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.
Spring is slowly easing its way into the Smokies. March was pretty much what we expected. Cold overnights kept water temperatures below 50-degrees for most of the month and fishing was pretty tough. Though, there were some intermittent moments of good fishing mixed in. And things improved a little more during the last week of March with slightly warmer water temperatures stimulating hatches and getting the fish moving.
It looks like that trend will continue into early April. Expect slower mornings but fairly productive afternoons. There will likely be a potpourri of hatches. Hendricksons should be the main event for the early part of the month. Red Quills and March Browns will likely start making appearances later in April. Interspersed will be a periodic BWO’s and a variety of caddis and stoneflies.
A #14 Parachute Adams will be my default dry fly choice this month. If fish are rising and won’t take the Adams, start looking around and try to better match the color and size of bugs on the water.
All and all, things look good for April. There will most certainly be a few dips in temperature that turn the fish off, but the long range forecast suggests a mostly mild and dry month.
The Clinch didn’t fish at all in March. Nearly every day saw discharges of more than 25,000 cfs all day. I don’t know for sure when it will be back in shape. Flows have reduced to an average of 8000 cfs. That’s still too much but it’s a step in the right direction! If dry conditions persist, we may see fishable water by the end of the month – hopefully in time for a sulphur hatch! I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
Fishing will likely be hit and miss in the Smokies this month. Of course, we’re starting the month off with very high water. Additional large amounts of rainfall in March could really shut things down. Hopefully, we can “regroup” with a stretch of dry weather.
Water temperatures are the other issue this month. They tend to rise and fall significantly in March, creating wild swings in fish activity. We’re looking for water temps to get in the 50’s for the better part of the day, for at least a few days in a row. More than likely, that will begin to happen at the mid to late part of the month.
When that does occur, not only will you find more active fish, you’ll begin to encounter some of the better hatches of the year. Small black caddis and stoneflies will hatch sporadically through the month and you should begin seeing better hatches of Quill Gordon and Blue Quill mayflies toward the end of the month.
I honestly just can’t imagine much happening on the Clinch or other Tennessee tailwaters this month. After all of the flooding, most dams are currently spilling. That will likely be followed by weeks of heavy generation. Let’s look at the Clinch again next month!
Winter fishing in the Smokies is not usually productive, at least not consistently. And I don’t expect this January to be an exception. In addition to the cold water temperatures that keep these wild trout fairly inactive, it looks like our wet weather will continue. Water levels will probably remain pretty high most of the month.
If water levels are cooperative, one of the best things about fishing the park in the winter is the solitude. You will likely only see a handful of other people and probably no other fishermen. Embrace the solitude and significantly lower your expectations on activity and you can have a pretty enjoyable day!
The Clinch can fish well in the winter because it’s a tailwater and its water temperatures remain pretty constant. The water temperature in January is nearly the same as it is in August. However, we are still paying for a VERY wet 2018.
The Clinch is not only releasing water all day every day, they are sluicing approximately 5900 cfs. That’s a lot of water. You definitely can’t wade it under those conditions and it’s really too much water for decent fishing from a boat.
If they relax that water release schedule, this will be a good option. But it looks like this is what we’re stuck with for a while.
The delayed harvest streams in the Cherokee National Forest are the best things going right now. Stocked fish continue feeding more regularly in winter than wild ones do. They’re not as good as they were in the fall, mainly because of poaching. But there are still plenty of fish and they should remain active through January. Assuming roads remain clear and safe to drive on, this is probably your best bet right now.