Monday, July 6, 2009

Fishing the Caney Fork

The Plan
A friend asked many months ago if I would help teach his wife to fly fish. After more probing I found out they had fly fished before, even on our home waters of the Caney Fork. I found out she owns a fly rod, had at least cast the fly rod, and even fished with it on an occasion or two. But, she had not had the opportunity to catch a fish…. After some additional conversation I determined the problem was the same problem I have, Lefty Kreh admits to and the same problem many other “smart” anglers acknowledge. It is very difficult to teach your spouse to fish.

A Different View of a Caney Fork Brown Trout

Volumes of information could be written about this very subject. Hell, my wife is smart enough not to even let the idea of me teaching her how to fish enter her thought process. (Yes, I am married to a very smart woman). I don’t think it has anything to do with a man thing or a woman thing, I see the situation as a spouse thing. It goes right along with a married couple trying to paddle a canoe, make a two person kayak go in a straight line or ride a tandem bicycle. It is hard to explain, but easy to understand.

Shoving Off

I did a half day float to teach Betsy S. to fly fish, with the main objective of helping her catch a fish. Now for those of you who have been reading the words of the past fishing reports and not merely looking for fish in the pictures, well you already know the Caney Fork is not fishing all that well. The river has been fishing as slow this spring as it was several years ago when we would catch a few fish and see very few other anglers in an eight hour day.

After dropping the boat at the ramp I went to see Dan at the Dan's Happy Hollow Happy Shuttle Service (that really isn’t the name of it, but you probably know who I am talking about) to give me a ride after dropping the truck. Dan’s birthday had just past and we talked of gardening and the finer points of a good river dog. Anyway, enough about our conversation I need to get back to Sunday. When Dan and I arrived back at the boat Betsy was casting to nothing in particular. I saw she had one half of a double haul practically perfected and just needed a little help on the release. She can cast (check!)

After the TWRA checked the people who were fishing from the bank as well as our life jackets and license we shoved off. The instructions from Betsy’s guide (that's me today) were simple... cast downstream, watch the indicator and when it disappears set the hook. Oh yeah and point the rod tip at the water, strip off some line, wiggle the rod tip, make an S in the line, watch the canoe and all the other things we do when helping someone get comfortable. I quickly found out Betsy is a good listener, who asks good questions and with only two minutes on the water she had learned how to set the hook and get her first fish to the net. Help Betsy catch a fish on a fly rod (check).

A Rainbow on the Upper River

A First
When the indicator went under and Betsy set the hook, the fight was short and sweet. She got control of the line, pointed the rod tip down for side pressure, brought the rod tip up, got the fish’s head out of the water and slid it into the net. That shad didn’t stand a chance. But, we weren’t looking for shad and our task quickly changed to help Betsy catch a trout…

The canoe traffic picked up just after the release of the shad. We began a discussion about line management that was quickly interrupted by a brown trout Betsy set the hook, got the line under control, encouragement from the guide “strip, strip, strip, side pressure, side pressure, watch the canoe, get the head up and into the net”. Mission accomplished early on, but there were more to fish to come throughout the day.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Those Stockers Are Good Practice…

After a dozen stockers the routine of catching fish can become, well just a little routine. But, don’t forget catching the stockers can be good practice for bigger things to come. We had good discussion about the finer points of nymph fishing and the recent Sauce Boss concert I caught at Harry A’s on St. George Island last month. These conversations were mixed in with the usual instruction that now became less and less as we made our way through the crowd of waders and boats. The conversation turned toward the number of fish and the size of fish, which by this time all seemed to fit into one category…small. The thing about small fish is they can prepare you for bigger and better things down the river. In this case the bigger and the better would have to come after the thunderstorm that was looming just over the ridge.

Storms, Caddis and Midges

And there's that one particular harbor
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
One Particular Harbor- Jimmy Buffett

We waited out the storm on the bank, watching the fish rise to the caddis hatch. The hatch came on pretty strong just before the storm began and lasted almost until the last crack of thunder. The caddis hatch wasn’t big by any standards. Before we go much further this isn’t the Watauga, SoHo, or the Holston, it’s the Caney Fork so don’t raid the local fly shops bins for caddis patterns. But, I will say I have some size #18’s Elk Hair Caddis that could work well, just not during a lightening storm. Following the caddis was the midge hatch, which has been somewhat lacking, until today and it was incredible. Does anyone have a size #30 midge pattern?

Just Starting to Sprinkle

Back on the water we floated about a half of a mile before the second storm hit the river. This storm first produced a little wind, some thunder, and then lightening. The second storm was one that brought out the National Weather Service Alerts. There is a lot to be said about holding 9 foot graphite oars or an 8’-5” graphite rod during a lightening storm. I couldn’t think of anything good to say about it, so we beached the boat and headed for some local cover to wait out the storm. We could see the river and I can say the fish quit rising at the heaviest of rainfall. But, as the rain let up the trout came back in force under the surface, sipping the midges that were coming off by the thousands.

All That Practice…

Line control and rod control are at a premium when fighting a bigger fish. The big fish have an instinct that lets them taste the fly when the angler is preoccupied. Usually the angler is preoccupied with untangling fly lines, deciding on the next fly to use if the current fly doesn’t produce or just generally taking in the local flavor of the river’s scenery. Betsy had the moment and it was untangling the fly line out of the bottom of the boat and then the opportunity to get a larger brown on the reel. She fought the brown trout as the fish shook its head trying to get rid of the small midge lodged just in the fish’s top lip. After getting the line in the appropriate location and then stored on the reel, Betsy played the brown with the correct amount of side pressure, rod tip down, head up and then slid it into the net. She got that brown in the net, we celebrated with the appropriate proof (proof= hero shot or photo) as the clouds came and the pulse of one generator flooded the river.

A Happy Angler

We landed at the takeout just about dark, loaded the boat and reviewed the pictures of the day during the ride home. The trip could have been over within the first mile of the float, with the first several browns and rainbows. But storms or no storms that would have been a waste of a good afternoon. Betsy caught her first fish, first brown trout and first rainbow trout on a fly rod. I figured out the weather guessers are simply that just guessers, and nothing is routine about a day on the river.

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Caught & Released


  1. Thanks David,
    It was a great trip and I really did not expect to catch that many fish. I had a blast, thunder, lightning, and down pours. I know one thing I'm not going to miss, my lost sunglasses! I look like I should be driving a car sitting way low in the seat and about 40 years in the future. You were a great patient teacher and I'm looking forward to the next trip with a shore lunch and no thunder storms.

  2. Looks like a great trip! I know what you mean about the midge hatches. They have seemed very sparse lately but I fished yesterday and it was probably one of the best I've ever seen. Just about every fish in the river was rising in rythym sipping the naturals...