Fishing Cold Water in the Great Smoky Mountains - Part One

When the water temperature of a trout stream is around fifty degree Fahrenheit,
trout fishing can be excellent. As a matter of fact, it can be as good as it gets. That
is because the water temperature itself is not a direct factor. It is an indirect factor
that affects the trout's feeding habitats and the extent they feed. Catching trout
doesn't depend on how much the trout eat.  What matters is that you get your fly in
front of them when and where they are eating. You are going to catch only a tiny
percentage of them irrespective of how much they eat.

In general, the ideal water temperature is usually considered to be about fifty-five
degrees. That depends on a lot of things, however. It depends on the species of
trout, for one thing. The brook trout found in the Smokies are capable of surviving
colder water than the brown trout which are the off spring of trout brought into this
country years ago and stocked at one time in the park. In general, the rainbow trout
prefers slightly colder water than the brown.
It also depends on the amount of food available to the trout and the effort or trouble
they have to encounter to eat it.

If you will pardon the exceptions, and what I mentioned so far is only a few of many,
then I would like to try to cover the basics of how to fish cold water. For purposes of
this discussion, lets consider cold water to be anything less than fifty degrees F.

One thing that is always important is the amount of food. We all know that when
most aquatic insects hatch, the trout can eat them much easier than they normally
can find and eat the larvae or pupae. They become exposed, so to speak, and put
themselves in a position of being on the trout's dinning table. They must accent to
the surface or crawl to the banks or rocks to fly away.
Now you are probably wondering what this has to do with cold water. Well, for one
thing there are a lot of species of aquatic insects that thrive and hatch in cold
water, again meaning fifty degrees or lower. Most of what are called blue-winged
olives, with the exception of the Eastern Blue-winged Olives which are crawlers,
hatch in water around fifty degrees and less. Several species of them, including
many species of
baetis, commonly hatch in water that is in the mid forties. Some
species of stoneflies will hatch in cold water. They include the Winter stoneflies and
some of the Little Brown species. Many of the caddisflies will hatch in water fifty
degrees and below. The second most plentiful and important species, or group of
species, the Branchycentridae family species, hatch in water forty-six to forty-eight
degrees. These Little Black Caddis can cause a feeding frenzy in cold water. The
Chimarra caddis will start hatching in the Smokies when the water is between
forty-four and forty-eight degrees. Some species of the short-horned caddis or the
Glossosoma genera hatch in water from forty-five to fifty degrees. Quill Gordon
mayflies will start hatching in the high forties if they are well in a developed stage,
and at fifty degrees as a normal thing. Right in line with them are the Blue Quills.
They hatch in water about the same range in temperature in huge numbers here in
the smokies.
I haven't mentioned a big one yet. One most of your probably never even think of
when you are fishing streams in the Smokies - midges. Trout feed on midges all
winter long. They hatch throughout the winter.
In fact it is even common to catch trout feeding on the surface in water that is in the
high forties and low fifties.

I think you can see that water between forty-five and fifty degrees can and does
bring on some big hatches. During those times, cold water temperature doesn't
seem to intimidate anglers like it does when it is not time for those insects to hatch.
This time of the year, those that don't know any better, often look at water in that
same temperature range as being too cold. That is a huge mistake and points to a
big misunderstanding of trout.

Just because these big hatches haven't yet occurred doesn't mean the trout do not
eat in water in that same temperature range. They eat plenty. They eat enough that
catching them is no problem provided you know how. In fact, catching a lot of them
is in many ways easier in water within that range than it is in water that is in the low
sixties, for example.

Now I haven't discussed water less than forty-five degrees yet, but it is also not that
difficult to have a great day and catch plenty of trout when the water is within that
range of temperatures.

What do the trout eat in the cold water? With the exception of blue-winged olives
and a few other aquatic insects that hatch, they eat the larvae and pupae of
aquatic insects. After all, between now and about the first of March, you will find
more larvae and pupae in the water than there will be anytime for another year.
Most of the hatches ended months ago and the water is full of aquatic insects.
There is approximately fifty times as many developed larvae and pupae in the water
now as there will be at the middle of June, for example.

Tomorrow I will get into where the trout hold and how they feed in cold water.

Copyright 2008 James Marsh