Poppers

Fly Fishing Popper
Hard Body Popper

A popper, or popping bug, is a type of topwater fly commonly used for warmwater species like bass and bream. Unlike the often delicate and diminutive dry flies used in trout fishing, poppers are typically bright and robust. While topwater trout flies are commonly designed to discreetly drift down a feeding lane, popping bugs are designed to make commotion.

Deer Hair Popper
Deer Hair Popper

Poppers are most often made with a hard, cork body but more and more frequently are being constructed of foam. Softer variations are also made by spinning deer hair on a hook. The hair is tightly packed and trimmed to shape. Using different colors of deer hair allows for some pretty cool color and design variations. However, color and design variations can also be achieved on cork and foam poppers with paint and markers.

What they all have in common is a flat or cupped “face” and a body that usually tapers slightly, getting smaller toward the rear of the hook. When fishing with them, the idea is to pull your line with a short, quick motion that jerks the fly abruptly. As a result, the flat or cupped face of the fly will make a “pop” on the water.  A popper could certainly resemble some sort of insect, but most often it is designed to suggest a struggling baitfish.

Sneaky Pete Slider
Hard Body Slider

A diver or slider is frequently lumped into the popper category. However, while made with similar materials, these have more of a bullet shaped face. The body tapers in the opposite direction of a popper. You use similar fishing methods with this style of fly but when the line is pulled toward you, the bullet head causes the fly to dive or erratically slide through the water.

July Fishing Forecast

Smoky Mountain Trail
Highcountry Trail

Smoky Mountains

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.

Clinch River

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.

Jakes Creek

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                                                              

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN / Gatlinburg, TN

Species: Rainbow trout (occasional brown)                                                             

Average Size: 6”

Stream Size: Tight                                                              

Pressure: Light

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain                                                          

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Spring through late fall, after a good rain                                                         

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend                           

Camping:       Elkmont Campground

                        Backcountry Campsite #27

Directions:

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn left toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road.  Follow approximately twelve and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Or, from Townsend, turn on Wears Valley road at the only traffic light in town.  At about six and a half miles, turn right on Lyon Springs Road.  This road will eventually end at Little River Road at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  Turn left and follow for about four and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow past the Little River Trailhead. You’ll enter a short, one lane loop that will take you to the parking area for the Elkmont Historic District. You can access the lower part of the creek here, or walk up the gated gravel road that leads to the Jakes Creek Trailhead. This small piece of road will provide access to another portion of Jakes Creek and the trail will provide access to another three miles of stream, as well as Backcountry Campsite # 27.  Be aware, however, that much of this trail is high above the streambed with only a few locations allowing reasonable access to the stream.  The best bet is to identify these locations and fish from access point to access point.

From Gatlinburg, travel southwest on 73/321 and merge south onto 441/71 toward Cherokee, NC.  Just past the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn right toward Townsend on Little River Road and follow approximately four and a half miles.  Soon after passing Laurel Falls trailhead, turn left toward Elkmont Campground. Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow past the Little River Trailhead. You’ll enter a short, one lane loop that will take you to the parking area for the Elkmont Historic District. You can access the lower part of the creek here, or walk up the gated gravel road that leads to the Jakes Creek Trailhead. This small piece of road will provide access to another portion of Jakes Creek and the trail will provide access to another three miles of stream, as well as Backcountry Campsite # 27.  Be aware, however, that much of this trail is high above the streambed with only a few locations allowing reasonable access to the stream.  The best bet is to identify these locations and fish from access point to access point.

East Prong Little River – Backcountry

Little River Backcountry GSMNP Tennessee
Little River Backcountry

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                          

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN / Gatlinburg, TN

Species: Rainbow & brown trout                             

Average Size: 8-10”

Stream Size: Open to moderate                              

Pressure: Moderate to light

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Late spring through late fall

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymphs

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend

Lodging:         Talley Ho

                        Docks                                                 

Camping:       Elkmont Campground

                        Little River Campground

                        Backcountry Campsites #24 & #30

Directions: 

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn left toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road.  Follow approximately twelve and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Or, from Townsend, turn on Wears Valley road at the only traffic light in town.  At about six and a half miles, turn right on Lyon Springs Road.  This road will eventually end at Little River Road at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  Turn left and follow for about four and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow to the parking area at the end of the road.

From Gatlinburg, travel southwest on 73/321 and merge south onto 441/71 toward Cherokee, NC.  Just past the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn right toward Townsend on Little River Road and follow approximately four and a half miles.  Soon after passing Laurel Falls trailhead, turn left toward Elkmont Campground.  Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow to the parking area at the end of the road.

The trail follows Little River for about six miles providing frequent river access along the way.  The further up the trail you go, the smaller the stream will become and the fewer people you will see.  Backcountry Campsite #24 is about four miles up the trail, and Backcountry Campsite #30 is located near the trail’s end at six miles.  A visit to Backcountry Campsite will also put you in close proximity to Rough Creek and Fish Camp Prong.

June Fishing Forecast

Little River GSMNP Tennessee
Little River

Smoky Mountains

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.

Clinch River

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.

Neversink Caddis

Neversink Caddis
Yellow Neversink Caddis

If you’ve done much fishing in the Smoky Mountains, you have likely fished with this fly at one time or another. It is definitely a staple in my fly collection. The main reason is that it provides the three quantities that you want in a Smoky Mountain dry fly: It floats well, it’s easy to see, and it catches fish!

Many like to point out that this fly will sink. Of course it will! I don’t know of a dry fly that won’t! But it does float extremely well, and the name “Neversink” doesn’t refer to its buoyancy anyway. Instead, it refers to the Neversink River in New York. Beyond that, the origin and history of this fly are cloudy at best.

Original Neversink Caddis?
Yeager's Neversink Caddis
Yeager’s Neversink Caddis

The segmented pattern to the far left, captioned (perhaps inaccurately) “Original Neversink,” is claimed to be the original version of this fly, though I didn’t find much evidence to back that up. Additionally, I couldn’t find any information on who originated that pattern. The one next to it is a Neversink Caddis pattern originated by fly tyer, Jason Yeager. However, I couldn’t find anything that led me to believe it is the original. If there are any fly historians reading this, please let me know.

In any case, the pattern pictured at the top of the page is the version that I tie and fish, and it’s the one you’re likely to find in most fly shops. While I tie them in a variety of colors, yellow, tan, orange and chartreuse are among my favorites. I especially like the yellow version as it does a great job passing for the prolific Little Yellow Stonefly in the Smokies. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of yellow bugs that hatch in the Smokies from mid April through early October. Fishing with a yellow dry fly pattern of any kind is a pretty good bet during that timeframe.

While it is an effective representation for a caddis and some stoneflies, I tend to think of it as just a good, generic attractor pattern. And because of its better than average buoyancy and visibility, it makes a great top fly in a dry/dropper rig.

Neversink Caddis

Hook: TMC 100 or equivalent, #16-#12
Thread: 8/0 yellow (or to match foam color)
Body: 2mm yellow foam (or other color of your choice)
Wing: Natural or bleached elk hair (bleached offers a little better visibility)
Hackle: One brown and one grizzly rooster

Middle Prong Little River

Middle Prong Little River Smoky Mountains

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                          

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN

Species: Rainbow & brown trout                             

Average Size: 6-10” (Some browns exceeding 20”)

Stream Size: Moderate                                           

Pressure: Moderate to Heavy

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain                      

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Spring and fall                                      

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymphs

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend                                                   

Lodging:         Docks

                        Talley-Ho                                                                  

Camping:       Little River Campground

                        Cades Cove Campground

Directions:

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn right on Laurel Creek Road (toward Cades Cove).  Take your first left (toward Tremont Institute).  This road will follow Middle Prong for approximately five miles.  The first two miles (to Tremont) are paved and the three miles above Tremont are gravel.  The river above Tremont Institute typically offers the most consistent fishing, particularly in the warmer months, but don’t disregard the lower stretch as many fine brown trout are seen and caught here.  There are numerous pull-offs along this five mile stretch that ends at a fairly large parking area.  Just above the parking area Lynn Camp Prong and Thunderhead Prong converge to form the Middle Prong.  Both are accessible via trail from this point.     

Fly Line Backing

Orvis Dacron Fly Line Backing
Dacron Backing

There are many fly anglers that don’t even know that they have fly line backing on their reel. Many more are aware that it’s there, but have no idea why. It’s just something the kid at the fly shop added when he strung up the reel and fly line you bought. If you’re a freshwater trout fisherman, it’s of no obvious value because you likely never see it. If you’re a saltwater fisherman, you’ve seen it plenty of times… and it made you nervous! Whether you’re accustomed to seeing your backing or not, it has value to you as a fly fisherman.

But what is it? For starters, backing is a thin, synthetic line that connects your fly line to your reel. It is most often made of Dacron, a strong synthetic material that will not dry rot and will likely never need to be replaced. So, even though you may need to replace your fly line every few years or so, you’ll likely just attach it to the same backing that was originally put on your reel. It has two primary purposes: to fill up space on the reel and to act as an “insurance policy.”

Let’s first talk about its role as insurance policy. The average fly line is 90–100 feet in length. So, if you make a 40’ cast and hook a large fish that runs 50’ or more, you’re in big trouble! But with an additional length of backing on the reel, you are able to deal with longer runs made by big fish. So, why not just use longer fly lines?

Fly lines are expensive. A 90’ fly line will commonly cost $50-$100. However, you can get 100 yards of backing for about $5-$10. Some fly shops even give you the backing for free when you buy a reel and line from them. And again, you’ll likely never have to replace it. What’s that, you say? You only fish small streams and there is little to no chance of a fish running out 100 feet of line?

As mentioned above, the other purpose of backing is to fill space on the reel. Fly line has a significant amount of “memory,” and if you wind it directly on the small spindle of a trout reel, it will create small tight coils in the fly line. It will also require more turns of the reel to pick up line. However, by filling the reel with an appropriate amount of backing, you create a larger arbor for the fly line to rest on. As a result, you’ll have larger, more manageable coils in the fly line and more efficient line retrieval.  

The average trout reel will have a capacity to hold the fly line and probably 50–100 yards of backing. Larger saltwater reels will hold significantly more – anywhere from 200–600 yards. How much backing a reel holds depends on the size of the reel, the size fly line on the reel, and the type of backing used.

Dacron backing typically comes in sizes 12–30 pound test, with the heavier strength taking up more space. Gel-spun polyethylene backing is also available. It is more expensive but has a significantly greater strength to diameter ratio. For that reason, gel-spun backing is often the choice for saltwater fishermen.

Multi-colored Fly Line Backing

Finally, backing has become a bit of a fashion statement for many fly anglers in recent years. While it has traditionally come in white, there are now multiple colors of backing available, providing brighter color schemes on the reel.

May Fishing Forecast

Clinch River Rainbow
Big ‘Ol Sulphur Eating Rainbow on the Clinch

Smoky Mountains

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.

Clinch River

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.