Now Is the Time for “Fishing”

We usually see spectacular dry fly conditions from October well into November but things were pretty well cut short this year. About two weeks ago we received an unusually early heavy snow in the Smokies and plenty of cold air to follow. The resulting cold water has kept the fish relatively sluggish and I started thinking a couple of days ago that things have turned to “fishing” and less “catching”.

Winter Nymphing in the Smokies

Dredging nymphs on a cold day

I probably first heard that cliche about 25 years ago when I overheard one of the local corner market regulars say, “They call it huntin’ and fishin’, not catchin’ and killin’,” as he spit some tobacco juice into a Mountain Dew bottle.

How true, how true…

I’ve come to hate that phrase for one simple reason. No one says “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching,” after a stellar day on the water. It’s the usual consolation comment after a tough day on the water and does nothing to make the day seem better on my end. If I hear that phrase I’m absolutely sure it was a tough day, not my imagination.

When the hatches are reliable, the weather is nice, and the trout are rising we’re guiding all the time and we don’t really get much time to “catch” for ourselves, but we do plenty of “fishing”. In fact, if we didn’t like fishing so much we wouldn’t last in the guide profession very long. Contrary to what some people think, we rarely operate the equipment ourselves and I’ve often said that we fish by remote control. Some days the controls are pretty sharp and some days they’re pretty mushy, but that’s what most of our days on the water are like.


Our usual form of fishing: Rod in hand but reeled up while an angler takes our advice

I’m often asked what we do in the winter when there’s not much guiding and I’ll readily reply, “Go fishing!” It’s the only time when we have free time to hit the water for ourselves. Some years November remains mild and we get some prime days, but that’s not the case this year and when we say we’re heading out to go fishing, that’s exactly what it is. More fishing and less catching.

But that’s not a bad thing. I particularly enjoy the quiet concentration of cold weather nymphing and quiet time simply watching the river flow on past to points downstream. My favorite spots on the river are rarely taken and if they are it’s a good thing because it’s usually a friend I haven’t seen in a while.

While the highs for tomorrow will be in the 20’s, we’re watching the long range forecast and next week is looking better. And if things stay this way until spring we’ll still be out there.


  1. This is very encouraging! I will be in Townsend for Thanksgiving and was hoping to do some fishing while there, but feared it will be too cold. Hoping for some mild temperatures next week!

    • Kaleb,
      Next week’s weather forecast looks better than this week for mild weather. Hopefully the water will warm a bit and the fish will respond. Hope you have a great time up here!