Smokies Fishing Report 5/9/21

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 287cfs / 2.26 feet
Pigeon: 499cfs / 2.12 feet
Oconaluftee: 538cfs / 1.91 feet
Cataloochee: 75.591.3cfs / 2.57

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 54 – 58 degrees
Mid elevations: 52 – 56 degrees
High elevations: 50 – 54 degrees

Current Conditions

It continues to be a really strange spring. It seems that just as fishing really starts to turn on, we get another major rain system or cold front to set things back. And when I say “set things back,” fishing is still decent, it just hasn’t quite gotten to consistently great yet.

Speaking of rain systems, it’s coming down pretty good as I write this and is supposed to rain into Monday morning. Different models are showing different things, but looks like we may see about an inch and a half of rain tonight, which will likely blow out these mountain streams that are still full from last week’s big rain. You better check the latest gauge readings if you’re heading out in the next couple of days because the ones above will probably look way different in the morning. Reading Stream Gauges.

Projected Conditions

As mentioned above, it’s been a weird spring. Here it is nearly the middle of May and we’re not supposed to get out of the 60’s for highs this week. Overnight lows are staying in the 40’s. And it looks like a decent chance of rain most every day until next weekend.

Tips

If the rain doesn’t screw up the streams, fishing should be okay this week. With these cooler overnights, expect better fishing in the afternoons. Topwater activity has been very good recently. For me, it’s been on tan caddis and Thunderheads, but I’d say any common attractor should do well. If water comes up this week, plan on doing more nymphing. In addition to what’s mentioned below, rubber-legged stonefly nymphs, Wooly Buggers and San Juan Worms are always good in higher water.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

We’re starting to transition to “yellow season,” meaning much of what you’ll see hatching will be yellow. Blue Quills (#18) and Light Hendricksons (#14) will likely still be seen here and there. You’ll probably see a fair number of Red Quills (#14-12) and March Browns (#14-10) as well.

But look for bigger numbers of sulphurs (#16), Light Cahills (#14-12) and Yellow Sallies (#16) over the next 4 or 5 weeks. Caddis are also abundant this time of year depending where you are. A tan body in a #14 will do the trick.

As always, a good selection of attractors will get you through most situations. Parachute Adams, Parachute Hares Ears, Thunderheads, Adams Wulffs and Royal Wulffs always do pretty well. But as mentioned above, you’ll want to be sure to have some dry flies in yellow. A Neversink in #16 – 14 is a staple for me. So is a Yellow Stimulator. I’d also have a selection of Parachute Sulphurs and Cahills.

For nymphs, try Hares Ears, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns and Tellico Nymphs. And with so much stuff hatching, now is a pretty good time to start experimenting with soft hackles. Check out my Hatch Guide for complete hatch information.

The featured fly this month is a Sulphur Comparadun. Sulphurs are one of the more reliable hatches in the Smokies. They’ve already started and should be around until at least the end of May. Most any sulphur pattern will fit the bill but if you run across any stubborn, slow water trout, the Sulphur Comparadun is an excellent choice!

Featured Fly

The Smoky Mountain Candy is a fly pattern originated by my good friend, Walter Babb. It is essentially a Thunderhead with a yellow body. Yellow is a great color this time of year. This fly floats well, is easy to see and catches fish… what more could you ask for?!? Order some from Little River Outfitters.

Smoky Mountain Candy
Smoky Mountain Candy

Smokies Fishing Report 5/2/21

Fly FIshing a Smoky Mountain Trout Stream

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 173cfs / 1.92 feet
Pigeon: 337cfs / 1.86 feet
Oconaluftee: 430cfs / 1.73 feet
Cataloochee: 75.5cfs / 2.49

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 54 – 58 degrees
Mid elevations: 52 – 56 degrees
High elevations: 50 – 54 degrees

Current Conditions

Fishing has been pretty good of late. It’s that weird time of year when days are getting warm but trees haven’t filled in all the way yet. A lot of direct sunlight is on the water in the afternoon making for spooky fish. That will change in a week or two.

Water is actually running slightly below normal for this time of year, especially on the North Carolina side of the park. Water temperatures are approaching perfect.

Projected Conditions

The week ahead is, shall we say, unsettled. We’ll have some thunderstorms moving through and estimated rain totals change every time I look. More than likely we’ll see around 1 1/2″ of rain over the course of three days. The bulk of it will be on Monday and Tuesday with lighter rain likely on Wednesday. A moderate cold front will follow.

I’m expecting water to come up a bit. How much is hard to say but I don’t think it will be a total blowout. Folks planning to fish on Tuesday or Wednesday should have the biggest concern for high water. Folks fishing Monday and Tuesday should plan on some wind and keep an eye out for thunderstorms. In any case, I’d keep an eye on the stream gauges this week. Reading Stream Gauges.

Tips

Fishing should remain good this week. Topwater activity has been very good recently. For me, it’s been on tan caddis and Thunderheads, but I’d say any common attractor should do well. If water comes up this week, plan on doing more nymphing. In addition to what’s mentioned below, rubber-legged stonefly nymphs, Wooly Buggers and San Juan Worms are always good in higher water.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

We’re starting to transition to “yellow season,” meaning much of what you’ll see hatching will be yellow. Blue Quills (#18) and Light Hendricksons (#14) will likely still be seen here and there. You’ll probably see a fair number of Red Quills (#14-12) and March Browns (#14-10) as well.

But look for bigger numbers of sulphurs (#16), Light Cahills (#14-12) and Yellow Sallies (#16) over the next 4 or 5 weeks. Caddis are also abundant this time of year depending where you are. A tan body in a #14 will do the trick.

As always, a good selection of attractors will get you through most situations. Parachute Adams, Parachute Hares Ears, Thunderheads, Adams Wulffs and Royal Wulffs always do pretty well. But as mentioned above, you’ll want to be sure to have some dry flies in yellow. A Neversink in #16 – 14 is a staple for me. So is a Yellow Stimulator. I’d also have a selection of Parachute Sulphurs and Cahills.

For nymphs, try Hares Ears, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns and Tellico Nymphs. And with so much stuff hatching, now is a pretty good time to start experimenting with soft hackles. Check out my Hatch Guide for complete hatch information.

The featured fly this month is a Sulphur Comparadun. Sulphurs are one of the more reliable hatches in the Smokies. They’ve already started and should be around until at least the end of May. Most any sulphur pattern will fit the bill but if you run across any stubborn, slow water trout, the Sulphur Comparadun is an excellent choice!

Featured Fly

Sulphur Comparadun

Vision Quest

I have been in this business for a long time now. And for many years, I was the young guide taking out all of the “old” guys. As I’d tie on their fly or untangle a wad of tippet enveloping that fly, time after time they’d say, “Wait ‘til you turn 40.” I’d laugh it off, secretly thinking it would never happen to me. Well it did happen to me and it doesn’t seem so funny now!

I didn’t experience any dramatic vision changes when I turned 40. During my early 40’s, I found myself holding the fly a little farther away to tie it on and tangles were just a little more frustrating in lower light. But when 45 rolled around, my arms were no longer long enough and that sunshine just never seemed bright enough to help! I needed a solution and for the last few years, I’ve been searching for the perfect vision “system.”

I’ve worn eyeglasses or contacts for distance my entire adult life. When I don’t have contacts in or glasses on, my close up vision is perfect. So for a year, I quit wearing contacts. I wore my eyeglasses when I fished and when I needed to see up close, I’d just look over the top of my glasses. It was perfect for managing my vision challenges, but created a problem with one of my most important pieces of fishing gear… polarized sunglasses.

Fit Over Style Glasses

I didn’t want to get prescription sunglasses because they were heavy and I couldn’t get prescription lenses in the wrap style that I preferred. Additionally, they made it difficult to see in low light conditions. So, I went with the “fit over” style sunglasses to wear over my eyeglasses. They worked great, but I found that wearing those for 8 hours a day, every day, just wasn’t very comfortable. That’s a lot of weight on your nose, particularly on a hot day when you’re sweating a little more.

I’m sure many of you in the 40+ club have similar struggles. You want the eye protection and visual benefits of polarized sunglasses but you also need to be able to see in low light. You need to be able to see detail in small things, such as threading the eye of a hook. And you likely don’t want to have three or four pairs of glasses hanging around your neck!

I ultimately went back to contact lenses and I found a pair of polarized glasses that have small magnifiers in the bottom of the lenses – kind of like a bifocal. They present a little problem when wading because of the distortion when you look down, but I’ve mostly trained myself to use more head than eyes when looking down. For lowlight situations, I keep a pair of readers handy. I use the ThinOptics brand/style because they take up so little space.

This little system has been working pretty well for me the last couple of years but you may have slightly different challenges. In my “vision quest,” I found a few different solutions and have included some of them below.

Polarized Sunglasses with Magnifiers

Polarized Sunglasses with Magnifiers

I’m sure there are others out there but if so, I didn’t see them. The only ones I could find were from Orvis. They’re good glasses and I’ve worn them for a few years now with no issues. Apparently there are also stick-on magnifiers you can add to any glasses but I haven’t tried them.

Readers

There are a number of readers you can get from high dollar to just a few bucks and they can be purchased through specialty stores or at your local grocery or Walmart. My issue with most readers is they either need to be stored in a pocket where they aren’t readily accessible or they hang around your neck. Since my preferred “pack,” the Richardson Chest Fly Box, hangs on my chest and I already have polarized sunglasses on a Croakie, I didn’t want one more thing hanging around my neck.

ThinOptics readers for cell phone
ThinOptics readers keychain

I solved the problem with ThinOptics readers. They are super thin and they “fold” into a super thin case. The original was designed to stick on the back of your cellphone. I stick mine on the front of my chest fly box. But there are numerous other clever designs now, including one intended to be a key chain, that conveniently attaches to a zipper or D-ring on a vest or pack.

Flip Focal Magnifier

Another reader/magnifier popular among fly fishers is the Flip Focal. This is a simple device that clips to the bill of your hat and folds up out of the way. When you need to tie a knot or perform a similar task, you can flip down the magnifier. I personally don’t like looking upward to do those things so this didn’t suit me. I also wear different hats and don’t like having to remember to change my Flip Focal to a different hat every day.

Threaders and Knot Tools

Many folks, instead of attempting to improve their vision to perform tasks like threading hooks and tying knots, prefer to utilize various tools and gadgets.  

Threader Fly Box
Threader Fly Box

One popular item is the threader fly box. You can preload flies onto the threaders in the box. Run your tippet through the head of the threader and pull the desired fly off onto the tippet.

Magnetic Threader

Or you may prefer to carry a separate threader attached to your pack or vest. This magnetic threader is pretty slick. You simply put the eye of the hook on the magnet which automatically lines it up with the precut channel on the tool. Run your tippet through the channel and it threads perfectly through the eye of the hook. Watch this video to see exactly how it works.

Three-in-One Knot Tool
Knot Tool

You may prefer to take it one step further and have a tool that will also assist in tying the knot. There are a bunch of different variations but this three-in-one tool will act as a threader and help tie a few different knots. Here’s a good video to show you how it works.

Hopefully one or more of these items will make your time on the water a little easier. If you have another method not mentioned here that works well for you, please share!