Smoky Mountain and Tennessee Fishing Reports Resume

Where Have Ian & Charity Been?

We’re still around and I suppose we’ve got some explaining to do. It’s been quite a while since we’ve posted anything and we’d like to assure everyone that we’re OK. Thanks to all who checked in to make sure we were still around. Some folks have made the reasonable assumption that there hasn’t been any fishing to be done since we haven’t logged any reports, but nothing could be any further from the truth.

In spite of severe drought conditions we had our busiest year of guiding to date. Our fall season kept us hopping past Thanksgiving, guiding some piece of water somewhere almost every day. November saw us make a brief speaking tour to fly fishing clubs in southern Michigan and northern Indiana. There were also a couple of family issues to tend to on the calendar. Add an energetic 2 year old little girl to the mix and we’ve been swamped.

By the time December came around and the guiding let up we turned into slackers, fishing for ourselves when the weather was nice, taking a few trips to Hazel Creek, doing some hiking and camping, and spending lots of time with our daughter Willow.We had a bit of a tech glitch and couldn’t post blog entries recently, but hopefully that’s now fixed. I view computers and big trout the exact same way. I want them, but when they don’t cooperate, seemingly taunting me, I want to throw a rock at them.

The fishing.

Let me see if I can provide a brief synopsis of the fishing we had this fall. As most of you know, water levels were at record lows almost everywhere. Little River fished pretty tough, particularly if you were downstream of Metcalf Bottoms. However, the water around Elkmont and upstream of there fished excellent by any standard from the 2nd week of October on into late November.

Fishing slowed dramatically with the onset of cold temperatures but always seemed to yo-yo between good and slow with water temperatures. Charity and I spent one warm afternoon of strict dry fly fishing upstream of Elkmont in mid December.

Water levels are in very good shape at this date, but a continuation of our current weather pattern will be necessary to get things back to normal. We’ve been experiencing 2-3 days of rain a week for about the past month and the streams are as high or higher now than they have been in almost a year.

This was the slowest fall season we’ve seen with respect to large browns. As usual, we had some good shots at large fish, but not as many as we typically see. Charity had on customer hook up a big one over 20″ at Elkmont, but the brown managed to shake free. Tim Doyle had a customer land one that measured 21″. We saw some others, but that’s it for big browns in the park this fall. However, park fisheries biologists have informed us that this past summer was harder on rainbows on Little River and brown trout are in the majority for the near term.

Elsewhere in the Smokies

The Oconaluftee had more water than Little River most of the season, but the fish were pretty flaky because of the low levels. Plenty of fish around though. Hazel Creek fished superb this fall. Admittedly we didn’t get there until water levels rebounded somewhat, but there are plenty of fish at all elevations and locations there.

The Tailwater Scene

This was the first fall season that we’ve floated the Holston River tailwater below Cherokee Dam. This is our primary float for trout in the spring and summer but flows are usually too high in the autumn for fishing to be any good. We floated several sections of the Holston from late summer into fall for both trout and smallmouth bass. The bass bite was excellent well into October with the fish just clobbering poppers.

We fished a few streamers, but the popper fishing was incredible. There were some concerns about high water temperatures on the Holston this summer, but we can make a first hand report that there was an excellent number of fish that survived. We fished some decent caddis and midge hatches in late October and early November and hooked some very nice trout along the way. Fishing should be superb on the Holston this spring.

The Tuckaseegee in North Carolina is one of our main destinations in October and November, but it was almost November this year before we made our first appearance. While the river is a tailwater and water temperature isn’t a problem in the cool fall months, flows were an issue. Flows from the dams on the East and West Forks were extremely light because there just wasn’t much water to release. Flows from tributary streams were light as well so the river was pretty bony.

Conditions improved by late October and I have to admit that I was more than surprised at how well the river fished. We’ve seen huge numbers of trout and landed excellent numbers with a few big ones in the mix. There have been several 18″+ fish on the line. We’re fishing a number of #14-16 beadhead nymph patterns in low water conditions with good success. Occasionally we’ve had some risers, but that was mostly back in the milder weather. Caddis were the ticket then, but any risers we’ve seen recently have been on a sparse offering of either small olives or midges.

When the water is up we’ve been casting large Girdle Bugs and Prince Nymphs from the drift boat. My favorite method is stripping streamers. This is the best method to turn fish while we’re floating. However, there are some days when almost every fish eats and other days when they look more than eat, but streamers tend to stir up the most fish in high water.

The Clinch has probably been the toughest piece of water we’ve fished this fall. The last time we fished it was in middle December. It was fishing better than it did in October, but was far from stellar and most of the fish were pretty small. There has been a change in regulations on the Clinch and that may improve things. I’ll write more on that later.