Ginger Caddis

Ginger Caddis
Ginger caddis

The Ginger Caddis of the Smokies is known in other circles as the Great Brown Autumn Sedge. Many lump it together with a few other similar species and refer to them all just as October Caddis. No matter what we decide to call it, fish just call it food! Caddis of numerous varieties are available most of the year in the Smokies but really seem to come into their own in fall. And of the many caddis species hatching in the fall, the Ginger Caddis is the undisputed king.

Orange Stimulator Fly Pattern
Orange Stimulator

Ginger Caddis are big, big bugs – in the hook size #10-8 range to be exact. They are in the stream all year, most of the time in a larval encasement of lengthwise sticks. The larvae feed mostly on decaying leaves throughout the winter and spring. In early summer, when that food source has diminished, they seal off their cases and remain inactive until late summer. In late summer, they begin pupation. Emergence, mating, and egg laying occur in early fall. Eggs will hatch in late fall when most of the leaves have fallen, and the larvae will again begin feeding on this foliage. Their entire life cycle is completely synchronized with this food source and they are one of the most important converters of leaf material in the woodland streams of the Eastern United States.

What does that have to do with you? Well, it gives you a good idea of what to tie on the end of your tippet. You will probably only see a handful of these on the stream. The adults tend to fly mostly at night, but there is plenty of spillover near dusk and dawn. And trout don’t seem to care that their not supposed to be seeing them in the middle of the day. They regularly take these imitations with plenty of vigor!

Orange Neversink Caddis Fly Pattern
Neversink Caddis

While there are a number of more exact imitations out there, I have found few flies that work better than an orange Stimulator or an orange Neversink Caddis in sizes #12-8. Even when they’re not hitting the dries, these are both highly buoyant dry flies that do a great job of suspending a dropper. For dropper nymphs, the usual suspects like Pheasant Tails, Princes, and Green Weenies are always good choices. Or you may try a #12 orange soft hackle pattern to imitate the Ginger Caddis pupa.

Actively fishing an orange soft hackle by itself or in tandem with another nymph can be very productive, especially in the early morning. Refer to the Active Nymphingarticle in the Journal section of my web site for tips. Ginger Caddis begin showing up (hatching) in the Smokies in mid to late September and typically hang around until late October.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Foam Beetle

Foam Beetle Fly Pattern
Black foam beetle

In general, I mostly look forward to spring and fall fishing the most in the mountains. Temperatures are mild and fish are typically at their most active. However, there is one particular thing that makes me excited for the warm weather of summer to arrive: Beetle fishing!

With mayflies, it’s different. Sure it’s cool seeing a trout casually come up and sip your mayfly imitation out of a foam line, but I’ve seen trout cross from one side of a pool to another to eat a foam beetle. And it’s not a sip; it’s a GULP!

Common Black Beetle
Common Black Beetle

Terrestrial fishing is a big deal in the mountains in the summer. Hatches of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies are fewer and land based insects like inchworms, ants, and hoppers fill the void. Beetles are one of the most prolific terrestrial “hatches” in the park and there are about as many different types of actual beetles as there are beetle patterns to imitate them. I used to tie a fly called a Java Bug that was a beetle imitation made with a painted coffee bean epoxied to a body of peacock herl. The coffee bean not only provided a perfect profile, but would land on the water with an enticing “plop,” much like a real beetle might.

My favorite beetle imitation for a beetle, as the title not so discreetly suggests, is a foam beetle. With foam, you can still get the desired “plop,” but in a much more durable body. Many patterns, including some I tie, will have a peacock herl or even a sparkle dub body to capture that iridescence found on most beetles. They look great and fish great, but I’ve found that a simple thread body does about as well. For legs, I’ve seen everything from hackle to thread, but in my book, it’s hard to beat thin rubber for the movement.

I mostly use a size range of #10 – #14. I lean more toward the smaller sizes later in the summer when the water is lower. Most of mine are tied in black or brown, and I like to put a small strip of yellow or orange foam on the top to make it easier to see.

Foam Beetle Fly Pattern
Foam Beetle

Trout seem to be looking for them more in the afternoons, but certainly try them anytime of day. Beetles seem to be more active in the afternoon and evening so I think they’re more available to fish at those times. Windy days can be great beetle days (or any kind of terrestrial) as more of them end up in the water. And as you might expect, fishing them under overhanging tree limbs can be very productive.

Most of the time, I fish them like I would any dry fly. I drift them from the top of a current down to the fish. But I sometimes alter my tactics in slower pools. Beetle imitations do hit the water a little harder, which can be good and bad. If you spot a nice fish in a slow pool and plop that beetle in front of him, he’ll often spook. But if you plop it down a foot or so behind him, he’ll often turn around for it. This is one of my favorite kind of takes!

Tie some for yourself or give me a shout and I’ll tie some for you. They are included in my Boys of Summer fly selection. Whatever you do, just make sure you have some with you on any summertime trip to the Smokies!

Simple Foam Beetle

Hook: TMC 100 #16 – #10
Thread: Black 8/0
Back/Shell: Black 2mm craft foam, tied in rearward and folded over
Body: Black thread
Legs: Black rubber legs, small to micro depending on hook size
Sighter: Orange (or other bright color) 2mm craft foam

Note: Numerous other colors of foam and thread can be used but black and brown are my best producers

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Fly Selection Part 2 – Dry Flies vs. Nymphs

Fisherman on Little River Smoky MountainsLast month, I talked about ways to simplify your fly selection and offered tips on how to choose flies based on season and what was hatching. Based on the number of questions I had, however, I left out an important part of the process. Many folks said they are often uncertain when to fish a dry fly vs. a nymph.

As you might imagine, there are a lot of variables. There is not a simple answer like fish nymphs before noon and dries after. The truth is, in places like the Smoky Mountains, when conditions like water temperature and water level are ideal, it often doesn’t matter. There have been plenty of days when I’ve fished with my buddy Brian, going up the stream together and taking turns fishing. He was fishing nymphs or wet flies and I was fishing dries. We caught about the same number of fish. When conditions are right and the trout are actively feeding, they’ll typically feed on both.

So when the conditions are great and you could fish either, how do you decide? Sometimes it just boils down to personal preference. I happen to think fishing with dry flies is more fun. I’m often going to choose a dry fly in those instances. But it also depends where I’m fishing. If it’s purely a rainbow or brook trout stream, I’m highly likely to fish dries. But brown trout are more reluctant to feed on the surface. If there’s a chance of catching a bigger brown, I’m more likely to fish nymphs.

Some people choose to fish dry flies because they think it’s easier. Nymphing requires you to read the water three dimensionally. You have to factor in the depth as well as the surface currents. And there is more stuff, like split shot and sometimes strike indicators, that can lead to more tangles for less experienced anglers. On the other hand, one of the most experienced fly fishermen I know chooses to fish nymphs in smaller, pocket water streams for a similar reason. He says he can cover more water and catch more fish because he’s not spending so much time drying and redressing his dry fly after every fish. It’s a great point. Keeping a dry fly floating in smaller mountain streams, especially when you’re catching a lot of fish, can require a lot of time and effort.

So when the conditions are great and you could fish either, it’s really just going to come down to your personal preference and fishing style. But what about when conditions are not ideal? What are some “less than ideal” conditions that might dictate the use of one fly category over another?

The first one that jumps to mind is water temperature. If you’re fishing early or late in the year when the water temperature is in the 40’s (or colder), there will be fewer insects hatching and the fish are going be more lethargic and less willing to come to the surface to feed. While you can sometimes coax fish to the surface in these conditions, you’ll likely have far greater success fishing nymphs near the bottom where the fish is already seeing most of its natural food and where it doesn’t have to expend as much energy.

High water is another one. When water is high, many of the channels are moving too fast at the surface. In pocket water, the water that normally goes around the rocks is going over them and eliminating the holding pocket. Fish will not only have a tougher time seeing food on the surface, they will have to work too hard to get it. While there can sometimes be fish surface feeding in back eddies, etc. in high water, you’ll likely be far more successful drifting nymphs closer to the bottom.

Low water can be the opposite. Fish don’t quit feeding on nymphs when the water gets too low. But it gets very difficult to fish with nymphs in these conditions because you’re frequently hanging the bottom. Can it be done? Absolutely. But you’ll have a much easier time fishing dry flies in these conditions.

The other situation worth mentioning is fishing for trout in tailwaters. While there are exceptions, most tailwaters are not known for their diversity in aquatic insects. Rather they’ll usually get one good mayfly hatch and/or one good caddis hatch and that’s it. The Clinch River is a perfect example. It gets a great sulfur (mayfly) hatch in May and June and that’s it. During that timeframe, the dry fly fishing can be pretty darn good. The rest of the year their diet mostly consists of midge larvae, scuds, and sulfur nymphs.

Even when tailwater trout can be observed surface feeding on adult midges, you can usually catch fifteen trout below the surface for every one you can catch on top. Tailwaters almost always lend themselves better to nymph fishing.

Finally, if you want to get scientific about the whole thing, it is estimated that anywhere from 65-90% of a trout’s diet comes from below the surface. It makes sense. The typical aquatic insect spends one to four years as a nymph. It only spends one day to two weeks as an adult. So really, we fish dry flies because it’s fun. And sometimes it’s easier. If your primary goal is catching big fish and/or more fish, learn how to fish nymphs.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Fly Selection – Making Sense of It All

Fly Bins at a Fly Shop
Too many choices?

If you are new to fly fishing, particularly for trout, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of fly patterns available. Which ones do I need? What colors? What sizes? Do I need all of them? First of all, if you carry every trout fly with you, you need a wheelbarrow to go fly fishing! While there is no way to make it immediately simple, there are ways to simplify the process. As with many things in fly fishing, find a good starting point. Learn as you go from there.

Sulfur Mayfly Adult
Sulfur mayflies can come off in bunches on the Clinch in May, and you better have a good imitation

First, There are many fly patterns that imitate a very specific bug when it is hatching. These may only be relevant on certain rivers at a specific time of year. Some only imitate certain stages of that hatching insect’s emergence. These hatches may involve hundreds of bugs coming off for hours out of the day, and maybe over the course of several weeks.

When that’s the case, fish can get highly selective. They may ignore anything that doesn’t look like what is actually hatching. You need to match the hatch. The heavier the hatch is, the more selective the fish can become. They may only focus on one stage of the emergence. For instance, they may opt to ignore the nymphs and adults, and purely key in on emergers just under the surface film.

This kind of situation can be exciting and frustrating at the same time while you try to unlock the puzzle. But these situations are rare. Most of the time, particularly in smaller mountain streams like the Smokies, you’re not going to see many heavy hatches. Rather, there will be sporadic small hatches of a few different types of bugs. And the fish rarely key in on one specific bug. They can’t afford to. Often, there won’t be anything hatching at all.   So, a good starting point with trout flies is with a basic selection of attractor patterns in their most common size(s).

Parachute Adams Dry Fly
The Parachute Adams is one of the most universal topwater trout flies in the world

Attractor fly patterns, also referred to as generals, generics, or prospecting flies, are not designed to imitate anything in particular. They will either be rather drab looking flies, like a Parachute Adams, that look similar to a lot of food items. Or they may be something with some color that doesn’t look like anything at all, like a Royal Wulff, intended to trigger a feeding response from a trout. In most situations, if you have a basic selection of attractors and you present them well, you can catch trout anywhere in the world.

Many of you may have seen, or even purchased, the Great 8 fly selectionfrom my online store. That’s exactly what it is – a collection of eight dry, nymph, and streamer fly patterns that will work on trout most anywhere in the world.   Now if you ask ten different fishermen their eight must-have fly patterns, you won’t get the exact same answer. But I guarantee you’ll see a lot of similarity and crossover. A simple selection of these types of flies is a great place to start your fly collection. From there, you just gradually add fly patterns based on multiple sources and scenarios.

Maybe your buddy told you he did really well at Tremont on a size #12 Yellow Humpy. Pick up a couple and give them a try. Or maybe the guy at the fly shop said people have been doing well on #16 Copper Johns. Pick up a few of those. Or maybe you purchased my hatch guide for the Smokies and it indicated there should be good hatches of Light Cahills when you were coming. Better have a couple of Light Cahill patterns with you.

There are hatch guides and charts for most every popular trout fishery in the country and they can be very helpful. And the folks at the local fly shops are great sources for information. When they’re not fishing, they’re in the shop talking to people who have been fishing. They almost always have the most up to date information. After doing that for a while, you start to accumulate a lot of fly patterns. And through the process, you start to find your own personal favorites.

So, now that you have all of these patterns, how do you know what fly to fish when? Fly selection is about 1/3 experience, 1/3 scientific, and 1/3 dumb luck. If you fish an area a lot, you will begin to draw from past experiences to choose your fly. If I am fishing the Smokies in June, I don’t have to actually see a beetle get eaten by a trout to make me decide to tie on a beetle pattern. For decades, I’ve done well on beetles in June. It will probably be one of the first flies I tie on.

Little Yellow Sally Stonefly Adult
Are you seeing a lot of these?
Little Yellow Sally Dry Fly
Try something like this

I might use a more scientific approach on water that is less familiar, or even on familiar water when something unusual is happening. The scientific approach could be reading something like a hatch guide and choosing a fly accordingly to match the flies that should be hatching. Or you could be on the water and see fish feeding on the surface. If you see an abundance of natural insects on the water or coming off the water, catch a couple in your hand and try to find an imitation in your box that is close in size, color, and profile. You can do the same thing with nymphs by turning over a couple of rocks and choosing a fly that resembles what you see.

The dumb luck method is just what it sounds like. The biggest brook trout I ever caught in the park came on a day when the fishing was tough. None of my usual patterns were producing and I wasn’t having much luck matching naturals. I finally dug through my box and saw a fly I hadn’t thought of, much less fished, in the last ten years. I figured I couldn’t do much worse. So, I tried it and ended up catching several fish on it, including that big brookie. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Probably the most import thing to remember is that it is more often the archer, not the arrow. Too many fishermen blame their fly for a lack of success. With the exception of super big, technical hatches, specific fly patterns are probably not as important as most people make them. Approaching the fish without spooking them and putting a good drift over them with a “reasonable” fly pattern will catch fish most of the time.

Someone smarter than me once said that most people’s favorite fly is the fly they happened to have on the first time the fishing was good. In other words, the fish were feeding well that day and probably would have hit most anything. But from that day forward you have confidence in that fly. It’s often the first fly you tie on and it’s the one you leave on the longest. There’s a lot to be said for confidence.

Most of the big brown trout, probably 75%, I’ve caught in the Smokies have come on a Tellico Nymph. That may lead some people to believe there is something extra special about that fly. The truth is I spotted most of those big brown trout before fishing for them. And I usually tie on a Tellico Nymph when I fish to a big brown. Know why? It’s the fly I happened to have on the first time I caught a big brown in the Smokies. There’s a lot to be said for confidence.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: Blue Wing Olive

Blue Wing Olive Mayfly Adult
Blue Wing Olive mayfly

Winter seasons are not typically known to produce large hatches of aquatic insects, particularly in our part of the country. However, if you’re going to run into a hatch worthy of bringing fish to the surface during the cold winter months, it’s likely to be a hatch of Blue Wing Olive mayflies. Blue Wing Olives, or BWO’s as they’re commonly called, are one of the most erratic hatches that I know of. While most aquatic insects hatch at fairly predictable times of the year, BWO’s are likely to come off anytime of the year, typically on the crappiest day imaginable.

Parachute Blue Wing Olive Fly Pattern
Parachute Blue Wing Olive

I can remember guiding someone in the park several years ago in early May, a time when we’re usually seeing good sulphur hatches (and about anything else yellow). We had an unusual and harsh cold front come in where highs were hitting 50-degrees at best. It was cold, windy, and raining and the fish had more or less shut down. We’d had a tough morning to say the least and while shivering through lunch, we were considering calling it in.

I suggested hitting one more nearby pool and to our surprise, it had fish rising in it… a lot of them. Without giving it much thought, I tied a sulfur on his line since that’s what had been hatching… Every. Single. Day. But when he began fishing to them, the sulfur imitation repeatedly drifted through rising trout, untouched. So I switched him to a different, smaller sulphur pattern. Same result. Then, I switched him to a sulphur emerger. Nothing.

Blue Wing Olive Comparadun Fly Pattern
Blue Wing Olive Comparadun

I was making a mistake that a lot of fishermen make. My decisions were based on what the fish had been or should be doing rather than  what they were doing. Eventually, I waded out to the channel in the very back of the pool where I wouldn’t disturb the fish and focused closely on the surface of the water. What I found was not the size #16 sulfurs that had been hatching for the last week. Instead, I saw dozens and dozens of size #20 BWO’s. Fly selection is 45% experience, 45% science, and 10% dumb luck, and I had been relying 100% on experience! We made the appropriate fly change and were into fish for a solid four hours before the hatch ended and the fish went cold again.

Olive Bead Head Pheasant Tail Fly Pattern
Beadhead Olive Pheasant Tail Nymph

There are a lot of morals to this story but the one most relevant to the topic of this article is that BWO’s can hatch anytime. And they usually like to hatch on the foulest of days. With that said, don’t rush out to the Smokies in February because Rob Fightmaster said there would be a great BWO hatch. But if you’re on the water in less that ideal conditions and fish are rising, look for BWO’s. If you don’t see anything but just want to try something on the top, try a #18 or #20 BWO. I ALWAYS have at least a few BWO’s in my fly box in these sizes. I carry different versions but prefer something with a dark olive body and medium dun hackle in a parachute or comparadun style pattern.

Again, a hatch can occur at most anytime but you’re most likely to encounter them between late fall and early spring, at least in this part of the country. And you’re just as likely to see them hatching on a tailwater as you are in the mountains.

Of course, for every fishing eating a BWO on the surface, there are probably five eating a BWO nymph. The nymphs are also usually dark olive in color and can typically be imitated with an olive Pheasant Tail or olive Pheasant Tail nymph. Both are good choices during a hatch or just blind “nymphing” in the winter months.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: Blue Quills

Adult Blue Quill Mayfly
Blue Quill mayfly

Blue Quills represent one of the first good mayfly hatches of the year in the Smokies. By “good,” I mean they can come off in big enough numbers and with enough consistency for trout to really take notice. Water temperature determines when they hatch. As an early season bug, there can be as much as a three week variation from year to year.

Blue Quill Dry Fly
Blue Quill Dry Fly

They tend to start hatching in the Smokies in late March and continue through the third or fourth week of April. With a warmer than average February, they can get started a little earlier or they may get going a little later in a cold spring.

They hatch sporadically through the day with the heaviest activity occurring between noon and 4:00pm. Water is often higher and faster this time of year.  Pay close attention to soft current edges, eddies, and slow pockets for trout feeding on them. Water temperatures also tend to be chillier this time of year, which can retard emergence. An unweighted nymph fished in the surface film or just below can be very effective, particularly on cooler, damp, or overcast days.

Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymph
Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymph

The nymph is a reddish brown color and typically a size #16 or #18. The bugs tend to get smaller as the hatch progresses. So while we’ve mostly been seeing #16’s, expect #18’s to be more common in the coming weeks. There are specific Blue Quill nymph patterns but a standard Pheasant Tail Nymph works as well as anything.

The adults also have a reddish brown body with a light to medium dun wing and are also found in sizes #16 and #18. Again, very specific Blue Quill dry fly patterns are available but a Parachute Adams serves as a worthy imitation.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: The Ants Go Marching…

Black Ant“When all else fails, try an ant.”

“Trout love ants.”

I have repeatedly heard these two statements throughout my fly fishing life, and I’d have to say, I agree with both. Ants are not only abundant in nearly every stream where trout live, they’re pretty easy pickin’s once they make their way into the water. And for Smoky Mountain trout, they’re one of the few meals available in the summer months.

From a fishing perspective, I love ants for their versatility. Whether it’s topwater in heavier current, topwater in low, slow runs, or below the surface… There’s an ant for that!

Chernobyl Ant Fly Pattern
Chernobyl Ant

Made popular in the American West, a Chernobyl Ant is an oversized ant pattern, often tied on a size #6 hook or even bigger! While they are considerably larger than most natural ants, the trout don’t seem to mind. Trout may actually take them more for a beetle or some other type of terrestrial, but who cares? They eat them. I typically find the traditional Chernobyl Ants too big for slower water, though I have had a number of nice fish eat them on slow, shady edges of summertime pools. The Chernobyl is best suited for heavier water with a little more chop and because of its buoyancy, is a great dry fly to support a dropper nymph.

Mini Chernobyl Ant Fly Pattern
Mini-Chernobyl Ant

Most of the time, however, I scale the fly size down to a #12 or #14, making it more of a “mini-Chernobyl.” At this size, it makes a great generic searching pattern from late spring through early fall. It rides a little lower in the water, sometimes making it difficult to see in choppy water or where there is excessive glare. But with a brighter piece of foam on top of the fly, you can pick it up most of the time.

Parachute Ant Fly Pattern
Parachute Ant

In late summer and early fall, or anytime when the water is low, fish are spookier and big foam flies (even the mini-Chernobyl) can send the fish running for cover. A parachute ant pattern can be more effective during these times. It lands softer and provides a little more natural silhouette. I typically fish these in smaller sizes like #16 and # 18. Tying these with a white or orange post makes them visible in most conditions.

Soft Hackle Ant Fly Pattern
Soft Hackle Ant

One of the most underutilized methods for fishing an ant is to fish it below the surface. Ants are not particularly strong swimmers and often find themselves drowning when they’re in the water. Fishing an ant between the surface and the middle of the water column can be highly productive. Hard bodied ants or, my favorite, soft hackle ants, in a size #14 or #16 are great for this. I’ll often fish one as the top fly of a two-fly nymph/wet fly rig, especially when streams are running full. When streams are low, I like to put a soft hackle ant as a dropper off a dry fly. It hangs in, or just below the surface film and will often fool the most finicky of trout.

Most of the ants I fish are black but can be effective in brown, tan, or cinnamon as well. You can fish them almost anytime of year but they will be most productive during the summer. Ants also tend to be most active through the middle of the day. So that is when trout are most likely to see them.

In any case, you should have at least one ant pattern in your fly selection, preferably two or three variations. You can find the mini-Chernobyl and the Soft Hackle Ant in the Boys of Summer fly selection on my web site.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Clouser Minnow

Clouser Minnow
Clouser Minnow

In freshwater or salt, one of the best baitfish patterns around…. I recently went to Perdido Key, FL on vacation. Once a year, my wife and I take a beach vacation somewhere, usually with another couple. And while these trips are more about relaxation and socializing, I always try to work in at least a little fishing, sometimes with a guide. I didn’t know much about this area and never really even took time to research. I just packed some gear and planned to figure it out when I got there.

On our first day, while kicked back on the beach enjoying an adult beverage, I observed a tremendous amount of feeding activity in the surf. Schools of bigger fish were ripping through schools of smaller fish. It was happening up and down the coast as far as I could see. I wouldn’t have to do any scouting after all. All the activity I needed was right outside my back door!

My big problem was that I didn’t know what kind of fish were getting eaten and what kind of fish were doing the eating. Don’t you just love beach problems? My saltwater experience is just as limited as my saltwater gear, so I approached it in the exact same way I would approach an unfamiliar freshwater situation. When in doubt, go generic. It was apparent that they were feeding on some kind of baitfish. And what is the most generic, universal fly for imitating a baitfish? A Clouser Minnow.

The fly was originated by Bob Clouser in 1987. Bob was a fly shop owner and guide in Pennsylvania. He developed the fly for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River. I first learned of the fly in the early 90’s and fished it regularly on the smallmouth streams of Central Kentucky. Over the decades, it has been varied in color and style, and has accounted for nearly every species of fish known. Whether freshwater or salt, the diet of nearly every big fish includes small fish. And whether freshwater or salt, most baitfish have some very common characteristics. Most have a long, slender profile, a darker back and a lighter belly, and pronounced eyes that often act as a trigger for predators.

Clouser Minnow Colors
Clousers are tied in almost every color combo

While there are various color combinations to better match specific baitfish, all Clouser Minnows have the above-mentioned characteristics. They also have lead eyes positioned in such a way as to allow the fly to ride hook up. And with their bucktail bodies, they retain very little water. This makes them feel lighter and easier to cast than most other flies their size.

While I most often use this fly for warmwater species, I’ve taken a number of trout on it. It works in tailwaters and even the occasional large brown in the park will eat it. You can bet I’ll fish it more than once in late fall in the park. It’s great when those big browns begin moving before and after spawn. I tie them on traditional streamer hooks for trout, on larger gape hooks for bass, and on stainless hooks for saltwater species. I’ve had success with a number of different color combinations but my “go to” colors are white and black and white and olive.

So the first morning I was at the beach, I got to the water at sunrise with a black and white Clouser tied to my leader. On the second cast into the first school of feeding fish, I hooked up. The ol’ Clouser did it again. Add a couple of speckled sea trout and a whole lot of ladyfish to its list of victims!

Early Season Wet Fly

Early Season Wet Fly

In the Smokies, we typically see some of our best hatches of the year in spring. So, it’s no wonder that once March rolls around, most Smoky Mountain fly fishermen have dry flies on the brain. Count me in that group. I love fishing dry flies, especially to steady feeders during a hatch. But just because there’s a hatch, doesn’t always mean you’re going to have a lot of success with dry flies.

There are always an abundance of nymphs and emergers available to trout in any hatch. Trout can often feed on them more easily and without exposing themselves to potential predators. And there are certain situations that may make them even more reluctant to feed on the surface, such as marginal water temperatures. We see that a lot around here in the winter. Bugs are hatching, sometimes heavily, but you don’t see a single rise. Another scenario that many don’t consider is a dry, sunny day.

During a hatch, many aquatic insects linger on the surface while their wings dry before they can fly away. This makes them easy pickings for a waiting trout. Damp, overcast conditions are great days for dry fly fishing for this reason. The bugs are on the surface longer and the trout are looking for them there. But on dry, sunny days, they are able to get off the water almost immediately, making them a tough target for a trout. In those situations, trout often key in on the nymphs and emergers.

This certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fish dry flies on sunny days or when the water temperature is less than perfect. But when things aren’t going your way during a hatch, you may want to consider changing your tactics. For me, that often means fishing a wet fly. The Early Season Wet Fly is a great one for, you guessed it, early in the season.

Most of the aquatic insects that hatch around here in the early season, until around mid April, are dark in color. So this fly, with its darker body and wing, does a great job mimicking the majority of bugs that a trout might see. Past April, I might fish a similar fly in a lighter tan or yellow color.

I honestly don’t know where this pattern originated. I’m sure there are many traditional wet fly patterns that are very similar. But I believe this particular version originated in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Regardless, I learned about it from the same source that I’ve learned most things about fishing in the Smokies: Walter Babb.

I fish it a number of different ways. On days when I’m expecting a hatch in the afternoon, I might fish it in the morning in tandem with a dark nymph – maybe a Pheasant Tail or olive Hare’s Ear. In this situation, I’m usually fishing it with a dead drift. At the very beginning of a hatch, or throughout a hatch with little surface activity, I might fish two of these flies and allow them to swing in the current. And even during a hatch when fish are actively feeding on the surface, I often fish this fly as a dropper off the back of my dry fly.

In any case, it’s a go-to fly for me in the month of March and a good one to have in your stash. I doubt that it’s available anywhere commercially but if you’re a fly tyer, I’ve included the recipe below. Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Early Season Wet Fly

Hook: TMC 3769 (or equivalent) #14 – 12
Thread: Tan or brown 8/0
Tail: Dun hen hackle fibers
Rib: Copper wire
Body: Mix of grey and tan hare’s ear dubbing
Hackle: Dun hen
Wing: Mallard flank feather dyed grey