Fishing Conditions Update 9/05/08:

Looking back at yesterday's update on conditions in the Smokies, I is quite
obvious to me that I was tired when i sat down and made the entry I made. Today,
I refrained from doing anything but fishing and feel a lot better..
We crossed into North Carolina and checked some of the Raven Fork just as it
exits the park, the Straight Fork, the Oconaluftee River and its tributary the
Bradley Fork. In thirty minutes of fishing the Straight Fork near the point it leaves
the road, we were able to catch a few trout including one small brown. If I had
thought about it, I could have probably caught a brook trout anywhere from there
upstream, especially above the point the stream leaves the road. That would
have been an easy grand slam but I didn't think about it.
On the way back across the mountains, the Oconaluftee proved to be its normal
self although it is the typical late summer, low water. This stream is blessed with a
lot of deep holes for such a narrow fast flowing mountain stream. For some
reason it seems to continue to keep a high percentage of brown trout. Although
we didn't get one over ten inches long, we did catch three of them. We didn't wait
until the right time of day to fish for the browns. I'm positive we could have done
better very late in the day. The water temperature there was an excellent 65
degrees, for this time of year. By the way, the Straight Fork was about the same
The two streams produced eleven fish in less than a total of an hour of fishing.
That is very good as far as I am concerned for the first week of September. The
Straight Fork fish came on our on small Perfect Fly
Dave's Hopper. We choose it
because of the heavy grass along the road where the stream flows closely along
it. We are extremely reluctant to call anything Dave Whitlock ever created
"improved" or to add our own "Perfect" tag to such a great fly. It is one fly I don't
think can be improved very much. We don't skimp on the detail and materials
used like many fly companies do so maybe we at least try to keep it near as much
like a real hopper as we can within a reasonable amount of tying time.
A lot of anglers don't like the floating qualities of the deer hair and it does tend to
sink if not greased up pretty good; however, we never do that. We let the fly sink
if it wants too (and it will very soon start to do just that). We know that is what
happens to a real grass hopper when it hits the water and we don't mind watching
the end of our fly line, leader and tippet if we can see the tippet.
We have no problem detecting takes from trout if the fly is sinking. We also do not
believe that you need to use two flies or a dropper rig. Using two flies won't help
you catch any more fish that you can on one fly but it may well keep you from
catching as many. You cannot control the depth of the dropped fly. It stays
constant irrespective of the change in the bottom. It is much easier to hang up a
two fly rig in tight quarters. There are some cases where a two fly rig helps the
presentation but most of the time, two flies are not needed.
If you feel you must use a two fly rig, one to see the strike and the other to hook
the fish, I suggest you just go to fishing several rods from the bank. Line them up
and down the bank, get you a big umbrella or an open tent, sit back and watch
your floats. Seriously, you need to learn to fly fish.
So the very thing others may complain about with the Dave's Hooper, mainly its
sinkability, we accept as an feature. Anglers who have to see their fly at all times,
in my opinion, need to fish more often and learn to escape their addiction of
having to see their fly which is in essence just a float or bobber to alert them they
have a fish on the end of the line.

Back to the fishing, after testing the Oconaluftee for half an hour, we moved back
over the gap and stopped along the Walker Camp Prong of the West Prong of
Little Pigeon River. In a few minutes we managed a small rainbow and small brook
trout which are the normal fare for this stream. The water was very low and in the
low sixties temperature wise. It has been in much worse shape. I actually think if
this stream didn't have so much exposure to the sun from the tree cleared area
necessary for a road, it would be a much better trout stream. Considering its low
pH, exposure and the fact it has rainbow trout in an area where they shouldn't be,
it must be a great brook trout stream otherwise. That is very, very unlikely to ever
be changed though. They will all have to live in the sun like tropical fish exposed
to some acid, with pound after pound of rubber, grit and other particles from tires
being dumped into the water each time it rains.
We didn't see anything, meaning Little Yellow Quills or Needle Stoneflies
hatching. The two small fish came on a size 18 Parachute Adams.
We did not fish late as we had been doing for the past few days and the fish we
caught indicated that. Fishing for decent size brown and even larger rainbow trout
would be much easier and more successful if it was done in the early mornings
before 9:00 AM or late in the afternoons. Our total time fishing, one at a time, was
only about an hour and a half at the most. That produced several fish but none of
them of any decent size. If we had stayed in the higher elevations and fished
some of the well covered brook trout streams I feel sure we could have caught a
lot of them, so that is an open option for anyone. When the water gets into the
mid sixties and that is the case now in the middle elevations, or even higher up to
about seventy degrees in the lower elevations, the fish will become much more
difficult to catch, especially during the mid daytime hours. You want to fish early or
It is not the slight change in the water temperature that makes these early and
late hours better. The fish are about the same temperature as the water they are
in. They are cold blooded creatures. They do not get comfortable or
uncomfortable from the water temperature. Under warm water conditions, they
don't stay in water where they expend a lot of energy and as a result, they don't
have to take in as much food. They feed much less. They don't stop feeding.
They just slow down. Their metabolism is in high gear but other factors limit their
behavior. They may actually loose weight.
If the water gets too warm and for trout, with few exceptions, that is just about
anything above seventy degrees, they will just about quit eating or moving around
very much. It is the fact the fish will hold in places they would not normally be if the
water was cooler and the fact that they will not and cannot feed as well from those
holding locations as they can when water temperatures are lower.
The problem anglers have is that they continue to fish the same way. They don't
understand the changes the fish undergo. They want to blame it on the water
temperature. It is just one of many factors involved and the most misunderstood
one of them all. In many trout streams throughout the nation the water
temperature stays in the ideal range (as many like to refer to it) year-round. You
should hear the excuses when anglers can't just say the water is too cold or too
hot. Spring Creeks with stable, ideal water temperatures year-round. Even so
many, if not most anglers, cannot catch fish from spring creeks. Many tailwaters fit
this ideal water temperature situation. They stay a relatively constant temperature
for at least much of the time. Often, right here in the smokies, when the water
temperature of the freestone streams is an ideal 55 degrees, you will notice the
excuses for lack of catching fish start changing. If everything was due to or
depended on that one environmental factor, "water temperature", you could catch
hundreds when it was around 55 degrees.
I have even heard an arm chair guy that pretend to be an angler say the warm
water increases the metabolism to the point the fish kill themselves trying to chase
down food. They can't get enough food in their high metabolism state and they kill
themselves trying.  Only part of that claim is actually true. When the fish get that
please, someone let me know. It must be very exciting to watch trout in the
very warm water feeding like a school of bluefish or yellowfin tuna. I want to cast a
big streamer in some of the large pools in Little River and watch as a twenty inch
trout explodes and chases it across the surface. Please, someone let me know
when this happens - or could someone be pulling my leg and have taken that out
of a forty year old Field and Stream magazine article. Older trout got very smart
back in those days, according to some New York writers.
There are many times when it is possible to catch a lot of trout under warm water
conditions and without hurting the survival rate of the fish but not using the same
methods you may normally use.   
This also applies to water that is very cold. As long as trout will eat anything it is
possible to catch them and if they are concentrated, it is possible to catch more of
them even though their metabolism is much lower and they are feeding much less.
My point is that is it hot right now in the Smokies but the streams are still in fair
condition for this time of the year. There are plenty of fish to be caught most
anywhere in the park but the very lowest elevations where I would not suggest
you try. That will change soon and the water temperatures will drop making it a lot
more comfortable on anglers - not the trout - they could give a care less. They
are not warm blooded creatures. They probably enjoy not having to work so hard
for food. Please disregard that. I may start another rumor.

Copyright 2008 James Marsh