Sunday, March 23, 2014

South Holston Fish Camp

Back in my younger days, before kids were in the picture, we would do at least one fish camp trip per year if not more.  During that time we discovered a little jewel of a location up on the South Holston River, that allowed us to camp right on the river with access to some phenomenal midge and sulfur hatch water.  Unfortunately, two years ago I discovered that the property owner had passed away, and the property was in the middle of some legal and insurance disputes.  So, I figured that my opportunity to go back to this place was long gone.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the original owner's daughter was trying to commercialize the farm and allow camping.  I looked up her website, and saw that she had implemented a whole new pricing structure and that she had lost a large parcel of river frontage in the aftermath of the death.  Regardless, I was seriously needing to get away for a couple of days for some serious fishing before turkey season starts up.

Buzz and I made the drive up on Thursday after taking the afternoon off work.  It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 60's.  When we arrived at the river we had it all to ourselves and there was a nice little midge hatch coming off with the sporadic Baetis emerging.  About 30 minutes after I arrived Buzz pulled in, and the temptation to fish was too great.  So, we abandoned some of the camp setup procedure and got geared up to hit the water.  

I made my way upstream to a section of river that I enjoy fishing, and started swinging a Baetis soft hackle with a BHPT dropper.  Within a couple of minutes I had a tug on the end of my line and pulled in my first colorful brown trout.  Little did I know this would be the largest trout of my trip at right around 12".  

I immediately began to question my decision to leave my DSLR back in the car instead of bring it with me, as the sunlight glare was not allowing me to capture the bright coloration of the fish.  

I fished for probably another hour before going back to camp to get my dry fly box, which I also left in the car.  While at camp the property owner came by and I spent a lot of time there talking to her about how much things had changed and her plans for the property going forward.  All this time Buzz continued to fish and bring in some trout for himself.  

Eventually, the beautiful day lead way to the evening and the fishing began to slow.  Although the sunset was very nice.

The weather forecast had showed a high of 65 on Thursday, and an overnight low of 43 degrees.  However, as we sat around the fire roasting our sausage dogs we began to question the accuracy of that forecast as it began to get cold quickly.  We both got a little chilled during the night, and I discovered that my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad had gone down to about 1/3 full which allowed cold air to come up from beneath me through my MH Ultralamina 15 bag.  This was not because of a leak, but the reduction of air volume as a result of the cold temps.  When we rolled out of our bags Friday morning around 7:30 we discovered that everything was blanketed with a hard frost, and learned that the temps had dropped down into the 20's!  Also there was a large smoke cloud coming from just across the mountain, and appeared to be up near the lake.


Buzz quickly got a fire going to help with the chill and get some hot water for breakfast.

Breakfast of Champions
The river was still high from the pulse, so we just fished from the bank near camp.  Surprisingly Buzz found a nice little pod of young brownies willing to take his offering.

Once the water came down I took Buzz downstrean to another previously productive area, and we found the motherlode of trout sitting in a small depression about 10' in diameter.  We probably landed between 15 and 20 trout out of that one hole.  


After wearing out this pod of fish we went back to camp for a quick lunch, and the fish in front of camp continued to take midges while we ate.  While we ate we watched a couple of other people get on the water and begin to fish in front of camp, so we chose to go upstream and fish some other water.  Not only did the water look fantastic, the overall scenery was not too shabby either.

You can barely see Buzz in the photo on the far right of the picture.  He got into a pod of fish up there and probably caught 12 to 15 out of that one little run, with rarely a fishless cast in between.  It was quite a display.  So, he invited me to come on up and give it a go, and I managed to pick up a few like this guy as well.

Eventually our backs and eyes began to hurt after so many hours of fishing, and I imagine Buzz's arm was starting to get sore after catching probably 40 fish by this time.  So, we went back to camp for a snack and to just relax.  During that time we continued to question the smoke just over the mountain top, so we decided to drive up to the dam and see if we could see what it was.

It turns out that the forestry service was doing a controlled burn over an area greater than 3,800 acres.  By far the largest controlled burn I have seen in my lifetime, and quite impressive considering the gusty winds we had experienced all day long.  We then returned to camp and found the river all to ourselves again, and fish taking midges in front of us was too tempting.  So we geared up and went back after them.  Once again, Buzz had the magic fly that the fish were just crazy over.  I picked up a couple here and there, but his midge was easily collecing 5 fish to my 1, if not more in some spots.  Upon later examination, while I thought we were fishing the same fly as we both referred to it by the same name, it turns out that his fly was significantly different than mine.  Needless to say, I will be tying up some just like this for future trips, as it obviously was what they preferred.  I have had days like that on the South Holston before where the trout were so selective that they would only take a #22 stripper midge with a brown bead.  If I tried using a #22 stripper with a black bead, my strike rate would easily be reduced to 1/3 or less...  This trip Buzz had the fly and the technique that allowed him to have a phenomenal day on the water.  I would guess his fish count at somewhere around 50 for Friday alone.

By the time dinner came around we were both exhausted, but I had planned something different for dinner that night.  Original plans was for there to be 3 or 4 of us on this trip, but David Knapp was unable to make it and my other buddy Dave had to cancel at the last minute for personal reasons.  However, I had planned to make deer steak fajitas for everybody, and I was going to make them for Buzz and I.

The final product turned out pretty good if I do say so myself.  Although, next time I will tenderize and marinate the meat at home so it may be a little better for fajitas.

That night we both slept extremely peacefully, and the temps only got down to probably the mid 30's so we were much more comfortable.  Buzz actually got a little warm in his sleeping arrangement, and for the record that was the largest sleeping pad I have ever seen...  :)  Saturday morning we woke up to smoke choked valley and increasing cloud cover.  Also, apparently TVA had changed the generation schedule from what we thought it was supposed to be and our fishing chances were dramatically limited.  So we chose to just break down camp and start our drive back to Knoxville.  All-in-all it was a very nice trip, with lots of fish brought to hand.  I really wish David and Dave could have made the trip as well, and Buzz and I found ourselves joking the first evening about WWDKD (what would David Knapp do) while trying to figure out what they were taking.  Unfortunately, this camping area has dramatically declined from what it used to be.  The area available for camping is easily 1/3 of what it originally was, and there is no longer a bathroom.  While this would not normally be a concern, it is when you consider that you are camping basically in the middle of a field with houses on both sides of you.  So, you can't just go do your business anywhere.  Additionally, there is no longer running water available at the campsite, unless you want to do your dishes in river water...  Although, these inconveniences may be too much for some people, I think the proximity to the river with quality water nearby outweighs these negatives.

I hope you have enjoyed this report, and stay tuned for more reports.  Turkey season opens this coming weekend, and I hope to have some early reports from those trips with my two kids to share with you.  Until next time, tight lines and God bless.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Father-Son Camping Trip

I thought I would share a few pictures from my recent father-son camping trip in the Smokies a couple of weeks ago.  I try to do a couple of these trips with Trey each year, and as he gets older I am going to try and do even more of them.  He really enjoys our little trips, as he always has lots of questions about the animals, plants, and rocks...  I try to answer as many of those as I can, but sometimes he asks questions that requires me to do a little research and respond later.  So, in a way we both have an educational experience as well..  I hope you enjoy!

The weather was beautiful
We did a little fishing
Trey caught his first trout on a fly
Spent a little time sitting by the fire
Trey's favorite camping meal - sausage dogs
You can't take a kid camping without smores
We woke up to a chilly 35 degree morning, but Trey didn't complain
Even Trey's animals wanted to be near the fire...
A warm bowl of oatmeal was comforting
Trey enjoying the scenery

Felt like we had the place to ourselves, so nice to not have to deal with the hoards of tourists
Signs of Spring....
The number one sign of Spring I have been waiting for!
I typically avoid Cades Cove like the plague, however this weekend just prior to the start of Spring Break was quite nice.  Crowds were extremely low, and the campgound was not busy at all.  Unfortunately, we did manage to have a couple of large RV's pull in beside us and fire up their generators for hours.  Trey kept walking around saying "I wish they would turn that noise off!  What are they doing over there?".  I had to explain to him that camping means different things to different people, and although we don't camp that way other people do.  Those of you who know me know that I personally don't care for large RV's and despise generators when camping.  In the words of Jase Robertson "Once you bring something with wheels and that's enclosed, you are no longer camping.  You're parking!"  I completely agree!  However, in an attempt to not bias his opinion one way or the other, I tried to keep my opinion out of the discussion.

I hope you enjoyed the photo post, and my next post will be about a South Holston River trout fish camp trip.  Stay tuned!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Back to Fishing

After a long harsh winter with virtually no fishing, this past weekend offered an opportunity.  My wife and I were attending a marriage retreat in Pigeon Forge (which is about the only reason I will enter that horrific area), and I had some free time on Sunday after it concluded.  I had been looking at the weather and thought it looked as if it may be getting favorable for a Quill Gordon hatches to begin.

Once the retreat adjourned I had our bags and gear packed up and ready to go, but realized that I had not yet purchased my 2014 license yet.  So, a quick stop by Little River Outfitters was in order to pick that up and then off to the river it would be.  However, upon arrival at the shop Daniel presented me with a very interesting proposition.  They had recently gotten in a 7'-6" 4-wt Orvis Superfine Glass rod and he asked me if I wanted to take it out and give it a go on the river.  Originally, I hesitated, but quickly caved as I thought about this opportunity.  So, once Daniel had the rod packaged up we were off for a quick fishing trip, as I only had a couple of hours to spend before we needed to head back into Knoxville.

About the only time of year that I will even consider fishing roadside is in March during the Quill Gordon hatch, and most other times I prefer to be somewhere a little more remote to avoid all the tourists.  When we pulled up to the spot I had intended to fish, the water looked excellent.  However, there were some ominous clouds overhead and the wind was beginning to pick up.

Orvis Superfine Glass & Battenkill Bar Stock Reel
I got the rod rigged up and chose to use my own Orvis BBS II reel instead of the one at LRO, and on the first cast discovered just how sweet of a rod this is.  It was a medium action rod with a full flex that allowed for effortless casting.

Simple but elegant reel seat

I actually began to see a few QG's coming off in the first little run I was fishing, but the trout were showing no interest.  So, I changed over to a QG wetfly with a BHPT dropper.  That was the ticket as I got a strike on the very next run swinging the flies in an across and down presentation.  Unfortunately, this approach typically gives me some difficulty getting a solid hookset, and that little guy quickly came unbuttoned.

Thankfully, just a few more yards downstream I managed to bring in the first trout of the day.

This guy crushed my BHPT
It was quite nice to feel a tug on the end of this sweet little rod, and get my first fish of the year to hand.  At this point, I would have actually been content to just call it a day after only about 15 minutes of fishing.  However, I chose to take advantage of the opportunity and continue on at least while the wind was still allowing me to fish some.

So, I continued on fishing downstream (my preferred approach when swinging wetflies), and managed to stick a couple more trout but once again they came off before bringing them to hand.  Eventually, I came to a very nice long sweeping run with an undercut bank along the outside.  I just knew there had to be something in there, so I carefully crawled up to it and presented my fly.  I gave it a good long drift and then began to swing so that it kissed the edge of the undercut bank.  That is when I saw a flash and set the hook into a much more hefty fish.  The full flex glass rod doubled over and I saw a large shimmering body come near the surface but not out of the water.  I quickly landed this guy and tried to snap a picture, however he had other plans as he managed to squirm free from my hand and drop into the water.  The only shot I got does not display the coloring on him, but you can see most of his 10" length.  Definitely the largest rainbow I have caught out of the particular stream I was fishing.  Shortly after landing this guy the frontal system moved into the area and brought heavy winds that were making my casting a little difficult.

Healthy 10" Rainbow
While the QG's were not popping in large numbers, they were beginning to make their debut when I called it quits around 12:45 to begin our drive back to Knoxville.  In a little over an hour of fishing I managed to land two rainbows and let a few more get off while swinging flies.  Plus the water levels looked awesome!  Unfortunately the crazy winter appeared to have taken a toll on the trees lining the streams in the park as there were a lot more deadfalls in places that I typically have not experienced any.  I don't know how this short cold snap is going to affect the QG and Blue Quill hatch, but it should be game on in the next couple of weeks.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Wild Game Cooking: Deer Liver Tacos

I like to brag that my family consists of adventurous eaters.  We took both of our children to eat sushi as soon as they turned two, and now my five year old considers it his favorite meal.  Additionally, my five year old son and two-and-a- half year old daughter love to watch and talk about hunting.  So, naturally we try to find ways to make the most of our harvest.  For years now I have been saving the heart and liver from all of the deer I kill, assuming they aren't shredded by shot.  However, I wanted to try and find a different way to cook the liver as it has a very strong flavor that my wife finds somewhat objectionable (much stronger than beef liver).  Lately my family has been on a kick for traditional tacos such as beef tongue, beef cheek, and pork stomach.  So, that got me to thinking about a deer liver taco, and I gave it a try.  Thankfully, it was a smash as my wife and son loved the combination of flavors.  Below is a list of ingredients I used for our tacos:


  • Deer liver (diced into small chunks 1/2" x 1/2")
  • Butter
  • Diced onion
  • Diced garlic
  • Sea salt
  • Chili powder
  • Cilantro
  • Salsa
  • Tortilla shells
I sauteed the diced liver in butter with onion, garlic, sea salt, and chili powder.
Look at that dark red-brown liver!

I sauteed it on low heat so as not to overcook the liver.
Liver, Onions, Garlic, & Chili Powder in butter
Once cooked to a medium well consistency, I removed from the heat and began to build the tacos.  The tacos consisted of a small flour tortilla (however corn could also be used) which I then layered with diced onion, cilantro, liver, and salsa.
Constructed taco
I hope this recipe may have inspired you to try and do something different with your wild game.  There is a whole new world of flavors out there that can be experienced when you open yourself up and use your imagination....

My son gives it a thumbs up!

Friday, January 31, 2014

New East TN Flyfishing Guide Service

If anybody out there is thinking about doing any fishing in East TN or the Cumberland Plateau in the near future, whether it be on an area tailwater or in the Smoky Mountains during a vacation, I highly recommend you give my buddy David Knapp a call.  David has an ability unlike anybody I have ever fished with to locate and connect with fish.  The guy has eyes like a raptor, and can spot fish holding in places that I could stare at for hours and never see a thing.  He is a brown trout magnet, and that really begins to show when the leaves start to fall in October.  However, don't let all his fishing skills fool you, he is still a great guy to be around and learn from.  Below is a link to his now website, give it a look:

http://www.troutzoneanglers.com/

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kryptek Cadog Jacket Review

Below is my review of a recent hunting gear purchase, and I expect to be buying more gear from this company in the future.  Quality gear, extremely comfortable, and high performance hunting apparel.  Sorry for the subpar video quality.  Apparently my older camcorder has begun on the downward trend of its lifetime...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Frozen Head State Park Hike

It has been a crazy winter around the office.  The office "shutdown" for two weeks during the holidays, but unfortunately my global work load did not allow me to fully enjoy vacation during that time.  Additionally, the weather during that period was so poor that even when I did have free time it wasn't very conducive to hunting, hiking, or fishing.  I did make it out one day to fish with buddies David Knapp of The Trout Zone and Buzz from the LRO forum.  Although I didn't manage to catch anything, it was still nice to get out and enjoy the Smoky Mountains with those guys.  You can read David's report here: Report: Smokies Interlude

However, I still felt like I just had not taken the time I needed to decompress from the crazy workload I had seen during December and early January.  So, when I checked the extended forecast last week I saw that right in the middle of a lengthy cold streak we were to have a beautiful, sunny, and warm day.  So, I asked my manager if I could have a little decompression time.  Thankfully, he agreed that I could use the time, and I began to try and decide what to do.  At that time I contacted Buzz to see if he was interested in either going fishing, squirrel hunting, or hiking.  TVA apparently hates us as of late, as all tailwaters were blown out.  Ironically Buzz has been wanting to try some trails out at a nearby state park that I have always overlooked, so we both agreed that Frozen Head State Park in the Cumberland Mountains of East TN is where we should go.

Upon arrival at the park we discovered the ranger station was closed during lunch hours, so we took a look at the somewhat simplified map outside and selected a trail.  The trail we chose was the South Old Mac Trail that lead up to the top of the mountain and an overlook tower.  Total distance rountrip was 7.2 miles with an elevation gain of 2,100 ft (which we didn't know until afterward).  A little bit more than I would typically choose for my first hiking trip after several months of downtime, but Buzz provided motivation to push on in a timely manner.
The Hike In
I am very thankful that we did as the sight from the top was quite scenic, and even the sights along the hike were beautiful.  We passed old CCC buildings, sandstone bluffs that the cumberland mountains are famous for, caves, large ice formations, and other sights.
Trail is lined with sandstone shelves like this
I brought along more gear than I needed, expecting it to be a little cool at the top.  For example I brought along my MSR Pocket Rocket stove and cookpot to make some hot chocolate, my Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover in case it was a bit chilly, and even an extra fleece vest in case I needed it for the hike out.  Additionally,  I had my typical items that I carry on all day hikes which includes a first aid kit, emergency fire starting kit, and safety blanket in the event that an accident were to happen.  Ironically, Buzz and I noted on the hike in how many people we encountered that were making this moderately difficult hike without anything other than a single bottle of water in their hand and a T-shirt.  We both commented that we would rather be safe by bringing a little extra water, a first aid kit, and a fire kit than to find ourselves stranded without these necessities.  After cresting the top of the mountain and spending some time in the top of the tower, we made our way back down the mountain so we could keep our dinner plans with our families.

This is a park that I intend to visit again in the near future, and am seriously considering bringing my son here for either a car camping trip or his first overnight backpacking trip.  There are multiple backcountry sites, anywhere from 1/2 mile to several miles from the parking lot.

Below are some pictures from this nice little day hike that my legs are still recovering from.

Stopping for our first water break
Another of the ever-present ledges
This one had massive icicles, up to 4' long
Tub Springs Backcountry Campground at the top of the mountain
The view from the top



Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Outdoorsman's Conumdrum

I like to think of myself as an outdoorsman.  I have always considered myself to be an outdoor type of person, especially since I grew up on a farm.  As a kid we only had 4 television channels, and those only got reception occasionally.  At a young age my dad introduced me to fishing, then a little later to hunting.  He taught my brother and I how to take care of the land or water, and it will provide for you.  We cared for the farm and the animals that lived on it, and we always picked up trash alongside the lake while fishing.  We were just doing our part to try and keep things as natural as possible, and protect the resources we enjoyed.  In my mid to late teens I discovered fly fishing and fly tying, and it quickly consumed all of my attention I had previously devoted to other outdoor hobbies.  I found myself falling into the dilemma that is so common today, I enjoyed one hobby more than the others and thought I would not succeed at that one hobby if my attention was divided among multiple others.  I actually carried this philosophy along for easily 10 years.  As all of my hunting and high end bass fishing gear lay around collecting dust, I focused 100% of my attention on fly fishing - primarily for trout.

A good percentage of time fly fishing was spent in Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP), where I chased wild brook, rainbow, and brown trout.  This also allowed me to soak in the beautiful scenery and enjoy catching fish simultaneously.  As I continued to explore fishing in GSMNP, I learned that the fishing seemed to be easier the farther one separated himself from civilization.  So, as a result I began to gain interest in hiking and backpacking.  It was inevitable, because many trips required a 4+ mile hike one way to prime fishing areas, and this hike was made easier by implementing the most recent innovations and gear used in the hiking community.  Eventually, this lead to me developing relationships with other people who enjoy hiking, and some of those also enjoyed fishing.  Occasionally, I would have a hiking buddy come along with me, and then they would just hang out at our destination while I fished for a couple hours before making the return hike to the car.  This past year I actually expanded my fishing routine into overnight fishing trips in the back-country where I once again utilized technology and gear developed for the backpacking crowd.  My gear and clothing selection seemed to now include as much Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear as it did Orvis and Fishpond.  Not a bad thing, as I do consider myself a gear junkie and these items were quite flexible.

Somewhere along the way I re-discovered my passion for hunting.  Not just deer hunting, but turkey hunting as well.  Additionally, I am now making plans for a future antelope hunt out west.  Unfortunately, all of my clothes were too small after sitting in storage for 10 years, so I had to restock my entire wardrobe.  This is the point where things began to start getting a little strange for me, and I noticed a significant division in the mentality of "Sportsmen".  I figured I would re-purpose some of my Patagonia and Mtn Hardwear clothing into my hunting wardrobe.  As, most of the high performance hunting clothing was quite expensive.  Especially considering I buy all of my clothing during end of year clearance sales for 50% off....  I found myself in a local hiking store one day looking at some items to purchase, and mentioned that the item I was looking at would work wonderfully for my fishing trips to GSMNP as it was breathable enough to hike in but also warm once I arrived.  The salesperson agreed with me.  However, next I mentioned that I could also use if for late season deer hunting, and you would have thought I had just strangled the person's puppy.  A look of shock and disgust came across his face.  He basically nodded his head, and excused himself to help somebody else.  I found it quite odd, but continued to browse through the store.  Later that night, I did a search of websites looking for reviews of the particular item I was searching for, and discovered that somebody else was being ridiculed on a hiking blog for mentioning hunting.  This peaked my interest, so my search then changed from a product review to something entirely different.

I discovered after reviewing various websites consisting of outdoor forums, backpacking forums, and hunting forums that there is vast discrepancy in philosophy and perception among outdoor groups.  I learned that hunters generally consider hikers and backpackers to be tree hugging, overly-sensitive, yuppies who want nothing more than to protect everything.  Conversely, hikers and backpackers view hunters as redneck trophy hunters who only want to kill an animal and stick the head on their wall.  Not only that, but they seemed to have moral objections to wearing clothing that is geared toward the other side of the divide.  For example, hunters for the most part disliked eco-friendly high performance clothing, and backpackers would rather go naked than to sport apparel from a company like Under Armour who has an extensive hunting line and minimal green practices.

I like to think of myself as an outdoors-man, because of all the activities I previously mentioned.  In my discussions with non-hunters I have learned that most are passionate about the land and animals that they like to enjoy in nature, but unfortunately most are uneducated about the role hunters play in animal population control.  Hunters are conservationists by nature (A tiny subset are just blood thirsty or trophy hunters), as it would defeat the purpose if we eliminated the population in a localized area.  Once I take the time to explain to non-hunters how I utilize almost all parts of the deer they begin to understand.  I eat all of the meat that I can possibly salvage (we even eat the heart and liver) and I use hair from various areas to tie flies with. My family can go all year on about 100 lbs of deer meat, so once I get that much meat I stop killing deer.  Regardless of when during deer season that is.

Unfortunately, I feel that in today's society groups are more divided than ever, and it carries through in so many areas of our lives.  Why can't I (or you) cross these self imposed boundaries and be an all around outdoorsman?  I have friends who insist that I cannot do all of this, as it is too complicated.  I enjoy camping and backpacking even if I am not on a fishing or hunting trip, and I am trying to teach my son how to enjoy nature these same ways while also protecting it for the future.  Now, don't misinterpret what I am saying.  I enjoy the outdoors and practice time proven practices, I am not advocating animal rights nor am I an environmentalist with a skewed view on US energy policies.  I just find it strange that it seems like these divisions seems to be growing increasingly larger every year.  Take a look around next time you are in your local sporting goods store, and see if you notice what I am talking about.  Remember though that next time you meet somebody who has a different viewpoint than you, take the time to talk to them about how and why you do what you do.  I think that we all will realize that we have a lot more in common that we think, and much of this divide has been created by media and industry to fuel emotions and drive market shares upward.  This is my opinion, and I may be way off course here, although I have a feeling there are quite a few others out there who see things the same way I do...

Click the link below for another story along these same lines...

http://www.backpacker.com/hiking-and-hunting/destinations/14747/

Until next time, tight lines and God bless!

19" Clinch River Brown