I tried to get Dr. Fauci to join me for this update but he
is apparently tied up. So unfortunately, you’re stuck with me. Over the years,
I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting weather, hatches and tourist migration
patterns, but I’m afraid I’m still trying to learn as I go with pandemic
predictions. I’ll mostly tell you what I know with a very little bit
speculation thrown in.
The Big Picture:
Tennessee has joined many other states with shelter in place recommendations and mandatory closing of nonessential businesses. Restaurants, breweries, etc. are operating with only carryout and delivery options.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is currently closed to all visitors. They are scheduled to reopen to the public on April 6th but still keep facilities like visitor centers, campgrounds, restrooms etc. closed. We’ll have to wait and see, but I predict that on April 6th, they will decide to keep the park closed completely until the end of April. Again, this is pure speculation on my part.
National forests (like Cherokee National Forest) are still open to the public but facilities are closed.
What I’m Doing:
Like most of you, I’m taking this one day at a time but
can’t help speculating. I think we’re going to see bans like we have now in
place until at least the end of April and more likely until the end of May. All
trends just seem to be pointing that way. Since most of my customers are not
local, you’re probably not going to have a place to stay when you get here, if
you can get here at all.
If you have a trip scheduled with me in April or May
(especially April) chances are good it will need to be rescheduled. Again,
purely speculation, but I think you’ll be safe rescheduling it for a date after
June 1st. I am totally flexible and willing to wait and see before
we reschedule anything, but am mentioning this now so you have more date
options. I am removing vacation dates, etc. from the calendar and opening every
date I possibly can between now and the end of the year to accommodate
reschedules and new business.
The same offer certainly applies to local customers, but
some of you may still want to go and I will take you. Hopefully the national
park will reopen as a destination for us. Tailwaters like the Clinch may be a
possibility soon if we can ever get a break from this rain. Streams in Cherokee
National Forest will be our other option. It may just require a little longer
drive to get to them. For any locals still wanting to go, I can assure you that
I am feeling healthy and have been adhering strictly to social distancing guidelines.
If that changes, I’ll tell you and we’ll reschedule the trip. I trust that you
will do the same.
These are truly weird times and I appreciate everyone’s
understanding and flexibility. Don’t hesitate to contact me by phone or email
with an questions or concerns. We’ll get through this mess eventually!
While weather is all over the place around here and 80 degrees in February is just as likely as snow in May, I always call March the transition month. Winter is transitioning to spring and you tend to get sample of both seasons. When folks book trips for March, I always try to warn them that it’s a gamble. Not only can temperatures change on a dime and turn the fishing off, it tends to be a wetter month, so water levels can get way out of whack.
I’ve had some fantastic fishing in March, particularly toward the latter part of the month. When the stars align, we can see some of the first good hatches of the year with fish hungry after a winter of little food. It seems that every seasoned Smokies angler is on “Quill Gordon watch!” But a big cold front can delay the hatch and can lock a trout’s mouth tight as a drum.
What will this March hold? Only time will tell. We’re sure
to see some really good fishing and some lousy fishing, too. When you live
around here, you can pick your days. When you’re traveling here to fish, you
just have to hope you’re here on one of the upswings.
In any case, most of the month will be spent fishing nymphs. Darker patterns do the best and a #12 Olive Hares Ear (or similar) is a pretty good imitation for the Quill Gordon nymphs that should be moving about. When water temperatures get into the 50’s for a significant part of the day, a few days in a row, our dry fly fishing should start to pick up. That’s probably going to be around the third week, but who knows?
As usual, the fishery that does have good water temperatures
year round and should fish well in the winter is cranking 2+ generators 24
hours a day. Last year was a tough one on the Clinch. A very wet spring
resulted in very few days of low water. Unfortunately, this year is starting
out the same way. Man, every year seems to be flood or drought. Is an “average”
year too much to ask for?
January has been relatively mild for the most part but very
wet. So water levels have been up more than they’ve been down. And even in a
mild January we’re talking about water temperatures in the 40’s at best, so not
exactly stellar fishing. But a few fish have been caught and the mountains look
completely different in the winter, so it’s always nice to get out.
February will likely be more of the same. You never know what you’re going to get around here but February usually stays pretty cold and things don’t consistently start warming up until about mid March. I know I sound like a broken record but I do find myself having to explain this to wannabe winter fishermen more than anything else… It’s not that I’m worried about being uncomfortable in the cold. I have great gear and don’t mind the cold one bit. It’s all about the water temperature with wild fish and if that water temperature is significantly below 50-degrees, they just don’t do much feeding.
And in the winter, it takes a lot to reach those
temperatures. Even when you get a couple of nice 60-degree days, the overnight
lows are still often in the 30’s and your water temperature just won’t climb
much. When the days get longer and the overnight lows get warmer, you’ll start
to see better water temperatures and active fish!
If you do get out this month, expect to be nymphing. Go with darker patterns and try to fish them right on the bottom, focusing on pools and slower runs. Here’s a little bit on winter fishing in the mountains.
February is the last month for Delayed Harvest streams. These stocked fish should be quite a bit more active than their wild brothers in the Smokies. However, by February, poaching has usually taken its toll and there just aren’t a lot of fish left. Nymphing will definitely be the ticket on these streams. Standard nymph patterns are worth a try and anything bright and shiny is a good bet!
As usual, the fishery that does have good water temperatures year round and should fish well in the winter is cranking 2+ generators 24 hours a day. Last year was a tough one on the Clinch. A very wet spring resulted in very few days of low water. Unfortunately, this year is starting out the same way. Man, every year seems to be flood or drought. Is an “average” year too much to ask for?
October was kind of the tale of two seasons around here. We started the month still in a drought and record high temperatures in the 90’s. Cooler temperatures arrived mid month and finally a little rain. As I’m writing this (10/30) we’re in the midst of receiving what should total about 2″ of rain and I may have to cancel a couple of trips due to high water! All or nothing weather patterns sure seem to be the new norm.
November will start off with our first freezing temperatures of the year but start getting milder in the first week. I’m hoping for a mild November and then I’m ready for a cold winter this year! November typically sees cold mornings and mild afternoons. The best fishing in the park will be in the afternoons and in lower elevations. Delayed Harvest streams outside the park should fish okay all day.
For the patient and persistent, November is a good time to pursue large pre and post spawn browns in the Smokies – I prefer to leave them alone when they are actually spawning. These are not “numbers days.” You spend a lot of time looking and not fishing so, it’s definitely not for everyone. I know I’ve personally spent more of these NOT catching fish than catching. But on the days when it does come together, it’s pretty spectacular!
And this is definitely not beginner level stuff. If and when you do get a shot at one of these fish, you usually don’t get a second chance at anything so you need to be stealthy and you need to be able to cast.
For those not wanting the torture of stalking big browns, fishing the lower elevation streams for rainbows should be pretty productive. Expect some afternoon surface activity on sporadic caddis and BWO hatches. Otherwise, Pheasant Tail and Prince nymphs should do the trick.
This year, I feel like I could just copy and paste the same forecast every month for the Clinch. There has just been no rhyme or reason to their generation schedules this year. Out of nowhere, you’ll get four or five days of good water. Then, with no change in weather conditions they’ll generate 27/7 for three weeks straight.
My only recommendation here is to monitor the water releases. If you find a favorable schedule, go and fish Zebra Midges and small Pheasant Tails.
September was a tough month. Our rainfall totals for the month were a micro-notch above zero, and it was one of the warmest Septembers on record. Guide trips went surprisingly well for the most part. For folks willing and able to hike 2-3 miles in, the fishing was pretty productive. For those limited to roadside destinations, things were quite a bit slower.
October will definitely start right where September left off. We should see 90’s for the first week but looks like things may begin easing into fall-like temperature after the first weekend. But if history is any guide, stream levels won’t see any improvement. Most years, we don’t begin seeing significant rainfall again until November.
So plan on being stealthy. Plan on longer tippets. Plan on smaller flies. They’re going to be a challenge! Fly patterns with orange, tan or rust coloring are always a good bet in the fall. We also tend to see more caddis this time of year, so caddis specific patterns or any generic down-wing pattern like a Stimulator should be a good choice.
The Clinch is showing signs of improvement. Weekend flows have been pretty good for wading and weekdays are starting to get more consistent. Of course, that’s always subject to change at a moments notice! As usual, midges are the main course.
We had a better than usual August in the Smokies. Fairly regular rainfall kept water levels respectable and other than a few spells, it was relatively mild. Streams are beginning to get low again though and September is typically a very dry month here unless we pick up some hurricane remnants. The current beast, Dorian, is not showing signs of tracking this direction, so prepare yourself for low water and spooky fish.
I would expect to see mostly warm, summer type conditions for the first half of the month with a gradual cooling toward the middle of the month. There aren’t many hatches to speak of in September. Caddis are always a good possibility and Isonychias are active, but that’s more important as a nymph. Terrestrials are still probably the main course for the next month or so.
The Clinch has been a tough one this year. Flows have not been very friendly to the wade fisherman, at least with any predictability. If you live nearby and have a flexible work schedule, you’ve probably found some mornings to fish. Hopefully, we’ll see some more consistency in September.
If so, you’ll likely see better water in the morning and early
afternoon. Don’t expect to see much in the way of hatches except for
midges. I’d tie on a dark Zebra Midge as small as you dare to go!
We had a pretty good July in the Smokies. As one would expect, most of the productive fishing was in the higher elevations. Most of my time was spent in the backcountry, and for those willing to walk a ways, fishing was usually good! A big rain system dumped a ton of water on us the weekend of the 20th and we had to cancel a few trips, but a wonderful cool front followed and brought very mild temperatures for a few days.
August should mirror July but likely without the rainfall. August is usually dryer and probably a little hotter on average. Again, expect more activity up high and on smaller streams. Terrestrials are still the main fare for trout flies.
We saw a little bit of good water on the Clinch in July but not much. This year’s rainfall has kept the dam churning. We have, however, seen a recent change in that trend and are beginning to get better flows. Hopefully that will continue into August.
If so, you’ll likely see better water in the morning and early afternoon. Don’t expect to see much in the way of hatches except for midges. I’d tie on a dark Zebra Midge as small as you dare to go!
The Smokies fished great through most of June. As a matter of fact, we had an amazing four or five days with highs in the low 70’s and almost no humidity. It felt like fall! There were some significant rain systems but most only skirted the mountains, keeping water levels full but very manageable. So we’re heading into July with a surplus of water but, as you would expect this time of year, water temperatures are starting to climb.
On lower elevation rivers and streams, you’ll really want to focus on early morning and late evening when things are cooler. The best bet this time of year is getting to mid and high elevation streams where water temps can be significantly lower. In general, smaller backcountry streams will be better because they have more tree canopy and see less sunlight.
We should continue to see sporadic hatches of Little Yellow Sallies, Light Cahills, Sulphurs and tan caddis. Larger golden stones are still hatching at night but fish are sometimes still looking for them in the early morning. Isonychia nymphs are active, making a Prince Nymph or George Nymph a great choice. But terrestrials are the main course from now until fall with trout looking for beetles, ants, inchworms and the like.
It’s been a tough year on the Clinch with water flows. June started out great but those rain systems that skirted the Smokies hit the Norris Lake area pretty hard. They have been constantly releasing water from the dam for the last few weeks.
I’m expecting those water releases to relax pretty soon. We should soon see the standard summer release schedules of low water in the morning and increased generation in the afternoons when power demand is at its highest.
When water releases do relax, you may still see some Sulphurs hatching in the late morning and afternoon, but we’ve mostly missed that hatch this year. Of course, midges are abundant 365 days a year and will be the fly choice most of the time in July. There are many patterns that will work, but it’s tough to beat a standard black Zebra Midge.
The Smokies have been fishing great and that should continue into June. The biggest concern right now is water levels. After a wet and wild spring, we haven’t seen rain in the mountains for over two weeks and the streams are starting to show it. However, the weather forecast for the first week of June shows a little better chance for precipitation so hopefully we can get back on track.
Lower elevations will likely fish pretty well through the first half of the month, but as water temperatures continue to warm, expect the best fishing conditions in the mid to higher elevations, particularly by the latter part of the month.
We should continue to see sporadic hatches of Little Yellow Sallies, Light Cahills, Sulphurs and tan caddis. Larger golden stones are still hatching at night but fish are sometimes still looking for them in the early morning. Also start looking for Isonychia nymphs to start moving around toward the end of the month. But terrestrials will be the main course from now until fall with trout looking for beetles, ants, inchworms and the like.
May is often my favorite month on the Clinch but heavy water releases left it largely unfishable for most of the month. Water releases have started to relax now and it’s looking like June could be a good month.
We’ll hopefully still see some Sulphurs hatching in the late morning and afternoon through most of the month. Of course, midges are abundant 365 days a year and will be the fly choice most of the time in June. There are many patterns that will work, but it’s tough to beat a standard black Zebra Midge.
May is traditionally a great month to fish in the Smokies and this year should be no different. With the mild temperatures seen in May, you have pretty much every option on the table, from low elevation roadside rivers to high elevation backcountry streams.
Hatches are usually at their best this time of year, too. During the day, you should see mayflies like March Browns and Light Cahills, a number of different caddis species, and the most prolific hatch in the Smokies, the Little Yellow Sally shtonefly. Toward the end of the month, you should also see some of the larger golden stones hatching. They are often seen in sizes #8-#6 but mostly hatch at night. However, trout are often still looking for them after sunrise, so a big dry fly like a Madame X can be a good bet in the mornings.
Speaking of nighttime hatches. The month of May often showcases some of the most consistent hatches of the year right before dark. From about 7pm until dark, look for hatches of sulphur mayflies coinciding with egg-laying Little Yellow Sallies.
As usual, the Clinch River is anyone’s guess as far as water releases. We had some very favorable generation schedules through much of April and the fish was great. In recent days, they’ve been pushing quite a bit more water, leaving a much smaller window for the wade fisherman.
Typically, May is the month when the sulphur hatch really gets underway on the Clinch. We’ve seen a few popping off in recent weeks. When this hatch is in full swing, it’s really something to see. Hopefully the water releases will cooperate!
Otherwise, it’s the usual suspects on the Clinch. Beadhead Pheasant Tails and a variety of colors of Zebra Midges should do the trick.