Friday, December 9, 2011

Back to the woods!

As is the typically the case this time of year, I put my fishing gear away from mid-November thru mid-December in hopes of bagging some meat for the freezer. The past two years I have a combined 6 hours in the woods and two deer to account for that. This year, I knew that my luck would probably begin to wear thin, but still had hopes of getting one early on and not having to log lots of hours in the woods.

You see, one large deer or 1.5 average deer will get us through the year and allow us to almost completely eliminate the need to purchase beef at the grocery store.

This year I spent 4 hours in the woods the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and managed to see a couple but no shots were fired. That was it for the weekend, as I had other obligations to tend to.

This past Saturday, I wanted to give it another go. It didn't take long for me to get my deer on the ground, and this one was a dandy. I am quite pleased with it, and am currently having a euro mount prepared to set on top of my fly tying desk.

My hunting for the year is probably over. So, it is time to focus my attention back to fishing and fly tying. I may even try to sneak a couple of winter hiking and camping trips in there somewhere if the wife allows me to.

I hope everybody out there has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Little Cold Front Trout Action

With the changing of the leaves usually comes the spawning of trout in the mountains and tailwaters. Most commonly on the tailwaters is the brown trout spawn on the Caney, South Holston, and Clinch (to an extent). In addition to that there are spawning rainbow and brown trout in the mountains. The pre-spawn period allows anglers opportunities to catch large wild trout that they otherwise may not ever even know existed.

This week East TN experienced its first cold snap of the year along with a cold rainfall. Those two events generally kick start the spawning cycle of trout, so I thought it best to take some time off work and give it a shot. I had intended to go up to the South Holston for some lake run brown trout action, but those plans fell through. So, instead I stayed a little closer to home and wanted to focus on some small stream brown, rainbow, and steelhead action. I also managed to convince my long time fishing buddy and friend Scott to join me even though the weather was predicted to not get above 50 degrees and blustery winds.

When we arrived at the stream we realized that the winds were being blocked by the mountains, always a good thing. The temps topped out around 50 degrees and the sun stayed hidden most of the day. However, we went prepared for those conditions, and it was a very nice day to be out on the water.

After gearing up we took our time looking for any sign of pre-spawn trout. That turned out to be less than promising, so we chose to just blindly fish a productive pool from seasons past. Scott was still tying his flies on, so I went ahead and entered the water and started fishing the pool. The recent rainfall had stained the water some, and there was a decent leaf hatch going on. Regardless, I was determined to give the pool my best effort. I had on a #8 golden stonefly and an egg pattern. On about my third drift I saw my indicator dive in a very deep area of the pool. Knowing it wasn't bottom, I set the hook hard. Due to the water clarity and fish we were chasing I was using 5X tippet, so I was not too concerned about breaking off with a strong hookset. My rod immediately bent double and I started yelling for Scott to come help. I managed to keep the fish isolated to the pool we were in and out of the tree limbs on the opposite side. After a brief two minute battle, we were looking at an 18" rainbow.

That got us pretty excited for the days potential, but little did we know that Scott would only land one other fish the rest of the time. I believe we probably timed our trip a little too soon, and may have to make a return trip in a couple weeks to see how things have progressed.

After our fishing time was up we went back to the parking lot and I put some of my new backpacking gear to use by having hot homemade chili and hot chocolate before making our way back home.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Review of Big Agnes Little Red +15 Sleeping Bag - Kids'

Originally submitted at REI

Give them a good night's sleep in the Big Agnes Little Red 15°F kids' sleeping bag that provides softness, warmth and breathability all season long.

Perfect for my little camper

By Travis the Chemengr from knoxville, TN on 9/18/2011


4out of 5

Pros: Roomy, Durable, Adjustable Hood, Warm, Comfortable

Cons: Heavy / Bulky

Best Uses: Cold Conditions, Backpacking, Car Camping, 4 Season camping

Describe Yourself: Casual/ Recreational

What Is Your Gear Style: Comfort Driven

Was this a gift?: Yes

I was looking for a bag that would satisfy the following for my 3-yr old:
- Cold weather comfort while not being uncomfortable in the summer
- Kid friendly color scheme
- Also suitable for future backpacking excursions
- Provided some type of design to prevent him from rolling off his pad

This bag satisfied all those requirements. So far he has used in on probably half a dozen occasions with night temps ranging from 49 to 70 degrees. He uses this pad in conjunction with a BA Insulated Air Core, and sleeps very well in it. Even in the summer with night time temps approaching 70 degrees, I just unzipped the lower zipper to allow air circulation into the footbox.

The No-draft collar and zipper tube are fantastic, and I expect to give them a test this October in the Smoky Mountains.

The interior material is a very comfortable and stain resistant cotton/poly blend that is soft to the touch.

My Primary complaint is the overall size of the bag when compressed. It is a bit bulky for backpacking. However, I realize that this is a synthetic bag and I sacrifice pack-ability.

This is still a fantastic bag, and I would highly recommend it to anybody looking for a bag for their little camper.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Review of Big Agnes Cross Mountain +45 Sleeping Bag

Originally submitted at REI

The Big Agnes Cross Mountain +45°F synthetic bag is the ultimate rectangular bag for space-conscious, warm-weather hikers and travelers.

Good East TN May thru Sept bag

By Travis the Chemengr from knoxville, TN on 9/10/2011


4out of 5

Pros: Packs Small, Versatile, Lightweight, Roomy, Comfortable

Cons: Inaccurate Temp Rating

Best Uses: Backpacking, 3 Season Camping

Describe Yourself: Casual/ Recreational

Was this a gift?: No

Used this bag the first weekend I had it paired with a BA Insulated AC. Temps were predicted to get down to 59 with reasonably high humidity, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. However, I woke up around 6AM to a tent saturated in dew and 51 degrees.

Although I was not uncomfortable during the night (I had on a light base layer and Smartwool socks), I could tell that I was nearing the limit for this bag. The area of primary concern was in the foot box area, however I just threw a light fleece over my feet and all was well again. I consider myself a mildly cold sleeper, but would probably rate this bag as a 50 degree bag.

Before making this purchase I was looking at the Therm-A-Rest Tech Blanket (~55 deg) paired with a light fleece liner to achieve the 45 degree mark. I think this bag was a much better purchase. It packs down unbelievably small (7" dia x 6") and is incredibly roomy with a draw string at the top to reduce heat loss.

One additional selling feature was the fact that I can use it as an overbag for my 30 degree bag to extend it's comfort rating by another 20 degrees while still featuring that comfortable BA integrated pad sleeve design.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Sleeping Pad Comparo....

Doing something a little differently today. Recently been working on building my hiking/camping/backpacking inventory since my little guy enjoys the outdoors so much. All of my previous camping experience was base camping, and after the old Coleman air mattress bit the dust back in the spring I chose to look into sleeping pads.

I found a great deal at Riversports Outfitters on a 2010 model Therm-A-Rest TrailLite mattress.

In addition to that we bought my son a Big Agnes Little Red sleeping bag for his birthday. Big Agnes bags have this amazing concept of incorporating a sleeping pad sleeve into the bottom of the bag. See more about it here. For his sleeping bag, we purchased an Insulated Air Core pad.

These are the two bags I will be comparing today in this entry.

Therm-A-Rest TrailLite:
20" wide x 72" long x 1.5" thick
R-value is 3.8 (manufacturer claimed)
weight is 2lb 0oz
Packed size is 21" long x 4.3" diameter
Materials: 150 Denier Polyester & brass valve
Self Inflating
Retail Value: $69.95 Amount Paid: $55.95

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core
20" wide x 72" long x 2.5" thick
R-value is 4.1 (manufacturer claimed)
weight is 24oz
Packed size is 9" long x 4.5" diameter
Materials: 50 Denier Ripstop Nylon
Manual Inflation (lungs or accessory)
Retail Value: $74.95 Amount Paid: $55.95

So far I have used the TrailLite on three camping trips and in the living room with my son three times. I also purchased a fitted sheet for the TrailLite that makes the surface much more comfortable to sleep directly on. This is also very useful when mated to one of the Therm-A-Rest comforters or Tech Blanket. More on that later, for now the comparison.

First of all these two pads differ in that one is self inflating and the other is a manual inflation pad. Both are insulated, the Big Agnes contains a synthetic insulation laminated to one side of the pad. This is the reason that some people refer to this as a "dual pad" or a "flip pad". Depending on the temperature you can either lay directly on the side with insulation, or flip it over and lay on the side without insulation. Either way, it shields the sleeper from the cold ground, but allows for customization per each user's comfort level.

The Therm-A-Rest feels extremely durable, although a bit bulky at times. This is due to the thick foam padding that attributes to its self inflating categorization. It comes complete a brass valve with a plastic coating. The entire setup feels well built and bullet proof. The 1.5" thickness also feels sufficient for sleeping on all but the most rough terrain.

The Big Agnes Insulated Air Core, while it does not feel as durable as the TrailLite still feels quite substantial. The brass valve does feel more robust than the TrailLite's version. It does not have that raft like feeling one would expect from an inflatable pad that is 2.5" thick. So far, my son has used it three times in the living room floor, and I have taken one nap on it. Not once has it lost air during use, and was very comfortable. This pad has the thickness to allow the user to sleep on their side and not worry about having their hipbone or shoulder touch the ground. Overall I am very pleased with this product, although I do have some question as to the validity of the claimed R-value of 4.1.

These are two completely different pads, and I expect to use them in different manners. The Big Agnes will be primarily used with my son's Little Red, but when he isn't using it I intend to use it when backpacking in temps as low as probably 30 degrees. I will use my TrailLite when the Big Agnes isn't available or when base camping in tandem with my cot. That is how I have used it camping so far, and it was an extremely comfortable setup.

Both are well built and comfortable pads. I highly recommend both of them, and don't believe either is a bad choice for somebody in the market for a new one. Just to further muddy the waters, I have been trying to locate an Exped Synmat for a comparison as well. I have also heard positive comments regarding the Exped pads, unfortunately they are not common in the US, are quite pricey, and don't have the lifetime warranty like the Big Agnes or Therm-A-Rest.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

10 minutes on Little River

Had a church outing today at Elkmont, and the family and I got there a little early. So, while the wife and son were waiting for everybody else to arrive, I geared up and went down to the river before all the tubers got there. Found a decent little run and tied on a #16 stimulator and a green weenie. Immediately had a fish come up and inspect the stimulator on the first cast. After a couple minutes with no activity I walked up to the head of the run. First cast into the side current at the head of the run a nice little bow thought my stimulator looked appetizing.

Fished for a couple more minutes before heading back to the car to see if everybody else had arrived. In that next couple minutes I had one fish strike the green weenie, and another inspect the stimulator.

Shortly afterward the sun popped up and the vinyl hatch began. It was a very productive 10 minutes on the water. Wish I had more time to go farther upstream and take advantage of the excellent water levels.

Also picked up a new C&F fly box that I hope to have a review on soon. I hope to post some additional reviews of some recent camping gear purchases I have made.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Search of a Secret Smokies Gem

I got a chance to fish the mountains this past Friday. I stopped by LRO about 11:30 with hopes of heading above Elkmont for a few hours of solitude. Daniel told me that a guy just left the shop reporting about how crowded Elkmont was that morning. So it was recommended that I pick somewhere else to go. I passed a group of probably 300 motorcycles, so apparently Elkmont was heavily crowded.

I don't know what possessed me to pass up the zoo-like atmosphere at Elkmont for the circus-like atmosphere of Forge Creek, but I did. It has been a long time since I last fished Forge Creek, but the results that time were quite surprising. Unfortunately this trip it wasn't the case, and I saw and caught more chubs than I ever thought was possible. After an hour and too many trash fish, I packed up to make my way to Tremont. Little did I know but apparently everybody in the area must have selected that same time frame to do the Cades Cove loop. I didn't imagine anybody in their right mind would try to drive the loop looking for wildlife on a 90 degree day at 2:00. I was wrong! Boy, was I wrong!

It was so bad that there were actually park rangers out directing traffic past the one and only deer to be seen that day. You read that correct, one deer had the traffic at a standstill. I am talking about a 40 car backup to see one deer! I will give that young fellow credit, he was quite a decent specimen with all six of his velvet covered antlers. However, I hardly believe he was worthy of a two park ranger escort....

About an hour after I set out from Forge Creek, I arrived at my destination above the Institute to try my hand up there. I was quite surprised to see water running off the hillside and into the river quite heavily. Also, the water clarity was somewhere between tea colored and chocolate milk. Apparently it had rained quite heavily on the middle prong while I was fishing Forge Creek, and I got there just as the water was getting muddy and rising.

I put on a large nymph and tried fishing some of the deep runs around that area, but had no luck. Eventually, I chose to call it a day and head on back home to rescue my 8 month pregnant wife from our 3-yr son who was basically having his run of the place. Seeing as how this will probably be my last chance to wet a line until late fall due to the upcoming baby, I was hoping to have a fruitful day on Forge Creek. Unfortunately, this trip allows me to scratch Forge Creek off my list of potential hidden gems for the time being.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

1st Father/Son Smokies Outing

Took the little guy out for some father/son time yesterday. So far he has been camping two times, turkey hunting (kinda) once, and bluegill fishing three times at age three. So, I thought it was about time to get his feet wet with some hiking and fly fishing in the mountains.

I didn't really have much faith in it being an overwhelming success, but thought it would be fun either way.

I chose Elkmont because of the relatively flat trail and the easy access to the river. He quickly decided daddy's walking stick was better than his, so he confiscated it...

About 1/4 mile up the trail he wanted to get in the water and play, so I found a convenient spot and let him play for a while....

After about 15 minutes of playing he was anxious to fish in a particular spot....

Working on his technique....

Only had patience to fish for about 10 minutes, but managed to miss two in that short time frame. By this time he was starting to get tired, so we turned around to slowly make our way back to the parking area. Surprisingly he was more excited to see all the old houses and walk through the Appalachian Clubhouse. He is already asking to go back again, and told everybody today about the old houses and hiking. I think I have myself a lifetime outdoor buddy, and am so glad that he had a great time.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Introducing New Fly Tying Tutorials Page

At the top of my blog, just below my banner, you will find a Fly Tying Tutorial page. I will be working to populate that page with some of my favorite flies. Today, I have added the first of these how-to segments with my first subject being a Sulfur Sparkledun. Give it a look, and I hope that maybe you learn a new pattern or trick from these tutorials.

Tight Lines and God Bless!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Father's Day Weekend SoHo Camping Trip

I recently got back from a 3-day trip to the SoHo June 16th thru 18th. This was a regular trip for us, however since Trey was born we haven't made this trip in 3 yrs. I was very surprised to see the number of anglers out there beginning on Thursday, and increasing each following day. Water was a bit higher than normal, but still very wadable. This was due to TVA sluicing a continuous 280 CFS from the dam while they are performing maintenance.

Upon arrival, there was only one other tent setup and two other gentlemen sitting there. I talked to the older gentleman who has fished the river for two weeks consecutively for each of the past three months, and he said that the past two days have been the best sulfur hatch of the year. I quickly geared up and hit the water around 2:30, deciding that the tent could wait until after it had cooled down some. About 3:00 the hatch began, and I picked up a couple fish on sulfur nymphs tied klinkhammer style and sulfur duns. I couldn't get into consistent action and was frustrated a couple times when I saw some big heads sucking down dozens of bugs. After a couple hours I headed back to camp to begin setting up the tent. About this time Scott showed up and helped set things up and run over to the fly shop. When we returned from the shop Dave was sitting at the campsite trying to figure out if it was the right spot. Shortly afterward our camp neighbors returned from their afternoon jaunt. I couldn't see them where they were fishing, but I was told that the older man Darrell probably caught 70 fish to the younger's 15. He showed me his fly, and it definitely had been abused.

As evening was approaching, Darrell recommended that I swing a wet fly in the riffles and seams downstream of camp. So, I did as he said and was rewarded with probably a dozen fish in 1.5 hours of fishing. Light was getting low, so I headed back to camp to help Dave cook up some deer steaks and corn on the cob. That is always a tasty meal when on these camping trips. It was a beautiful full moon night, and perfect weather for camping.

The next morning Darrell recommended that I try swinging tiny softhackles, size 24, in the seams for early morning trout. I didn't have any that small, but had some #20 BWO softhackles that the fish were very willing to eat. I fished for probably two hours and landed another dozen fish. Most were probably 8 to 12", but I did manage one brown around 13". Called it quits about 10:00 and came back to camp for a little midmorning snack. After the snack, I tried my luck out on the slackwater area, and was abused by those super selective trout. Did manage a couple more on some sulfur emergers that I swung in the seams. It was very hit-or-miss for most people on the water. I saw and talked to plenty of people who were skunked.

I took a break and came back for lunch and sat down to tie up some comparaduns for the afternoon sulfur hatch. From 3:00 on is when the magic began. However, it only was magical if you had the exact fly imitation. Thankfully, I got into them taking a #18 medium yellow sulfur w/ bleached deer hair sparkle dun pattern. I tried two other shades of sulfur, and both bleach and natural hair wings before finding the one that worked. So, I spent an hour trying to find the right fly, but once I found it the fish were taking it so hard that I had three swallow the fly. One brown actually jumped out of the water and ate the fly as he was entering the water. I fished that fly in two runs for the last hour of the day. I was probably on a 20 trout/hr pace with the fly I mentioned above.

Saturday morning was nuts! People were walking in on top of each other, and I just chose to pack up and come on back home. That is not my cup of tea. I even saw quite a few bait slingers today out there keeping anything with size to it. However, I think the sulfur hatch up there is just now getting ramped up. Be advised though to take a wide variety of sulfur patterns in different shades of yellow, orange, or some combination. Those trout can be some the most finicky I have ever fished for. If you go good luck, and happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 6, 2011

SULFURS! They are back!

The time that so many fly fishermen in East TN wait for every year is finally upon us. The mayfly commonly referred to as the sulfur is hatching on East TN waters. From the freestone mountain streams, to the Clinch and South Holston rivers. See my previous post on the various species of sulfurs that are found in our area Understanding Sulfurs.

I have been lucky enough to make it out a couple times lately to the Clinch. Both trips have been early morning trips that began around 7:00 and end around 11:00. Action both times was consistent, with things really beginning to pick up around 9:30. Although activity was at a decent level, the surface activity was minimal. Most fish have been caught using either a flashback pheasant tail or a standard pheasant tail. Some fish were looking up though, as I did manage to get a couple using my sulfur hackle stacker cripple pattern.

If I were to rate this years hatch on a scale from 1 to 10, I would probably give it a 7. In comparison, last year was probably a 9 and two years ago was a 6. I expect to get out on the water a couple more times in the coming week, along with a two night camping trip on the South Holston. So, keep checking back for an update on those trips.

Below are some pics from the past couple trips.
Early Morning on the Clinch

Battle Scars...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Durango 2011.wmv

Return to the Four Corners 2011 - Part 2

Part 2 - The fishing part

On our last trip to Durango, we took a float trip with Animas Valley Anglers on the upper San Juan above Navajo Dam. Amy and I both had a blast on that trip, and we caught a good number of quality fish and saw some amazing scenery. So, prior to this trip I called up Will Blanchard, owner of AVA, and he said that he thinks we may as well complete the San Juan float by doing the quality water below the dam. I agreed, and we made arrangements to go on a Monday in order to avoid the typical weekend masses that flock to this world famous tailwater for large trout.

Weather the first two days of our trip was not very favorable for a float, thankfully the conditions changed by the morning of the float. Will picked us up at the hotel, and we made the one hour drive to the tailwater. After getting my one day license for $17, we drove on over to the launch point. While sitting there gearing up the shuttle guys came by and told us that there were at least ten boats currently fishing in the quality water section. The quality water is four miles long, and basically the boats just follow a rotation routine so that everybody has a chance to fish all the good runs. Upon hearing about the quantity of people on the water, Will and I just looked at each other. Will, knowing that I am not a fan of crowds, recommended that we try something a little different. You see, he also doesn't like crowds, and we really wanted to avoid them if possible.

Will's proposal was that we shift gears and float the lower tailwater. The only catch was that the lower tailwater was typically a later season float, and he had not done it since sometime back in the fall. Not only that, but the shuttle guys had told us that they had not ran a shuttle down there in months either. So, it was a little bit of a gamble, but Will thought he could put us on some quality fish. Also, this lower float was 14 miles compared to the 4 miles for the quality water.

We all agreed that it was worth the gamble and shortly took off downstream. It wasn't long before we were into some fish using baetis nymphs:

Most in this first run were about this size

We caught a good number out of this first hole before moving on downstream in hopes of finding better quality fish. The next run we came upon was a beauty, and once again it wasn't long before I hooked up:

The quality did get better here, and we found ourselves pulling a lot of fish out of this run. Plus the browns began to start showing up in the net at this point.

We picked this spot to stop for lunch, and the scenery was quite appealing too:

After lunch, we hesitantly left this spot since we still had a lot of water to cover. Just downstream at the next run we hooked into possibly the best fish of the day. Well, that we landed anyway:

After this fish we switched to large streamers in hopes of turning some big browns. We weren't disappointed as we had several over 20" give chase. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a decent hookset on any of them, and therefore no pictures of big browns to show for it.

It was a wonderful day on the water. A little longer than we originally planned, but the fishing, scenery, and guide was spectacular. We definitely made the right choice by going with this lower section float.

Amy and I are anxiously awaiting our next trip to Durango, and highly recommend Animas Valley Anglers to anyone who is looking for a guide in the area.

I would like to thank my lovely wife for taking the majority of these photos, and the video also in a separate post on the blog.

19" Clinch River Brown