As we close out the month of May the temperatures are hot and so is the fishing. From tailwaters to free stones all of East Tennessee's rivers have plenty to offer. The Holston River below Cherokee Dam continues to please anglers with some incredible dry fly fishing. While the caddis of April and May are still around they've been joined now with a healthy dose of sulfurs. I've been having the best luck in the dry fly department with Henryville Specials and and X-Caddis, both in olive and both in a size 18. If you need to fish subsurface, an emerging caddis is the obvious choice but don't hesitate to throw on a size 16 red zebra midge (silver bead and wire) in the flat water. I'm not sure why the fish are eating them but they definitely are...
The Clinch still has most anglers holding their breath. While it is fishing well there has yet to be a definitive hatch. Sporadic sulfurs are coming off but not in large enough numbers to qualify switching to dry flies. With that in mind, the best action is coming on Split Case Sulfur nymphs and bead head pheasant tails.
The small mouth bit is on and in full swing. I spent Saturday on the middle stretches of the Holston River with clients and we fished Stealth Bombers from dawn till dusk and the top water bite never really let off. Likewise, the French Broad has been producing some significant fish on streamers with the early morning top water bite being solid. There's also still plenty of Skip Jack Shad in the main runs to keep any streamer junkie happy.
The mountains continue to please despite the flows being slightly lower than average for this time of year. If I were headed up there this week I'd be tossing a yellow sally imitation with a dropper underneath it. I'm not sure that your fly choice will make much of a difference but your presentation sure will. Stay hidden and stay out of the water until you've spotted a fish! Where ever you decide to go, be safe and have a great day!
Departing Chatham Bend*
Arrival: After a quick cattle-car flight down to Orlando and a meaningless drive to Melbourne, I materialize in the humid Florida air sometime after midnight. The wind is whipping the palm trees into raucous frenzy while the Palmetto bugs and lizards dance in the disturbed night’s air. We discuss the week’s activities; the mood is as light as the air is thick. As I tuck myself in with whatever remnants of whiskey I can find above the stove Steve shouts a reminder to shut the door to the night air as the peacocks will invite themselves into my room with the morning light.
Day 1: First light and we are up hooking the skiff to the truck headed over the causeway to meet Rick at Harry Goode’s before heading south through the chaos that is South Florida. After sometime on the turnpike, a miscue lands us at the Whole Foods in suburban Coral Springs where old Jewish women ferry their older Jewish mothers across a vast parking lot for a bite to eat before a quick sweep of the Stein Mart and the afternoon’s nap. Somehow I’m blamed for our misadventure, my alien body struggling to get into the regular grid pattern of this completely manufactured world. The traffic and the boat conspire to whip Steve into a frenzy as he hunts for the last gas before we brave the seventy odd miles of across the tip of the state. As we cross Alligator Alley Pastel Porsches and ‘blu’ Maseratis whip past us in a race to poor taste.
Some four hours later and we arrive at the end of the Earth, on a centuries old shell midden, sits Chokoloskee, enveloped by the only thing left that is real in the whole state of Florida. Contrary to what others may claim, there are no ghosts in modern Chokoloskee, only lizards from the North who arrive two by two in their giant Airstreams pulling bay boats. After finding our bearings, the rental house, and the marina, boats are launched and rods are strung. In light of the low tidal situation, we make our way slowly across the bay. I throw gurglers at oyster bars. Red fish oblige but do not come to hand.
Day 2: The others are up early pouring over charts and maps. I’m less concerned, not having a piece of fiberglass in the mix, I’m happy to be along for the ride. Flats boats are fantastic right up until that moment when they are not. In the early dawn light, up on plane, their hulls chatters rhythmically with the light chop of the protected bay where the winds are still relatively light. Winding our way through a corridor of mangrove and the black water of the backcountry we find our route through to the gulf, up the Lopez River and back down the Chatham, a vacuum of time.
The winds are up and the gulf is awash with white-tipped waves. In the lee of Pavilion Key, off her southern point, shadows are spotted swimming precisely where one would expect. Hugging the key’s western shore, protected from the eastern wind, reds and snook patrol the wood, visible only when it’s already too late. We seek new water, new keys, on borrowed time. The tides, influenced by a waxing gibbous moon and a strong easterly wind, come four times a day. There is no time to ponder or linger, in an hour the tide will be moving again.
Day 3: The winds have laid down, the gulf is flat, the lizards from the north are out in numbers encouraged by the calm, we cross their wakes and run south in search of fish. With one boat on the point looking for silver the other slides into the back of a bay on the interior of Mosquito Key. With the water falling back out of the mangroves, we spot our first snook, and then another. They are set up in pairs and trios. On points, hidden by the mangrove roots and milk white water, they pivot, snout facing out, searching, like us, for fish. The other boat has had success as well. Tarpon and reds off the Clam point. Embolden by our discoveries we make the run back through the maze. White Ibis dot the wall of green having found their roost for the night in the still setting sun.
Day 4: The winds have returned. Our glory from yesterday slides beneath the waves. Aquatic landmarks from just the day before are nearly unrecognizable. We push back into the southern bay on dead low and to our surprise, a laid up tarpon, with its back out of the water, explodes off the bow of the boat. The boats split, one poles the mangroves in search of snook, the other poles south and finds a tarpon that refuses the fly. The snook are there, in the back of the mangroves, an unimaginable ecology illustrated only by the sounds of their attacks. The east wind builds. Our bay is unprotected. Searching for the familiar, we return to the lee of Pavilion Key with little to show save for a few snook and salt incrusted hair. Like the tide, spirits have fallen. In the evening, there is a sickness and packing.
Departures: In the morning there are just two of us left, the others having departed for home. The winds are sustained and persistent; despite them we make the run to the gulf. There are no other boats out on a day like today. The point where the skiff has become a misery has been achieved. There is no angle we can run to keep the spray off of our faces. There is no loud talk, Mr. Watson’s now gone from Chatam Bend and I have found Rick’s sickness somewhere during the night. The desolation of the surroundings has inhabited us, it is time to go.
*Appears in the Southern Culture on the Fly, Issue 19, Spring 2016
MAY 13TH TO JUNE 19TH
TRADE IN YOUR OLD ROD AND
RECEIVE 20% OFF A NEW, AMERICAN-MADE
H2, RECON, OR SUPERFINE.
From May 13 through June 19, Orvis and 3 Rivers Angler will give customers 20% off a new American-made fly rod (Helios 2, Recon, or Superfine series), in exchange for a trade-in rod, which will be donated to charitable organizations that help get kids into fly fishing.
Trade-in rods don’t need to be new but must be in fishable condition and in good cosmetic shape. Broken, dirty, or otherwise damaged rods are not acceptable. Good-quality spinning rods are also eligible for trade.
Another weekend is in the books and despite the cooler than average temperatures we've had some pretty stellar fishing in and around East Tennessee. The Holston River below Cherokee dam continues to have ideal flows for both wading and boating anglers. The river is currently experiencing good numbers of caddis (size 18, olive) throughout the day with higher numbers popping off when the sun is out and in full effect. While the fish are pretty happy to eat a dry fly, you will find a good number of fish still fixed on emerging caddis so don't hesitate to try a swung we fly if your dry isn't getting any love. We are also seeing an increasing number of sulfurs on the water and while I have yet to see fish actually on the sulfurs I have had at least one angler tell me that he had a good day fishing sulfur dries. The unstable spring weather we've been experiencing still has the fish keying on a good number of midges. Over the weekend the nymph my clients had the best luck with was a size 18 red zebra midge.
The Clinch River below Norris Dam is fishing very well with favorable conditions for the wading angler but tough flows for those wishing to float the river. TVA has been sticking with a low water regime in the mornings with one generator typically in the afternoon. While there is sporadic sulfur activity on the surface the bugs are still not out in numbers great enough to get the fish to rise to them consistently. Your best bet for consistent action on the Clinch is going to be a bead head pheasant tail or a split case sulfur. I suspect the best fishing on the Clinch is still a week or so out. This Sunday, May 22nd, marks the beginning of the recreational schedule on the Clinch. I suspect having flows on the river earlier in the day may encourage the bugs to start coming out in mass. A stable summer weather pattern wouldn't hurt either.
Flows and temperatures in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are nearly perfect. Cool temperatures in the mornings may make the fish a little sluggish early but they should be happy and looking up later in the day. If I was up there this today I'd likely fish a dry dropper rig until the fish told me it was time to get rid of the dropper.
Finally, the small mouth bass bite is getting good. While walking the dog the other day I noticed my first June Bug crawling around on the sidewalk. That can only mean one thing: top water time is approaching fast. Thus far I've had good luck with streamer patterns but if we get a good calm day and some warm temperatures I think it's time to get out the poppers and stealth bombers.
With so many options here in East Tennessee you can be assured that no matter where you decide to fish and whichever species you decide to chase, you're going to have a great day! Get out and play.
Dry fly season is upon us here in East Tennessee and the fishing forecast for the weekend is shaping up to be fantastic. We got a welcomed dose of rain yesterday evening and that extra water in the lowland tailwaters will hopefully entice the hesitant hatches to get going in full force. A little bit of a cold snap is expected for the rest of the week but the warm temperatures are expected to return by the weekend. This warm weather coincides perfectly with the continued lower flows predicted by TVA on the Valley’s tailwater fisheries and anglers can expect to be rewarded with significant hatches on both the Clinch and Holston rivers.
The Holston River below Cherokee Dam is finally showing significant signs of life with nice hatches of both crane flies and caddis flies, mixed with a sprinkling of sulfur may flies. While I have yet to see a full fledge hatch on the river, my best catches last week were all on size 18 elk hair caddis. On the Clinch River below Norris Dam, anglers are beginning to report the arrival of sulfur mayflies. While sightings have been largely sporadic to this point I did get my first credible report of a full blown sulfur hatch on Sunday when most anglers were off the water due to the weather. With both rivers expected to have wadeable flows over the weekend anglers should make every endeavor to get out there as this will truly be the first weekend where dry fly fishing on the tailwaters is going to be not just an option but indeed your best bet.
Closer to home, the waters around the Forks of the River on the lower portions of both the French Broad and Holston River is absolutely polluted with Skip Jack Shad. The shad run this year is as thick as I can recall in recent history with nearly every cast producing a fish in the better waters. Smallmouth bass are in spawning mode on the freestone streams in and around the East Tennessee area but have yet to become active on the larger rivers due to lower than average water temperatures. This may change over the next week as lower flows and higher temperatures prevail.
Anglers in the mountains are having good luck with a variety of hatches still coming off. Yellow sallies are just now beginning to show up in the mountains but it won't be long before they are in full force. At present you can expect to get some action on caddis, Hendricksons, stimulators, and adams. While dries should work later in the day you should expect to need to pull out the nymph box early and often.
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