New Covid-19 Policies

As information and news with the current pandemic seems to change week to week and sometimes day to day, we will be updating this post accordingly. These are strange times for everyone and we will be conducting business a little differently for the time being. Fortunately, I am just one person so I have the ability to be flexible not only in adapting policies to the changing conditions, but to your specific needs should you decide to book a guided trip during this time. Listed below is the most current information I have to share. Scroll to the bottom for current social distancing guidelines for guide trips.

June 5th, 2020 Update: Phase 3 of Park Opening to Begin on June 7th

Visitor centers are scheduled to open on Monday, June 8th. Most campgrounds will be opening at that time as well. The only notable exception is Elkmont, which is scheduled to reopen on June 15th. For a complete, specific listing of openings check the park website.

May 19th, 2020 Update: Phase 2 of Park Opening to Begin This Weekend

Today, the park reopened Clingman’s Dome Road and this Saturday, the 23rd, they will begin Phase 2 of the reopening process. This will include all trails and many of the secondary roads. So now, anglers will have realistic access to places like Tremont, Big Creek, Greenbrier, etc. Some picnic facilities will open but campgrounds and visitor centers will remain closed. Those are projected to open no earlier than June 7th.

Probably the biggest thorn still remaining in the side of fishermen is the road to Elkmont. Until that road opens, which apparently won’t happen before June 7th, it will be very difficult to access the upper portions of Little River and Jakes Creek. But we have access to WAY more water than we did!

May 1st, 2020 Update: New Park Info and Recommendations for Guide Trips

I’ve received a little more clarification on what roads will and will not be open. Pretty much none of the secondary roads will open on May 9th which means there are a lot of spots, particularly trailheads for backcountry locations, we’re not going to be able to get to. It also means that few spots we can get to will likely be pretty crowded.

If you are currently booked for a trip in the mid to latter part of May or considering a booking for that time, I would still recommend a destination like Cherokee National Forest if it works for you. Of course, I can take you to the park after May 9th, but I think it will be first of June before things really get back to normal there. Please feel free to call or email to discuss.

April 30th, 2020 – 2nd Update

Great Smoky Mountains National Park just announced that they will begin a phased reopening of the park beginning May 9th. Phase 1 will include the opening of major roads and restrooms but not campgrounds, visitor centers or secondary roads. They hope to begin opening those facilities, secondary roads, etc. approximately two week later.

At this time, I am still unclear which “secondary” roads will open during the initial phase and which will not. But it appears that we will be able to access at least most of the places we normally fish.

April 30th, 2020

While there has still been no official word from the park service on a reopening date for GSMNP, it seems highly unlikely that we will see a May 1st reopening. This is purely speculation on my part, but I think we’ll see some sort of limited, phased in type of opening when it does happen. Exactly what that would look like I don’t know and exactly when that will happen I don’t know – hopefully in the next couple of weeks. I will update this post as soon as I receive any official word.

April 27th, 2020

As of the week of 4/27/20, the state of Tennessee is phasing in business openings while still requiring social distancing practices. This means out of town customers wanting to come fish the area should be seeing more lodging availability in the coming days and weeks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where I conduct most of my guide operations is currently closed. The last official correspondence I received from the park said the park would be closed until 4/30/20. On the park’s website, it states only that the park is closed until further notice. Hopefully we will receive and update this week – I will post it here as soon as I know more.

In the meantime, I will be conducting guided trips to other destinations on a limited basis. If you’re interested in one of these trips, I recommend calling at 865-607-2886 or emailing me directly to discuss. Social distancing guidelines will be adhered to on all trips and are pretty easy to follow on the stream. But there will be a few changes to the logistical side of the trip that we will be following from now until further notice.

  • While we may still meet at a convenient location, clients will need to follow in their own vehicle to the stream or trailhead.
  • Clients are encouraged to bring their own rods and wading gear. If needed, you may still use mine at your own risk. I will be cleaning any loaner rods and wading gear before and after each use.
  • I am still happy to provide lunches for full day trips and assure you that the prep and packaging process will strictly follow all necessary guidelines. However, I realize this may make many uncomfortable and you are more than welcome to bring your own food without fear of offending me! Just please let me know with as much notice as possible.
  • I will be practicing social distancing guidelines on the stream and washing my hands throughout the day. I would ask all clients to please do the same.
  • You are encouraged to bring hand sanitizer along to regularly wash hands. I will try to provide it but it’s a little hard to come by right now!
  • Health and safety take precedence over service and profit right now. If I do not feel healthy and well, for your safety, I will cancel the trip. I expect all clients to to the same.

The bottom line is we still want to go fishing, right?! But we want to be safe and responsible in the process. If there is anything else I can do to accommodate or make your trip more comfortable, please let me know.

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!

Improved Clinch Knot

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 Wonderful World of Worms

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!

San Juan Worm

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.

Squirmy Worm

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.

Green Weenie

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.

Rob’s PT Tellico

Rob’s PT Tellico

This is one of those flies I usually keep to myself but you caught me in a moment of weakness this month. There’s nothing too special about it. However, it catches fish almost anytime of the year, it’s durable and it’s simple to tie. I suppose those traits make it special, at least to me. Guides go through a lot of flies and consequently, want something that consistently produces and can be mass-produced in a short amount of time.

Like most of my original fly patterns, this one is a variation of another pattern. Actually, this variation is a hybrid of two well-known fly patterns. The “PT” in its name stands for “Pheasant Tail.” So, it’s essentially a combination of a Tellico Nymph and a Pheasant Tail Nymph, stripped down to its bare, fish catching essentials. I tie it sparse so that it sinks quickly. Also, I use a micro jig hook to ride hook up, and reduce bottom snags.

I suppose it could imitate a number of different nymphs but I had the smaller stonefly nymphs in mind when I designed it. These Southern Appalachian streams are full of small and large stonefly nymphs but it seems that most stonefly patterns are designed to imitate the big ones. With the Little Yellow Sally stonefly hatch being one of the most prolific of the year, I was always surprised that there were so few patterns available to imitate the nymphs.

The yellow body combined with the pheasant tail accents seemed the perfect color combination, and it has just enough added flash to suggest movement. It works great as a dropper off a buoyant dry fly, yet, is equally effective drifted under a strike indicator or straight lined with what the kids today call Euro-nymphing. Whip a few up for yourself or feel free to contact me for a custom order.

Rob’s PT Tellico Nymph

  • Hook: Orvis 1P2A (or equivalent) #18 – 14
  • Bead: Black slotted tungsten, sized to match hook
  • Bead Stabilizer: 8 turns of .010 non-toxic fly wire
  • Thread: 8/0 brown
  • Tail and Rib: 4-6 pheasant tail fibers
  • Counter Rib: Small yellow copper wire
  • Body: Yellow floss
  • Thorax: Pheasant Tail Ice Dub

Fightmaster Fly Fishing Survey

I am exploring a few options with a couple of different facets of my business. If you have just a second, I would appreciate your input by completing this very quick survey. Thanks for your help!

Thank you for your interest! Unfortunately, this survey has expired.

Tying the Clinch Knot

The Clinch Knot is a common knot used throughout all types of fishing and was the first knot I ever learned to tie. It is used to attach the fly to the tippet. With a little practice, it is simple to tie and will serve you well in most trout fishing situations.

March Fishing Forecast

Upper Abrams Creek, Tennessee
The “Cove Section”


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?


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?

Finding Feeding Trout

You can have the best gear and be a great caster, but it won’t mean a thing if you don’t know where to find feeding fish. We’ve covered a lot of these things separately in other articles, but here is a quick breakdown of the four things you really want to look for before you make that first cast.

Water temperature

A wild trout’s water temperature range for feeding is typically between 50 – 67 degrees. Ideal temperature is upper 50’s to low 60’s. There are plenty of exceptions that you can read about in Understanding Water Temperature, but this is a pretty good rule of thumb and should be your first consideration when trying to locate feeding trout.

Check that water temperature

If you’re not already familiar with a particular stream’s seasonal variations and trends, a stream thermometer will be your most useful tool. Submerge it for a minute in water that’s about 1-2 feet deep. If, for instance, it’s July and you get a reading of 68-degrees, you should, at the very least, seek out shadier parts of the stream. Ideally, you should try to get to a higher elevation where it’s a little cooler. If it’s March and you get a reading of 47-degrees, seek out sunnier places and, if possible, move to a lower elevation.

Part of this may require a little research on your part as well. If you’re fishing in a low elevation stream where the water temperature stays above 70-degrees for much of the year, there likely won’t be trout in there at all, even during colder months. Again, this is for wild trout. Some streams that might be too warm to support wild trout year round, could be stocked with trout during the colder months.


Once you have located an area with a suitable water temperature, you need to look for deeper water. We’re not talking about water that has to be over your head, but something at least a foot or two deep. In times when food is incredibly abundant like a heavy hatch, trout will sometimes feed in shallower water. But in general, they will choose water with a little more depth for more protection from predators.


Even if you have ideal water temperature and adequate depth, trout don’t do a lot of feeding in still pools. And even when they do, they can be very difficult to locate and catch because they’re often cruising and feeding sporadically. A defined current is essentially a conveyor belt of food. Most feeding trout will be near currents, watching and waiting for food to come to them.

Abrams Creek Smoky Mountains
Currents can vary significantly in a single run

In currents with a slow to medium speed, trout will likely hold right in the middle of the current and on the edges. Hard currents with a lot of speed are a little different.  A trout won’t hold in the middle of a hard current because it requires too much energy. Instead, the trout will be on the edges of these currents or between currents in seams and pockets.


A trout often has a few places in an area where he likes to hang out. He may have a favorite spot to feed and a spot under a rock where he likes to hide when he senses danger. Sometimes, you’ll find a place that looks perfect as far as depth and current speed go, but the stream bottom may be nothing but flat bedrock. These areas usually don’t hold many fish because there are few, if any, safe places. Try to look for a bottom with a lot of rocks where fish can hide.

Significant structure like fallen trees or large boulders often attracts the bigger fish, particularly if that spot meets all of the other criteria mentioned above. If you find any of the characteristics mentioned above, you’re apt to find a few feeding trout. When you locate a spot with ALL of these characteristics, you’ll likely find the most and/or the biggest trout.

Reusable Water Bottles

My grandfather always thought it was absurd that people bought water in plastic bottles. That someone would go to the store and pay for something that comes out of the kitchen sink, throw it away and do it again absolutely blew his mind. Even worse he thought, were all the plastic water bottles people didn’t throw away – the ones he regularly found at the places he hunted and fished.

My grandfather fly fishing for “channel cats” mid 1930’s

No, he wasn’t an environmental activist. He was an insurance claims adjuster from a small town in the Midwest who rarely had anything at all to say about politics or activism. Instead, his perspective likely came partially from that common generational reluctance to embrace a different way of doing things. He was from the canteen generation. But his perspective was also greatly influenced by living through the Great Depression, when most folks simply couldn’t afford not to reuse everything.

My grandfather’s approach to the simple task of taking water into the woods was born purely out of necessity and common sense. Now there’s a whole lot of data that says he was right for reasons he knew at the time and for reasons he couldn’t possibly have foreseen: the overflowing landfills, the wasted oil, the wasted energy, the leaking toxins, the impact on wildlife and the mountains of plastic waste that end up in our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

However, my intent is not to write a detailed article on the specific detrimental impacts of single use plastics. There are an overwhelming number of articles and studies on the topic already. If you are unfamiliar with the problem or don’t believe there is a problem, I recommend taking a little time to research.

When it comes to fishing trips, I have always used reusable containers to carry my water. When I was a kid, I used a canteen like my grandfather did. In more recent years, I’ve been using hydration bladders or stainless steel water bottles. The choices today are vast from simple, inexpensive containers to those heavy, high dollar Yetis that will keep ice for days. As with any other piece of fly fishing gear, you just have to find what works best for you. All are better alternatives than buying water in single use plastic bottles.

Partly because I do consider myself an environmentalist and probably more because of the influence of my grandfather, I try to reduce waste as much as possible, whether it’s water bottles or anything else. If you have ever had one of my guide trip lunches, I provide real forks and cloth napkins not to be fancy (as some have commented), but because they are reusable. Lunches are also packed in reusable containers. There are a few things in the lunches that need to be wrapped either for practicality or sanitary reasons, but I’m proud to say the only thing that gets thrown away from one of my lunches is two pieces of cling wrap!

The fact is it would be way easier to pick up a boxed lunch full of disposable containers, paper napkins and plastic utensils and just throw it away at the end of the day. One of my least favorite things to do at the end of every day is to go home and clean all the lunch containers. Yes, it is WAY more work but to me, it is worth it.

I’m not trying to preach here or act superior because I produce less waste. I’ve used my share of disposable containers and I have certainly succumbed to the convenience of a single use plastic water bottle. After all, we do live in a world of convenience and sometimes you just don’t have a choice. But sometimes with just a little more effort, you do.

For years, while carrying my personal water in reusable containers on guide trips, I provided single use water bottles for clients. Yes, those water bottles were recycled after use but there are a lot of questions about the viability of recycling single use water bottles. I have always wanted to eliminate those plastic bottles altogether from my guide trips but thought I didn’t have a choice. It turns out I do. Much like my lunches, it will require a lot more work (and a little more expense) on my end, but like the lunches, I think it’s worth it.

New guide trip water bottles

Effective immediately, I will no longer be providing plastic water bottles on guided fishing trips. Instead, I am encouraging each client to provide his or her own reusable container for water. Many of my clients do this already. For anyone who does not have their own water/container, I will provide aluminum bottles of water. These bottles will be cleaned thoroughly at the end of each trip and reused for future trips.

Sure this will cost me a little more money and it will definitely be more work, but it’s worth it. As someone once told me, “I may not be able to make this world any better, but I sure as hell don’t have to make it worse!”