample sites didn’t show much effect on trout populations here.

There didn’t seem to be any effect on rainbow or brown trout populations at or above 2500′ elevation. Brook trout populations remained steady as well, but some streams even saw population increases. Both brook trout and brown trout populations make up a larger percent of trout in streams where rainbows occur. 2008 was the first year when brown trout outnumbered rainbows in Little River downstream of Elkmont. The weather pattern seems to have shifted and things are getting back to normal so it will be interesting to see if rainbows regain dominance of the stream or brown trout remain the primary fish.

Floods are short term compared to droughts. Their effect on trout populations depends on when the flood occurred. Eggs in gravel and sac fry are the most vulnerable to floods since they get washed away. Juvenile and adult fish handle the high water quite well. We may have lost our up and coming browns after recent floods, but we probably won’t notice. Browns are more common now than they have ever been.

Regardless of flood or drought, trout seem to always fare better than most people think they will. Even when populations take a big hit like they did after the massive floods of 1994, they rebound nicely. There was a 50% reduction in fish populations, but the average size fish went up in subsequent seasons and catch rates changed little. Fewer fish in the streams meant that there was more food for the survivors.

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Question: What’s the biggest mistake you see fly fishers make?

We help anglers with all kinds of issues, but two things stand out. The first is that many approach the water a little too quickly. We advise fly fishers to approach the water slowly and keep their eyes open. We commonly spot a fish before we get in the water and re-configure to cast to the fish. A slow approach also gives you a chance to see if any bugs are on the water or fish rising.

A quick approach can spook fish. Sometimes we’ll see anglers wade half way across a stream without ever breaking stride from their car. Without a doubt, trout ran for cover before the fisherman made a cast.

The second mistake we see is how far anglers cast. Most try to cast way too far. Our rule is to cast from as far away as possible as long as you can get a good drift. The part about a good drift can reduce the effective range to ten feet away. Charity has a simple concept she calls the “Two Foot Rule”. Make your first cast into the tail of a run. Gradually cast two feet further. Continue to either make a short step or add a short amount of  line to fish your way up the run two feet at a time.

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