Smoky Mountain Stream Journal:

January (1/06/08):
This is the first update to this website since December. My ribs are just getting to
where I can type without hurting and I can't wait to go fishing in the Smokies
I want to discuss some things about fishing during the winter. Fishing cold water
can be quite different than fishing water warm enough for the trout to feed
aggressively and on the surface.
You can review my page on this site regarding winter fishing. I don't need to
repeat what is said there. What I do want to point out is that it is possible to
catch fish when the water is around 40 degrees F.. In fact, it is possible to catch
them when the water temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees F. It is more
difficult because you must fish small flies, slow. To find the fish, ideally, you need
to fish fast to cover more water, because they are usually in small confined
areas of the stream. However, that strategy doesn't work at all. That is what
makes it difficult. You must slow down. Considering you are fishing slow and
considering the trout are in small areas of the stream where they are not
aggressively feeding, catching trout in cold water is a little more difficult. That
said, it is very possible to catch a lot of trout. Provided you do find where the
trout are holding and fish correctly, you can catch them, sometimes rather fast.
We have done that numerous time is the Smokies when the water was around
40 degrees. It is much easier when it gets around 45 degrees but you can still
catch them when the water temperatures are low. Trout are a cold water fish.
We have a cold water segment in our new
"Fly Fishing the Great Smoky
Mountains" DVD where we demonstrate catching trout in water that is in the
forties on the DRY FLY. That is not easy but that is still very possible. In fact we
catch several in a couple of hours fishing.
Water temperatures definitely affect how trout feed as well as how much they
feed. To strictly go by the water temperature alone is a big mistake. It is not that
simple or easy. Even when the water temperature is an ideal 55 degrees F. you
may very well not catch trout depending on many other things. I am sure many of
you have experienced that. We have many times.
There are not any "trout tournaments" where hundreds of professional anglers
are competing for big money, so there are no statics from which real, worth while
data can be obtained. I think this is good, so I am not suggesting there should
be by any means. However, when it comes to bass. There are many cases
where data has been compiled when tournaments were fished in cold water.
Remember, bass are a warm water fish and they really slow down in cold water.
I could give many examples but one specific one that stands out that I fished in
the early 70"s, had 300 anglers in a BASS tournament on a north Mississippi
Lake when the water temperature never exceeded 39 degrees. The lake is very
shallow and a thermocline did not exist. Now I realize that bass are not trout but I
also realize that largemouth bass in the South get the lock jaw more so than
trout do in water that cold. Bass are much more difficult to catch in cold water
than trout. I learned a lot from that 3 days of practice and 3 days of competition.
Almost 200 anglers didn't weigh in a bass. I only caught two during the
tournament. Now you may think under the circumstances that would have been
good. It didn't even place in the top 40 paying positions. The winner (with a 12
inch length and 7 fish per day limit) caught over 40 pounds. Over forty anglers
caught over 20 pounds of bass each during the 3 days. The total 3 day catch for
the tournament was about 2000 pounds.
A tournament held during April that same year at Toledo Bend, Texas, had a
total of over 6000 pounds. The point is that fishing the cold water dropped the
results down from prime time by about two-thirds; but even so, about 15-20
percent of the anglers still caught a lot of fish. You may think they used some
special tricks but no they didn't have any tricks. I fished in sight of the winner the
last day of the tournament. He was fishing small jigs, straight down under the
boat very, very slowly, in submerged brush in four feet of water.
That brings up another misunderstood point. Neither bass or trout flee from cold
water to warm water. They feed more aggressively in warm water, but you have
to remember the fish are not cold in the sense we refer to cold. The are cold
blooded, not warm blooded like us humans. The fish are about the same
temperature as the water. They do not feel a difference.
I only discovered how the guys were catching fish the last day of the tournament
(thanks to the partner I drew) and that was the only reason I caught two fish. I
had the right strategy as to how to fish the cold water from the first day of
practice but I did not have the confidence to stick with the slow method of fishing
until I found fish. Those that did, made the most of us look bad.
My guess is that if you had such a tournament for trout with 300 of the best
anglers in the United States held in the Smokies when the water was 40 degrees
the results would probably be about the same. It would probably be even be
better. I believe those that fished correctly for the circumstances would still catch
a lot of trout. We have caught hundreds of trout in the Smokies when the water
was below 50 degrees and many when it was below 45 degrees.
Read Craig Mathews fishing reports for the Madison River (under fishing
reports) at The last one I read he reported that he was
fishing (during December of 2007) not long after huge chunks of ice were in the
river. Many times in past articles he was fishing from snow as deep as three feet.
If fishing is bad in cold water I guess Craig is especially lucky, good or just
doesn't tell the truth. I can assure you it is not the later. The Madison in this
location is a tailwater but still fish are caught in very cold water.
My point is this. Don't let anyone tell you when and when not to fish. Don't let
anyone tell you that catching trout is all to do with the water temperature. It is not.
By the way, don't forget that It is the challenge of catching fish that makes fishing
the sport it is. If we only fished when it is easy to catch a lot or if you could catch
one on just about every cast, you would probably find a better sport. I know I
would. You can catch fish this winter in the Smokies. Don't listen to those that
apparently just don't know any better and especially those that never even try it.

Copyright 2008 James Marsh