June Fishing Forecast

Smoky Mountain Rainbow

Mountains

I like June. It’s still mild enough where lower elevations fish well most of the month, at least early and late in the day. But the real action is in the mid and high elevations, mostly up the trails. Hatches are usually still happening and terrestrials like beetles, ants and inchworms are beginning to make regular appearances.

As mentioned above, we should still see decent hatches throughout the month. March Browns will still be hanging around. Yellow Sallies will be abundant and so will sulphurs, particularly early in the month. And most streams will see sporadic good hatches of tan caddis.

These hatches will pop off sporadically through the day and even when you don’t SEE a hatch, the fish have seen enough stuff where they’re usually looking up. Sometimes the main event, usually a heavy mixed bag of sulphurs, Light Cahills and Sallies, won’t get going until near dark.

In any case, we’re entering the “yellow season,” when most of what hatches is yellow or at least lighter in color. Yellow Stimulators, Neversinks, yellow Parachute Adams, etc. will be good dry fly choices for a while.

Clinch

This really should just be a copy and paste forecast for the Clinch. The river that seems to just perpetually have two generators going still has two generators going. It seems that it might be lightening up just a little and we are starting to see some drier weather, so maybe… just maybe, we’ll start seeing some better wade schedules this month.

If we do, you’ll see the normal daily hatches of midges. Play around with some weird patterns or go with the ol’ staple black Zebra Midge. A Pheasant Tail Nymph is also a good bet this time of year.

There may still be remnants of a sulphur hatch hanging around. It’s been really sporadic in recent years but some days will show pretty heavy hatches. Sometimes it just depends what part of the river you’re on. In any case, it’s always a good idea to have at least a small assortment of sulphur patterns with you this time of year.

May Fishing Forecast

Mountains

My goal is always to get the newsletter out on the first of the month and of course, this forecast goes in the newsletter. With the park waiting until the absolute last second to announce whether or not they will be reopening on May 1st, I’m just writing this with the assumption that they will. Even if they don’t, the stuff below will still be going on… we just won’t see any of it!

We had a really good April around here. Weather was pretty mild and other than a couple of high water events, water levels were pretty good. It makes sense that we would see one of the best Aprils in a while when the national park is closed and nobody could travel here to fish! Hopefully we can make up for lost time this month.

If you’ve spent any time fishing with me or reading these newsletters, it’s probably no secret that I consider May to be one of the best months of the year for fishing. Most of the bigger spring rains have blown through and temperatures are usually very mild. It’s typically cool enough for the lower elevations to fish well and warm enough to get things going up high. You nearly always have almost every fishing option available.

I have no reason to think this May will be any different. We should see good hatches throughout the month. Hendricksons will likely still be hanging around early in the month with March Browns showing up soon after. Yellow Sallies will be abundant and so will sulphurs, particularly by mid month. And most streams will see sporadic good hatches of tan caddis.

These hatches will pop off sporadically through the day and even when you don’t SEE a hatch, the fish have seen enough stuff where they’re usually looking up. Sometimes the main event, usually a heavy mixed bag of sulphurs, Light Cahills and Sallies, won’t get going until near dark.

In any case, we’re entering the “yellow season,” when most of what hatches is yellow or at least lighter in color. Yellow Stimulators, Neversinks, yellow Parachute Adams, etc. will be good dry fly choices for a while.

Clinch

Ahh, the Clinch. The river that seems to just perpetually have two generators going. They’ve been going non-stop this spring and probably will continue until we can get a dry spell.

When we do, you’ll see the normal daily hatches of midges. Play around with some weird patterns or go with the ol’ staple black Zebra Midge. A Pheasant Tail Nymph is also a good bet this time of year.

May is usually when we start seeing sulphurs on the Clinch. It’s been really sporadic in recent years but some days will show pretty heavy hatches. Sometimes it just depends what part of the river you’re on. In any case, it’s always a good idea to have at least a small assortment of sulphur patterns with you this time of year.

April Coronavirus Update

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!

March Fishing Forecast

Upper Abrams Creek, Tennessee
The “Cove Section”

Mountains

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?

Clinch

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?

February Fishing Forecast

Winter Fishing Tellico
Winter Fishing

Smoky Mountains

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.

Delayed Harvest

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!

Clinch River

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?

November Fishing Forecast

Fall Smoky Mountain Brook Trout
Beautiful Autumn Brook Trout

Mountains

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.

Clinch River

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.

October Fishing Forecast

fall fishing on little river
Fall Fishing on Little River

Smokies

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.

Clinch

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.

September Fishing Forecast

Smoky Mountain Brook Trout
A nice highcountry brook trout

Smoky Mountains

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.

Clinch River

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!

August Fishing Forecast

Smoky Mountains
The Gorge

Smoky Mountains

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.

Clinch River

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!

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.