Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.   Blue-winged Olives
3.   Little Yellow Stoneflies
4.   Slate Drakes
5.   Cream Cahills - hatching in Isolated locations
6.   Little Yellow Quills
7.   Needle Stoneflies
8.   Beetles
9.   Grasshoppers
10. Ants
11. Crane Flies
12. Helligramite
13. Streamers - matching sculpin, baitfish and small crawfish

The Learning Process -  Part 78
I hope you have been following this series at least since October 8th, otherwise, I don't think this
article will make much sense to you.

Finding the Quill Gordon nymphs (several years ago) helped us pinpoint the
locations in the streams where they hatch but it still left us scratching our heads.
We didn't figure everything out about them and we haven't since, because some
streams that have good populations of Quill Gordons in one area, have none in
other areas of the stream even though they appear to be the same exact type of
water. I'm certain there is a reason for it. We just haven't figured it out.

When most anglers fishing near the beginning of the Quill Gordon hatch were
catching little to nothing, we were catching trout consistently on nymphs. It it was
only because we were fishing the right spots in the streams where the real nymphs
were congregated getting ready to hatch directly exposed to the trout. When they
first started to hatch and the water was still marginal, or reaching almost fifty
degrees, we consistently caught them using wet flies when few other anglers caught
any. When the water is cold, the trout just don't feed aggressively on the surface.
That changes fast when the hatch gets fully underway and the water gets into the
low fifties. You can usually catch them on the surface on dry flies. However, we
have found that we can usually catch more on the wet fly. Even so, we often swap
to the dry fly just because we prefer to fish a dry fly.

Dealing with collecting the insects to video and photo, lead us into another element
of the hatch. During that same trip while we were sitting on the bank shooting
images of little chimney-cased caddis, Angie noticed more Quill Gordons flying low
over the water. I couldn't see them but she insisted large mayflies was there. She
got the net we use for flying insects and waded into the stream. After making a few
sweeps of the net, she got back out of the water with a net full of Quill Gordon
spinners. I knew at first glance from researching them, that they were spinners. It
wasn't long before dark, and I may have even violated the park's rules by fishing
that late. At any rate, I tied on a rusty spinner fly, went downstream a short ways
and proceeded to catch six trout about as fast as you can possibly catch six trout.
The rules dawned on me and I stopped fishing.

Up to that point in our learning process, we had never heard anyone mention the
Quill Gordon spinner fall. In fact, all of the anglers we spotted fishing (Middle Prong
of Little River) had left two or three hours earlier as soon as the hatch had stopped.
We, or I should say she, just accidentally discovered the spinner fall without looking
for it. I had read about it but I had not as much as thought about fishing it. In fact, I
don't think we had ever fished a spinner fall in the East up to that point in time. We
had fished a Gray Drake spinner fall out West, along with many other anglers, but
nothing in the East. By the way, we have caught fish every year since that time
(during legal hours) on the Quill Gordon spinner fall.

Until this very day, I have yet to hear a single local angler, or visiting
angler for that matter, as much as mention the Quill Gordon spinner fall.
doesn't alway occur after legal fishing hours, although it sometimes does. If it is a
rainy or heavily clouded day, it will start earlier in the afternoon. If it is one of those
warm Spring days with air temperatures in the seventies, it will occur later and
sometimes right at dusk. This is probably part of the reason it isn't considered
important by the locals. Another obvious reason is that many anglers just don't
know their insects. Many don't even know what a spinner is. They have been told by
the self proclaimed experts that the fish can't be choosy - that they have to eat what
ever is available.  They have been told there wasn't enough of any one insect in the
streams of the Smokies to be important. They have been told there were few
aquatic insects in the Smokies. They have been told that there's so few aquatic
insects to eat, that the trout will eat anything they can find to eat.  
As I pointed out
already, such information is completely false.
Trout can be fooled by a fly
passing by them in fast water in any stream in the nation, not just the streams of the
Smokies. It doesn't matter if is the riffles or fast pocket water of the Madison River
or Little River. That fact has nothing to do with the aquatic insect population.
fact doesn't mean that a fly that looks and acts like the real insects that are
most available to the trout at the time, isn't better than Dave Crockett's
favorite fly.
If I'm guilty of heresies for saying that, then so are the guys that
found out the world is round rather than flat.

I have researched information from several Universities regarding this, aquatic
insect samples taken by various organizations, and everything that has been
documented in writing concerning aquatic insect population in the Smokies. What I
can find was done strictly for non-fishing purposes and without regard to quantities,
only to determine the species that exist in the park. I suppose anglers are supposed
to think the fat rainbows just desperately search the water, eating terrestrial insects
that accidentally fall into the water. Our skim nets have not turned up as many as
one out of a hundred terrestrials compared to the aquatic species. Ninety-five
percent of the time, even during the prime terrestrial season, they turn up none. We
have spent many hours that total into many days acquiring and taking images of the
insects in the park. We have spent many days across the nation from coast to coast
doing the same thing in the best trout streams. I think I have a good idea of the food
that exist in the streams.

I think anglers are guilty of just copying and repeating false statements that
someone made early in the park's history of fly fishing. Although everyone,
including me, should be highly appreciative of the old timers and early mountain
men's methods of fishing, we shouldn't try to copy their techniques and methods of
fishing. We can learn a lot from it but that is about the full extent of its benefits. For
example, we have found that some of the shapes and colors of the old fly patterns
were obviously selected for very good reasons.

I also think many anglers and fly fishing writers try to compare the aquatic insect
population to
false visions of hatches that occur in the streams in the western
and northeastern part of the country. There are as just as many aquatic insects in
the streams of the Smokies as there are in the typical Catskill trout streams. There
are actually more in the Smokies than there are in many of the headwater streams
of western trout streams. Fishing isn't a religion. What is locally referred to as "well
established belief", is nothing more than pure baloney. That is the problem. Nothing
has ever been established with regards to aquatic insect population in the Southern
trout streams. We have taken samples of aquatic insects from well over a 100 trout
streams across the country during the last seven years. We have done so in
different parts (types of water) within the streams because that changes the
population and species. In all due respect to any and everyone, I don't base my
beliefs about the sport of fishing on false information like some of the old writers
who obviously think fishing is a religion.

There are some huge hatches of insects in a few of the western streams, but there
are fewer species of them, especially mayflies. Little River has far more mayfly
species of mayflies than the Madison River, for example. Granted, many of them
are not as high in quantities as those in the Madison but some of them are. That's
because the Madison is over half, spring creek water. It gets half or more of its
water from the Firehole River. It has a huge net-spinning caddisfly population
because of Quake Lake's surface water. I'll explain that later. Abrams Creek and
parts of other streams in the park have good populations of caddisflies also.

One other reason is that some anglers have attempted to compare the streams of
the Smokies with sections of western rivers that are not really comparable. All of the
streams in the Smokies are actually headwater streams. Even I like to call the little
tiny brook trout streams, headwater streams and those at the lower elevations in
the park, the lower sections of the streams. However, that really isn't the case. All of
the streams in the park, except for the very lowest elevations, are really headwater
streams. It is the only water that stays cool enough to support wild trout. When you
compare the Madison River's forty mile riffle with Little River, for example, you
should compare it downstream past Maryville, so to speak and the upper
Tennessee River. The Missouri River would be comparable to the Tennessee River
at Guntersville, Alabama. Our streams are geographically located in the South, not
46 degrees North of the equator like most of Montana.

The other distorted fact about it is that it doesn't take a huge hatch for the trout to
concentrate on eating one insect. I am using "concentrate" as opposed to eat
"selectively" because selective feeding is taken by many to mean "exclusively" and
that doesn't accurately describe what occurs. Selective feeding is another thing
many writers have used incorrectly or I should say impractically. They also relate it
only to surface feeding trout. They forget that most aquatic insects are not eaten on
the surface and that trout can feed selectively below the surface.
The important
point is that trout are always going to eat the most plentiful and the most
available food.
That don't necessarily mean they will refuse to eat anything else at
the time, or feed "selectively".

There is yet another problem that distorts this. When there is a huge hatch of a
particular insect, it is often very difficult to catch trout on a imitation that closely
matches that insect. The odds of a trout selecting your fly over hundreds of real
insects are low. Huge hatches aren't necessarily great for the angler. They can
make fishing more difficult.

Back to the learning process, a few years ago at the time I have been writing about,
If we had not started our program of collecting, photographing and digital video, we
wouldn't have discovered what we learned about the Quill Gordon mayfly and we
wouldn't have been able to consistently catch trout prior to, during and after the
time the Quill Gordons hatched. When others were waiting for the trout to hit their
flies on the surface, we caught plenty of trout on nymphs in the locations the
nymphs had congregated. In the early stages of the hatch, when trout were "not
looking up" as the locals put it, we caught plenty of trout on wet flies, imitating the
emerging Quill Gordons. After the other anglers had left the streams in the
afternoons, we were catching trout on the spinner fall - not always, but sometimes.

That is just a very small part of what the early stages of studying the insects did for
our fishing. We learned much more about the other mayflies that hatch near the
same time - the Blue Quills. When we started kick netting the shallow areas of the
streams and places along the edges with slow to moderate flowing water, we picked
up far more Blue Quill nymphs than we did in the riffles and runs. In fact our net
would sometimes be full of them. Every once in a while we would catch a
Blue-winged Olive nymph. It wasn't that there were not many in the streams, they
are just difficult to catch in a kick net. They are easily caught in a closed net along
with the large Slate Drake nymphs. We also usually caught some Little Brown
Stonefly nymphs, in the shallow, slower water. I now know why and will discuss that
later. My point is, we discovered the dark wing pad (about to hatch) Blue Quills,
hatched in the slow to moderate water that was usually fairly shallow. They didn't
hatch in the deep pools, but they did around the pools in shallow water and at the
tails of the pools with slow moving water. Most of them hatched in water near the
banks in shallow pockets or areas where the water was moving slow. We could
collect a net full in that type of water but only a few in the faster water.

I can tell you for certain, there is no shortage of Blue Quills in the streams of the
Smokies. In fact, the hatch last far longer than the Quill Gordon hatch. This is off
the subject at our "leaning process" but we also found lots of their kinfolks, or
Mahogany Duns that hatch in late August and September. They are not fully grown
in March and appear to be a completely different mayfly. We didn't know what they
were at the time. I mention it because this is another very plentiful mayfly that is
rarely mentioned that exist in plentiful quantities in the Smokies. I have only met one
local angler that knew what they were, or that fishes the hatch.

Also keep in mind that the mayfly I am calling a Mahogany Dun is a name many
locals use for a larger, completely different mayfly - the Slate Drake. On the other
hand, in some areas of the country, the "Blue Quill" is the same insect most
Easterners call the Mahogany Dun. What a Blue Quill, Slate Drake or a Mahogany
Dun really is, depends on who you are talking to. That is just a drop in the bucket
compared to the total confusion that exist when common names are used for
aquatic insects. I have intentionally avoided mentioning the scientific name of an
insect for the last few days. When we first started studying the insects, we ran into a
huge problem with common names. It didn't take us long to completely give up on
them. I will get into names tomorrow. Then I will get back to our Blue Quills and how
that hatch is usually not fished the best way in the Smokies.

I despise having to learn another language probably as much as anyone. I am just
not going to do it. I can only speak English well enough to communicate most of the
time. My college English professors wouldn't go that far. If you have read much that
I have written, I'm sure you picked up on that fast. When I discovered that the
scientist never used common names of the insects, and that using their chosen
scientific names was the only possible way to positively identify aquatic insects, or
even know what the heck someone in New York, or Montana was talking about,
almost freaked out.
The only Latin I knew was one line of Pig Latin.


Copyright 2009 James Marsh