Thursday, April 30, 2009

Observations From The Tailwaters

As most of you know, and some have read, I have written a few articles for the Little River Journal. Below is part of a piece that Byron printed in the Little River Journal last month.

The Basic Needs of Trout


The tailwaters throughout the Southeast supply trout with abundant forage, including a wide array of nymphs, midges and adult insects. Although these are usually the most common food in Southeastern tailwaters, don’t forget about small fish and terrestrials.

Whatever the choice of fly or the fish’s choice of food, one thing to remember is to get the fly into the feeding lane. This increases the odds of hooking up with the fish and provides a chance at that hero shot.

Stocking locations, while popular with many anglers, provide food sources for feeding fish. Many people fish the stocking locations on a river -- including those who fish with bait. Fish are sometimes drawn to these places as an easy source for food. Larger fish can also be drawn to stocking locations when the stocking truck arrives. Also, people who keep fish for consumption sometimes will clean their catch at the various stocking locations and public access points. Larger predatory fish will come into these areas in the evenings and in the early morning hours for an easy meal.

The opposite of fishing to feeding fish is provoking a strike in resting fish. Some fish, especially larger fish, tend to eat at night when most of us are not on the water. A fish that eats at night will rest during the day. Therefore, the best way to induce a strike with a fly-rod is with large streamer patterns. Large streamers thrown in slower-water locations can provoke the predatory instinct in larger resting trout, resulting in some memorable takes.


Someone once said that fish have an IQ of six. I’ve never seen the IQ test for a fish, but I would agree fish should have a somewhat smaller IQ than the angler who pursues them. Fish have the fight or flight instinct. This instinct can determine a fish’s daily activity and, therefore, where they spend the majority of their day. Trout, in particular, seek protection from predatory animals such as larger fish, otters, eagles, herons and sometimes anglers.

Trout will often seek cover close to a food source. This cover includes structures such as logs, large rocks, shoals with faster moving water, and undercut banks. Water will move slightly faster on the sides, above and below structure – but a nice break in the current can be found directly behind the structure. This provides opportunities for trout to move out into the faster moving water and grab a quick meal, then move back into or behind the safety of the structure. Scouting and knowing the location of these natural current breaks is a good way to increase the odds of catching fish in a tailwater.


Trout prefer cool water. Brook trout prefer water temps below 68 degrees while a brown trout lives best in water below 75 degrees. Rainbow trout fit somewhere between the brook and brown trout, preferring temps below 70 degrees.

Temperatures can vary within a tailwater. For instance, the section of river immediately below a dam will be cooler than a section further downstream. In the summer, deep holes will often be cooler than long shallow flats. Runs with swift moving water provide cooler temperature for trout, but a run with swift moving water and shade can be an even better source for cooler temperatures. Rocks and logs within swifter moving water and undercut banks with shade will provide cooler flows as well.

Take a thermometer with you when fishing tailwaters and do a little research for yourself. Taking your own stream temps will help you to understand the anatomy of the tailwater.


Fish, like humans, need oxygen to sustain life. A fish does not have lungs, but takes oxygen from the water through their gills. The oxygen in the water is called dissolved oxygen, and its presence is crucial to tailwater fisheries. Wildlife agencies work with the TVA and the Corps of Engineers on a variety of techniques to increase the dissolved oxygen levels in tailwaters, including minimum flow requirements and the installation of auto-venting turbines in some dams. These techniques can not only help the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, but can also increase the aquatic bug activity … which increases the food source for feeding trout.

I am headed out to fish for the weekend! See you on the water.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fly Fishing Around Murfressboro, TN

Good Afternoon! We’ve been sticking around close to home over the past week or so. I’ve been getting some of my chores done around the house (what do you think I fish all the time?), writing some articles and working out the details of a few trips. But, between all that we’ve been getting out for some warm water fishing.

We’ve been hitting the local streams in and around Murfreesboro chasing stripe, stripers and hybrid. The water level has a lot to do with success, as well as putting the right fly in front of the right fish. I took the Muppets which produced pretty well for stripe and a bass here and there. Clousers worked for others. But the Wiggle Minnow seems to work best for those who have been chasing these fish locally for some years and really have the feel for it.

With the Caney generating so much water, the Elk generation as spotty as it is and the Clinch River not real good for an all day float, I suggest hitting those local freestones for a little warm water action. I like it and I think you’ll like it too…..But, get those chores done around the house first.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fly Fishing the Elk River With Bob & David

The Elk River On Falling Water

Weather conditions for the day would be almost perfect. The morning would be sunny with cloud cover moving in just about lunch time. As usual there is a chance of rain on the Elk River in the afternoon. The generation was not favorable in the morning as TVA released one generator from about 8:00 A.M. – 11:00 A.M.

Bob F. and his 11 year old son David, from Red Level AL, had come to Tennessee for their annual spring trip. The two had spent four days fishing the Watauga River near Elizabethton TN and brought reports back of good fishing from that area.

Because Bob and David were staying in Lynchburg and would arrive from Upper East TN with a little time to spare, they took in the Jack Daniels Tour to wind down their travel day. The tour now starts at the top of the hill and winds back through the distillery where you can see the ins and outs of making fine Tennessee Whiskey as well as the marketing of a product (Jack Daniels) that has been around for over 140 years.

I stopped by the motel and picked up Bob and David amidst several Harley riders who were up for the day from Mississippi. I learned a little about Harley Davidson while Bob and David gathered some of their gear. We stopped for coffee and donuts on the way and were soon wading at Farris Creek.

An Elk River Stocker

Wading at Farris Creek was a good warm up and an opportunity to try a few things, while Bob and David got back into the casting rhythm. It was apparent early that David is not an average 11 year old fly fisherman. He is talented with his casting and when given a tip or a suggestion he was immediate to respond. His vocabulary included yes sir and no sir, with thank you in the mix as well. We picked up a couple at Farris then before we knew it we were off to the dam to launch the drifter.

The Middle Tennessee Fly Fishers were conducting their Beginning Fly Fishing Class at Tims Ford State Park and the Elk River. This was an excellent weekend for their outing with nice weather and a window of wading opportunity as well.

We launched the drifter on falling water, tossed some streamers, and the fish responded with some follows, until we floated into the Bend Pool. The Elk River Bend Pool is where the fish were hanging out.

David F. on the Streamers Early

David F. Puts On a Catching Clinic

We put my usual BHPT pattern under an indicator and David went to work. The first fish was a rainbow, which made me question, to myself, the reports of the recent brown stocking. The next fish was a small brown, the sight of several other browns following the hooked fish quickly answered my question and then it the day was on. David continued working a good seem by a gravel bar, getting hits and landing fish.

Fish On

It appeared to us was, if David said “I caught a fish” before that fish was in the net, the fish would get off. But, he overcame that quickly and soon was focused on the indicator, which seemed to be under water more than on top of the water. David’s cast is certainly above average for an 11 year old, but he possesses an angling skill that is above average as well. The two complement each other and work well together, which makes for a really nice day in the boat. David continued to boat fish throughout our stop at the Bend Pool.

David With the First Bend Pool Rainbow

Midway through the catching session it was Bob’s turn. We loaded his rod with BHPT and midge combo and he promptly hooked and lost a few of his own. But, Bob dialed in quickly and it was a short free-for-all with both anglers hooking up. Bob is no stranger to the long rod and has a nice cast with just the right amount of stop in the back cast to load the rod. He has a smooth follow-through that lands the fly extremely soft. This would come into play several times over the course of this float.

Bob Hooks Up Again

The Bend Pool was starting to stack up with anglers and we were kind of holding up progression for others, so we pulled up the anchor and drifted downstream on more falling water. We changed droppers from time to time and they switched rods back and forth trying to decide which rod had the best feel. Both were hooking up with some progressively larger holdovers.

Caught on the Midge

We stopped for lunch and fired up the charcoal. The day’s lunch would be Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon, Pineapple Chops, with baked potatoes, fruit and the usual accoutrements. The lunch break was a good time to spot the different plants and animals that live along the river. Also this was a good time to hear the different stories of the many different places these clients have fished over the years.


But, we couldn’t hang out on the shore too long and soon we were back in the boat. We floated about 30 yards and Bob was hooked up again. David soon followed and then lost a nice fish that rivaled Bob’s best fish of the day. Over the past two years we have hooked a big fish out of this hole and lost it a few different times. The first time was a long fight which resulted in a pulled hook at the boat. The second time was a short fight on a streamer where the fish threw the hook after a quick run. This time David set the hook and the fish made blistering run upstream and threw the hook on the turn to charge back at the boat.

David is Hooked Up and Catching.......Again

We floated longer into the day continuing to bring fish to the net on nymphs, with daylight pushing us to get to the ramp we pulled out the streamers again and moved Bob to the front of the boat. We fished streamers at some of the likely spots, but the big ones didn’t want to show their hand. We only had time to hit a few of the good places before the sun dipped behind the hills and then daylight was gone as we slid into the ramp.

Caught With a Soft-touch Landing

Falling water on the Elk is not always an option. The generation can be spotty as spring turns into summer. Bob and David hit the Elk at a very good time and added their casting and angling skills to produce what was a very good day.

The next several weeks should be a good time to book a trip on the Elk, as the BHPT /dropper hatch is now producing rainbows and browns under the indicator.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Casting Practice, Better Now Than on The Water When It Counts The Most

The past couple times I have been out to fish I have noticed my casting is not what it should be. So, I decided over the weekend to start practicing more than usual and get myself back into the groove.

I contacted Airflo Lines and had them send me some new Ridgeline and Sixth Sense. I started casting on Monday, for about 30 minutes a day, with the Ridge Line and the Sage 5 wt just to get my timing back a little. The line casts great as does the rod and as I am prone to say the rod and the line both cast better than I do…..especially watching my casting lately.

I came across this video the other day on Marshall’s site and followed the link. It is worth watching and has some info that works pretty well. Anyway I hope you enjoy and I hope the video works too.

Stay tuned for a warm water update later in the week as we go chase some stripe and some bass.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Project Healing Waters at The Caney Fork River

Back in August I was checking out the local message boards and I saw this post from Ron Snow. “I have an idea for a fund raiser. I'm looking to find out about some fly fishing related charities to be the beneficiary.” A lot of people offered good ideas. Ron made the decision to put the energy toward a weekend at the river and benefit Project Healing Waters.

Fast forward to January… Ron met with several of us to kick off the Nabours and Friends for Project Healing Waters planning meeting. We had good discussion that night; somehow Ron got the plan down on paper and off we went….well off Ron went to make this thing happen. One of the things Ron accomplished was to line up entertainment and food for Friday night, which started the festivities and the two day event.

High Water

There would be fly tying, a lesson or two from Jack Hise on how to make furled leaders, and other activities. My assignment for Saturday was to take a Veteran fishing. It all seemed pretty simple a couple months back, I mean I take people fishing, I like rowing and helping others catch fish, and it is relaxing for everyone, right? But, as we drew closer to the event we began to realize the Army Corps didn’t get the press release for the event and they continued to blow 7600 CFS through a couple generators. Add a bunch of water from the pre and post tornado rains and you get…well, high water, which was up into the trees along the banks.

I had committed to Ron early on and said I would like to take one of the vets on the river. Ron was gracious, because he knew the water situation, and gave me the opportunity to back out. It had been two days since I was on the water and wanted to get back behind the oars. Heck we might even fool a fish before the day was over. The boat was pushed out of the garage on Saturday morning and off to the river I went. So far it was pretty much like any other trip.

Saturday morning brought fog and a slight drizzle. When I arrived at the pavilion the breakfast was just hitting the plates. I hung around, saw some faces I haven’t seen in a while and made some new friends.

Then I met Billy Davis. Billy would be my client for the day and we made the usual chit chat. As several of us stood around and listened to Billy we realized this “fund raiser” was more than just raising some cash for a good cause. Billy quickly put things into perspective when he talked about his coming back from Vietnam and the struggles he had after his return. For instance sleeping in the dark is just not an option. While in Vietnam Billy had guard duty at night and he said “it was so dark out there you couldn’t see your hand two inches from your face.” He added when he got back from the war, he made the decision that he would never be in the dark again.

Some Wildlife Along The River

Billy talked and we listened to his story. He said “my life didn’t seem like it mattered much until he was offered an opportunity to fly fish one day while I was in the hospital”. The next thing he knew he was asked to represent Project Healing Waters at an event, after that event another and another. Then we were standing there at

Nabours and Friends.

Janie T. and Billy D.

With so many people around and one empty seat in the back of the boat we really needed someone else to fill the boat. I like to take new folks fishing when I get the chance and Ron had just the person. Someone who has that desire to learn and fish, who has a good attitude and just wants to get the most out of a trip. Janie T. fit that description. Ron worked a little with her cast, which was good to start with.

Billy's First Brown Trout

So, another opportunity to get on the river was underway. This time I was between two folks who did know each other, or even have an idea they would get on the water.

The Muppets

We launched the boat and began the float. Then stopped for some additional casting and retrieving instruction at the stairs, soon we were floating down the river hitting the gravel bars with the Muppets. With the high water we put the streamer rods to work and focused on lighter color flies. As the two anglers became more comfortable with the streamer rods we settled in closer to the bank. At one point we pulled close to the bank in some slack water and let the anchor down. The anchor rope slipped through the rollers, but never touched the bottom. The Caney was high.

We saw fish, caught fish, enjoyed the geese, herons and saw the eagle from a distance.Before we knew it the ramp at Happy Hollow was just a few strokes away. We arrived just ahead of a couple other boats. With the boat on the trailer and the rods were stowed in the truck, we headed back to the pavilion for some excellent BBQ, which was prepared by Chef Mike Hill.

There was an auction, raffle and fellowship with other anglers. Rods were cast and some semi-true stories were told. The way I measured it, this event was a success. If you missed this year there is always next year, which I am sure will be even better.

Thanks to Ron and all the folks who helped organize the event. Dan and Bret thanks for taking care of the shuttle and my truck. Billy and Janie I had a fun day on the water and I hope you did as well.

I hope to see you next year.

Caught and Released

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fly Fishing The Elk River 4/4/2009

Up early and off to the Elk River for a trip with a couple of regular clients. Jamie and Rachel H from Florence AL. They have floated with me several times and they made a bonsai trip of a three hour drive to the river and three hour drive home, with a nine hour float squeezed between.

We started the day with a quick drive-by at a lower ramp. Then we launched at the dam, with surprisingly few people wading on such a beautiful day. We had some action early on nymphs and had a great hookup after we broke the seal on the bag of Cheetos. Jamie grabbed his first fish on a green bug and Rachel was hooking them on the usual BHPT. We landed a decent rainbow for Rachel and the One Fish Per Month Challenge on the LRO Board and cruised on down the river drowning nymphs.

An Elk River Rainbow

As usual if we are fishing nymphs I like to have a pretty good sized nymph somewhere in the mix. Usually the bigger nymph is a BHPT and today we selected a #12 with a large tungsten copper bead, because the water was a little higher and stained slightly from the recent rains. We changed the bottom fly regularly with scuds, gray bugs and Zebra Midges, trying to get a good feel for what the fish wanted.

Most folks put quite a bit of distance between nymphs and midges, but my approach is somewhat different. I like to see about 6” between the two flies and if we are fishing three flies only about 4”-5” sections between each fly. The reasoning is that fish are looking up, but not too far up if they are holding on the bottom of the river. Placing the flies as close to the bottom and in a fish’s view for as long as possible is the theory. Does it work? Well yes it does work for us. How does it compare to other styles of nymphing? Try this approach for yourself if you are not already.

An Elk River Brown Trout

Jamie and Rachel have been great to work with and we have, for the most part, nymph fished when they book their trips. But, this time I brought some streamer rods along (I know that is hard to believe) to fish the lower and slower sections of the river. Until the fish in river get more cooperative the fishing is more a hunting trip than an all out catching trip. Early on I worked with Rachel on the streamer techniques but only for a short time. My plan after lunch was to get the six weights back out and put their arms to work.

The marabou and bucktail came out after our lunch of North Alabama Slaw Dogs and a desert of Snickers. We drowned the nymphs a little longer, but we were streamer fishing before they knew it. With all the marabou laying around the boat it looked like an episode of the Muppets.

The Fly Fishing Muppets

Both Jamie and Rachel caught on to our adopted style of streamer fishing quickly and were soon landing the fly within inches of the banks. The retrieve still seems to be the most difficult action in the process, but both were getting the hang of as the miles clicked off.

Animal an Original Muppet

Jamie Becomes A Streamer Fisherman

For the last couple miles of the river Jamie got into the groove of pounding the banks with the Muppet Flies. Rachel got back on the nymphs, but was really watching Jamie transform into a new type of fisherman. (He might not be saying that the next morning). We switched out flies often while searching for just the right color. Jamie was getting that glazed/focused look and just as we all settled into a peaceful rhythm of floating and casting, Jamie landed the fly within a couple inches of a rocky bank and the water erupted. The fight was short-lived and the fish broke the line. Judging from the hole left in the water and the sound of the take, we had an extremely nice fish on.

Jamie Focused On The Streamer

From that point on Jamie put on a casting clinic and picked up the only brown of the day a short time later. With Rachel and me spurring Jamie on, he finished out the float throwing the Big Uglies at every likely looking spot. While Jamie settled into his new found style of fishing and we floated closer to the ramp, Rachel came up with two words that best described the situation. “He’s Ruint”

The Elk Just Before Sundown