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.

19" Clinch River Brown