Fishing Cold Water in the Great Smoky Mountains - Winter
Stoneflies - Part 15

Fishing stonefly nymph or adult imitations in the cold water during the winter months
in the streams of Great Smoky Mountains National Park isn't a great deal different
than fishing them at any other time. However, there are a few differences well worth
noting that may make a big difference in your success. The main one is that you
need to fish the nymph imitation as slow as possible.

The Little Winter Stoneflies hatch from moderate to fast water. They are not found
in the deep pools or any still water areas of the streams. They crawl out of the
faster water to hatch and that is where you should be fishing your imitation of the
nymph. You should keep the nymph on the bottom because that is how they crawl
out. They don't swim. They crawl along the bottom and that is what you want your
fly to do. This means under most conditions, you will want to weight the fly down to
help keep it there and prevent the current from moving the fly too fast. I suggest
you use split-spot placed a few inches above the fly. This way you can vary the
weight until you get it right for the current. tippet size, fly size and places you are

The best way to present the nymph is to fish upstream along the banks. I only
suggest wading in situations where you cannot fish from the banks. Trees and
brush may prevent it. Even then I would be careful wading in the cold water. It is
dangerous especially if you are by yourself. Stay well back from the banks and cast
the fly a few feet upstream and out from the bank (fifteen feet out and up) only a
few feet - never any father than the center of the stream. Get it on the bottom as
quickly as possible by mending your line and then begin to retrieve it back to the
bank along the bottom. You want to use your non-rod hand and strip the line in a
couple of inches at a time. Short strips that keep the fly on the bottom will work best.

Do not use a strike indicator because you cannot keep the fly on the bottom using
one. You must detect the strikes by watching your leader and fly line or by feeling
the trout take the fly. This requires that you concentrate on the fishing and your line
and leader. The takes are not going to shake the earth. They may only be very
light taps. The trout are not going to hold the fly very long as a general rule. They
should be small, black or dark brown nymphs. I suggest a hook size 18, not larger
than a 16 at the largest.

Making a lot of short upstream cast is far better than making longer cast. One  
reason is that if you make a long cast, your fly will end up downstream and your
retrieve will be back upstream right along the bank in a direction that does not
imitate the stonefly nymphs crawling out of the water. You want the final retrieve to
be perpendicular to the bank. I would suggest a 5X tippet and relatively short leader
of say, seven and one-half feet.

I haven't mentioned fishing the dry fly imitation of the adult stoneflies yet. I would
only recommend doing so in cases where you observe the adults depositing their
eggs on the surface. It is possible that you may find this occurring during the same
time they are hatching. If so, I would still fish the nymph. Unless the water is above
lets say, forty-five degrees, I wouldn't try it even though you see them on the
surface. I don't think many trout will be rising to the fly in that cold of water. If the
water is fifty degrees or higher, they most certainly will be rising to the adults
depositing their eggs. Fish the adult imitation of the same fly sizes as the size of the
nymphs I suggested. Fish them exactly where you observe the egg laying activity
and again, if you don't see them depositing their eggs on the surface, don't waste
time fishing the dry fly adult imitation.

Fishing an imitation of the small winter stonefly nymphs is one of the best ways to
fish these streams in the dead of the winter. Small Pheasant Tail nymphs will work
okay. Our "Perfect Fly" specific imitations coming very soon, within a week or two at
the most, will work far better.
Good Luck!

Copyright 2008 James Marsh