The Improved Clinch Knot, like its predecessor we showed you last month, is used to attach the fly to the tippet. The video will explain the differences in the two knots, why and when you might want one over the other and, of course, how to tie it.
The thought of fishing with a worm pattern makes many fly fishing purists cringe. I have to admit, I sometimes feel a little dirty about it but I’m not sure why. I think it’s kind of like the disdain some fly fishers have for strike indicators, probably due to their similarity to bobbers. Bobbers and worms are the tools of bait fishermen and fly fishers don’t like the thought of doing ANYTHING akin to bait fishing!
The thing is, fish eat worms – even the sophisticated trout. When we choose most fly patterns, we are doing so because they resemble something we think the fish is eating. Therefore, why should fly patterns that imitate worms be any different? Maybe it’s just because the patterns for worms just don’t have the same elegance and beauty as say, a traditional wet fly pattern.
Maybe it would help to verbally justify it when you tie on a worm pattern. That’s what I do. In much the same way I acknowledge eating that piece of pie as a bad decision right before I eat the piece of pie, I always declare that I’m going to fish junk before I put on a worm. There’s just something about that self-awareness that allows us to forgive ourselves and sleep at night. And when it comes to fishing the worm, it doesn’t hurt that they flat out catch fish!
Just like any fly pattern, a worm imitation isn’t magic. You’re not going to instantly catch a bunch of fish because you’re using a worm. You still have to do all of the other things right like approach and presentation. And sometimes, even when everything is done correctly, the fish may just not be feeding and/or they may not be feeding on worms.
Fish that live in streams with rock bottoms and banks are simply not going to see as many worms as fish in streams with silt bottoms because it’s not their habitat. In the mountains, I have the best success with worms after a good rain. But that’s probably true about anywhere. We’ve all seen an abundance of worms on our sidewalk or driveway after a good rain because they are flooded out of their “holes.” The same thing happens on a stream bank and many of those worms end up in the stream where fish are looking for them.
Under normal conditions, I don’t have as much success with worm patterns, at least with wild trout, or even holdover stocked trout. But freshly stocked trout will often eat a worm pattern with reckless abandon simply because it’s colorful. Fresh stockers tend to be suckers for anything bright or shiny. However, with wild trout, even when they don’t eat the worm, I think it gets their attention.
I will routinely fish a pink or red worm as the top fly of a double nymph rig and for the bottom fly, I’ll use a more subtle, maybe smaller pattern like a Pheasant Tail. Over the years, it’s happened way too many times to be coincidence. I’ll fish a fly like a Pheasant Tail by itself or in tandem with another nymph with no success. When I re-rig and use that same Pheasant Tail below a worm, it suddenly begins catching fish! I don’t think that’s necessarily unique to worm patterns, though. I’ve had similar results using various bigger, brighter flies above smaller, subtler ones.
There are a lot of different worm patterns out there, but there’s only so much artistic interpretation a fly tyer can have when it comes to worms! The San Juan Worm has long been the gold standard, but more recently, the Squirmy Worm has won favor with many anglers. They are essentially the same pattern but with different body materials. The traditional San Juan Worm has a body made of vernille or micro-chenille, which has less movement but is more durable. The Squirmy Worm uses a stretchy, silicone material, which offers a lot of movement but can come apart after several fish. Pick your poison.
In any case, there are a number of different colors available. Pink and red are the two best colors for me. However, colors like purple, orange and brown have all had their moments.
And it has certainly been well documented that a Green Weenie is a killer fly in the Smokies. While it fits a little more loosely in the worm category, it still very much fits. Most commonly thought of as an inchworm imitation, it has a smaller, more robust profile than most worms and is most productive in a chartreuse color.
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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.
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!
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?
December is kind of the beginning of “fishing for the sake of going fishing” season. That’s not to say that fish can’t be caught, but we begin to see a lot more bad days than good ones, at least as far as activity goes. Spending the day on a quiet, snowy stream catching nothing is still a pretty good way to spend a day!
Right now we’re seeing water temps in the mid 40’s in low elevation mountain streams. As a broad rule, trout don’t feed very actively much below 50. You can still catch them but don’t expect a 40 fish day. You’ll need to nymph slow and deep and focus on the slower pools. Sleep in, eat a good breakfast and head to the stream a little later in the day. Your best fishing will be through the middle part of the day when water temps are at their warmest.
As suggested above, nymphs will be the ticket most of the time in December and throughout the winter. Darker patterns like Pheasant Tails, olive or black Hares Ears, and Prince Nymphs are good bets. Bigger stoneflies like Girdle Bug might produce but don’t disregard the small, dark Zebra Midges. I would use a tandem rig pairing a large stone with a smaller nymph.
On warmer, sunnier days, you may see isolated surface activity. If so, they’re likely eating BWO’s, black caddis, or small black stoneflies. So, you may want to keep a few of those in your box. Actually, some small Parachute Adams and Griffith’s Gnats should take care of most of your small fly needs.
The DH waters should be a little more productive through the colder months. Stocked trout just aren’t as impacted by the cold water temperatures. Unfortunately, the later into DH season we get, the fewer fish you will find. Poaching is always a problem on these streams. Any of the nymphs mentioned above should do okay along with any shiny or colorful nymphs you may have.
This report always sounds like a broken record, but the Clinch should fish well anytime during the winter as long as you get favorable water releases. We’ve seen some good release schedules sporadically throughout the late fall. But at the time of this writing, they are running 2+ generators around the clock. You just have to keep checking. Oh yeah… midges.
The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, commonly just referred to as a Hare’s Ear, is one of the oldest nymph patterns known. However, the history on the fly is shaky at best. If I’m being honest, the history of this fly is so vague and cumbersome that I just got tired of looking! But there are numerous references in many of the old English fishing journals to a similar fly that, at the time, was more of a wet fly. The more current nymph version of the fly appears to have been around since at least the 1880’s. There are two unrelated tyers, James Ogden and Frederick Halford, who both frequently receive credit for its origin.
When I write my comprehensive history on American trout flies, I’ll dig a little deeper. But for purposes of this newsletter article, let’s just say that it has been catching trout for a LONG time!
The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear gets its name from the materials that are used to tie it. It seems they weren’t quite as creative with fly names back in the day. Should we call it the Sex Dungeon?!?! No. It’s tied with materials from a hare’s mask and a piece of gold tinsel for a rib. Let’s call it a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.
What the fly lacks in name creativity, it more than makes up for in productivity. It is easily one of the most popular and effective nymph patterns of all time. Most agree that it is intended to imitate a mayfly nymph, but it is also an excellent representation of a caddis nymph and many crustaceans. And while the original natural rabbit color is still quite productive, there are countless color variations. Personally, in addition to the natural color, I love a black Hare’s Ear in the winter and an olive in the early spring to imitate Quill Gordon nymphs.
in addition to color variations, there are countless other variations. Many will have some kind of sparkle rib or sparkly back. Some might have a wingcase made of peacock herl. Of course, there are beadhead versions and micro jig versions. Like many great flies, its versatility is a big part of its effectiveness.
If you’ve been trout fishing for a while, you undoubtedly already know this fly. If you’re new to trout fishing, you need to know it. Since this is originally appearing in a winter newsletter, included one of my favorite winter variations of a Hare’s Ear below.
Hook: #18 – 12 2x long nymph hook
Thread: 8/0 Black
Bead: Gold tungsten to match hook size
Rib: Gold wire
Tail: Guard hairs from hares mask. Dyed black.
Wing Case: Pearlescent Flashabou
Abdomen: Black hares ear dubbing
Thorax: Black hares ear dubbing (picked out)
Location: GSMNP East Tennessee
Nearest Town: Townsend, TN
Species: Rainbow trout
Average Size: 6”
Stream Size: Moderate
Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain
Boat Access: None
Best Times: Spring and fall
Favorite Flies: Attractor dries
Nearest Fly Shop: Little River Outfitters – Townsend
Little River Campground
Cades Cove Campground
Backcountry Campsite #17
From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance. At the “Y” in the road, turn right on Laurel Creek Road (toward Cades Cove). You will immediately pick up the stream on the right and find a few pull-offs where you can access the stream. At approximately two miles, the road ceases to follow the stream. There is a parking area at this point where you can access the backcountry portion of West Prong, but there is no trail so you will have to return through the stream.
A trail does intersect the stream approximately two miles up from the road. This is the West Prong Trail and can be accessed directly across the road from the Tremont Institute. Again, the trail does not follow the stream at any point but will grant you access to the upper reaches of West Prong at their intersection at Backcountry Campsite #17. To reach the trailhead, travel southeast from Townsend on 73 and turn right at the “Y” on Laurel Creek Road. Take your first left toward the Tremont Institute. The Tremont Institute is approximately two miles back on your left, and the trailhead is at the parking area on the right, across the road from Tremont.
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.
Hendricksons have long been a favorite springtime hatch for Eastern fly fishermen. In the Smokies, they typically follow the Quill Gordon and Blue Quill hatches by two or three weeks. Most years, that means we don’t see Hendricksons until mid to late April. Because a warm stretch of weather in February triggered an early Quill Gordon hatch, things are a little out of whack and we are beginning to see Hendricksons now. I expect them to be around until about mid April.
Like many hatches in the Smokies, Hendricksons rarely come off in enormous, widespread numbers. But in the right place at the right time, you can find enough of these bugs to inspire some steady rises from trout. And while generic, attractor fly patterns will get you through most situations, having a fly that more closely matches what the fish are seeing never hurts!
Hendricksons hatch sporadically throughout the day in the Smokies but tend to be most active in sunny areas during the warmest part of the day. Most days this time of year, that means in the 2pm – 5pm range. They inhabit all types of water but I tend to see emergence occurring most in slow to medium currents.
The nymphs are not particularly good swimmers and they have an unusually robust profile. This combination of traits makes them very popular with the trout. Their color varies from reddish tan to dark, reddish brown. Tan and olive Hare’s Ear Nymphs work well for imitations. Whitlock’s Red Fox Squirrel Nymph is another great pattern during this hatch. Pheasant Tail Nymphs provide a nice color match but are pretty slender compared to the beefy naturals. In any case, they range in hook size from #14-12.
The adults also vary a bit in color. Much of that depends on the gender of the bug. The males tend to be darker, varying from grayish olive to grayish brown. However, the females are often a little lighter, sometimes taking on a tan or even pinkish hue.
While there are certainly numerous fly patterns specifically designed to imitate all of the variations of a Hendrickson, you can do pretty well with generic patterns as well. A Parachute Hare’s Ear works well, particularly when you’re seeing more of the lighter colored adults. And there’s always the Parachute Adams, especially when you’re seeing the darker variations. Like the nymphs, you’ll best match the naturals in sizes #14 – 12.
Finally, trout love taking the emerging insects during this hatch, so a wet fly can be an excellent choice. One of my favorites is the Early Season Wet Fly. I often fish it in tandem with another fly. Try it as the top fly of a nymphing rig with a Hare’s Ear or Red Fox Squirrel nymph down below. Or tie it as a dropper off the back of your dry fly of choice.
Most of the time when trout fishing with dry flies or nymphs, you try to achieve a drag-free drift. This is also known as a dead drift. Essentially, what this means is you try to make your fly drift at the same speed as the current. That would be simple if the fly was drifting independently down the river. But it’s not. It’s attached to your line. Consequently, line management is a vital skill when it comes to fly fishing success and mending line is a big part of that skill set.
If your leader, or especially your fly line, is in a different current speed than the fly, it will pull or stop the fly when the line tightens. The term we use for this is drag. If your fly is dragging, you won’t catch many trout because it doesn’t look natural. Not only will the trout typically refuse to eat your fly when it has drag, they will often spook. This is especially true when you repeatedly drag a fly over a fish.
When you’re fishing small creeks and/or pocket water, you can often get closer to the fish because the broken currents help conceal you. In those instances, you can usually prevent drag by just keeping most of the line off the water. The less line on the water, the less there is to pull the fly.
But in slower pools or in bigger, deeper water, you may not be able to get as close to the fish. This forces you to make longer casts. As a result, you’ll have more line on the water. The more line you have on the water, the more currents you’ll have pulling it at different speeds.
When possible, I like to cast mostly upstream when I’m fishing bigger water. This allows me to stay behind the fish and it puts my fly and line more in the same speed of current. When the fly and line are in the same current speed, line management is much simpler. You mainly just have to strip the slack in as it drift back to you.
However, sometimes a particular run won’t allow for a practical upstream cast. It could be that the depth of the water won’t allow you to get in the proper position. Or maybe it’s a slick with really spooky fish and you’re concerned about casting your line across them. You may decide to get above them and cast downstream.
You have to be careful with this approach because you’re moving into their direct line of sight, and anything you stir up while wading will drift down to them. Excessive debris or a big mud cloud will send them running. The other challenge casting downstream is the drift.
If you make a straight, fully extended cast downstream, your fly will start to drag almost immediately because the tight line will prevent the fly from going anywhere. It just drags in the water. I see a lot of people try to feed line at this point. But if the line is tight from the start, you’re just feeding a dragging fly. The trick is to land your cast with slack in the line. Using something like a pile cast will allow the line to land with little s-curves in it. You’ll be able to achieve a good dead drift while the s-curves straighten out. And if you want it to drift farther, feed line while you have those s-curves to get a nice, long drag-free drift.
The big challenge is when you have to make a longer cast across the river. It’s something I avoid if I can, but often, especially on large rivers, you have no choice. Casting across the river will almost always put your line and fly in different current speeds. And the longer the cast, the more different current speeds your likely to find.
So, let’s say you have a nice, slow current on the other side of a wide run. There’s a fast current between you and the slow current. When you cast your fly into the slow current, your line will lay across the fast the current. Consequently, the fast current pulls the line, the line pulls the fly and you have drag. This is a scenario when you need to mend line.
Mending line means that I am going to manipulate the line in such a way that I put it upstream of the fly. By the time the faster current moves the line past the fly, the fly has had an opportunity to naturally drift through the target area. You can make this mend during the cast with what’s called a reach cast. This is known as an aerial mend. Or you can make the mend after the cast has landed by using the rod to flip the belly of the line upstream. Sometimes, longer casts or longer drifts may require you to do both. Longer drifts may also require you to make multiple mends.
Let’s pose a similar scenario, but this time you’re casting across a slower current and the fly is landing in a faster current. Consequently, the fly will move ahead of the line, tighten and swing (drag) out of the drift lane. In this situation, you want the line downstream of the fly to give the fly time to drift before it overtakes the line. You would use a downstream mend. Like before, this could be achieved with a reach cast and/or by flipping the line downstream after it’s on the water.
Mending is not easy and requires some practice because a lot of it has to do with anticipation and timing. If you wait until the fly starts to drag before you mend, you’ll move the fly out of the drift lane. You need to anticipate that the fly will drag and make your mend before, while you still have slack. This will disrupt the fly’s drift very little, if at all. Again, it will just take some practice.
The other big key is how you mend the line. I see a lot of people keep the rod on a level plane and make a side-to-side motion to mend the line. As a result, the line pulls through the water and drags the fly. Instead, point your rod down and toward the line you want to move and make a sweeping, semi-circle motion to move the line. The idea is to essentially pick the line up and place it in a different position… without moving the fly.
How much line you have to move will determine how big of a semi-circle you make. For instance, a big mend with a short line will likely pick the line and the fly up off the water. You don’t want that. A small mend with a long line likely won’t pick up the entire line belly, and you’ll still have drag.
As I mentioned before, it will take some practice. But it is an essential skill when drifting dry flies or nymphs to trout, especially on bigger water. Keep messing with it and before you know it, it will be second nature.